Q: It’s starting to get cold outside and I’m worried about the feral cats I see outside the building where I work. Should I take them to an animal shelter before it snows?
A: It’s natural to want to help cats that you find outside. You’re not alone. Millions of people across the country care for feral cats in their communities, and you can take steps to help them.
First, know that feral cats are used to living outside; that’s their home. Before you understand the history of feral cats, your instinct might be to bring an unsocialized cat inside your home or to take her to an animal shelter — but these actions have terrible consequences and are not what’s best for the cat.
Feral cats are not socialized to people and are therefore not adoptable. For this very reason, a feral cat in an animal shelter will more than likely be killed. This is the same reason why trying to bring them into your home will not work: they are most comfortable on their own, outdoors.
There are simple ways that you can help the cats in their outdoor homes and help prepare them for winter. First, you can start feeding the cats on a regular schedule. This will ensure they have a dependable, nutritious food source for the colder months. Providing food at a scheduled time will also help when you are ready to have the cats neutered (the No. 1 one thing you can do improve their lives).
Second, you can provide the cats with a feral cat shelter. Feral cat shelters give the cats an insulated, dry place to get out of the wind or away from snow. There are numerous kinds of feral cat shelters; check out Alley Cat Allies’ list of some that you can easily build and others that are available for purchase. If you do not own the property where the cats live, be sure to get permission from the property owner before placing a feral cat shelter.
It’s important to note that the cats may not begin using a new feral cat shelter immediately. It is likely that they already have a favorite spot where they escape the elements. Give the cats some time to acclimate to the new shelter.