When it comes to feral cats, what side of fence are you on? Take them in or keep them out?
Feral cats are those who never had a home or owner. They distrust all humans, would rather run than be seen, and are generally considered “non-pet material.” By contrast, strays usually have been pets at some point, or born to pet parents, and either ran away, got lost, or were abandoned. They might be fearful if they’ve been mistreated, but gentle coaxing usually wins them over quickly.
Sometimes groups of wild cats will band together in a colony. Lucky colonies have kind-hearted caretakers who provide for them. They’re still not tame nor pets. Rescue groups offer T-N-R, (Trapped – spayed/Neutered – Released back to the colony) to keep the population of feral cats down. It is generally thought only the young kittens can possibly be tamed into pets. Adults are excellent at working on farms as barn mousers. They can avoid people, remain wild, and help by keeping the rodent population down. Sometimes a feral sets up housekeeping under a shed, behind a barn, or somewhere near a house—but not too close. Just near enough for a kind person to toss out some food occasionally.
Over on the other side of the fence is the argument that wild, unvaccinated cats spread diseases and pose a rabies risk. It’s true that many feline diseases are contagious like colds in kindergartners: when one gets started, every cat catches it. With feral cats, the strong will survive and the weak won’t. As far as rabies, when ferals are trapped and neutered, usually they’re vaccinated against rabies too. But not every feral is T-N-R.
Most zoonotic (transmittable from animals to humans), diseases are avoidable to people by good hygiene. Any cat can potentially cause humans to get things like toxoplasmosis, ringworm/ fungal infections, pasteurella, salmonella, cat scratch fever, flea and tick bites, roundworms or tapeworms. Some require a bite or scratch from a carrier cat to a human, and many follow fecal-oral routes. Since ferals would rather run than fight, and good hygiene can ward off most fecal-originating illnesses, it would be unfair to blame ferals for “causing people to get sick.” And most viruses are very species specific.
Some argue that ferals use resources companion cats need. The reality is few people adopt ferals, so they don’t take up space in shelters. Groups like Friends2Ferals (828-505-6737/ Asheville) offer T-N-R and financial assistance to those caring for feral colonies.
One of the biggest arguments against helping ferals is they won’t make pets, so why bother? To this I offer exhibits 1-5. # 1. Pepper. She came as a wild kitten, unapproachable. At age nine, I trapped her, drove a thousand miles, and turned her into a full-time housecat. She was so tame within a few weeks I could run the vacuum over her! #2. Kryshnah. At three months old, she came from a colony, very sick, to the vet’s office where I worked. She hunkered in her cage, hissed and growled, never letting us handle her. When she recovered, I adopted her. Thirteen years later, she is “my girl.” # 3 & 4. Avery Faith and Aspen. Aspen showed up at my door one cold day. It took six weeks to even touch her. At four weeks, she brought Aspen, her wild month-old-kitten. Both are loving and friendly today. # 5. Mungo. An older feral, he hung around for ten months, never allowing me close. When he showed up with an eye injury, I live-trapped him for a vet visit. It took him three days to morph into a playful and sweet housecat.
Ryan Jo Summers is a local author and animal advocate. She lives with an assortment of rescued animals and pet-sits under the Rover.com banner. Her writing information can be found at www.ryanjosummers.com and http://www.summersrye.wordpress.com