by Melissa Byrd, of PAWS of BI and N Kitsap, October 14, 2012, 10:11 a.m.
National Feral Cat Day is October 16. We’re often asked what the difference is among a feral, a stray, and a barn cat.
A stray cat is a cat who has wandered or strayed from home and become lost or was abandoned by its human. Stray cats may be friendly or, if they’ve been on their own for a while, they may be suspicious of people. Because stray cats once had human contact, they can usually be socialized over time and adopted into a home. We take in many of these cats after they have spent their “stray hold” at a local veterinarian’s or shelter, and we are able to place them rather quickly as their temperament is usually conducive to indoor family home living.
A stray cat’s kittens may be feral, depending on how long Mom’s been “in the wild.” A feral cat is an untamed, domestic housecat who was either born outside or who was abandoned and over time became unsocialized to people. Feral cats are frightened of people and avoid contact whenever possible.
Feral kittens can often be tamed if adopted by humans at a young enough age. But there are some holdouts who just will not believe that humans can be good and that a life with them is safe. Those cats are usually returned to their original colony or allowed to become barn cats. Not many adult feral cats are able to be socialized.
You will not usually see a feral cat out and about—they are very stealthy. Even though you won’t see them, there are feral cat colonies all over the country. The lucky ones have caretakers. A caretaker is a person who has taken responsibility for a feral cat or colony of cats. The caretaker is committed to feeding the cats on a permanent basis, ensures they are spayed/neutered, may provide additional shelter, and provides ongoing healthcare as needed. These people often work in tandem with groups like PAWS and local humane societies.
In working together, they are able to use a Trap Neuter Release (TNR) program, which the ASPCA has deemed the only proven humane and effective method to manage feral cat colonies. The feral cats are trapped in a humane trap and taken to a facility where they are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, tested for feline aids and leukemia, and given an exam for general health and well being. Usually the cats’ ears are tipped during their time at the veterinarian’s to help identify them as already altered without need of an exam. In case they are trapped again, they are immediately released, usually to the same place from which they originated.
If you have a stray or feral cat you are feeding and would like to keep warm this winter, Rubbermaid has instructions for making cat shelters. (http://www.erubbermaid.com/roughneck-homes). These shelters are used nationwide by caretaking groups.
A barn cat is a term for the cats many of us knew when we were kids. Those were around for one purpose: to keep down the rodent population. If you have other animals that require you to store feed, you probably have mice and rats too. The barn cat will happily keep their populations in check. All it will ask for in return is a place to feel safe and protected from the elements. Barn cats have temperaments ranging from somewhat wild to very friendly and almost like an indoor cat.
We often get cats at the shelter who have been strays or feral and who do not feel comfortable around humans. We try to socialize the ones who seem borderline, and we might even get to pet them once in a while, but they seem much happier not having to deal with human contact. In those cases, we adopt them out as barn cats. The adopter signs a contract promising to provide food, water, shelter, and necessary veterinary care just as in a “normal” adoption. There is a period of confinement so the cat can familiarize itself with the new surroundings and come to recognize the place as home. Once this acclimation period is completed and the cat is released, it gets to work and keeps the vermin under control.
There are many people who spend more time in their barns than in their homes, so these cats can become very social. They still don’t want to live indoors, but they become great companions. We have several cats right now, both singles and bonded pairs, that would make great barn cats.
If you are interested in acquiring a barn cat, please call the Adoption Center and leave your name and number. A staff member will get in touch with you to match the best cat or cats to your situation. We do not adopt out cats that are accustomed or best suited to indoor life as barn cats. If you have a feral cat you are feeding and would like to get spayed or neutered, we can help you with that too. The number to the Adoption Center is (206) 780-0656. Check out our barn cat Petfinder listings by visiting our website (www.pawsbainbridge.org) and clicking on the adoption button.
Photos by Melissa Byrd. Featured image is of Marionberry.