Sunday, April 14, 2024
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Rescue Story: Feral Cat Day, Trap, Neuter, Remove…Only When Necessary

Chloe appeared as if by magic, perfectly camouflaged by her surroundings.
Chloe appeared as if by magic, perfectly camouflaged by her surroundings.

More often than not, when people ask for “help with cats” in their yard or neighborhood, they think we’re going to trap them and take them away. That’s rarely the case, and actually “trap-neuter-remove” is the last resort for feral cats, only if their lives are in danger by staying. Moving feral cats to a new territory is complicated and time-consuming and must be done carefully for their own safety.

Animals have territories that are the basis of their life. Territory isn’t necessarily turf that they fight over, it’s more like a safe place that they have built, like our homes, where we know all the living and non-living things within it, and we know it’s safe because we took precautions. In our case it’s building walls and locking doors. In a cat’s case it’s finding a physical space that surrounds them so that it’s naturally protective, that’s dry and warm with a safe exit and entrance, close to a source of food and water and areas to hunt if necessary. It takes a long time to develop that territory. For an animal, and even many humans, that space is the only place they feel safe. For cats, outside of that territory, they may usually feel their life is in danger, and they are often correct.

Hi! Do you see my tipped ear?
Hi! Do you see my tipped ear?

When cats feel unsafe, they hide in a small protected spot and hold as still as possible so that any predators can’t find them, and they listen and smell and look at everything around until it becomes familiar, and only then do they consider even eating, that’s how they react to finding themselves out of their own territory, whether they’ve mistakenly left it, or they’ve been moved by some means.

When you take an animal from its territory, you’ve taken away its own sense of safety. Then if you take it some place else and drop it off, you actually put it in other animals’ territory, whether it’s another neighborhood, out in the woods, along some road, or on a farm. Other animals of any species are typically not pleased at a stranger being dropped into their carefully organized territory and their first initiative is to drive the stranger away, or kill the stranger. Once cats get past their fear of a totally unfamiliar space, especially since they are unwelcome, they usually start trying to get back to their original territory. As we’ve seen in stories and movies, they have an uncanny ability to do that over long distances and unfamiliar territory. If they survive.


So to really move a feral cat from one territory to another you need to first spay or neuter it and give it a rabies vaccine. When the cat is moved it needs to be completely confined to a cage in a protected space in the area where it will live, covered, with food, water and a litterbox, so that it can have that small safe space in which to quietly sit and listen, look and smell all the animal and non-animal things, get accustomed to the sounds of life around there, the sounds and sights of people and animals and things. Other animals in that territory can do the same, getting accustomed to the new resident. This confinement should last for about a month before they’re released, and during that time someone needs to give the cat food and water and clean its litterbox each day.

Oscar eating five minutes after we finished moving him.

The rare times I’ve decided to remove cats

Ironically, the “R” in two big TNR projects I did in 2018 did actually stand for “remove”. In the one case, The Dunbar House TNR Project, where Mariposa came from, the home had been long abandoned, its ownership and very structure were in question as many neighbors thought it was to be demolished, and a neighbor or two were threatening the cats. Many people in the neighborhood knew of the cats, and several had even swiped kittens to take home and love, but no one was interested in taking over their feeding after surgeries, or having them moved to a new place in the neighborhood. I had checked with my friend Birgitta in autumn 2017 to see if she had space for…a dozen more feral cats, and she did. In her area there are several small farms they can spread out to cover, many barns and outbuildings and people who feed. So far, all have done well there, and some even turned around and decided to live in the house.

Dunbar cats collage.
Dunbar cats collage.

In the second, with 11 cats, eight kittens and three adults, neither the homeowner nor I or anyone I knew could find foster space to socialize the kittens in the middle of the summer, and we were all concerned what would happen when all 11 were adults and the neighbors weren’t too pleased, and also concerned at the cost of feeding and potential veterinary care. A neighbor of the family worked with someone whose family had a working farm and was more than willing to accept the entire group of 11, so the day the last two had their surgeries we packed up and moved them all to the former milk storage room in three large cages. When I stopped out there to retrieve the cages after their confinement I saw two of the kittens, the orange and the tortie, and I heard they were all doing well. Below was feeding time in the back yard they originally called home.

The extended family, compliments of the caretakers.

In both situations we are very lucky to have found these rare, safe, cat-friendly places where we can build a new home for colonies of feral cats who couldn’t stay in the place they’d come to call home. They don’t ask to be there, to risk their lives living outdoors. They end up there because people abandoned either them or their parents or previous generations. The best we can do is to help them have the best life. That’s what we should do for all cats no matter if they are friendly or feral.

Now we're going to stalk something.
Now we’re going to stalk something.


Read other Essays and other stories under TNR and TNR Series

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Weekly schedule of features:

Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life

Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters

Tuesday: Rescue Stories

Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork

Thursday: New Merchandise

Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy

Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats

And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!




From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, factual articles and fictional stories, "The Creative Cat" offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

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