. When I first started working with feral cats, I was living in a neighborhood that had a cat population problem. Like many neighborhoods, the neighbors had different views about what should be done about “the cat situation.” One neighbor fed them daily. One neighbor said animal control should be called. Some neighbors threw things at the cats as they walked by them on the street. However, no one had a solution. That included me. I sat by and watched, feeling helpless. What could I possibly do? This neighborhood seems to have a system. It may not be a great one, but who am I to upset the balance? I can’t take these cats in. They would die in a shelter. Maybe this is just how it has to be.
After a difficult experience with a stray cat that touched my heart and then passed away, I decided it was time to do something. I was going to get these cats off of the street. I knew I needed help so I reached out to a group doing a low-cost spay/neuter program. After hearing what I was trying to do, Voiceless-MI offered to assist in any way they could. They helped me come up with a plan of action for the cats in my neighborhood. We created a list of the cats in my neighborhood and started breaking the list down into categories.
Stray cats were cats that had clearly been owned by someone and left behind. They were friendly and outgoing. They did well in a house and would adjust to being adopted out. We started with these cats. The “easy” cats.
The feral cats were a little more difficult. Feral cats are wild. They are born and raised outdoors and have had little to no contact with people. However, not all feral cats have the same temperament. Some feral cats are true to their nature and are wild animals. I had a friend who thought a cat was a cat was a cat and didn’t understand what feral meant. I told her to imagine I just shoved a raccoon into a carrier and stuck it in my bathroom. That’s a feral cat. It is a wild animal just like a raccoon. Other feral cats though seemed to have an inherent trust of people. Once they watched a human put food out for them a few times, they were sold and there was no turning back. They came around quickly and became friendly.
The more difficult class of feral cats was the in-between group. They seemed to have an interest in people, but they were far too terrified to ever get close enough to give humans a chance. Sometimes we would get a gut feeling that there was an in-between cat that “wanted it.” It was almost as if you could look into his eyes and see the longing to be loved. The in-between group was always a tossup though. If I brought one inside for spay/neuter surgery and tried to work with it, the cat might melt in my hands after getting over that initial fear or it might become even more terrified of people and shut down completely.
We were able to get most of the cats into homes. Some took more work than others to get there. There were a couple cats that were just too wild to become domesticated. It was hard to put them back on the street knowing that all of their friends had found homes. When we see cats we think of our housecats and think all cats want and need to be loved. I learned that is not always the case. Some cats truly are wild and are happier on the street. I had to accept that I couldn’t make them something that they were not. However, even those cats were spayed or neutered and vaccinated before we let them back out onto the street. We had worked so hard to reduce the cat population and we couldn’t let a few go back and reproduce and fight and spread disease. I may not have placed them in a home, but at least I knew that they were going to be healthier and happier.
If you have a “cat situation” in your neighborhood, there are things you can do. Sometimes with a little help, one person can make a huge difference. You just have to have realistic expectations of what you can and can’t do. I’ll tell you now… You can’t save them all, but you sure can improve the lives of a few!
About the Author
Guest writer Becki Mayo is a recent law school graduate who rescues cats in her free time. She is heading up Fido’s Future and hopes that if you are an animal lover you will show support by following the project on Facebook. She volunteers with Voiceless-MI and loves photography.