Feral cats are the 'wild' offspring of domestic cats and are primarily the result of pet owners' abandonment or failure to spay and neuter their animals, allowing them to breed uncontrolled. Feral cat 'colonies' can be found behind shopping areas or businesses, in alleys, parks, abandoned buildings, and rural areas.
Trap, Neuter, Return Programs Enhance Public Safety
Feral cats are naturally inclined to keep away from humans. In addition, when cats are fed away from populated areas, contact is further minimized. However, when caregivers are prevented from feeding, the cats are forced to forage populated areas in search of food. Soon compassionate individuals begin feeding the cats close to work or home, thus increasing the cats' proximity to people. Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) programs, accompanied by ongoing colony management, instead reduce the chance of contact by keeping cats away from human population areas.
TNR Humanely Controls Feral Cat Populations
TNR and colony management are also effective in reducing the number of cats, and therefore, the number of chance encounters with humans. Prevention of TNR or the use of lethal methods, on the other hand, actually allows the population to continue multiplying. A survey of feral cat caregivers conducted by the SF/SPCA found that every caregiver who implemented a TNR program saw their colony stabilize or decrease in number. In San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, one feral cat colony has been reduced from 85 cats to two through TNR. And after caregivers at Stanford University started a successful TNR program, the campus cat population reached zero population growth almost immediately. Today, through natural attrition and the adoption of tame cats, the colony has decreased by over 50%.
In contrast, Sonoma State University administrators implemented a trap and kill program over the objections of campus cat caregivers. Less than one year after the cats were removed, more cats were again living on campus. At Georgetown University, school officials trapped feral cats and took them to the local animal control agency where the cats were killed. Less than six months later, 10 new unaltered cats and 20 kittens appeared on the campus.
Do Feral Cats Lead "Short, Miserable Lives?"
Feral cats do not experience significantly more or worse medical issues than do housecats. Spay/neuter further improves cat health by reducing wandering, mating, and fighting.
It is also not uncommon for feral cats to live ten or more years, a lifespan comparable to many domestic cats. While feral and abandoned cats may face hardships, death is not necessarily better than a less-than-perfect life. Many animals, such as raccoons, foxes, and field mice face similar hazards, and do not live extraordinarily long lives, yet we would never consider euthanizing them "for their own good."
Fix Our Ferals
Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) programs are the most effective method of controlling population growth. In Berkeley, the non- profit group Fix Our Ferals has answers about humane population control, which will make life more healthy and pleasant for both people and cats. They hold free spay/neuter clinics for feral and stray cats, loan out humane traps at no charge, and will even come to your neighborhood meeting to help organize the effort. Call the Fix Our Ferals Hotline at (510) 433-9446 for free services and expert advice.
Here are some suggestions from Fix Our Ferals for neighbors who wish to keep cats out of their yards and gardens:
Push wooden chopsticks or ten-inch plant stakes into flowerbeds every eight inches to discourage digging and scratching.
Cats dislike citrus smells. Scatter orange and lemon peels, or spray with citrus-scented spray. You can also scatter citrus-scented pet bedding.
Cayenne pepper, coffee grounds, and pipe tobacco also work to repel cats. Some people have also suggested lavender oil, lemon grass oil, citronella oil, eucalyptus oil, and mustard oil.
Spray cat repellent (available at pet supply stores) around the edges of the yard, the top of fences, and on any favorite digging areas or plants. For information call your local animal supply store.
Cover exposed ground in flowerbeds with large attractive river rocks, to prevent cats from digging. Rocks have the added benefit of deterring weeds.
Plant the herb "rue" to repel cats, or sprinkle the dried herb over the garden.
Try an ultrasonic animal repellent. These are available in lawn and garden stores.
Use a motion-activated sprinkler. Any cat coming into the yard will be sprayed but unharmed, and it is good for the lawn.