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Are trap-neuter-return programs an effective and humane way to deal with stray and feral cats?
Sunday, March 17, 2013
The small farm my husband and I own in Bedford County is home to five semi-feral cats. We feed them twice a day, and in exchange, they hunt the moles, voles and other garden-damaging pests that proliferated across our property when we moved in six years ago.
One family of feral cats — Mama Cat and three kittens — arrived about a year after we did, and we soon realized we had a major problem. Mama Cat had at least two litters per year. By the time we heard of the feral cat spay/neuter/release program at Angels of Assisi in Roanoke, we had about a dozen ferals. With the help of two live traps, we inched our way toward getting them sterilized, one by one.
Mama Cat proved impossible to catch until one day she disappeared. She had given birth to about two dozen kittens over a span of three years. Those that survived to adolescence were neutered at Angels of Assisi.
Feral cats often have a hard life, but it’s a rare feral that can be tamed and brought indoors. Most ferals simply wouldn’t adjust to a life of “luxury.” According to Alley Cat Allies in Bethesda, Md., “setting a standard of well-being for the species based on the life of an indoor cat ignores the true habitat and natural history of the species.”
Feral cats are not candidates for adoption. Animal shelters have no choice but to turn them away or euthanize them. Neighborhood cats that are euthanized will be quickly replaced by other feral cats looking for a place to live.
A trap-neuter-return program keeps the population in check and prevents the noisy yowling of toms and queens looking to mate.
While neutering feral cats doesn’t tame them, it does make them more docile, as we’ve found on our farm. They’re content to be near us as long as we don’t try to pet them. We often see them hunting and snacking on some type of rodent. Because of them, we don’t have many rodents.
We raised our first flock of chickens in 2011 and, at first, worried that the cats would feast on the hens. We were in for a shock. The feral cats were terrified of the chickens!
The two species now live in a wary harmony, but we’re careful to keep the hens in their coop while we feed the cats to prevent the chickens from bullying the cats away from the cat food.
Managing feral cat populations is incredibly easy once the trapping and neutering is done. They simply need a daily meal to keep their hunger at bay (otherwise, you might discover them preying on songbirds). They need access to fresh water. They typically find their own shelter. I can’t imagine our farm without them.
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