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Trap-neuter-release best option for feral cat populations

Feral cats are domestic cats that roam freely outside and do not have an owner. Oct. 16 is national Feral Cat Day and to honor that, this column will be all about these felines.

Not many animals have been domesticated by humans. Depending on who you ask, the answer might be different, but everyone’s list will include house cats. Felines have grown to live around and rely on humans. You will not find a house cat in the wild — that species doesn’t exist anymore.

But for a variety of reasons, there are feral cats — domesticated cats that have reverted to living in the wild — who roam freely outdoors. This causes a variety of issues.

These cats don’t really have the best lives outside. Without someone taking care of them they often get in fights, suffer from malnutrition, are prey for predators and sometimes get run over by cars.

Feral cats aren’t native to the environments they’re introduced to. So when they show up in an environment, it can devastate the native bird, amphibian and small mammal populations. These animals are not used to having these ferocious predators around, so their populations can be dramatically reduced when what we see as cute kitties appear on the scene.

Feral cats come from many different sources. Some get lost, some are dropped by their owners and some are born outdoors and live their entire lives as feral cats.

No matter how a cat became feral, there are some things that people can do to help with this issue. One thing is, depending on the age of the cat and its temperament, it could still be adoptable. My cat Boston was technically a feral cat, but she was found by a veterinarian when she was about 5 months old. Because she began living with and interacting with humans early enough in her life, she is now a very friendly, very cuddly house cat.

Boston’s story has a very happy ending, but adoption is not possible for all feral cats. When a cat has reached the point where it will never comfortably live with humans again, the preferred plan is to trap it, neuter it so it won’t reproduce, and then release it. This method is sometimes referred to as “TNR.”

The goal of TNR is to decrease the feral cat population by fixing the boy cats so they cannot produce anymore feral cats. This way, feral cats aren’t rounded up, held in pounds or shelters, and possibly euthanized, when the only place they can really live is in the wild. Instead, they can live out their lives but won’t contribute to the problem of continued feral-cat populations.

So if you see a feral cat, it’s possible it could be friendly and adoptable, but more likely it will be happiest if it stays in the wild.

For more information about Feral Cat Day and to find out about TNR efforts around the U.S., visit nationalferalcatday.org.

About Amanda Wheeler

Amanda Wheeler is the children and teen services librarian at the Lincoln County Public Library. She has a master's in zoology education from the University of Miami and has taught as an educator at the Cincinnati Zoo.

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