Feral Cats in Your Neighborhood?

Many people who contact the Feral Cat Group at SMU about cats in their own neighborhood for advice on what to do. 

First of all, know that feral cats are everywhere – from the campus to the Katy Trail to your back alley. They are naturally nocturnal, so you may not notice them for years. 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. But if you’d like to take on a colony, read on.

What can be done for the cats?

You can manage a feral cat colony, should you wish to do so. This can consist of something as simple as feeding and instituting a TNR program. Here are some points to consider:

  • To keep a population healthy and their numbers controlled, cats need to be spay/neutered and vaccinated. Unless you can safely handle one of these cats, you must trap it and transport it to a qualified vet or the SPCA. Cat rescue groups can lend humane traps and will provide or help you locate low-cost or free spay/neuter and vaccination services for financially qualified local residents. (Some veterinarians will handle feral cats, but most do not.)

  • Feral Friends is an excellent local source of Trap-Neuter-Return support. Alley Cat Allies, a national organization, offers tips on successful trapping.

  • If you provide food and water for your cat neighbors, you may want to consider a dedicated shelter to keep their bowls out of the rain and hot sun. Large, Rubbermaid-type tubs make excellent shelters for bowls of food and water. Or, you can get fancy with more permanent wooden shelters. SMU gets shelters and feeding stations from FeralVilla. 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. 

What cannot be done?

Some people contact SMU's program thinking we will trap and "take in" their cats, essentially re-locating them to our campus. SMU does not do this. Neither does any other reputable feral cat organization. Besides increasing the campus cat population, it doesn’t work. Here’s why: 

  • Feral cats are extremely territorial. Unknown cats are only occasionally accepted into an established colony.

  • 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, places for shelter or 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.” Maintaining sterilized cats in their own territories is a much more effective management technique.

  • 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. If you can foster, Cat Matchers is a good group for help in homing animals. A true feral, however, cannot be handled like a common house cat and is not a candidate for adoption. If taken to an adoption facility or Dallas Animal Services, ferals will be euthanized.

Photo of a gray and white cat laying down in a crate with bedding and litter accessible

Occasionally a cat will turn up in one of our colonies that is clearly not a feral cat. These cats are attached to humans and do not have the survival skills that true ferals have developed. They do not know how to find shelter, do not know area predators, and are ill-equipped for survival in the wild, even just the “wilds” of campus. These cats do much better as pets in homes. 

After first trying to find a stray cat’s owner, we do make the cats we take in available for adoption through the volunteer group. We also work with Cat Matchers, especially when we have kittens. We vet these animals before they are put up for adoption, as Cat Matchers requires. 

Sometimes we are surprised to learn we are dealing with a stray, such as the time Chance, an all-white, blue-eyed male who seemed to be part of a colony, was trapped and neutered. Because he experienced minor complications during neutering, we housed him in a kennel for a few days after his operation. He turned out to be a friendly engaging guy with a great personality. No way could we return him to the outdoors. He was eventually adopted by a friend of the program, who changed his name to Coltrane, after the famed jazz musician. 

Email us at cats@smu.edu if you have any questions or would like to be considered for adoption.