Most people who contact SMU's Feral Cat Program about cats in their own neighborhood need advice on how to approach the situation.
First of all, know that feral cats are everywhere. They are naturally nocturnal, so you may go years blissfully unaware of cats in your neighborhood, but they are there. If you are not prepared to manage a feral cat colony, you should leave the cats as they are. They have learned specific survival skills for that area.
What can be done?
It is easy to manage a feral cat colony, should you wish to do so. (And remember that the cats do also benefit the neighborhood by eliminating rodent problems.) To manage a colony, you will need a few basic supplies.
- Large Rubbermaid-type tubs make excellent shelters for bowls of food and water. Or, you can get fancy with more permanent wooden shelters. If you don't own property nearby or can't establish a permanent feeding shelter, impromptu feeding works just as well. The cats will appreciate your attention.
- To keep the population healthy and controlled, cats need to be spay/neutered and vaccinated. In north Texas, KittiCo Cat Rescue can loan humane traps and will perform low-cost or free (if financially qualified) spay/neuter and vaccination services. (Know that many vets are not equipped to handle feral cats. Use KittiCo or Feral Friends.) Contact Alley Cat Allies for areas outside north Texas.
- KittiCo, Feral Friends, and Alley Cat Allies offer tips on successful trapping.
What cannot be done?
Some people contact SMU's Program thinking we can trap their cats and "take in" the cats, essentially re-locating them to our campus. SMU cannot do this, nor should anyone else. Every reputable, nationally-recognized feral cat organization advises against re-location attempts.
Why relocation doesn't work:
- Feral cats are extremely territorial. Unknown cats will not be accepted into an established colony. Many cats are seriously injured in attempts to do this.
- Cats chased away from the new environment are often injured in their attempt to return to their "home" environment.
- Cats left in an unfamiliar environment will not know local predators and sources of food.
- Even if cats are removed from the area, other unsterilized cats will simply move in and start the process all over again. It's known as the vacuum effect. It's much more effective to maintain sterilized cats in their own territories.
It is also helpful to know ahead of time that adoption facilities in the area do not work with ferals. If you have a stray, a cat that easily allows you and others to pet and handle him/her, by all means, take the cat to the SPCA of Texas in downtown Dallas, Operation Kindness in Carrollton, Second-Chance SPCA in Plano, or another adoption facility, as we do when a stray turns up on campus. A true feral, however, is not approachable by humans, cannot be handled as a common house cat, and is not a candidate for adoption. If taken to an adoption facility, ferals will be euthanized.
In sum, best way to address feral cats in your neighborhood:
- Manage a feral cat colony, establishing a TNR and feeding program. It's a good deed, a charitable act, a mitzvah, zakat, good karma.
- Leave the cats as they are and appreciate the rodent control.