Feral Cats Need Love, Too

By Liz, celebrating release week!

I’m so excited that this book is out this week! This was such a fun one to write, and really got me in the holiday spirit. It’s Christmas-themed (which is kind of obvious by the cover) but it also covers a topic that’s really important to me – feral cats.

I’ve been doing cat rescue for a long time and thanks to some of the wonderful people I met along the way, I got involved in some feral cat missions. I’ve trapped cats, done feral cat clinics, and accidentally found some friendlies in feral colonies along the way who became part of my family.

I wanted to make this book about a feral cat community and their caretakers because it’s something that still isn’t widely understood outside of rescue people. Strays and ferals often get lumped together into one category, where there’s a very big distinction. All ferals are, technically, stray cats, but not all strays are feral. There are often stray cats who have been dumped by their owners, or ran away, or have come to live on the streets under varying circumstances, who perhaps find a colony to live with because there’s a food source.

Feral cats are cats who are not socialized. They have either lived outside since very early on in their lives, or perhaps are part of generations of ferals – meaning they were born outside. Some colonies are lucky enough to find a caretaker who traps them humanely so they can get spayed or neutered to stop the reproductive cycle, vetted appropriately, and returned to their area, and then feeds them regularly.

Caring for colonies is a tough job. Trapping alone and getting through a whole colony can take months, depending on the size of the colony. And once someone makes a commitment to feeding a colony, it’s a twice per day effort. It’s not uncommon for caretakers to run into people in the neighborhoods who don’t understand this concept and they can be resistant. Sometimes, they can even be the recipients of threats, intimidation, and even violence.

So when I wrote this book I wanted to call people’s attention to the plight of not only feral cats, but feral cat caretakers, and give some basic principles about ferals and caring for them. Here are my top five:

  • Ferals can’t simply be “relocated.” If they’ve been living in an area, it’s their home and they are used to it. Putting them somewhere new rarely works, and can cause them to try to return to their old space. Even if a relocation is successful, oftentimes other cats can come in and fill the void that’s left, which doesn’t solve the problem of removing the cats.
  • Ferals depend on their caretakers just like your furry best friend who lives inside with you depends on you. Once they have someone feeding them and caring for them, they depend on that person/those people to keep it up. If you make a commitment, don’t let them down.
  • Contrary to some myths that are still being perpetuated, ferals are not dangerous and will not attack humans or other pets. Actually, they are so scared of people they normally won’t come out until there’s no one around. Even with regular feeders, it takes a feral a while to trust – but if you earn it, they may come out to say hello.
  • Ferals don’t spread disease. This is a common argument/myth that detractors often use. Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs, where the cats are fixed/vaccinated, definitely mitigate any potential for this also.
  • Ferals should never be brought to a shelter. Sometimes kind-hearted people think they’re helping by trapping a feral and bringing it to a shelter; but really they are putting that cat in danger of being euthanized. A feral isn’t an adoptable pet, so they don’t belong in a shelter.

So, if you’re looking for a charity to support this holiday season and the plight of feral cats has tugged at your heartstrings, check out Alley Cat Allies, or if you know of any local rescues who support ferals, please consider making a donation. And hopefully, A Whisker of a Doubt will help spread the word.

Readers, do you have any experience with feral cats? Tell me in a comment below.

32 Thoughts

  1. I am halfway through the book, Liz, and I knew of your work with ferals. I keep nodding to myself as I read, knowing I’m reading about real situations that arise. Thanks for those points – I knew some and learned some things, too!

    Question: if feral kittens are caught early, can they be socialized? (Now I’m thinking there is one in the book?)

    I know Whisker of a Doubt will make a big splash!

    1. Thanks Edith! Absolutely, if they are caught early enough. Some are quicker than others to be socialized, depending on their lineage, etc. and if they are a first-gen feral versus a third, for example. But yes, we can absolutely work with them!

    2. Thanks Edith! Absolutely, if they are caught early enough. Some are easier than others to socialize, depending on their lineage, like if they are a first-gen feral vs. a third gen, etc. But yes, we can work with them!

  2. Congratulations on the new book, Liz! A Christmas-themed mystery with cats sounds perfect to read right now.

    We had a well-known stray cat colony located beside our elaborate Parliament Hill in Ottawa for decades. I remember the famous cat caretaker Rene who built them some cold winter shelters in the 1980s to survive our brutal winters. He took care of them for over 20 years, I think, and like you said, this was a huge commitment every day. I remember seeing the cats and the sanctuary when I lived in Ottawa from 1996-2001.

    Sadly when I moved back to Ottawa in 2014, I learned they closed the cat sanctuary in 2013.

  3. We had a family (I can’t call it a colony, it was maybe four or five cats) that used to live in our disorganized woodpile several years ago. My husband wanted to clean up the pile because he was concerned about rodents. We argued about it, then I pointed to a little orange face staring at us from under the pile. “We have built in rodent control. Leave them alone.” We never saw a rodent.

    The family moved on after a year or two. At that point I let The Hubby clean up the woodpile since our exterminators had found another home (a family with a pit bull who often got off his chain moved in and I think the cats sought a friendlier locale).

  4. OMG…I am into animal rescue, too. I love that you wrote this! Can I read this book out of sequence, or should I read them in order?

  5. We have an organization here called C5 (http://c5-tnr.org/) that does TNR. It’s a wonderful group, and they have saved many lives. Unfortunately, you’re right about many of the common misconceptions. Thank you for helping to eradicate them.

  6. Oh, Liz, so close to my heart. I was president of PAWS Animal Welfare Society in Fort Kent, Maine, during it’s start up years. We had a very active TNR group and of course we accepted adoptable pets who needed to be surrendered or who were released strays. The needs of these animals are so great, especially in a cold winter climate. You are 100% correct in your assessment of the misconceptions surrounding feral colonies. And for those who do not want colonies in their neighborhood, well, TRN tends to be self-limiting as the cats can no longer reproduce. Alley Cat Allies is a fabulous organization they were extremely helpful to us in our mission.

    1. That’s so awesome, Kait. Yes, ACA definitely is amazing. I feel so bad for these babies. One of the great (cat) loves of my life was a big old guy I trapped in a colony who ended up being the biggest love bug. I kept him and had him for almost a year before he died. I was heartbroken.

  7. So glad you are bringing this to public attention. I have friends who shelter a family of ferals, though one by one the ferals wander away (or meet an unpleasant fate). But it is a lot of work. They’ve built houses for the cats installed pet-proof heating pads, put up fans in the summer. But you are so right that most people don’t understand. Hope your novel does well for you and educates a lot of people. Cheers.

  8. We have a feral cat community in our neighborhood and enjoy having the cats come by our garden and drink from our fountain that we keep freshly filled for them. Our next door neighbor does the feeding as she has had experience with feral cats. My husband and I are actually allergic to cats which we did not know until we were around our Grand-kitties and both ended up at the doctor’s office. We do talk to the kitties in our neighborhood and they certainly look at us like they understand everything we say. They have special spots in our side garden where they like to “sun” themselves. Your book sounds like a winner!

  9. No experience with ferals, but I am learning about them now thanks to the book. I’m a third of the way into it now and enjoying it.

  10. I have to read this. I didn’t know anything about feral cat rescue previously.

  11. We do have several feral cats. We moved to our current home about two years ago. These cats have made themselves at home in our garden. I haven’t been able to get close to them. Our neighbor said that an old lady was feeding them and when she moved away, she got another neighbor of ours to feed them. I put out water for them. I do enjoy seeing them. Cleaning up after them isn’t so great, but I will do so.

  12. Years ago, my vet had a technician who worked with a feral cat group. One of the cats had kittens and the tech rescued the kittens and socialized them, I adopted the black kitten and had her for eleven years. she was a joy and I miss her still.

  13. Mom’s next door neighbor ‘took care of’ a feral colony that more or less lived near a dumpster behind her company’s building. One of the cats needed more help than the neighbor could provide (she had ten rescue cats living with her) and Mom agreed to help. But the cat was so frightened that it took many attempts to catch her, and then once it was on Mom’s closed-in porch, it needed to be caged until trust was developed. She eventually walked into the house and stayed there, but only under the couches, never in open space. We think that perhaps abuse from a man was involved because over the years that Mom cared for her, the cat hissed at the men entering the room. All she could see was their feet, but the hissing and growling could be heard in the next room. She let Mom groom her, but only with treats delivered and only with parts of her poking out from the under the couches. If Mom was in the room, she sat underneath her chair.

  14. I’m glad you clarified the difference between feral and stray. I don’t think I really understood. I’ve donated to Ally Cat Allies in the past and need to do so again.
    Looking forward to your book.

  15. Just three days short of National Feral Cat Day (October 16), I spotted a dead feral cat on the roadside, likely hit by a car. It was quite saddening to know his/her life and death would not at all matter to general society. On the contrary, many people would be glad that the cat would never harm another innocent bird, presuming it ever had.
    About three years ago, it was reported that Surrey, B.C. had/has approximately 36,000 feral and stray cats, so many of which are allowed to suffer severe malnourishment, debilitating injury and/or infection by callously neglectful municipal government as well as individual residents who choose to remain silent.

    (Progress might also be made by discontinuing allowing pet cats to roam freely outdoors and notably risk them becoming another predator’s meal or some sadistic person’s target for a torturous death.)

    When I made a monetary donation to the local Trap/Neuter/Release (TNR) program, a lady volunteer left me a tearful voice mail expressing her appreciation, which to me suggested a scarcity of caring financial donors.

    No wonder cat Trap/Neuter/Release (TNR) programs are typically underfunded by governments and private donors, regardless of their documented success in reducing the needless great suffering by these beautiful, sentient animals.

    I fear a possible presumption of feline disposability.

    Could there be a subconscious human perception that the worth of such animal life (if not even human life in regularly war-torn or overpopulated famine-stricken global regions) is reflected by its overabundance and the protracted conditions under which it suffers?

    (Frank Sterle Jr.)

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