Today is Global Cat Day - the perfect day to celebrate your own kitty and how much he enriches your life. It’s also a great time to reflect on how societal attitudes towards community cats and owned cats are slowly changing. In the Puget Sound at least, trap/neuter/return (TNR) of feral cats has been widely adopted by rescue folks and low cost spay/neuter options are available for all cats now. Even though up to 70% of cats in shelters across the U.S. currently do not make it out alive, things have definitely improved for cats since “the old days.”
Many area shelters want feral cats from managed colonies to go back to their caretakers as long as they are sterilized and ear tipped. A managed colony means that a caretaker not only provides food, water and shelters of some sort, but keeps track of any cats who may go missing. Foster programs are common now as well, offering high risk neonatal kittens and sick cats time to recover in a safe and cozy environment. Shelters also attempt to get their kill rates down by implementing barn home programs, where unsocialized and behaviorally challenged kitties can be adopted as outdoor cats. This is controversial since some cats end up in these programs who are not equipped to live outside. Cats from hoarder situations for instance, are often living inside a home but do not form healthy, interactive relationships with their caretakers. Once rescued from the hoarder, they are generally traumatized and afraid of most people but not capable of surviving in a rural setting. Shelters are also adopting our FIV+ felines now, instead of killing them as they once did. People realize that cats with FIV can and do live as long as non-FIV kitties, and these cats get adopted. The virus is transmitted to other cats via deep bite wounds and sex, so it’s generally accepted that altered FIV cats are fine living with non-FIV status cats.
“Feral” is never a black and white term. The crucial period in which kittens need human interaction in order to be socialized is 4-6 weeks of age. Kittens trapped after this time period may always be shy with strangers, but they will still be completely adoptable into a home. They will bond deeply with their caregivers if their people are consistent, patient, and allow these kitties to go at their pace. Feral felines socialize to humans at different rates, usually through years of building a trusting relationship; many people find this process rewarding. I’ll never forget the first time Odin purred while I was feeding him and his brother Adian, or the first time my now deceased outside kitty Gigi allowed me to pick her up after 9 years.
“Kitten Season” happens every spring but this year was unfortunately remarkable. COVID shut down spay/neuter clinics temporarily and created a huge kitten population explosion. Shelters and rescues still have many of these kittens and young cats available for adoption; did you see our recent post about available kittens? Quantitative data shows us that spay/neuter of all cats affects the number of cats killed in shelters. (Just as purchasing a dog or cat from a breeder affects these numbers in the opposite way.) Aside from the hard data, working towards no-kill one cat a time by rescuing, volunteering, or adopting less than perfect kitties, shows us that we can make a difference. Many folks with companion animals discovered how much they relied on their animals for their mental health and emotional support during COVID. We need kitties just as they need us!