A common denominator in rural, urban and suburban communities worldwide is the ubiquitous presence of cats. Some free-roamers may actually “belong” to someone, possibly somewhere nearby. But if you see them skulking around on a regular basis, they are equally likely to be stray or feral cats.
Highly territorial and incredibly effective at reproducing, feral cat colonies need more help than you might think. Seemingly self-sufficient, these cats are prone to illness and injury, and lead relatively short lives compared to domestic felines.
Feral cats haven’t had opportunities to be nurtured or socialized by humans. Stray cats, on the other hand, previously lived with people and through no fault of their own became homeless.
Feral cat colonies are often referred to as community cats. Because of their lack of social skills, placements in adoptive homes are rare. Not only do they find it difficult to live indoors, but interacting with people can be next to impossible for them.
While trapping and re-homing feral cats isn’t a viable option, it is possible to capture and socialize kittens born from feral cats. Once fostered and socialized, these kittens can be placed in good homes.
Unfortunately, the common practice was to trap and euthanize feral cats that were perceived as public hazards. Certainly, feral cat populations must be managed. And with the growing popularity of Trap, Neuter, and Return Programs (TNR), numbers can be controlled in a humane way.
Feral Cats and TNR Programs
To control the populations of feral cats, TNR programs have proven to be cost-effective, humane and constructive. This approach results in a smaller tax burden for communities (regarding municipal trapping and euthanizing), and reduces public health concerns.
Feral cats are trapped, neutered, and returned to their hard-won territories. Proponents of TNR affirm that negative behaviors associated with feral cat colonies (such as fighting and odor of marking males) are quickly reversed.
Business As Usual
Cats that have gone through TNR have an ear notch to signal that they’ve been neutered and vaccinated against contagious diseases. Returning to the spot where they were trapped allows them to carry on as usual, fighting back rodent populations and standing up against invaders.
If cats are taken away and euthanized, any remaining feral cats will simply continue to reproduce, and others will eventually move into this vacuum. However, when cats are neutered and returned, a balance in the community can be enforced and maintained.
The New Jersey population of feral cats can grow up to 400,000 in the warmer months (compared with about 200,000 in winter). These populations are hardwired to exploit any sources of food and shelter.
If you would like to learn more about getting involved with TNR programs nearby, please check out The Spay & Neuter Center of New Jersey and Animal Protection League of New Jersey for more information. Becoming a caretaker is an immense responsibility not to be taken on lightly. Requiring time, consistency, and dedication, the benefits to your community are immeasurable.