Feral cats are domestic cats who have reverted back to their wild state. Some feral cats are strays that have been lost or abandoned, while others have been born “in the wild.” Feral cats are pretty easy to identify since they bolt like lightening the minute you step outside.
Unfortunately, taking pity on these cats by regularly tossing food out the back door is the wrong thing to do. As long as there’s a limited amount of food for a feral cat in a neighborhood, the population does a pretty decent job of staying in balance. Upsetting the balance by setting out huge bowls of cat chow results in attracting more feral cats.
There’s several things you can do to deal with a neighbor who feeds feral cats. Rather than putting off the inevitable, it’s best to approach her early on while she’s feeding only a couple of cats. In as short as a year, two breeding cats can easily multiply into over a hundred cats, which my entire block learned the hard way.
1. You should start by explaining to your neighbor the results of her benevolence to the feral cats. Describe the nuisance they’ve become (marking your property, keeping you up at night, defecating in your yard etc.) and ask if she would stop feeding the cats. She will probably say something about being “sorry for them” and will ignore your plea.
2. The next step is to call the local Humane Society and ask if they will have a talk with your neighbor. The folks at the Humane Society do an awesome job about describing the feral cat problem in the US ( it’s estimated that nationally there are over 60-100 million stray and feral cats) and will caution your neighbor what will happen if she continues. Of course, your neighbor will know that it was you who called the pound; you can preempt any problems by meeting the animal control officers at your neighbors house and pleasantly introducing them to your neighbor.
3. If the problem still persists, it’s time to call the Humane Society again and ask for some help. They may suggest trapping the animals. Some municipalities allow trapping feral cats while others have ordinances against it. If your community is one that does allows trapping, then borrow a humane small animal trap from the Humane Society or buy your own.
4. Here’s where your options split. You have the option of trapping the animal and taking it to the pound. The odds however, of your neighbor retrieving the animals and being mad at you for life are extremely high. I’m afraid this is what happened to me.
The second option, the better option, is to take the animal to the pound and have them neuter the cat for you before returning it back to the neighborhood. This method of animal control is called Trap, Neuter, Return or TNR, and is a highly effective way of controlling feral cats.
Feral cats are very territorial and removing one colony of cats usually results in another one moving in. If your neighbor is too kind hearted to stop feeding those strays, then it’s better to be feeding spayed strays than a bunch of cats in heat. Once spayed, the feral cats will settle down and stop marking their territory. They will also do a fabulous job of running off other stray cats who are trying to muscle in.
Of course, spaying feral cats is not free and someone has to bear the cost. In some communities, vets and the humane society will donate the spaying procedure. In other communities, spaying for strays is done at a reduced rate. You neighbor might not be willing to foot the bill, but maybe another neighbor will share the cost with you especially if it means an end to the problem.
All it takes is one male and one female cat and their kittens, to produce over 400,000 offspring in a 7 year period. Of course, those numbers might not mean a thing to an elderly woman who is only concerned with the two kitties she is feeding from her back porch. By approaching her directly, and offering to trap the feral cats so she can have them spayed, you will save both yourself and those cats a lot of heartache.