Posted by: secondchancehumanesociety | December 6, 2006

National Feral Cat Day

October 16th is National Feral Cat Day.  Why do feral cats need their own day?  Because they are very misunderstood and wrongly portrayed as disease-ridden nuisances living tragic lives while endangering native species.  Consequently feral cats become improperly and/or mal-treated. Thus, National Feral Cat Day was established to dispel the inaccuracies as well as encourage people to humanely address feral cats and colonies within their residential areas.  No one knows exactly how many feral cats live in the United States, but the number is estimated in the tens of millions and these numbers will continue to grow if not adequately controlled.

 Second Chance Humane Society has a Feral Cat Program to assist community members in this realm and the Pet Column is hosting a two-part series on feral cats to explore and clarify related aspects of the program and of feral cats.  This week’s column will focus upon understanding feral cats while next week we will look at how best to control and protect feral cats in your area.

 People often confuse feral cats with stray or barn cats but there is a difference.  A feral cat is a domestic cat that was lost or abandoned and has turned to the wild for survival.  Or it is a cat that was born to a stray or feral mother and had little or no human contact. Adult feral cats are usually too fearful to socialize and are not suited to cohabiting with people. Feral kittens have some potential toward being socialized and domesticated, however, this potential diminishes exponentially depending upon the age the kitten starts the socialization process and the number of generations removed from a domesticated cat.  Feral cats often live in family groups called colonies that form near a source of food and shelter.  They can survive almost anywhere, and are found worldwide.

 A stray cat, on the other hand, is a fully domesticated cat that wandered from home or was abandoned and  has been on its own for a shorter period of time. A stray cat may be skittish in your presence, but because they once knew human companionship, they can usually be re-socialized and re-homed.

 A barn cat is typically less fearful of humans and often times can be friendly and social.  They live in a form of co-habitation with humans depending upon food and water from humans while providing mouse services in return.

 In understanding the distinctions between ferals and strays, the important issue to recognize is that all feral cats originated from a domestic cat and thus it is the responsibility of humanity to care for and protect them – as they are not truly “wild animals”.

 SCHS receives many calls regarding cats in which the caller is unclear whether the cat is a stray or feral.   We address each kind of cat very differently and it is important that ferals not be mistaken for strays for reasons that will be addressed in next weeks pet column.  To differentiate between a feral and a stray the following guidelines can be helpful:

  Observe the cat’s appearance and behavior. A stray cat is likely to approach you, although usually not close enough for you to touch him. If you put food down, a stray cat will likely start to eat it right away. A stray cat is often vocal, sometimes talking insistently, and may look disheveled, as if unused to dealing with conditions on the street. A stray cat may be seen at all hours of the day.

A feral cat is silent, will not approach humans, and generally will be seen only from dusk to dawn, unless extraordinarily hungry and foraging for food. A feral cat has adapted to conditions and is likely to appear well groomed. If you put food down for a feral cat, he will wait until you move away from the area before approaching the food.

 Thus, if you do have an unfamiliar cat hanging about your house and are clear that it is a stray, call the SCHS Hotline (below) and talk to someone about the best approach to finding it a safe home.  If you are clear that you have a feral cat or a feral cat colony in your area call the Hotline to discuss the options available to you (also to be presented in next week’s column) relative to the Feral Cat Program.  This program employs what has been found to the most effective, humane, and safe manner of reducing feral cat problems by humanely trapping, spaying/neutering, vaccinating and releasing the cats back to their territory.  Again, the rationale and the process of this program will be explored further next week.

 In closing, SCHS does have several 3-4 month old kittens (see photo) that were brought in by people who mistook them for social and domesticated, yet they are not.  Typically we do not accept unsocial cats into the shelter (but follow a different protocol – again – next week) as they are very difficult to find homes for and end up spending too much time in a shelter environment in which they do not thrive.  Fortunately these kittens were not completely feral and have really made great progress in past weeks in their socialization.  Thus, at this point they will make great barn cats.  They have been spayed/neutered and vaccinated and are ready to be adopted as great mousers that will be shy but approachable, unable to reproduce, and healthy cats.

 Pet Questions for next week’s column can be sent to: or to Pet Column, c/o Second Chance Humane Society, PO Box 2096, Ridgway, CO 81432.  SCHS offers animal humane services to San Miguel and Ouray Counties.  Contact Kelly at 626-2273 x4 for more information on volunteer and community education programs.  For information about adopting, reporting a lost pet, the SCHS Spay/Neuter Financial Assistance & Rebate Program, or other pet questions, call 626-2273 x1 (SCHS Animal Hotline). For more information on SCHS and to visit our shelter pets online go to:


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