In the wake of the raid of Tiger Ranch (a cat sanctuary in Tarentum, Pennsylvania about 20 miles northwest of Pittsburgh), come claims that stray and feral cats are health hazards and are potential risks to the public. Alley Cat Rescue would like to take a moment to stamp out the myths surrounding these animals and educate the public on how to properly manage them.
A feral cat is one who has had no or very limited exposure to human contact and has reverted back to its “wild” state for survival. These animals should not be directly handled; one should never corner or try to pick up a feral cat. Feral cats (most wild animals) are afraid of humans and will run at the sight of one (they are not known to attack people), but extreme caution should be used when in close proximity to them.
There is also the misconception that all stray and feral cats are “disease carriers”, when in truth, most people acquire infectious diseases from other people not from animals. One disease is toxoplasmosis; which is rarely transmitted by animals (from fecal matter) and more commonly acquired by handling raw and undercooked meat. Another virus that makes people fearful of cats is rabies. Cats are not natural vectors of the virus and most rabies cases in the US are from bats, coyotes, and dogs.
The preferred method of controlling feral cat populations is through trap-neuter- return (TNR). Cats are caught by humane traps, spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and returned to the site. Kittens/cats that are friendly or can be socialized are placed into an adoption program to find permanent homes. Cats that are TNRed are healthier and are less likely to transmit diseases (to other cats and to humans). Once sterilized, they are less aggressive and fight less. They also receive a three-year rabies vaccine; which in studies has shown to be effective for longer than three years. Vaccinated cats will also provide a buffer zone between wildlife and humans.
Ultimately, there is no need to fear stray and feral cats. They pose no immediate threats to humans and a few isolated incidences of such claims is no reason for panic. However, one should always remember to use caution when in contact with a stray/feral cat (like most wild animals); even if the person has specific animal handling and trapping experience, one should NOT try to pick up the animal.