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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Great Rescues Day Book:
Portraits, Rescue Stories, Holidays and Events, Essential Feline Information, All in One Book
Each month features one of my commissioned portraits of a feline or felines and their rescue story along with a kitty quote on the left page, and on the right page the month name with enough lines for all possible dates, with standard holidays and animal-themed observances and events. Great Rescues also includes a mini cat-care book illustrated with my drawings including information on finding strays or orphaned kittens, adopting for the first time or caring for a geriatric cat, a list of household toxins and toxic plants, or helping stray and feral cats and beginning with TNR.
Each book includes also 10 sheets of my “22 Cats” decorative notepaper with a collage of all the portraits in black and white so you can make your own notes or write special notes to friends.
The portraits in this book, collected as a series, won both a Certificate of Excellence and a Muse Medallion in the 2011 Cat Writers’ Association Annual Communication Contest, as well as the 22 Cats Notepaper mentioned below.
All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission, although links to your site are more than welcome and are shared. Please ask if you are interested in using and image or story in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of an image or a product including it, check my animal and nature website Portraits of Animals to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.
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Tuesday: Rescue Stories
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