The Mainstreaming of a Feral Cat – Part One
Imagine if you would, waking up from the only home you ever knew. Your bed is gone, all your treasured photos and mementos in your house have vanished, your trusted food source has changed and you no longer know where you are. Would you be scared, disoriented, frightened and try to find your way back home? If you are a feral cat who is being re-located from the only home you ever knew, of course you would.
And that is exactly what is about to happen to the feral cats residing on the once pet-friendly Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando if we cannot convince management that relocating these cats from their property is not a safe and viable solution. These cats that were once part of a very successful and managed Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program were ordered in a reversal of decision by David Bartek, Director of Operations, at the end of 2011 to trap them from the premises and bring them to a shelter for a most certain death. The reason cited – they were a liability.
This decision of relocation caused me much speculation and food for thought. I am a devoted, caring, and compassionate individual who has had and loved cats her whole life. I consider myself highly educated and extremely devoted to the well-being of these creatures, but it was then I realized, I didn’t know cats at all. Or at least not feral cats, to the extent that I could claim any authority or knowledge of their ultimate well-being. If the cats were not being brought to a shelter, why was relocation bad? And were they really a liability?
Christine Michaels of Riverfront Cats is many things. She is the one that broke the controversial Loews story, she is the one that spearheaded the floodgate of support for these cats via a massive social networking campaign so that they were not brought to shelters, and she has been successfully managing a colony of feral cats since 2009. She is an authority and I realized it was time for me to pay her a visit so that I could arm myself firsthand with what feral really meant and why this decision was so dangerous.
I met Christine last year through cat blogging and found out she only lived about an hour away from me. We developed a friendship via emails and had always planned on getting together. Our dream has been to educate people about cats so that adoption rates in shelters increased, while the number of cats on the streets decreased. The momentum was in place. The time was now. But, if me, a devoted cat person did not fully understand the concept of feral cats, how could mainstream America possibly know much better?
In the first episode of a three part video series, our immediate task at hand was to put together an informative segment that really discussed the essence of the Loews story and basic feral cat knowledge so that when people do respond to a call to action to help feral cats, they understand how and why they are doing it. Knowledge is power and what a better way to educate people, than a one-on-one video.
In the second and third episode, to be posted at a later date, we actually visit Christine’s Riverfront Cats and interact with the environment firsthand so that I could accurately portray to people what a day in the life of a caretaker was like and to dispel the misconceptions that are pervasive to this creature. This was a very unique opportunity to really get into the mind of these creatures and I felt so invigorated after I met all her cats and saw that just like Gracie at Loews, they all have names, faces, and very distinct and unique personalities. These cats are REAL and the videos really help to visualize with a raw honesty what a feral cat is, rather just reading about it or looking at a picture.
Now that you have seen the video, there are some basic points I would like to reiterate:
1. Feral cats are not dangerous and do not attack people. While they may become familiar with a caretaker, these cats tend to avoid humans and usually only come out at night.
2. It is not cruel for a feral cat to live outdoors. Because they are not socialized to humans or indoor settings, they are unable to cope and do not adjust to the confinement or human contact. In fact, it can actually be detrimental to the cat to try to tame and socialize it. A feral cat may exhibit adverse behavioral problems in an indoor setting that are insurmountable to change, which often results in the cat being unfairly brought to a shelter where they are labeled “unadoptable” and possibly euthanized.
3. Feral cats are not responsible for the depletion of wildlife. In reality that is caused by urbanization, global warming, pollution, and construction. A managed feral colony is actually well fed and does not have a need to excessively hunt for food.
4. TNR works. Trap-Neuter-Return is the safest and most beneficial program available to both the feral cat and the community. The colony’s population decreases (and stabilizes) and the negative behaviors associated with cats such as spraying and noises from mating and aggressive fighting is significantly reduced.
5. Feral cats are not a filthy and disease ridden creature. In actuality, feral cats have a low rate of diseases and live a long and healthy life. This is particularly true because the feral cats that have been spayed or neutered are also vaccinated.
6. Cats can reproduce at an alarming rate. An unspayed/neutered cat pair leads up to 5,000 cats in 7 years. While it is a proven fact that TNR works, only about 2% of feral cats are are sterilized, so there is still an enormous need to institute proper TNR programs within a community. And some of the overpopulation is caused by human negligence – many cats are cruelly dumped on the streets that are not spayed and neutered. Human beings have the education and wherewithal to make a difference and to act responsibly. Most communities offer low cost or free spaying and neutering programs, so expense should not be an excuse to be irresponsible.
7. *There is a distinct difference between stray and feral cats that can often be confusing. A feral cat is not adoptable and should be returned to its outdoor home after it has been spayed or neutered. A stray cat found on the street at one point in its life had social contact with a human and can usually be adopted. A stray cat who is frightened might act like a feral cat when trapped and might mistakenly be brought to a kill shelter. The cats need several days of observation after being trapped to determine what type of cat they are.
8. You can identify a cat that has already been part of the TNR program by the universal practice of clipping the tip of the left ear of the cat.
9. Feral kittens can be socialized and adopted into a home if they are accustomed to people at an early age.
10. If feral cats are relocated, they will try to return to the only home they know. This is very dangerous to the cats and means a very high probability of death (more times than not, they are hit by a car). The only time a relocation of a colony should be attempted, is if a building they are seeking shelter in, is going to be demolished.
11. Feral cats are considered a domestic animal and are protected by anti-cruelty laws. Any crime against a cat should be reported to the proper officials.
12. FERAL CATS CAN SAFELY AND PEACEFULLY CO-EXIST IN A COMMUNITY.
While I still cannot claim I am an expert on feral cats, I can say that I have learned a lot and truly understand now why the decision to re-locate the Loews cats is so uninformed and detrimental. These cats pose no liability that I can see and it is abundantly obvious through what I witnessed with Christine’s feral cats firsthand, that they consider where they live as home. They do not have the capacity that humans do to be told that if they are patient, all will be well and that starting over can be a fresh chance for a new and exciting life. It is instinctual for them to return to the only roots they know. I hope that we can continue to rally and make a difference for these cats, but if not, I can assure you that people such as Christine and myself will remain diligent in our efforts to educate people about feral cats and why they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity to co-exist within a community.
To learn more about Christine and her feral cats, please visit her site at www.riverfrontcats.com. To learn how you can help stop the Loews cats from being relocated, please reference this excellent post for the most updated information.
*The subject of distinguishing a feral cat and a stray cat in an outdoor setting is often extremely difficult to determine and there are several guidelines to follow to ensure the proper classification of these cats. Unfortunately, these are not hard and fast rules. To learn more about this subject, the nonprofit organization, Alley Cat Allies, offers several extensive and informative articles on this subject. Please click the link Feral and Stray Cats – An Important Difference and Faux Ferals: How to Soothe a Scared Stray to Increase Her Chances of Adoption for more details.
A special thank you to A Tonk’s Tail for the comment they left me the other day about a photo I posted of Oreo, one of the Loews cats. They commented that this story now has a name and a face and because of that, we were so inspired that the music montage at the beginning of the video is a result of this sentiment.