A shelter policy which requires workers to determine whether a cat is feral upon impound is inconsistent with best practices. A cat impounded by a shelter is often going to behave in a fearful and defensive manner, to varying degrees, which doesn’t mean he is a wild cat but rather that he is behaving normally for his species under the circumstances. And many, many owned cats are not microchipped so the lack of a chip in no way suggests a cat is feral. Further, when a shelter takes the stance that cats deemed feral are deserving of nothing except death, there is needless killing – sometimes of feral cats, other times of owned pets who have been misidentified by staff.
Today is National Feral Cat Day and while the outlook remains gloomy in regressive killing facilities and communities which harass colony caregivers, there are signs of hope for feral cats, sometimes in unlikely places.
- Costco published an article in its magazine this month in support of community cats called “Don’t Fear the Feral”.
- Lake Norman Realty in NC has a TNR program for local community cats and is hosting a fundraiser to benefit its Lucky Cat program today.
It’s great to see the general public supporting feral cats and their right to live. What would be even better is to see more shelters doing their jobs and protecting dogs and cats, including ferals. Shelters such as UPAWS in Michigan not only provide humane care for feral cats brought to the shelter, they adopt them out via their “Barn Buddies” program. The neutered and vaccinated cats are placed as outdoor “rodent control technicians” for a $10 fee.
Is your local shelter or anyone in your community doing anything special for free-living cats on National Feral Cat Day? Tragically, my local shelter is just doing the usual: killing. Or to put it more accurately, killing and trying their best to hide their actions from the public. If only shelters such as this put as much effort into saving lives as they do into ending them and hiding the evidence, we might truly be able to celebrate feral cats today instead of having to beg for their right to live.
Shelter directors should consider protecting feral cats as part of their jobs – specifically:
- Allowing newly impounded cats a quiet period of adjustment before assessing their status
- Neutering, vaccinating and returning truly feral cats to their outdoor lives
- Taming kittens born to feral mothers and offering them for adoption
- Partnering with the community in order to provide foster care and to maintain feral cat colonies
If directors refuse to do their jobs, they should be replaced by compassionate people who will. In the interim they should not be allowed to accept any cat they are determined to kill and instead be required to direct concerned citizens to animal groups willing to provide humane care. In too many cases, shelter directors’ policy on feral cats results in a violent and permanent betrayal of the animals the facility is supposed to be protecting.
We have a long way to go in terms of shelter reform. How shelters treat feral cats is indicative of their commitment to lifesaving. These are animals who pose unique challenges in handling and care, who are unlikely to generate much, if any, adoption revenue and who some people consider to be nuisance wildlife. When an animal shelter isn’t fighting to protect these cats from harm, it reflects a fundamental mission failure.