National Feral Cat Day is October 16

You may have seen them over your lifetime, peering around corners or running from you down alleys or into drainage pipes. But every year, there is a day set aside to celebrate them: National Feral Cat Day. Pet Me! Magazine turned to Cathy Hosford of Forgotten Angels Cat Rescue in Palmdale to educate us about them.

What is a feral cat?
A feral cat is a cat that has never had human contact, or socialization with humans throughout their lifetime and it will avoid contact with humans at all costs. There are also cats that were once tame pets, but for whatever reason, found themselves homeless and on the streets, and over time became feral due to the lack of human contact.

What’s the difference between an unsocialized cat and a feral cat?
“A feral cat has never had human contact and an unsocialized cat may have either been born feral (unsocialized), or started out as someone’s pet, but strayed from home and became lost. Given the opportunity, an unsocialized cat may re-acclimate to people, where an adult feral cat probably won’t.

Where do you find feral cats?
Due to the number of abandoned and un-altered cats and kittens in communities and neighborhoods, feral cats are found everywhere. From backyards and business complexes to city parks and back alleys, they exist in colonies (their families) and they live where there is a food supply and shelter. Forgotten Angels Cat Rescue is contacted regularly by people who have feral cats and are looking for help.

What steps do you take when you find a feral cat?
Our organization works closely with “Fix Nation” for Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). When we receive a call about feral cats in need, one of our volunteers will go and assess the situation. We need to know how many cats there are, how many kittens vs. adults, if there are any nursing moms or any cats that are sick or injured, etc. This information is important, because we don’t want to trap a nursing mom and put her young kittens in danger of not being able to nurse. If the kittens are of age to be trapped and socialized, we need to know exactly how many kittens there are so that none are left behind. If there are sick or injured cats, we need to act quickly and get them the care they need ASAP. And if there is a pregnant cat, she would need to be a priority, so she doesn’t produce yet another litter of kittens that may not survive. From there, we arrange spay/neuter appointments, put foster homes on standby (If needed for kitten socialization), and then we start the TNR process.

Is there ever a chance that a feral cat can become someone’s pet once it’s been trapped and altered?
Absolutely! Typically, kittens over 12 weeks are difficult, if not impossible, to socialize – the younger, the better. To try and socialize an adult feral is rarely successful, but not impossible. Generally, it is stressful for both you and the cat.

How hard is it to trap a feral cat?
Trapping can be overwhelming if you have no experience. We encourage you to do your homework and a little research before you get started so the process is as stress-free as possible. A great resource would be Fix Nation. Their website, Fixnation.org, provides everything from trapping guidelines to the before and after care of the cats and kittens, and a list of supplies needed to successfully TNR. If planned and executed properly, TNR can be completed with minimal stress and complication. If a trapper has been trained well, the process WILL work.

What happens if you trap a kitty and it is too injured to be returned?
If there is nothing that can be done for that cat, then the humane approach would be to not let the cat suffer, and to have the cat euthanized. We always work with a vet to explore all options to be considered. Being able to medicate or treat a feral cat for any injury is difficult, at best.

When did you first begin trapping?
When we discovered our first feral cat colony back in 2001, we didn’t have a clue about feral cats, or how to safely trap. We actually did the “befriend, grab, and get very injured” method. We first learned about using a trap from a local rescue group. We then began to learn the basics of trapping, and gained experience and knowledge about the proper way to safely trap through Cat Nippers, a wonderful free spay and neuter clinic. Cat Nippers began to guide us through the process of safely (for us and the cats) trap-neuter-return ALL of the ferals in our neighborhood. From there, that ignited our passion to help other feral cats and is the reason we became Forgotten Angels Cat Rescue: “In Memory of all the lives lost in the shelters and on the streets NEVER to be forgotten.”

How long have you been trapping? How many cats do you think you have trapped over the years?
We’ve been doing TNR for more than 15 years now. A few years ago we had a couple of great volunteers that took time off from work to do TNR, and transport cats to and from “Fix Nation” (a FREE Spay/Neuter Clinic). Each and every week they would trap and transport no fewer than 10-20 cats to the clinic. Thankfully, over the years, we have seen thousands of feral and homeless cats spayed or neutered.

Is there an organization in SCV that does TNR?
Unfortunately, no. The closest free assistance for feral cats is FixNation in Burbank. With that said, we would love to see a reputable rescue group in SCV that would offer and promote TNR. Our organization would be glad to offer any assistance that we can to help them succeed.

Are there low-cost clinics to help?
There are a couple of free feral spay and neuter clinics. Cat Nippers and Fix Nation are two wonderful clinics that offer free services to cats in L.A. County. Low cost veterinary options can be found by going to our website http://forgottenangelsrescue.org, as well as www.spaycalifornia.org and www.spayusa.org.

Is there a moment that stands out in your experience that was particularly heartwarming?
Every time we take a homeless or feral cat through our process it is rewarding to know that they won’t be mating and having more kittens and those cats can peacefully live out their lives. Every kitten that we find, socialize and adopt into a loving home, or when we rescue a cat that has been left behind in an abandoned home and is now safe and loved in a foster home awaiting a new family, it is a mission accomplished.

Is there a moment that stands out in your experience that was particularly frightening or challenging?
We got a call about feral cats in an alleyway between a business complex and apartment buildings in a very bad part of Palmdale. The first night, we had encounters with gang members and had to remove ourselves from the situation for our safety. The second night, we asked the Sheriff’s Department to do periodic patrols so we could safely get the cats trapped and fixed. Thankfully, we had success and got nine cats from that location.

Is TNR necessary?
Without TNR, and its practice, you can imagine the number of cats and kittens that would be struggling to survive on our streets and adding to the number that is being turned into our local shelters by the thousands every year.

What can the community do to help curb the numbers of stray cats?
It all comes down to “spay and neuter” your pet! That is where it starts. There are low cost options available for ALL communities. “Low income” should not be synonymous with “irresponsible.” Be responsible for your pets and get them fixed, especially outdoor cats. Those animals have access to roam and mate, and have likely just created yet another litter of kittens that will be homeless and on the streets. The second, and equally important, part of community involvement is to not abandon your animals. All too often they are dumped at shelters because of a move or a pet illness, and in some cases because they couldn’t find a pet sitter while they were on vacation, so the animal had to go to the shelter.

Volunteers are always needed for TNR projects.