National Feral Cat Day is celebrated on October 16th. It’s been around since 2001 when Alley Cat Allies, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of feral cats and kittens, first introduced the concept. Veterinarians now commemorate the day by participating in various feline health-related activities, including spay-and-neuter-a-thons and vaccination drives.
Many advocacy organizations and cat lovers participate by building shelters and hosting bake sales to benefit community cats. There are 60–100 million feral cats in the United States, but the population is virtually impossible to count accurately, as it’s often difficult to determine if any given cat is feral or lost. Researchers also have trouble measuring the size of cat colonies as these groups frequently grow and shrink depending on resource availability.
What Can You Tell Me About Alley Cat Allies?
Alley Cat Allies is a non-profit organization based in the United States that works on various feral cat issues. It supports trap-neuter-release (TNR) programs and advocates for feline-friendly laws in state legislatures. It also engages with shelters to decrease the number of feral cats euthanized by supporting shelter participation in TNR programs. The organization’s mascot, Frank the Feral Cat, makes appearances at select events.
How Are Feral Cats Different from Domestic Cats?
There’s no physical difference between feral and domestic cats. Feral cats are regular felines that weren’t socialized as kittens to accept humans. Cats that spend critical developmental moments around humans typically feel comfortable around people. Domestic cats often form loving bonds with their human companions, and studies suggest the human-cat bond may resemble the bond between human parents and children.
Feral cats have not been socialized to tolerate people, but some permit more contact and interaction than others. Unsocialized cats often avoid people entirely and run away if approached. Many community cats won’t dart off if a caregiver drops by to provide food — but they also won’t permit any petting.
Other feral cats allow their caregivers to pet them but don’t want to be picked up, and most feral cats prefer to live outdoors. Some live in colonies, and others maintain territories on their own. While many of these cats get food from caregivers, others feed themselves by hunting or treating themselves to human food from trash bins.
Stray cats are kitties who used to live with humans and, as such, were (at one point) accustomed to being around people. Many of these animals are lost and unable to find their way home, but others have been abandoned. Stray cats often become increasingly feral over time.
What Should I Do if There’s a Stray or Feral Cat in My Neighborhood?
First, it’s amazing that you’re interested in helping a four-footer out! Before you can determine how best to support an animal you’ve seen in your neighborhood, you need to know if it’s stray or feral, which requires you to earn a bit of feline trust. And the best way to get on the good side of a cat, particularly one who may be struggling to find food, is to feed them.
Put the food down and walk away slowly. Allow the cat to approach and eat their fill, but remember to provide water! Avoid looking directly at the cat while moving to keep them from becoming scared. Many feral cats won’t eat or drink with you nearby, at least not at first.
Once the animal accepts your presence, stay reasonably nearby while they eat. Allow the cat to come to you. Sit quietly on the ground and permit them to lead the interaction when they finally do seek you out.
Gaining the confidence of a stray or feral cat can happen quickly or take a bit of time. Stray cats usually warm up to people faster if they haven’t been away from humans for very long. But some truly feral animals are never willing to accept human contact.
Adopting or Rehoming
If the cat hasn’t been microchipped and doesn’t appear to have an owner, you can move forward with adopting the animal. If you’re not interested in a new pet, consider caring for them while you find them an appropriate home. Speak with people you trust to see if anyone in your circle is looking for a cat companion.
Keep in mind that taking cats to shelters often results in their euthanization. Make sure you’re OK with the shelter’s euthanasia policies regarding stray and feral cats before relinquishing an animal to that organization.
You can provide food and water or even build a shelter for feral cats that aren’t interested in too much human contact. Or you can go the TNR route and trap the cat, have them altered, and then release them. Alley Cat Allies has the information you can use to get started, including TNR resources, videos showing how to build DIY outdoor shelters, and tips on feeding feral cats without causing rodent problems.
What Else Can I Do to Help Reduce the Number of Stray & Feral Cats?
Absolutely. Spaying or neutering your pet is the most important step you can take to prevent the feral and stray cat population from increasing. Cats are incredibly fertile! Female cats reach sexual maturity at around 6 months old, and they have incredibly short gestation periods—around 65 days.
National Feral Cat Day falls on October 16th. It’s a time to celebrate community cats and do just a little to make life easier for stray and feral kitties. Cat lovers have found many generous ways to celebrate the day, and some veterinarians provide free vaccinations and host spay/neuter clinics. Advocacy organizations often host programs to educate people about feral cats and the best ways to care for these fantastic creatures. To celebrate the special day, you can build shelters and raise money to care for the community cats.
Featured Image Credit: Dimitris Vetsikas, Pixabay