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Feral cats are one of those subjects that can turn a room of nice, normal people into one of the seven rings of hell. Sane people suddenly lose their minds and start yelling and making impassioned arguments. There have been quite a few studies on feral cat colonies and their impact on wildlife and most of the studies have come up with different conclusions. Some say feral cats destroy wildlife populations and send species to the brink of extinction, others say they really don’t make much of an impact.
Managing feral cat colonies can also lead to issues. Some people advocate destroying all feral cats they encounter while others say spaying and neutering and then releasing them back is the answer. The argument for trap and release is that these cats can no longer reproduce and will prevent new cats from coming into the territory. Those that want to euthanize them all say that even if they are neutered, they are still around to kill local wildlife.
In my personal experience feral cats do kill lots of wildlife especially birds and studies have shown that they can have impacts on populations. Does this matter? I think it depends where you are. Where I live we don’t have any threatened species and most of the animals the cats kill are pest species or introduced animals like starlings. In Australia feral cats have decimated populations of small mammals and birds. I think each location needs to research what the best option would be for that area. Some places may need to euthanize all cats, while population control may work somewhere else.
The feral cats that I usually see are almost always malnourished and sick. People don’t want to spend the money on providing proper medical care for them but still want to bring them to the vet. The cats are also very difficult to handle and provide care for. Once a very old man brought a cat in a kennel to a clinic I was working at and told me it was his cat and it hadn’t been eating. I opened the kennel and the cat just looked at me and so I reached my hand in and touched it. It just sat there calmly while I petted it and the old man talked about how many years he had owned the cat and how cute it was. The cat wouldn’t come out of the carrier and so I grabbed it by the scruff and pulled it out of the kennel. As soon as the it was out of the carrier it flipped out and started scratching and biting me. It leaped out of my hands and bounced all over the room hissing and attacking me, ripping my hands to shreds and biting me all down my arms. I finally grabbed it and got it back into the kennel, the room was covered in my blood. The old man then said “Oh, I forgot to tell you. He is a feral cat.” I think this experience has put a damper on my view of feral cats.
If you decide to help feral cats, help them by joining a rescue group. Individuals all too often try to help them on their own and become overwhelmed. Find out if your city has a trap, neuter, and release program or start one. Make sure you have a veterinarian ready who will help you and be prepared to PAY. Many vets love helping feral cats and will discount many services but they must be paid. Supplies are just too expensive and if they did it for free they would not be able to help as many cats. Trap the cats and take them to the vet to get neutered and get a rabies vaccine, then release them. If they are sick understand that these cats cannot be handled to medicate them and most will only come to a trap once and if they are ill it is impossible to treat them and euthanasia is the most humane option. Finally, do not feed cat colonies. These are cats but they have become wild animals and need to get their own food. Feeding them does not reduce the number of wild animals they kill and only brings them closer to human settlements and helps increase their populations. As long as you keep these things in mind you can do a lot of good and help the animals and the local wildlife.