A stray cat is a pet cat that is lost or has been abandoned. Feral cats are the offspring of lost of abandoned pets, or other feral cats that are not spayed or neutered.
Stray cats are accustomed to human contact and are usually tame; feral cats are fearful of human interaction and often too wild to be handled. They do not easily adjust to living as pets.
There are several local groups working to control feral cat populations and to find homes for adoptable cats. One of the best ways to control feral cat populations is to spay or neuter the animals.
Corky Stiles with TNR checks on one of several cats waiting to be picked up by its owner following spay or neutering surgery done this week in Warren by NOMAD Spay Neuter Van. Stiles checks on the cats to see they are OK following surgery. According to the Animal Welfare League of Trumbull County, spaying and neutering feral cats stops fighting and territorial dominance.
"One female cat and its offspring can produce 480,000 cats in seven years," said Corky Stiles, treasurer of Warren's Trap, Neuter and Release group. "Unlike dogs, which go into heat twice a year, a cat can be in heat all year long starting at about 5 months old."
According to the Animal Welfare League of Trumbull County, spaying and neutering cats stops fighting and territorial dominance. A colony of unneutered or unspayed feral cats can provide a growing population of cats, frequent loud noises from fighting and mating behavior, strong and foul odors, flea infestations, higher animal control costs and a higher euthanasia rate.
Trap, neuter and release (TNR) is a nonlethal strategy to reduce the number of feral cats and improve the quality of life for cats, birds, wildlife and people as well.
You can help
Contact the following organizations to see how you can help feral cats:
TNR?of Warren: www.tnrofwarren.org, 330-330-8166
Animal Welfare League:?330-394-4122
Cats Are People Too:?www.catsarepeopletoo.org, 330-847-6134
Cat Ladies Society:?thecatladiessociety.com, 330-792-4228
Working closely with Cats are People Too and the Animal Welfare League, Stiles says that TNR of Warren is the only organization in Trumbull County offering trapping, spaying, neutering and release programs.
"We are trying to get the community involved by providing proper techniques," she said. "We are trying to offset some of the costs of the local veterinarians."
Melody Maret, president of Cats Are People Too, said, "It is very easy to get overwhelmed in this industry. We get a lot of calls every day."
Started in 1994 as a primary grief support agency, Cats Are People Too does not currently have a shelter. For the past few years, the agency has been fostering mostly kittens out of volunteers' homes.
"We can't help everyone, but our mission is to have the cat spayed or neutered as soon as possible," Maret said. "Right now, we can only deal in kittens. We encourage keeping the mom cat, and most of the time the people do."
It is possible, with time and patience, to turn a feral cat into a pet. Alice Comyns of Cortland successfully turned a feral cat into a domesticated house pet about three years ago.
"It took about six months of painstaking, constant attention and love, but I would not change a thing. Snowflake is just about one of the best cats I have ever known," Comyns said.
Comyns, a lover of white cats, became aware of Snowflake's plight when a girlfriend telephoned and said, "There is a white cat in the parking lot of Burger King on Elm Road." Comyns was at the Burger King within minutes to pursue the feline.
"I saw him, but he would not come anywhere near me," she said. "He looked pathetic. He wasn't very clean and he had some scars. I think there was a tick on his neck," she added.
Comyns visited Snowflake in the parking lot of the Warren Burger King every other day for three months.
Comyns actually caught Snowflake twice. The first time she had him neutered. Comyns was unable to bring him to her house, due to a neighbor's animal that was always on their property. The second time, Snowflake began to receive vaccinations.
"We brought him home. He lived outside for a few months until it got cold," she said. "I had finally started touching him."
On one particularly bitter winter night, Comyns gave in and said, "You're coming in!" Snowflake has never been outside again.
Snowflake has bonded with Comyns' other animals extremely well. "We have never had a problem with him," she said. "He is so mannerly and attentive to the two other cats."
Feral cats typically live in a colony. About a year ago, an Oak Street house in Warren had approximately 48 cats residing in the abandoned structure. "Several of the friendlier ones were adoptable," Stiles said.
According to Stiles, Packard Park currently has a large feral cat population, with about 30 cats being trapped, neutered and returned since 2009. The problem is, "if you see one stray cat, there are about five you don't see," Stiles said.
Feral cats often do not survive, and their lives are not easy without human caretakers. Males who roam and fight to find mates and defend their territory may be injured or transmit disease. Being pregnant so young and having two or three litters a year with nursing kittens is very stressful on female cats who are struggling to survive. Often there is an unreliable source of food and inadequate shelter.
Feral cats live in a certain location because if offers food and shelter. If a colony is removed, some feral cats from surrounding colonies may move in and take advantage of the situation. The cycle of reproduction and nuisance behavior begins all over again.
Feeding bans do not work on feral cats because they are territorial animals who can survive for weeks without food. They tend to move closer into habitations as they grow hungrier and more desperate.
"I look at it this way," said Stiles. "Every time we get one female spayed, we are saving 480,000 potential cats."