Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How to Help When You Find a Feral

It happens all the time: homeowners go to clean out a storage shed in spring and find a mother cat with a litter of newborns tucked away in a corner. Someone takes the trash out to the dumpsters behind their apartment building and notices there are pairs of hungry eyes in the shadows all around. As one of the most adaptable mammals on earth, the domestic cat can survive and thrive in many different environments. If a cat is abandoned or becomes lost, she can revert to a wild state and rely on her instincts for survival, which can include forming social colonies to live in. Many intact cats wander too far from home and become lost while searching for mates. In the United States alone, surveys show that approximately 30 to 60% of un-neutered, lost, or abandoned cats will eventually live in feral colonies.

Many people want to scoop up all ferals and place them in homes or sanctuaries, but we must understand that this is impossible. The U.S. currently has a population of 30-40 million ferals and we are killing about 1.4 million cats in shelters each year. There are simply not enough homes for friendly cats, and certainly not enough sanctuaries. Remember, most adult ferals are too wild to tame and would be very unhappy in our homes. So, how can we help feral cats?

Humane traps hold cats safely and securely.
The best humane way to manage feral cats and their colonies is through trap-neuter-return (TNR). In this process, cats are humanely trapped, and then brought to a veterinarian for medical services. The cat receives a thorough health check before being spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and ear-tipped (for identification). When the cat has recovered from surgery, she is released back at the site of first trapping where her colony is located. Any kittens or socialized adults are diverted to adoption programs.

The guidelines for managing a colony have to be strict: (a) The cats must be in a safe place; (b) caretakers must commit to long-term care, providing food, water, and shelter and; (c) EVERY cat should be trapped, sterilized, vaccinated, and identified by "ear-tipping" the left ear (removing the top quarter-inch). New cats entering the area should be assessed (Friendly stray? Scared feral?), trapped, sterilized, and either released or put up for adoption.

Cats in such managed colonies can have a good life, provided caretakers supply them with all the basic needs and provide veterinary care when needed. This requires a long-term commitment, but with the proper tools and knowledge, colony management can be a fun and rewarding experience. To assist the compassionate people who become colony caretakers, we wrote Alley Cat Rescue’s Guide to Managing Community Cats.

Available now through Amazon!
Our new book lays out the process of TNR in detail and provides tips and tricks to help caretakers at every step. The book provides information about cat health and behavior in an easy-to-digest format, including things like common illnesses and their symptoms, how to tame feral kittens, and instructions for building a winterized cat shelter. And so much more!

Alley Cat Rescue’s Guide to Managing Community Cats is available now through Amazon Smile. It’s a great gift idea for new and experienced colony caretakers alike, and a comprehensive resource for anyone looking to learn more about feral cats.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

With Cats Away, the Mice Will Prey

photo: "Feral Kitty" by Avi, via Flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0)
We read it in the media all the time: feral cats must be eradicated because they're wiping out birds. Reports claim that if we just get rid of the cats, the world will be a utopia for birds. It's as if no forests are being razed, no tall glass buildings or giant wind turbines are being built, climate change is not altering habitats and migration routes, and there are no other predatory risks for birds out there.

Unfortunately, in some cases fear and misinformation have won out, and feral cats have been eradicated. But how often do we hear about what happens after the cats are gone?

The truth does trickle into the press now and then, and we've recently heard about problems on Marion Island, off the coast of South Africa. According to a new report, mice have become a plague on the island and are killing scores of seabird chicks. "Speculation is that the mouse population explosion on Marion Island is linked to the warmer, drier climate - as well as to the absence of the feral cats" the report says (emphasis added.) The irony is that the South African government spent millions of dollars and 19 years[i] eradicating feral cats from the island, in order to protect seabirds from predators! 

Nowhere has killing cats been a foolproof solution for protecting birds, and Marion Island is only one example. It took 15 years and millions of dollars to eradicate 2,500 cats from Macquarie Island[ii], off the southern coast of Australia. What happened next was an explosion of the population of rabbits, rats and mice. Sound familiar? The World Wildlife Fund says, "Severe overgrazing by more than 100,000 rabbits has caused landslides that have destroyed seabird nesting habitat. Rats and mice also attacked nests to eat eggs, and killed both chicks and adult birds."[iii]

It is very important to protect threatened bird populations, but we see time and again that killing cats for the supposed sake of birds does not work. Non-lethal population management techniques, like trap-neuter-return for feral cats, should be employed instead of trapping, shooting, and poisoning, which just leave holes in ecosystems that other predators fill. And more resources should be devoted to emerging chemical sterilization techniques that could help control feral cat populations in remote areas where doing surgery is a challenge. It's well past time we learn from our experiences on these islands, put the unsuccessful killing campaigns behind us, and embrace a future of humane management that protects threatened species without punishing others.

[i] Bester, M. N. et al., "A Review of the Successful Eradication of Feral Cats from Sub-Antarctic Marion Island, Southern Indian Ocean." South African Journal of Wildlife Research 32.1 (2002): p-65. Print.
[ii] Bester, M.N. et al., 2002.
[iii] http://www.wwf.org.au/our_work/saving_the_natural_world/oceans_and_marine/priority_ocean_places/antarctica_and_southern_ocean/macquarie_island/

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tip an Ear, Save a Life

by Adam Jablonski

What an oddly shaped ear. Was kitty born that way? Did she get in a fight? No way! If you see a cat whose left ear tip is gone, you're probably looking at a feral cat who is a member of a managed colony.

Perhaps the most unique thing about a community cat's appearance is his or her tipped left ear. Ear-tipping, which removes the top 1/4" of the left ear, is an integral part of every trap-neuter-return (TNR) program. It is done while the cat is under anesthesia for spay/neuter surgery (so it's quick and painless) to identify clearly that the cat is part of a colony and is sterilized and vaccinated. For new colony caretakers, this helps identify which cats have been TNR'd and which have not, and is especially useful in identifying new cats who join an established colony.

Ear-tipped cat at ACR-managed colony.
A tipped left ear is also a crucial symbol to animal control and shelter staff. For example, the county where Alley Cat Rescue is located has a regulation that requires municipal shelter staff to alert rescue groups whenever an ear-tipped cat is brought in by an animal control officer. It is then our responsibility to retrieve the cat and return her to her colony. Since feral cats typically aren't socialized to humans, they often display behaviors in the shelter environment that get them labeled as unadoptable. In a shelter that means euthanasia is right around the corner, but for groups like ours, that just means she wants to be back at her outdoor home.

If you see an ear-tipped cat around your neighborhood, you can rest assured the cat is healthy and cared for. And if you're a colony caretaker, please make sure each and every one of your cats gets ear-tipped during TNR, as it could be a lifesaver. It was for this little guy ACR retrieved and released back to his home.



Monday, November 09, 2015

The Essentials for First-time Adopters

We're gearing up for another National Adoption Weekend next Saturday and Sunday. We can't wait to meet the potential adopters looking to give one of our cats a loving new home! 

For first-time adopters the process is full of excitement and expectation for what's to come. With each adoption we provide a full packet of cat information, including the following list of items essential for every cat home. Before you welcome your new cat home make sure you're prepared with the following items.
  • Food and Water Bowls: Stainless steel or ceramic bowls are preferable as they resist bacteria build-up. Clean dishes daily.
  • High Quality Food (appropriate for the cat’s age): Wet? Dry? Special diet? Your local pet store can help you decide which food is best for your cat and your budget. (Water should be available to your cat at all times!)
  • Litter box, Litter and Scooper: There are a wide variety of litter boxes and litter types available. Some cats like an open box, while some prefer the privacy of one with a top and door. They can be picky about the type (i.e. clay vs. recycled newspaper) of litter too. Watch how your cat uses the box and litter, and don't be afraid to try something new if necessary. Cats also prefer a clean spot to do their business in. Scooping the litter each day will help keep it fresh and will encourage your cat to continue to use the litter box. Litter boxes should also be washed regularly.
  • Break-Away or Safety Collar With ID Tags: If your cat gets out, a break-away collar and ID tag will signal that she is an indoor pet who does not belong outside. If someone finds her then they will be able to get in contact with you.
  • Carrier: Anytime your cat has to leave the house, for a vet appointment or otherwise, she should be secured in a carrier. By transporting your cat in a carrier you ensure that she is not able to run from you if frightened.
  • Scratching Posts: Scratching is a healthy activity for cats. They do it to stretch and work their muscles, and also to leave their scent. A scratching post gives your cat an outlet for this instinctive behavior apart from your furniture. Look for a post at least as tall as your cat is long so that she can fully extend her body when using it.
  • Grooming Essentials: Nail clippers and brushes are essentials for every cat owner. Your veterinarian can teach you how to trim your cat’s nails and can recommend the best brush type for your cat’s coat. Brushing your cat can help to remove tangles and debris from her fur. Some cats seem to love being brushed even more than being pet, so it may be a good way to bond with your new cat too.
  • Bedding: Making a bed available for your cat can give her a safe space to nap. She may chose to sleep elsewhere, but it is a good idea to give her a place all her own.
  • Toys: Cats can be very playful by nature. Providing them with a wide variety of toys provides them with exercise, entertainment, and mental stimulation, which is essential for indoor-only cats.
If possible, have these items ready at home before adopting. This will help ease the transition for you and your cat. And never forget that the love you provide is the most essential thing of all.