Asking Big Questions on National Feral Cat Day

Can feral cats be saved? Let's think about their role in our lives, how we can help them and how they help us.

Can feral cats be saved? Let's think about their role in our lives, how we can help them and how they help us.

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Oct. 16 is National Feral Cat Day, when cat rescue organizations come together to raise awareness about the feral cat population, and promote Trap-Neuter-Return as the best solution to lower the number of feral cats. I wish it were possible for every day to be Feral Cat Day, to spread the passion generated from the Oct. 16 events to the whole year round. While we all mingle with those of like mind, it’s easy to forget that not everyone cares about ferals, and in fact, quite a few people see them as pests to be eradicated. And as distasteful as it is to think about, these are the people we need to face if feral cats are to win.

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Many myths and lies surround feral cats. Members of bird societies claim that outdoor cats decimate the songbird population, without taking into account the encroachment of human beings on songbird habitat. Feral cats are viewed as dirty, disease-ridden creatures – but well-managed colonies are generally as healthy as “owned” cats. People fear rabies and toxoplasmosis, when it’s been decades since a cat-to-human rabies case was reported, and you are more likely to get toxoplasmosis by gardening or handling raw meat than you are by coming into contact with feral cats.

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And feral cats, in some circumstances, are good for a neighborhood. Industrial and business centers that allow TNR of local strays and ferals see a big decrease in vermin such as rats and mice. It’s a nontoxic pest control service they get for free, since either the colony caretaker or a rescue foots the bill for trapping, neutering and spaying, and feeding the four-legged workers. Which brings us to another little-discussed fact about cats and hunting: they are far more likely to catch ground prey than winged prey. It’s just easier for a creature that does its stalking close to the ground.

Working on behalf of feral cats is three-pronged: it includes helping the cats themselves, educating the public, and legislating to keep TNR welcome and legal on a community level. Educating the public isn’t just myth-busting and battling anti-cat organizations, either. It includes teaching kindly but misguided people that merely feeding stray cats will only exacerbate the problem. Without spaying and neutering and caring for the cats, their population can quickly multiply out of control. A good clinic does more than just snip the reproductive organs – it also vaccinates the cats and treats them for fleas and parasites. Your everyday, average cat lover may not know about any of this… unless you tell them. And if many cat lovers are ignorant of these facts, it’s almost certain that the elected officials of any given city or township know nothing about the proper care of a feral colony… unless you tell them.

National Feral Cat Day should be more than a day to raise awareness about outside cats. It should be a beginning, a place from which to start really doing something to help.

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