All feral/community cats are strays, but not all stray cats are feral.
A stray may be someone’s companion cat who became lost or had been intentionally abandoned. These socialized cats are adoptable and can be reintroduced into a home.
Adult feral/community cats are not socialized and are not considered adoptable. They may be former pets who, over time, regressed to a wild state or they may be the offspring of felines who did not reunite with their guardians. Feral cats are generally born on the streets, have not been socialized to people and will fend for themselves.
Colonies are groups of feral cats living together. They can be a combination of ferals and strays that share territory and a food source. Unfortunately, these colonies can grow from a couple of cats to hundreds as each new generation of kittens is born. If these kittens never have human contact, they will also grow into fearful wild cats. Unless a rescue is available to take the adults, an extremely high probability for euthanasia occurs if the adult is brought into a shelter.
Feral Kittens Can Be Adopted
Feral kittens under eight weeks of age have an increased chance to be adopted into homes, if they are socialized and handled at an early age. If they are not, they will remain feral and become unadoptable.
The only proven method to manage feral cat colonies is Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). TNR is not about rescuing or eradicating every feral. It is about reducing the number of feral cats in a given area and lowering intake euthanasia rates. It is also about creating a better environment for both the cats and the people around them.
With TNR, each cat in a colony is trapped and transported to a veterinary clinic. At the clinic, the animal is vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and ear-tipped (the ear is trimmed) to identify them as ferals who were sterilized. Once recovered, the cats are returned to their original colony. Ideally, a “caretaker”, who is either an individual or a committed group of people, provides food, water, and shelter to the cats. In addition, the caretaker monitors the cats for illness or injury and also for any newcomers who would require TNR.
A comprehensive resource for caretakers, or those interested in TNR, is “The Neighborhood Cat TNR Handbook: A Guide to Trap- Neuter- Return for the Feral Cat Caretaker”. Free Download
Trapping and Euthanizing Does Not Work
For many, the way to deal with these ferals is simply to eradicate them and the colonies in which they live. Research has shown us that trapping and euthanizing is not an effective fix. Feral cats choose a location because there is a food source and shelter. Removing feral cats from a location is ineffective because, even though the quantity of cats in a locale is reduced, the solution is temporary. Any survivors will continue to breed and other breeding cats will move into the vacancy created.
Feral Spay/Neuter Resources
Get help with items related to feral or community cats
Neighborhood Cats – Offers a wealth of information regarding caring for a colony of cats in your backyard, organizing a TNR program or starting a Return to Field program
Animal Sheltering ( ublished by the HSUS) to provide news from the field, hands-on tips and expert advice
Humane Society of the United States - Information on Outdoor cats
ASPCA Pro – Rescue and Shelter Resources for Community Cats
Alley Cat Allies – A National Feral Cat Resource - is a nonprofit advocacy organization whose mission is to to protect and improve the lives of cats. Emphasis is on stray and feral cat advocacy and providing information on TNR (trap-Neuter-Return)
Books and Guides - Many are FREE to Download