For all of ye cat lovers, you most likely have heard of TNR, a practice whereby individuals humanely trap feral cats, spay/neuter them, test them for infectious diseases (i.e. FIV, rabies, feline panleukopenia, herpes, calicivirus, and feline leukemia virus), vaccinate them, and then release them back to where they were found. Why go through all this trouble?
We have essentially two main options:
1) Allow feral cats to overpopulate and spread disease around to themselves and potentially to local animals sharing that territory and nearby humans. These “outdoor” cats generally have a lifespan of 6 years “in the wild” compared to an average 14 years in a domestic “indoor” cat. Feral cat populations will become very large (due to continuously breeding kittens) and eventually lead to unmanageable conditions, as kittens grow up and establish their own colonies. People that cannot “deal” with these conditions will often call for feral colony removals, leading these cats to a shelter where they often will be euthanized, as it is difficult to find a home for an unsocialized “feral” cat.
2) Significantly reduce the births into the cat colony, thus reducing the number of deaths, and maintain the colony by having someone with a watchful eye preserve them. Thus the cats live on as they were, fewer have to be born into the cycle, and altogether there are fewer deaths.
I personally like the prospects of option #2. Yes, yes, some of you might think it is still cruel to take them and take away their rights to breed, BUT we do not live in an ideal world. We have witnessed the high euthanization numbers prior to this program implemented by the ASPCA. We now are slowly noticing a decrease in the numbers of feral cats in areas where this is conducted with a corresponding decrease in their unnecessary deaths.
Usually no more than 12 adults will exist in a feral cat population, and if newcomers wish to join the group, they will often be discouraged due to lack of food resources and kitty hierarchy. Although usually no more than 12 adults will usually be found together that doesn’t mean there haven’t been cases with well over this number found inhabiting farm houses and abandoned homes. Such conditions greatly augment the spread of disease and are the primary concern of public health individuals regarding these sometimes seemingly uncontrollable populations.
Although more research needs to be done, some wildlife conservationists claim that the existence of feral colonies negatively impact wildlife by damaging ecosystems and serving as vectors of disease for items such as hookworm, Toxoplasma gondii, Rickettsia, Coxiella, Bartonella, and roundworms.
So what can you do to save the cats and manage their colonies? If you see a feral cat colony, I would recommend you contact your local ASPCA to see if they can recommend a specialist in the area, a veterinary technician, or a veterinarian to come out and help you. For tips and starters, check out this little video I made with Susan D. Mix, a veterinary technician at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University. She and Danielle, a cat-lover who entered into this world of TNR unexpectedly when an incoming winter threatened the lives of feral cats on her property, share their experiences so that you can follow their brave lead!