by Debbie Lanham
For the Love of Cats receives calls often regarding free roaming cats and want information on how to assist them. There are several questions that need to be addressed and answered first. Is this a feral cat or is it a stray? How can I tell the difference and how do I help both?
A feral cat usually will have a notched ear which notifies the public and Domestic Animal Services that the cat is a feral community cat. These cats are treated and neutered (TNR: trap, neuter, return) and this notch provides awareness that the cat will not have future litters. Next, see if the cat will communicate with you and allow you to pet it. If the cat is socialized this will indicate that the cat is a pet, and most likely lost or abandoned. Your local county pet shelter can scan the cat for microchipping. They will then notify the owners that their pet was found.
When a cat hides, is distant, and mainly comes out at dawn or dusk, this usually reveals that it is a feral cat. They are not socialized and are afraid of people. When people start a feeding program with feral cats, they will learn to trust that individual and arrive at feeding times. They usually will keep distant for months and sometimes for years. They have adapted to the outside world and usually cannot become a house pet. The county ordinance protects these animals from cruelty and also from being removed from their habitat. Most counties have laws and consequences for harming or removing these outdoor animals.
When kittens are found, intervene by taking the furbabies to the nearest county animal shelter. The sooner kittens are rescued from prey and diseases, the greater their chance is for survival and adoption. The longer they remain outside the higher the risk is of them becoming feral cats. If possible, trap the mother and take her along with the furbabies.
The feral adult cats in your community will need to be TNR'ed to prevent the overpopulation challenge. Call your local animal services for assistance but keep in mind they may be under