What are feral cats? And what can I do about them?
Every day people move and leave their unfixed cats behind.
Every day an unfixed cat makes its way outside, and sometimes it is never retrieved by its owner.
Every day people transport their unfixed cats to another area, and dump them simply because they don't want that grown cat who was once a cute little kitten. They leave them in cul-de-sacs, dead-end streets, mobile-home parks, river areas, empty fields, parks, schools, apartment complexes, etc.
Almost always, if female, the cat becomes pregnant.
When that happens, mama cat has her babies in the wild, in a human world, a savage garden, where the baby kittens learn to be feral: Feral cats are the result of a domestic cat being abandoned or lost and left to fend for itself. The offspring of the domestic (now considered feral) cat are usually never handled by people and become terrified. Many times, when approached by people, they will hiss out of fright.
One cat, feral or otherwise, with her offspring will produce 420,000 cats in seven years if not spayed. A male cat who is not neutered will travel 15 miles to seek out a female cat in heat.
The mama teaches her baby kittens to be quiet; she teaches them to watch out for predators; she teaches them to lay low in the bushes; she teaches them that when people shoo them away or throw things at them, that they cannot trust humans. A feral cat will also keep its body close to the ground as it's walking the streets or going to its next location to look for food and water, as it's constantly afraid and in hiding mode from predators.
If the mama and the babies are lucky, they will have a caregiver who feeds them and waters them regularly. Mama will teach the kittens that it's OK to trust that person.
In the world of cat rescue, there is a saying: "If you feed them, spay and neuter them, because the end result is that a mama cat with her offspring will produce 420,000 cats in seven years."
If you see a cat and it's new to your neighborhood, inquire with your neighbors, "Do you know this cat? Do you know where this cat came from? Do you feed the cat? Are there more?"
If you find that the cat does not belong to somebody or no one is claiming it, it can be taken it to a vet to be scanned for a microchip. If the cat runs from you or is skittish and hides in the bushes, most likely it's feral.
Feral cats are not bad cats. In fact, they are a natural rodent control. No pesticides or exterminators are needed when you have a feral cat in your barn, greenhouse, shop, winery, apartment complex, mobile-home community or backyard. But you must get the feral or community cat spayed or neutered.
If you're not able to approach the cat or pick it up and put it into a carrier, then the cat needs to be trapped. The process to trap, spay/neuter and return is known as TNR.
How do you do this, you might ask? Fortunately, there's a wonderful organization in Portland called Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon. They spay and neuter feral and community cats. Community cats are strays that have been abandoned or homeless, but have someone to feed, water and care for them.
If there are friendly stray cats that you know for sure who have been abandoned, there are things you can do. Reach out to somebody like us for advice, but the most important thing is to spay or neuter that feral or community cat.
If you need help, there are organizations that will help like Our Community Cat Rescue. If we're not able to help, we can refer you to someone who can.
But please, do not ignore a feral cat. Everyone can agree that 420,000 cats in seven years is too many cats. The humane thing to do is to feed, water, spay and neuter.
Remember Bob Barker from "The Price is Right" TV show? He always used to say at the end of the show, "Help control the pet population; have your pet spayed or neutered." As a child, I never knew what that meant, and as a young adult, I didn't really care. But now, doing rescue since 2008, I have come to know that it is a growing epidemic. I want everyone in the community take a part in spaying and neutering cats, as this epidemic of overpopulation of feral cats and community cats quickly gets out of control.
Who's to blame? It's not the cat's fault, it's the fault of the irresponsible humans who didn't spay/neuter the grandma/grandpa of all the feral cats.
Who wanted to have just one litter, who gave kittens away for free without being spayed or neutered, who sold them without spaying or neutering?
Janice Saban is president of Our Community Cat Rescue, a nonprofit organization based in Gladstone that helps Clackamas County abandoned and stray cats find placement, and promotes TNR (trap, neuter, return) of feral and community cats. Contact the group at facebook.com/Our-Community-Cat-Rescue-374494242897749.