How to care for a feral cat colony

When caring for a feral cat colony in your neighborhood, factor community relations into your action plan to avoid friction with those who don’t like wild felines.

Bernice does everything she can to help the feral cat colony in the valley below her subdivision. She feeds them, maintains shelters for them, and even has them vetted, spayed and neutered. But her immediate neighbors are not very appreciative of her efforts. “I had one guy tell me these cats were ‘vermin’, that I shouldn’t be attracting them, and that if he ever saw one on his lawn he’d shoot it,” Bernice says. “Thankfully, he’s since moved away, but I don’t get much support from anyone else around here either. I think they just write me off as a crazy cat lady.”

The fact is, not everyone loves or even likes cats, so virtually any community that’s home to a colony of feral felines is going to be divided on how the issue should be dealt with. Some will want to protect and help the kitties, while others will see them as a nuisance that should be removed. That’s why anyone taking on the management of a feral cat colony needs to know something about community relations as well as cat care.

Busting the myths

One of the most important parts of your action plan needs to be education. Sometimes, when people first learn a neighbor is taking on the care of dozens of feral cats, they think it’s a hoarding situation and/or that the cats will be allowed to breed indiscriminately and overrun the whole area. To avoid misunderstandings and conflicts – and keep the cats safe from harm and persecution – you need to relieve the people you live near of these myths.

Alley Cat Allies is one non-profit animal welfare organization that offers brochures, flyers, postcards and other educational resources and materials that explain the correct and proper management of feral colonies – including Trap-Neuter-Return programs that ensure cat populations don’t get out of control. Order or print out a bunch of these materials to give to others in your community.

• RedRover recently published a manual titled Humanely Managing Cat Overpopulation Sites, a step-by-step solution to cat overpopulation. Author Beth Gammie decided to draft the guide as a way to bring agencies and interested parties together with one collaborative plan. Its overarching purpose is to sterilize and rehome as many stray cats as possible – and it sets out to achieve this in a very realistic way. The manual lays out how to spay or neuter all cats on a specific site, place as many as possible in temporary homes or shelters, then return the unadoptable cats to the site where the possibility of repopulation will be limited, if not removed altogether.

• Consider writing a letter to the local paper explaining the truth about feral cat colonies and their proper care. You might even host an informational workshop to explain your responsibilities towards the cats and answer questions.

Communication is vital

• Start by talking to neighbors you already know – especially if they’re fellow animal lovers – and tell them of your desire to take on the management of the colony. Getting some interested people on your side will not only make things easier when it comes to tackling those who won’t be open to the idea (moral support is always useful!), but it also means you might receive some assistance with expenses, feeding, making shelters, vet visits, etc.

• Always remain polite, friendly and calm, even when dealing with people who are unsupportive, aggressive or rude. Getting into a shouting match with someone won’t help your cause, will escalate bad feelings, and could even endanger the cats’ lives.

• Be willing and ready to address people’s concerns and help them solve potential problems associated with feral cats. Many will have legitimate worries – for example, that the cats might decimate the wild bird population or use the kids’ sandbox as a litter tray. Work with these people and come up with suggestions for them. For example, locate bird feeders away from shrubs where cats can hide, and put a cover on the sandbox when children aren’t playing in it. In some cases, you might have to agree to contribute to the cost of these solutions.

• Keep everything in writing. That way, if someone tries to cause trouble for you, you’ll have written proof of how you’ve taken responsibility for the colony’s care and management, as well as what you’ve done to inform, educate or troubleshoot for others.

Managing a feral cat colony is a lot of work, and can also be expensive. Matters won’t be improved if your neighbors are unsupportive or trying to undermine your efforts. By establishing good community relations with the people you live near, you’ll not only make life easier for you and the cats in your care, but you might even be able to help make the colony an appreciated part of the neighborhood.