Spirits Place

A Feral Life: Understanding Colonies and Community Cats

Once again it is cold outside, and we are getting flooded with calls from people that have been feeding stray cats and want them out of the cold. They are suddenly worried about them but cannot care for them. Most of us would agree that in an ideal world all cats would be indoors, cared for, loved, and wanted. That unfortunately is not the reality. So, what are we to do?

Here is some information on feral and community cats. Hopefully, it will be useful in helping people who want to help the cats. 

A good evaluation of the situation is a must. Is this a community cat or an abandoned pet? Knowing the difference is critical to a good outcome for both. An abandoned pet needs help immediately. Irresponsible owners that drive away and leave their cat behind or dump them on the side of the road are an ongoing issue. Abandoned house cats have limited knowledge of outdoor living without a caretaker and do not fare well on their own. 

A community cat or colony/feral cat grew up outside. It is the only life it knows. It does not want to be your pet or anyone else’s for that matter. These cats are bonded to one another and their habitat. It is very traumatic for them to be taken from their environment.

You may feel good that you took care of the cat by bringing it to a shelter but was that really what was best for the cat? Often, we lead with our emotions. Let us be honest here. There are as many ways to take care of cats as there are people to take care of them. We may feel better that we do not have to look at the cat outside in the cold but how is the cat really doing? The typical shelter model is set up for people’s pets not unsocialized animals. Unsocialized cats are often quiet when trapped and people have the misconception that they are adoptable since they are quiet. Often, these cats are just frozen in fear. They know nothing about being a pet are not litter box trained and have never lived in a house. Now they are in a predicament of being forced to be around people (with good intentions) but none the less stuck in a system not designed for them. Shelters are trying to adapt to these cats and are doing their best to accommodate them. Unfortunately, they too have limited resources to manage these cats. The situation is stressful for both the shelter staff and the cats. Often young cats are taken from the site past the threshold of socialization. They are stuck in the shelter system, do not socialize enough to be deemed adoptable and end up in a barn cat program. Barn cat programs are designed for working cats and cats that do not want to be your pet. The cats best suited to these programs are seasoned cats that have good survival skills.

This becomes tricky when youngsters are taken from their colony too old to socialize but too young to have been in the dynamics of the group to learn about predators, the busy roads, and the hazards of outdoor living. They are at a huge disadvantage to be relocated and find themselves in a strange environment with limited survival skills.