Part of Ireland's TNR Manual
How to Help Community Cats
Adapted for Ireland from Alley Cat Allies.
Why it's Trap Neuter Return NOT Trap Neuter Adopt
Felis Catus, the domestic cat that plays a pivotal role in our lives, is born and lives in a broad range of circumstances, from pampered house cats to outdoor feral cats. Because cats in different environments all look so similar, it is easy to imagine that a feral cat is, or wants to be, a creature much like the cat curled up on your sofa. In truth, feral cats are very different from the cats we easily share our homes with. Feral cats are unsocialised to humans.
We know of committed caregivers who invest all available resources to provide indoor homes for the adult feral cats they manage in an attempt to tame them. It is, unfortunately, a time-consuming project with a very low rate of success. And even if a feral cat does 'tame up', he bonds only to the caregiver who brought him in - almost never to other humans or homes.
We don't encourage attempts to adopt adult feral cats. Read on to understand why and learn better ways to help feral cats.
Feral Cats Belong Outside
Why do humans feel compelled to provide indoor homes for feral cats, and why do the cats resist these good intentions? It is inherent in human nature to want to nurture and care for those we perceive to be in need - to make them warmer, cozier, safer and therefore happier. It is an admirable trait, but not always appropriate. The impulse to bring every feral cat 'in from the cold' reflects our human needs, but it isn’t best for the cat or what the cat wants. Feral cats have lived their entire lives without direct human contact other than, perhaps, daily feeding and monitoring by a caregiver. Their arsenal of survival instincts includes wariness of humans in general and a sharp fear of confinement.
Even if you have fed a feral cat for a long time and he has come to trust you in an outdoor setting, he will lose that trust when confined and it may never be regained. Being forced into a house or other structure can be the most frightening experience possible for a feral cat. He may appear to acclimate, or at least may stop hissing and cringing, but he is never at ease and never stops looking for a way to escape. The stress of such confinement can harm the cat’s physical and mental health.
A feral cat’s home is where he has spent his entire life. Feral cats form strong bonds with one another and with their home territory, bonds that define their daily existence. It may be difficult to accept that, despite the strong human-animal bond you have formed with the cats, their animal-animal bonds and animal-territory bonds are stronger and more relevant to their well-being. They are content outdoors.
Another factor that inspires some people to want to tame the feral cats they care for is the misperception that feral cats live short, miserable lives.
The truth is that the well-being of feral cats is most compromised by behaviours associated with mating and giving birth to endless litters of kittens. Spaying and neutering significantly changes the picture. Male cats no longer fight and roam. Female cats no longer bear kittens. Feral cats frequently live 10 years and longer and have the same rates of disease as pet cats.
Nurturing through Fostering and Trap Neuter Return
How can a caregiver’s desire to nurture best be expressed? By carrying out Trap Neuter Return.
In some countries, a major and critically important component of Trap Neuter Return is socialising and adopting kittens and adult stray cats. In Ireland, this is not the case. With so many cats already looking for a home, and so few homes, rehoming any cats in a colony is not best use of resources, be they adult or youngster, feral or stray. However, often kittens are so ill (see photo above) it would be inhumane to leave them in the colony - and once they've been taken in and fostered, it would be similarly inhumane to return them when they've acclimatised to an indoor life. When given individual love and attention, young feral kittens can usually be fully socialised to become household cats. Adult strays - cats who for one reason or another lost their homes - can often be re-socialised and rehomed. But, for the reasons given above, it's best not to at this time. At the same time, fostering kittens and strays is a valuable contribution to the process, where appropriate.
The Greatest Possible Good for the Greatest Number of Cats
The goals of the feral cat movement are:
- To change the way feral cats are routinely treated in this country;
- To recognize their right to live; and
- To improve the quality of their lives through spay and neuter.
In other words: to save and improve the lives of as many feral cats as we can.
Managing populations through adoption is not possible. Even if adoption were the most desirable course, resources do not exist to socialise and adopt the millions of feral cats in this country.
And yet, with the time and energy that goes into trying to socialise one adult feral cat, dozens of cats could be spayed or neutered and dozens of kittens could be placed for adoption, thereby having a real impact on saving cats and improving their lives.
It is time to frankly examine our reasons for working on behalf of feral cats. Even caregivers who are involved only with the cats they feed on a daily basis are, nevertheless, part of the big picture, of the dynamic movement to help cats that began in the 1950s in the UK.
If the goal truly is to bring the greatest good to the greatest number of cats, then the best way to reach that goal is through Trap Neuter Return.