National Feral Cat Day is October 16th. This national recognition is an important step in the battle to educate the public about proper and humane treatment of feral cats. What is a feral cat, and why should you care about its well being? Let me introduce Shifty.

Shifty is thought to be about five years old. While no one but him can be certain about his past, it is believed he was born to a neighborhood stray cat, who was likely abandoned by humans. Shifty has had little contact with humans aside from watching them from afar. He often hides under parked cars on the street, and waits by porches hoping to scour garbage cans after the streets grow silent, or, if he’s lucky, hear the sprinkling of cat food being tossed out on a stoop near by.

Shifty is blind in one eye, a wound he has had most of his life. It’s difficult to say how his eye might have become injured, but it is not uncommon for unneutered male cats to fight viciously over territories and mates. Shifty is very lucky to have survived this injury with no medical care. Five years is a long time for a domesticated cat to survive living in the wild, especially for one with an impairment, like Shifty.

He is not alone, however. He lives in a distinguished territory with about 12 other cats, known as a colony. He and the other colony cats struggle to survive against parasites, injuries, dehydration, human cruelty, animal attacks, malnutrition, and long, frigid Ohio winters.Feral Tabby

You have probably seen cats like Shifty and his colony mates, perhaps in your own neighborhood. They can be found hiding under cars, scurrying across your yard through the darkness, searching your porch for scraps, or watching silently from the weeds. Shifty and cats like him who are homeless, were born in the wild, or became wild due to being left to fend for themselves, are known as feral cats.

Feral cats usually live difficult lives due to scarce resources, and are terrified of humans. So, what can we do to correct this problem? It starts and ends with education, and population control.

Some people find feral cats to be a nuisance, and deal with colonies by attempting to exterminate them. This is simply not an effective long term solution. Feral cat numbers are so great (an estimated 70 million in the U.S.) destroying one colony will only allow room for other cats to move in and take over the territory. There is a better way to help feral cats, effectively and humanely. It’s simple: trap, neuter, and return (TNR).

Across Ohio and the U.S. concerned individuals and rescue groups are working together to help control and care for feral cat colonies. Due to strengthened education efforts by organizations like Alley Cat Allies, founder of National Feral Cat Day, colonies are being cared for and controlled. These compassionate people are trapping feral cats in humane traps, transporting them to a veterinarian to be spayed or neutered, and then releasing them back toFeral Kitten their colonies.

You can do this as an individual, one cat at a time. Traps can be rented from local rescue groups, or your local humane society. Some great instructions on how to bait and comfortably transport feral cats to be vetted can be found on the Alley Cat Allies website.

Do not be surprised if the veterinarian “tips” the cat by clipping off the very top of the ear (this is not painful for the cat). Ear-tipping helps others identify feral cats who have already been spayed or neutered. The cat will also likely receive a rabies vaccine, dewormer and flea medications.

Shifty was neutered in May 2014. He was also given a dewormer, flea treatment, and had mats cut from his coat. Because of this, Shifty has become calmer, gained weight, and no longer fights with neighboring colonies. He has also shown some great improvement with his socialization, allowing people to touch his coat, and will even purr. More importantly, Shifty can no longer father litters of kittens, which is great news for his colony and the community. Male cats can father HUNDREDS of litters of kittens a year! Neutering has vastly improved Shifty’s quality of life, as well as the community around him.

So, why not celebrate National Feral Cat Day by taking a step forward in the right direction for the cats in your neighborhood? There are resources to help with the cost of TNR, organizations in Central Ohio that can assist with this process include: PetPromise (City Kitty Program), Black and Orange Cat Foundation, SNACK and Colony Cats. Some organizations can also aid in supplying food for feral cat colonies, which depend on humans for help, or point you in the right direction with advice on colony care.

You can also assist feral cats by simply sharing this message. Education is an important part of changing the way we treat animals, and changing the way we react to feral cats. Celebrate National Feral Cat Day by giving a voice, and a chance, to feral cats like Shifty! – Merri Collins

Other great resources:

Alley Cat Allies Feral Cat Information

PetPromise City Kitty Program

SOS Ohio

Colony Cats

Spay and Neuter Abandoned Cats and Kittens (SNACK Ohio)

Merri Collins is from Meigs County, Ohio and graduated from Ohio University with a Bachelors degree in Journalism. She works as a Marketing Coordinator full-time, and also as a freelance copy-writer. Merri has always had a passion for supporting animal rights and helping animals in need. She is a PetPromise cat foster, performs TNR in her area, and has an adopted cat named Big Poppa.

Photos in this article are courtesy of Merri Collins.