A feral cat is either a cat who has lived his whole life with little or no human contact and is not socialized to humans or a stray cat who was lost or abandoned and has lived away from human contact long enough to revert to a wild state. Feral cats avoid human contact and cannot be touched by strangers. Although feral cats are members of the domestic cat species and are protected under state anti-cruelty laws, they are typically fearful of humans. (Source: Alley Cat Allies)
San Antonio is fortunate to have the San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition (SAFCC), a public 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization comprised entirely of volunteers. Most of the volunteers work at full-time jobs and then work on SAFCC issues after they get home from work and on weekends. They do not have any paid staff nor do they have anyone working on feral or stray cat issues full time.
SAFCC runs four free workshops per month with the occasional "special" when requests are received. These workshops are open to the public and are scheduled at various locations around San Antonio.
These FREE workshops will explain everything you need to know about the TNRM process:
- loan of traps
- spay/neuter options
- recovery protocols after spay/neuter surgery
- how to help solve cat nuisance problems
- safely manage outdoor cat populations
Download the flyer for San Antonio Feral Cat Workshops.
If you need to contact San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition with a situation you have with cats that you need help with, please call 210-877-9067 and leave a message.
Caring for a feral cat colony
(Source: Alley Cat Allies www.alleycat.org)
All across the world, people are caring for stray and feral cats. Although roles that people choose to assume may vary, one thing remains consistent—people take great satisfaction in helping to improve the quality of life for cats. Some people carry out trapping and ensure that the cats are vetted: they may or may not be the caregivers. Others serve as both the trapper and the colony’s caregiver. In circumstances where there are several people involved who work or live in the vicinity, the cats may enjoy a team of caregivers.
1. Conduct on-going Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) Program
Humanely trap stray and feral cats. Neuter, vaccinate, eartip and return all feral cats to the colony, including those that only visit sporadically and newcomers as soon as they appear. Neutering and vaccinating are the best things that can be done for stray and feral cats. They will be healthier and live longer if they are neutered. The females will not be continuously pregnant and nursing. The male cats will not fight for mates or roam in search of females with whom to mate. The number one priority when discovering an individual cat or a colony is to safely and humanely trap them and see that they are vetted.
Create a plan for adopting socialized cats. Kittens and cats that are friendly to humans can be adopted into homes.
2. Provide food and water
Provide adequate food and water for the cats on a regular basis, year-round. Feed during daylight hours for your safety and so that you can easily assess the members of the colony?
Food: nutrition and seasonal considerations
The amount of food a cat needs depends on her size, the weather, and what other food sources are available. Expect an adult feral cat to eat roughly 5.5 ounces of wet (canned) cat food and 2 ounces of dry food daily (increase to a half cup if only feeding dry). Cats vary in their needs, and so some will eat considerably more, others less.
While gauging how much to leave, observe the cats and use your discretion based on the time it takes for the food to be eaten. If the cats eat all of the food in 15 minutes or less, consider putting out a bit more. If there is consistently food remaining after a half hour, put out a bit less. Although most cats clearly enjoy canned food, feeding a colony dry food alone is fine as well. It is less expensive and just as nutritious.
In the winter, especially in colder locations, expect the colony to consume more food because they will need extra calories to maintain energy levels. In places where wet food may freeze, it is advisable to just feed dry food. If you know the colony will eat right away and you plan to feed canned food, consider warming the food prior to arriving at the site and using insulated bags to keep the food warm during travel.
Remove uneaten food within 30 minutes. Never allow food to sit out as it may attract insects or wildlife.
Do not expect all of the cats to eat at the same time or worry that some may not be getting their share. Within a colony, cats with seniority or stronger personalities may eat before those who are lower on the social scale. Those who eat first leave food for the others. Do not be concerned about or try to manage this social interaction. It is perfectly normal.
Keep the feeding location neat and clean for the health of the cats and for community relations. Keep the food dishes in one place to facilitate cleanup and to provide a tidy appearance, and again, remove feeding dishes within 30 minutes.
(please refer to www.alleycat.org for the Colony Care Guide)
3. Providing Shelter
Some colonies find shelter for themselves in a shed or under a building where their safety is uncertain. You might want to consider building a shelter for the cats. It can keep them safe from the elements and help you control their location and deter them from neighbors’ properties.
A good size for a shelter is at least 2x3’ and at least 18” high. Larger shelters are not necessarily better, since heat disperses quickly, leaving the inside as cold as the outside. A space just big enough for three to five cats to huddle is best. Cats generally use shelters during winter months more than others. Consider size for transport in your vehicle to and from the colony site as well. Again, camouflage the shelter as much as possible using dark green or brown paint. Anything that stands out could be mistaken for trash and could bring unwanted attention to the cats.
(please refer to www.alleycat.org for the Colony Care Guide)
4. Monitoring members of the colony and providing ongoing healthcare
Keeping track of members of your colony, their health, new cats who have joined the colony who may need to be neutered, and your ongoing Trap-Neuter-Return program allows you to monitor your progress and provides you with back-up evidence that may be needed someday.
Health: It is a good idea to keep an eye on the cats for general good health. Common indicators of health problems or injury include: changes in behavior, changes in eating habits, dull eyes or coat, discharge from the nose or eyes, weight loss, fur loss, changes in their gait, and listlessness.
Have a plan with your veterinarian for how to handle any health problems and for ongoing colony care. When a health problem occurs, speak with your veterinarian first and describe the symptoms so that you can decide together if a sick cat needs to be trapped and examined.
For ongoing colony care, ask your veterinarian to provide you with deworming medicine and antibiotics to have on hand to care for minor health problems. Have a financial plan in place for any cats that may need veterinary care due to injury or illness. It is important to find a veterinarian or low-cost clinic familiar with or willing to learn how to work with feral cats. San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition www.sanantonioferalcats.org can help you find resources. If the veterinarian you ultimately choose has no experience with feral cats, he or she can learn more about treating feral cats (http://www.alleycat.org/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=454).
Read more about working with a veterinarian
(http://www.alleycat.org/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=329). Share July Levy's chapter on Feral Cat Management in Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and Staff geared toward veterinarians. Request a copy from Alley Cat Allies.
- Flea Control: Your veterinarian can apply a long-lasting topical flea control product such as Advantage when the cats are anesthetized for neutering. There are also oral flea medications (such as CAPSTAR) that can be added to the food, but monitoring the dosage can be difficult for feral cats, who share food.
Change the bedding in shelters at least twice a year. At that time, spray or dust the floor with a cat-safe flea control product. Or, sprinkle diatomaceous earth beneath the straw or hay to deter fleas. Sprinkling mint or dried pyrethrum flowers beneath the bedding may also help. Fleas are a natural part of life outdoors, so while you can try your best to control them, they are not something you need to be worried about excessively.
- Tapeworms: It is not uncommon for feral cat colonies to have tapeworms. These can be treated with dewormer when they are taken in for neutering. If you find that your colony of already neutered cats has worms, it is not something you need to worry about a lot. Tapeworms will not harm otherwise healthy cats.
- Record Keeping: You should hold on to all medical records for each cat in every colony for which you care. A medical record should contain a listing of each vaccination (especially rabies) and any other medical procedures. The record should also include documentation of the cat’s neuter and, if the cat was micro-chipped, the manufacturer, and the number of the chip. Include a photo of each cat with his or her record. Make sure to update the photo occasionally as their coloring and size can change with age.
You should always be prepared for the possibility that someone such as ACS could question the status of your colony. This is why it is important to keep current, accurate health records for all of the cats.
One way to stay organized is to keep all information for a colony together in a three ring binder. Not only will you be prepared to provide documentation about your cats if needed, you will also represent yourself as well-organized and on top of the situation when conversing with neighbors about the cats.
Use the Alley Cat Allies Feral Cat Colony Tracking System to help keep organized records.
You may find you need legal help when approached by community members or even government officials about your care of the cats. Learn more about how to find the right kind of legal help.
5. Helping cats and people to coexist – what you can do
As the colony caregiver, you become the cats’ public relations firm. These steps will help maintain their good image and their good neighbor status in your community. Go to Alley Cat Allies’ Community Relations Resource Center for more in-depth instructions, tips, and samples. If neighbors do not know who “speaks for the cats,” they have no one but animal control to contact with complaints or problems. Being open about caregiving can protect the cats. One way to maintain good relations is to establish and maintain a friendly dialogue with residents living in the cats’ neighborhood and readily address all neighbor concerns. When talking with neighbors, it can help to have science behind you. Read Alley Cat Allies' summary of scientific evidence supporting Trap-Neuter-Return. Make yourself available and provide them with a way to contact you.
To address concerns:
- Establish a friendly, ongoing discussion and know your facts. Explain to residents living in the cats’ neighborhood what Trap-Neuter-Return and colony care entails—explain that the cats are cared for and pose no health risk. Additionally, providing written information from Alley Cat Allies will lend credibility to your effort and help answer specific questions and concerns. You may find that other neighbors are feeding the cats as well and you can combine your efforts and set up a schedule. It may be a good idea to deliver copies of How to Live With Cats in Your Neighborhood to each of your neighbors with your contact information written on the back. This way neighbors know you are being proactive and understand their concerns.
Explain that the cats have lived at the site for a long time, that they have been (or will be) neutered, which will virtually eliminate behaviors such as roaming, fighting, yowling, and spraying, and that a managed colony will be stable and healthy. Also explain that if the present colony is removed, new, unsterilized cats are certain to move in. This is a phenomenon known as the vacuum effect. See more on the vacuum effect.
- Remain calm and constructive in all of your dealings. Present information and interact with others in a reasonable, professional manner. You will give neighbors confidence that you know what you are doing and care about their interests. Should you get to the point where you feel you can no longer control your temper, put the brakes on the discussion and ask someone else—perhaps a fellow caregiver or neighbor, or a member of the San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition—to help mediate.
- When dealing with a neighbor that has concerns about the cats, determine the specific problem and do your best to resolve it. Address individual complaints by listening patiently and asking questions that uncover the specific problem. Problems that may seem on the surface to be about feral cats may instead be about you or a neighbor’s cat. Instead of arguing or pointing the blame elsewhere, do your best to find a solution to any problems that arise. In most cases, the problems are very easily resolved, when dealt with quickly and in a calm and helpful manner.
There are some steps you can take preemptively that may help you avoid potential questions or concerns altogether.
- Trap-Neuter-Return. Neighbors are often bothered by behaviors associated with breeding, such as roaming, fighting, yowling, spraying, and the birth of litters of kittens. Your Trap-Neuter-Return program will virtually eliminate these behaviors.
- Clean feeding areas and follow feeding protocols: Keep the cats’ feeding stations or areas clean and trash free. Building attractive, but inconspicuous shelters and feeding stations can help maintain cleanliness. Do not put out more food than the cats will finish in one meal. Remove what they do not eat after 30 minutes and clean up the area. Never leave food out overnight as this can attract unwanted wildlife.
- Keep the location of feeding stations and shelters discreet. Cats can be discouraged from climbing on cars or other private property by gradually moving their shelters and feeding stations away from these areas. The cats will follow the food and shelter.
- Provide litter box areas. To keep cats from using neighborhood gardens as litter boxes, build one or more litter boxes or place sand or peat moss in strategic areas for the cats to use as litter (do not use conventional litter, as it will be ruined by weather). Be sure that the litter area is in a quiet, sheltered space. Scoop regularly to alleviate odors and keep flies away. Be prepared to scoop more often in hot weather.
- Use humane deterrents to keep cats away from places they are not wanted. There are many safe, low-tech methods to discourage feral cats from hanging out where they are not wanted, like neighbors’ gardens, yards, porches, or vehicles. Read more about humane deterrent techniques. Always offer to provide and apply these methods for neighbors at your own expense. Consider pooling resources with other caregivers, if possible, to cover the cost of such items.
- Address poisoning threats. While you are assessing a feral cat colony, you may encounter poisoning threats to the cats by uninformed people. There are steps you can take to put a stop to these threats and ensure the ongoing safety of the colony. Learn more about how to deal with poison threats.
- Maintain colony records. Though you should take every step to prevent neighbors from calling animal control, you should always be prepared for the possibility. This is why you should always maintain current, accurate health records, including vaccination data and photographs, for all of the cats in your colony.
- Protect yourself and the cats. Draw up an agreement with the neighbor who has concerns describing them and what it is you plan to do to address them. Make a note of who is responsible for the costs and the deadline for every action. Each party should receive a copy of the agreement. You should each sign the document to indicate that everyone agrees to the proposed solution. Then each party should sign the agreement again upon completion of the plan. This document will be written proof that you addressed your neighbor’s concern and she/he agrees that the situation has been resolved.
6. Planning for substitute colony care. Who will care for your cats?
Life is full of the unexpected. Don’t wait until you are not able to take care of your colony to find a substitute or replacement caregiver. If you are the only caregiver and nobody else knows your colony’s location or size, don’t wait another day to find a substitute caregiver. Most caregivers are very bonded with the cats they care for. They have named them, they know their routines and behaviors and the cats recognize their car and their voice when it is feeding time.
“Nobody is going to care for them like I do,” you might think, but it is better to find a sincere person who can step in when you are out of town, or as much as we don’t want to think about it, if you are ill, become disabled or pass away. The best care you can give to the feral cats you look after is the arrangement for their ongoing care. You’ll feel better that another compassionate person will fill your shoes if necessary.
Start with people who may already know about your colony that you believe you can trust and who may be interested in volunteering. Locate others in your town who are caring for cats or contact your local Trap-Neuter-Return organization. (You may be able to find a local organization through various online communities. If you cannot find one, you may want to create a network of like-minded cat caregivers or possibly a grassroots group for your town. Learn more in our Starting Your Own Organization Guide.)
Follow these steps to find the best person for the job:
Gather all records. Be sure that all of the cats have been neutered and vaccinated for rabies. Ensure that all of their records are in order. Include photos of each cat and her/his name, behaviors, and friend(s) or others cats he/she is bonded to in the colony.
Locate potential candidates:
- Check in with neighbors, store owners, friends, and family in the area. But, don’t assume your family or friends will be the best for the job.
- Ask the new property owners (if you are moving).
- Post ads in the newspaper with your name and phone number. DO NOT include the address of the colony or your home address.
- Post flyers around town, send messages to local e-mail lists, and post notices on local online bulletin boards.
- Contact veterinarians and humane organizations in your community to let them know of your situation. Be sure to tell them that all the cats are neutered and vaccinated.
- Check with San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition or Alley Cat Allies Feral Friends in your area. These fellow caregivers and trappers may be able to help or know of someone near you that can.
Educate your substitute/replacement about your normal feeding schedule and ongoing care. Once you identify a replacement caregiver, explain what you do, which could include daily food, water, shelter upkeep, neuter of any new members, and the occasional vet visit. Provide the new caregiver with copies of all medical records (neuter certificates, rabies certificates and tags, microchip information if applicable, and a description and photo of each cat), and be sure to keep a copy for yourself.
Decide on the details of your arrangement. Will the substitute/replacement buy the cat food when they feed? You may need to share the monthly costs of caring for the colony together. They may not be financially capable, in which case you may need to continue to buy the food and make plans to get it to your new partner. What if a cat is injured or sick, will they trap and transport to a veterinarian? Decide in advance which veterinarian(s) are suitable to take a feral cat to and who will be covering the veterinary fees. Most veterinary clinics require payment at the time of services. Learn more about working with a veterinarian.
Sign an agreement. Write up a simple agreement stating that you are transferring to or sharing care of the cats with the new caregiver. Include specific information about the colony for clear identification. You should both sign and date this document, including both of your addresses and contact information.
Do everything you can to avoid relocating the cats. Relocating cats is only an option in dire circumstances when the cats’ lives are threatened. It is hard on the cats and rarely successful. Familiarize yourself ahead of time with what relocation involves by reading Safe Relocation of Feral Cats.
In Case of Emergency
Carry information about your colony (and your companion animals at home) in your wallet. This will inform emergency workers of what to do in case something happens to you or a disaster occurs in your town or at your home. Include all contact information for your substitute caregiver, including names and phone numbers. The same kind of “Emergency Contact Card” can go in your car’s glove compartment and to your back-up caregiver(s).
Post the same card on your refrigerator and other prominent places in your home. The information should be noticeable so family or emergency workers will not miss it! (Refer to PerPETual Care: Who Will Look After Your Pets if You’re Not Around? by Lisa Rogak for more information.)
Caring for Stray and Feral Cats – Printer Friendly Quick Guide »
Volunteer to help with trapping or to help monitor and care for the cats once they are returned to their colonies
Volunteer to help monitor and feed colonies
Need more information?
Alley Cat Allies
Amby's Feral Cat Information Page
Feral Cats Resources from Best Friends Animal Society
Feral Cat Coalition, San Diego, CA
Feral Cats in the News ~ the Feral Cat Blog!
Feral Cat Meetup Groups at meetup.com
Email Discussion Lists
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/saFeralCats - local email list for discussing feral cat issues around San Antonio, TX
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SApetrescue - although not specific to stray/feral cats, this list is for discussion of pet rescue issues in San Antonio and sometimes posts feral cat related issues
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/feral_cats - this is a great email list for feral cat issues
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Feral_Cat_News - this email list posts daily news stories about feral cats from around the world