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Feral Cats and My Welfare State

Two years ago in a very harsh winter I set out food for three feral cats that hung around our garage across the road.  We set out a dish of dry food inside the garage and replenished it once a day during the winter.   It was a humanitarian act, I thought, and I figured that cats would earn their keep by keeping the area free from rodents.   Well, like many acts of kindness, there were unintended consequences.    The cats found a sheltered space underneath our porch which became their pied-a-terre ,  a nursery for kitten litters and an irritation for our terrier who knew something bad was happening there but couldn’t get in to get at that nasty cat smell.

And so,  as with most welfare programs, things progressed from a charitable act to a burdensome requirement.    When the first summer came I thought I would stop the handout and let the Darwinian ethos take over, the survival of the fittest.   Alas, there were kittens and my wife said “you can’t just let them starve”.    So we kept doling out dry food, the cheapest we could find in bulk.   Once when we were away for a three day holiday and hadn’t left enough food, we returned to find deep scratches on the car left behind and the garage torn up–amazing what tiny claws can do.

There are now (latest count) six adult cats of various hues and four kittens.   They are not friendly, but sit in front of the garage in the morning or across from the house, tormenting our terrier who can’t cross the invisible fence.  I believe we have drawn some immigrants from down the road who have got wind of the free lunch.    Now I know that we’re supposed to trap them and send them to the local animal shelter to be neutered and stop the feline population explosion.    Tell that to the cats who know a trap when they see it, however delightful the bait might be.    Moreover, my wife and I are in our 80’s and not in the best physical shape, so the act of trapping    possible in the ideal, is not feasible actually.

Any ideas?  Possibly this fall I will gird my moral loins and diminish the rations gradually.   Maybe they’ll go down to our neighbor, who keeps chickens.

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Bob Kurland, Ph.D.

Retired, cranky, old physicist. Convert to Catholicism in 1995. Trying to show that there is no contradiction between what science tells us about the world and our Catholic faith. Intermittent blogs and adult education classes to achieve this end (see http://rationalcatholic.blogspot.com/ and http://home.ptd.net/~rkurland). Extraordinary Minister of Communion, volunteer to federal prison and hospital; lector, EOMC. Sometime player of bass clarinet, alto clarinet, clarinet, bass, tenor bowed psaltery for parish instrumental group and local folk group.

11 Comments

  1. Pick up a good .177 caliber target air rifle, it’s amazing how accurate these are, and what a little pellet can do. Take one head shot at a time. Clean kill. No ear can trace a single air rifle shot.
    (Apologies to anyone who’s squeamish about this.)

  2. The correct reaction to “But there are kittens” is to catch them, and get them homes– if local laws allow.
    A barn cat is rather wild, but not actually feral– and they’re incredibly important.
    Our house cats are of barn-stock– captured while still on milk and currently having no clue they care cats, or that cats are supposed to mouse, but great companions.
    **********’
    David–
    oddly enough, coming right after my comment, I agree with you. A feral cat’s life is very nasty– I can’t understand people who give money to pick truly feral cats up, give them vet care, sterilize them…and then toss them back out to be prey to wild dogs, cars and disease.
    My main warning would be to make sure they’re actually feral, rather than barn cats. (Not an issue in this case, they wouldn’t be nesting under a porch if they were fed in a barn.)

  3. Foxifier, we thought of adopting one or two kittens, but I don’t think our terrier will allow felines into the house–or at least, that has been his disposition one an earlier occasion when one of our kids brought their cat here.

  4. Dr. Kurland, please go here and select the state where you live to find help with your feral cat colony:

    http://m.humanesociety.org/assets/maps/feral-cats.html

    This is what happens when free food is given to wild animals. I sadly include humans in that. There is a reason why St Paul in his 2nd Epistle tells the people in the Church at Thessalonika that each man should work for his bread.

    PS, I oppose indiscriminately killing the cats unless absolutely necessary, but if necessary, then make their deaths quick and painless.

  5. BK PhD-
    I meant adopting out to others– if your poor dog was going nuts with them outside, I wouldn’t suggest them inside!

    The thign is getting them early enough that they can be tamed. (Which, counter various animal rescue groups, isn’t impossible– I know this because none of my very tame house pets have been anything but what they define as “feral.” You just can’t wait until they’re biologically adult before you start taming them.)

  6. I understand a feral cat population can quickly get out of control. Some animal welfare leagues, ASPCA, Alley Cat Allies, Humane Society will help trap feral cats. If they are disease free, they will innoculate, neuter/spay them and notch an ear to indicate that they are now sterile and release, or put them up for adoption.
    I fed and watered a ginger cat down at our mech barn during a winter and tamed her enough to put her in a crate for a trip to the vet for shots and spaying. Turns out Kitty was feline leukemia (FL) positive and had to be put down. They wouldn’t give me her remains back to bury saying that if dug up by a wild animal the FL would be passed on. I felt like Dr. Death as she was a good mouser and quite the pal for everyone down at the barn, but better being put down humanely than dying a slow death in the wild.
    On the farm we have three related indoor/outdoor cats and an indoor only, former feral cat adopted from the church rectory. All are fixed. We’ve only had 1 mouse in the house which Mr. Spot brought inside to play with.

  7. Feral animals are actually more dangerous that a natural wild animal. Every year, in my neck of the woods, the rural folks have to have a feral cat and dog hunt. These animals are a threat to domestic animals and humans, because they have no fear of man. So any attempt to domesticate them willgfail in the long run.

  8. Locally there are coyote hunts. Those varmits clean out chicken houses and kill domesticated and farm animals as well as feral and wild. In VA deer hunting with dogs is allowed. In some cases the dogs are poorly fed to make them “better” trackers; some are so hungry they convulse. Then the hunters retire them by setting them “free”. On our property hunting yes; with with dogs NO. Sorry…pet peeve.

  9. A good medium size live animal trap can be used to capture an unwanted feral cat. The trapped cat can then be turned over to your local Animal Control. If the cat is judged to be feral, it will not be put up for adoption..

    An alternative to destroying feral cats that is growing in popularity among Animal Control agencies in urban and suburban areas. When a healthy, disease-free feral cat is captured it is sterilized then returned to the territory where it was captured. The sterilized feral cat is probably dominant in its territory, feral cats being what they are. If it is, that cat will keep other feral cats out of its territory. Studies suggest that this practice keeps down the overall feral cat population and reduces the number of feral kittens produced each breeding season. I do not know if this practice is suitable for very rural areas. Foxfier’s earlier remarks suggests that it is not.

  10. Micha-
    Yeah, usually they just die.

    Our barn was a popular spot for people to “release” animals.

    My dad keeps cat food in the barn– well, kept, actually. Since they shipped wolves in (you can literally trace the sudden reports of animals being “savaged by wild dogs” or vanishing entirely right into my home valley) all the feral cats are gone, there’s a lot of missing outdoor cats, nobody has barn cats and even the smaller dogs randomly go missing from fenced-in areas. Since the road kill will magically transport itself over cow-tight fences, this isn’t as odd as it might sound….

    They are also eating the coyotes, as well as domestic animals.

    The rodent population has exploded. And my folks haven’t seen any of the wild cats that use to be in the area since they “discovered” the “wandering pack” that showed up. Handily already wearing collars.

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