I am feeling guilty. I thought I was giving Rex a really good life. He has a loving home, regular…
On Friday this week we observe “National Feral Cat Day”, known more recently as “Global Cat Day”. National Feral Cat Day began in 2001 by “Alley Cat Allies”, a caring and appropriately named organization that promotes the humane treatment and protection of cats.
Why is it necessary to have a day to recognize Feral Cats? Because they are certainly one of the most misunderstood groups of animals. It is important that the public understands feral cats and treats them with compassion and kindness.
One of the main objectives of “Alley Cat Allies” is to educate the public about TNR, Trap-Neuter-Release. This program is encouraged and promoted here in the Richmond, VA area by the Richmond SPCA as well as many other animal welfare organizations. To find out more about the program and what we need to know about the feral cats in our community, we reached out to Tamsen Kingry, Chief Executive Officer of the Richmond SPCA.
Holiday Barn: What exactly is a feral cat?
Tamsen: A feral cat is one who is born to an abandoned or loosely owned, free-roaming cat who was never spayed or neutered. While feral cats are the same species as house cats, their behavior is very different, as they are not socialized to people. This makes them fearful and avoidant of human contact. They live quite independently in an outdoor environment, forming colonies around sources of food, water and shelter.
Holiday Barn: If a person wanted to help feral cats in their neighborhood, what first steps should they take?
Tamsen: We encourage anyone who observes free-roaming cats in their neighborhood to visit our website at www.richmondspca.org/feralcats for advice and guidance. Compassionate and effective management of feral cats occurs through a program of Trap-Neuter-Return, through which community volunteers humanely trap the cats for the purpose of having them spayed or neutered, vaccinated against rabies and returned to the outdoor environment where they have been living. In the Richmond SPCA’s Susan M. Markel Veterinary Hospital, our professional medical staff performs spays and neuters on feral or community cats and provides rabies vaccinations at no charge. Additionally, we loan humane traps to community members engaging in this very important activity.
Holiday Barn: What do feral cats need most from us?
Tamsen: Feral and community cats are deserving of our advocacy and compassion. We have a moral and ethical responsibility to provide for their care and to manage their colonies humanely. Through TNR, we ensure that feral cats can no longer reproduce and are protected against rabies, thereby preventing the growth of their colonies and reducing the threat of disease. Our goal should be to live in harmony with feral cats, just as we do with any other animals who live outdoors.
Holiday Barn: Some humane organizations suggest we not feed feral cats but believe we should let them use their natural instincts to obtain food. Others say we should feed them. What is your advice?
Tamsen: Feral cats are highly resourceful, which is why they can live so successfully and independently outdoors and why their colonies form in nearly every community across the region. While feral and community cats are certainly quite capable of finding their own food (they typically establish colonies in areas where food sources already exist), providing them with food can be helpful and prevents community cats from foraging in areas where such behavior is not welcome (in and around dumpsters in apartment communities, shopping centers or schools, etc.).
Holiday Barn: With winter coming, should we be building, or otherwise providing shelters for feral cats to stay warm?
Tamsen: Providing shelters to feral and community cats helps protect them from the elements and gives them a warm, safe and dry place to rest. There are lots of examples of easy, do-it-yourself outdoor shelters for community cats, and you can explore many of them by visiting this link: www.alleycat.org/resources/feral-cat-shelter-options-gallery/.
Holiday Barn: What should you do if the cats in your community are becoming a nuisance – destroying flower beds, etc.?
Tamsen: I have never understood why some people are so unwelcoming of feral cats. On a number of occasions, I have heard people say they are upset because feral cats have been using their flower beds as a litter box—but think of all the other animals who live in the outdoors who do the same thing! And we do not think twice about it. We can and must successfully coexist with feral cats. And if, ultimately, you would prefer for them to not take up residence in or around your yard or business, there are some very simple and inexpensive steps you can take to humanely deter a feral cat. You can visit www.alleycat.org/community-cat-care/humane-deterrents/ for a list of suggestions.
Holiday Barn: Are there any particular neighborhoods within our area that need more feral cat advocates?
Tamsen: Feral and community cats are present in every community. They are especially prevalent in and around areas where they have access to plenty of food, water and shelter. It is common to see colonies of cats form in apartment communities, business complexes, strip malls, school yards and other similar areas. If you see feral or community cats, we encourage you to try to identify if anyone is already providing TNR to the colony’s members, and if there isn’t, we encourage you to help the colony by providing this crucial service.
Holiday Barn: What would you want the public most to know about the health and well-being of the cats?
Tamsen: Opponents of feral cats and Trap-Neuter-Return often assert that feral cats lead miserable lives—that they all suffer from dreadful illnesses and injuries. But these claims have no basis in fact. In reality and has been the experience of the Richmond SPCA’s full-service, low-cost veterinary hospital providing 1,500 spays and neuters to feral cats annually, the overwhelming majority of these cats are in very good health. And by engaging in TNR of feral cats, the community helps to further improve their health and overall wellbeing.
Holiday Barn: What should someone do if they find a litter of kittens in their yard?
Tamsen: The first thing to do should you find a litter of kittens is to watch and wait. In most cases, their mom has not abandoned them but has only left temporarily to get food for herself so that she can return to feed them. Neonatal kittens’ best chance of survival is with the nourishment and care given by mom. However, if after several hours, mom does not return, you may need to step in as a surrogate to bottle feed orphaned kittens. We have a wealth of information on our website at www.richmondspca.org, and the Richmond SPCA can provide the supplies and training that even a novice needs to be successful at raising kittens.
Holiday Barn: What do you see as the biggest obstacle to reducing the number of feral cats in our area?
Tamsen: I think a general lack of understanding and compassion for feral cats is the greatest barrier to managing their colonies and ultimately reducing their numbers. TNR is empirically demonstrated to be effective in reducing colony size, yet too often businesses and others advocate for removal of feral cats rather than TNR. Removal of feral cats from an environment will only result in their deaths in government shelters (since they are not social, they are not susceptible of adoption). In addition to the morally reprehensible nature of approaches that disregard the value of their lives, lethal approaches have proven ultimately ineffective for decades in eliminating feral cats from the outdoor environment. This is because removing cats creates what is known as a vacuum effect. The existing conditions—food, water and shelter—that allowed the existing colony to survive in the area would draw new cats, thereby repeating the cycle. I am grateful to Holiday Barn Pet Resorts – a trusted and loyal friend to animal companions—for having provided TNR to feral cats over the years. Your advocacy and support paves the way for others’ compassionate responses to the presence of cat colonies.
Holiday Barn: How successful has the TNR program been?
Tamsen: Since 2004, the Richmond SPCA has been providing high-volume, free spaying and neutering to feral cats brought to our veterinary hospital. In total, we have sterilized and vaccinated against rabies more than 25,000 feral cats, and hundreds of community volunteers have accessed these resources. We are grateful to our compassionate community of animal lovers for advocating for programs of TNR and their proven efficacy and for being champions for the feral and community cats who share our world.
• Help to raise awareness about feral cats by sharing this information on your social media accounts.
• Volunteer your time to area rescues like the Richmond SPCA to help with their abandoned kittens.
• Consider monetary donations to area rescues who are participating in TNR and caring for feral cats.
• Organize a TNR effort in your neighborhood.
• Make sure your cat is spayed or neutered.
• Although we defend the ability for community cats to live out their lives in the only homes they know (the outdoors), we also urge guardians to keep their pet cats indoors.
WE WOULD LIKE TO EXPRESS OUR MOST SINCERE APPRECIATION TO TAMSEN KINGRY FOR HER TIME AND HER INVALUABLE ADVICE.
WE WOULD ALSO LIKE TO THANK THE STAFF AT THE RICHMOND SPCA AND THE SUSAN M. MARKEL VETERINARY HOSPITAL FOR THEIR TIRELESS EFFORTS IN SUPPORTING COMMUNITY CATS IN OUR AREA.
We would love to care for your cat while you’re away! If you have questions, feel free to give Holiday Barn Pet Resorts a call at either our Glen Allen or Midlothian location. We are always happy to help!
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