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According to the ASPCA, the number of community cats in the United States is estimated to be in the tens of millions. A community cat is a cat that is born and raised in the wild, or a cat who has been abandoned and who has turned to wild ways in order to survive. A community cat is primarily raised in the wild or it has adopted community life.
A stray cat, on the other hand, is usually someone’s pet that has become lost or who has been abandoned. Unlike community cats, a stray cat is usually tame and comfortable around humans. These cats will try to make a home near humans. They are not able to cope with life in the wild and are completely reliant on humans for food.
When it comes to stray cat rescue, you may want to feed a stray cat, but you may not want to capture it. These stray cats have a much better chance of reuniting with their owner when they’re left in the area where they are found, so stray cat rescue is not always the best option. According to the Animal Humane Society, less than five percent of stray cats that are brought to shelters are ever reclaimed by their owners. That’s why stray cat rescue is not a good idea. It is best to leave healthy, friendly cats where you discovered them.
A stray cat may be friendly and approach you, or it may be too scared to let you get close, however it will usually eat as soon as you put food down. If you want to try to help a stray cat, see if the cat has identification and contact the owner. If you are able to safely get the cat into a carrier, take it to the veterinarian or to an animal shelter and have the cat scanned for a microchip. Contact animal shelters, rescue groups and veterinarians to let them know you have found the cat – someone may have filed a missing cat report that matches your description. Ask your neighbors if they know the cat. Post signs in the neighborhood. While you search for the cat’s owner it is helpful if you can provide shelter for the cat. If the owner cannot be found, you may decide to adopt the cat yourself or try to find it a good home. (If you take the cat home with you, have it examined by a veterinarian before introducing it to your other cats.)
For community cats, stray cat rescue is not recommended. A humane method called Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is used to manage cat communities. With this method, the cat is trapped, spayed or neutered and vaccinated against rabies, and then returned to its colony to live out its life.
Why You Should Use Cat Traps for Your Local Strays
Cat traps are a painless and humane method for safely capturing cats. Don’t try to pick the cat up to put it in a carrier. Use humane cat traps to ensure the safety of the cats and you.
Cat traps come in different styles, like a box trap or a drop trap. In some areas, you may be able to borrow a cat trap from a local animal shelter, or they may be able to teach you how to work with a cat trap. If you cannot borrow a cat trap, you can purchase a humane cat trap.
Before trapping begins, you should have a warm, dry, secure holding place ready to house the cat or cats that you trap. You must have your spay or neuter appointments scheduled before you trap. You must purchase or borrow your traps before you are ready to begin trapping, and you should have transportation ready to transport the trapped cats.
You may decide to use a cat trap to catch a neighborhood stray, or you may use cat traps to safely Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) community cats. Cat traps may be purchased, or sometimes they may be borrowed from local rescue organizations.
To learn more, read our article Why You Should Use Cat Traps for Your Local Strays.
What Is Trap Neuter Release?
Trap neuter release, or TNR as it is known, is a program that has been used in the United States for decades after its success in Europe. It is the humane approach to controlling feral cat overpopulation. In trap neuter release, the feral cats are trapped, neutered or spayed, and then returned to the very same spot where they were first caught.
Trap neuter release is a community based program in which concerned citizens like you trap free roaming cats in your neighborhood and bring them into a clinic to get them spayed or neutered. The cats’ ears are “tipped” to designate that this particular cat has already been treated. The cats are then returned to the exact same location so they can live out the rest of their natural lives. In an ideal situation, a caregiver will also provide food, water and shelter for these cats.
Before the trap neuter release program, feral cats were captured and turned into animal shelters where they were killed. This practice still exists in many areas. Catch and kill may temporarily reduce the numbers of feral cats, but it doesn’t solve the problem in the long term. Cats are living in a certain area because there is an available food source and some sort of shelter. These feral cats breed prolifically, and more cats will move in to take advantage of the natural resources and shelter available in this location. So trap and remove doesn’t work to curb the number of feral cats in a community.
To learn more about trap neuter release, see our article What Is Trap Neuter Release?
How to Build a Winter Cat Shelter
Community cats or feral cats are well-suited to outdoor living, and they can survive winter on their own. But there are some things that you can do to make winter life more comfortable for them. One way that you can help is by building a winter cat shelter.
Building a winter cat shelter can be simple and inexpensive. The two preferred styles used for a winter cat shelter are styrofoam bins and Rubbermaid plastic storage bins with removable lids. (Make sure that the brand is Rubbermaid. Other brands may crack in the cold temperatures.)
When building your winter cat shelter, smaller is better. A smaller interior means that less heat is needed to keep the cat warm. A small shelter can be heated by one or two cats. A large shelter with only one or two cats inside will remain cold, so two smaller shelters are better than one large winter cat shelter.
The placement of your winter cat shelter is important to help keep cats safe from predators. If there are dogs in the area, place the winter cat shelter behind a fence where dogs can’t get in. Another good idea is to have the entrance face a wall so only the cat will be able to get in and out.
Be sure that the winter cat shelter is weighted down and hard to move. Cut only a small cat-size doorway to help keep larger predators from getting in and to keep more heat inside. Cats only need an opening of about five and a half or six inches in diameter. Cut the doorway several inches above the bottom of the bin to help keep the weather out.
To learn more about building a winter cat shelter, read our article How to Build a Winter Cat Shelter.
What Are Cat Colonies?
Some feral cats live in cat colonies that loosely resemble lion prides. A cat colony consists of a group of usually related female cats and their offspring. The size of the cat colonies depends upon the availability of food and other resources. Adult male cats do not live in cat colonies, but friendly behavior between females and males can occur, especially when familiarity exists.
Within cat colonies, female cats, known as queens, will share many activities together such as raising kittens and guarding the cat colony from intruders. The queen cats will nurse, groom and guard each other’s kittens, and they will teach the kittens appropriate behaviors. The queens in cat colonies will often band together to repel other animals, including lone cats and cats from other cat colonies that encroach on their territory. Sometimes a stray cat may eventually be allowed into the cat colony after a number of interactions.
Members of cat colonies will groom each other and rub their bodies up against one another to reinforce their group identity by transferring scents. Inter-cat aggression is not common in cat colonies since the strong familiarity among females helps keep aggression to a minimum. In-group fighting can occur, but this is more likely to happen when resources are scarce.
For more information about cat colonies, read our article What Are Cat Colonies?