The impetus to write this booklet stems from my voluntary work with feral cats and my experiences as a student veterinary nurse in practice. In 2011, three other feral advocates and I set up a charity in Limerick that works towards improving the welfare of feral cats, primarily through TNR: Trap, Neuter and Return. Since our inception Limerick Feral Cats has neutered hundreds of feral cats. Dealing with very frightened animals in what is a very traumatic experience for them, we have honed our protocols to best serve the cats’ welfare.
Although TNR is a minority activity in Ireland, there is a wealth of feral cat organisations internationally. There is copious information and good advice regarding feral cats on the internet and particularly through social media. It is probably a reflection of the fact that TNR is only gaining recognition now. Feral cats have no protection under Irish law and local authorities are not required to provide pound facilities for them, as is the case with dogs. But TNR activity in Ireland is growing through the efforts of private individuals. A growing number of small, independent TNR groups are caring for feral cats in a professional and highly organised manner. Feral colonies are not just neutered, but their welfare is provided for on an ongoing basis. Relationships are established with the people who feed these cats so that their health can be monitored. More and more often, a feral cat is not just neutered and simply released to its fate. Groups such as Limerick Feral Cats expect the same standard of veterinary care for these cats as pet cats enjoy. That is not to say they should be treated as pet cats, as their behaviour is very different and so the amount of veterinary intervention they can receive will always be limited. But we do believe that these cats are entitled to the same compassion and attention that we give the tame cats we care for in practice.
Considering that techniques for handling and restraint of feral cats are hugely different to that for tame cats, it came to a huge surprise to me that there is no information on feral cat care in any of the standard veterinary nursing textbooks. This information is essential, not least of all to protect the safety of the nurse treating these animals. This booklet hopes to redress the balance. I hope that it will bring more nurses to appreciate how frightened these poor cats are when trapped, transported and admitted to vet practices for neutering. We can alleviate their anxiety in very simple ways that require no extra time or cost. But equally, I also hope that the information in this booklet will encourage nurses to be better advocates for feral cats.
My heartfelt thanks to my friends and colleagues Dr Andrea Schweighofer-Stuckenberg, Dr Jan Emslie, Michelle Brogan RVN and Em Peneau of Community Cats Network, Cork, for their invaluable input into the making of this booklet.
Aisling O’ Donoghue