Frequently Asked Questions
Do we really have a feral and free-roaming cat problem?
Yes! If you don’t have stray cats in your own backyard, start keeping an eye out – you’ll see cats all over the place, especially at night. There are probably strays in your neighborhood. Best Friends Animal Society estimates there are over 60,000 free-roaming cats in St. Joseph County alone. The Humane Society of the United States estimates there are tens of millions of unowned cats in the US. Across the United States, millions of cats are euthanized in shelters every year.
Why can’t they be taken to shelters, or adopted out?
For feral cats, adoptions are not an option: these are wild cats who have never been socialized to humans, and will not make good housecats! As a result, animal control agencies euthanize them immediately, and shelters either refuse to take them in or take them and euthanize them. For previously owned, abandoned cats, and for kittens young enough to be socialized (10 weeks or younger), the ideal situation would be to find them homes. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough homes for all these cats. Shelters are already stretched to the limit – Pet Refuge, at last count, had 500 cats; the Humane Society of St. Joseph County had 300 cats. Not only do these agencies not have space for more cats, but bringing in more only means that the ones already there have a slimmer chance of being adopted. Because our community cannot offer enough homes or shelter space to handle all these cats, another solution has to be found – a humane one that reduces the number of healthy cats we euthanize.
What’s a feral cat? What’s a free-roaming cat?
Feral cats are cats who are unsocialized to humans. They may have been born outside and never interacted with humans, or have been previously owned but have been outside so long they have reverted to a wild state. Free-roaming cats is a more general term that includes feral cats, as well as abandoned or lost cats, barn cats, street cats, and even owned cats who are allowed to freely roam outside. Though our group is the Michiana Feral Cat Initiative, we deal with all free-roaming cats.
Where do these cats come from?
Free-roaming cats are primarily the result of negligent pet ownership. If owners do not spay and neuter their pets, and their pets are allowed outside, or escape outside, they can get pregnant. Adding to that, many unsterilized cats are intentionally abandoned. As the economy grows worse, many people cannot afford to neuter their pets, or even to keep their pets, which increases the problem. Unsterilized cats produce more cats quickly: a female can get pregnant as early as 4-5 months old, and can have as many as 3 litters in a year, with 4-6 kittens per litter. Although many cats don’t have that many litters, and many kittens don’t survive, that still adds up to a lot of cats, and quickly.
Isn’t it more humane to euthanize these animals?
It is true that free-roaming cats face hardships like extreme weather and food shortages, and unfortunately are often at the mercy of humans who might hit them with cars, poison them, or inhumanely trap them. Through education and a commitment to humane care, however, we can control some of this: cats in managed colonies have the advantage of a stable food source and shelter; and we hope, as more people learn about TNR, fewer people will try to harm these cats. In addition, sterilizing cats lets them lead healthier lives: spayed cats are less likely to develop breast cancer and will not develop ovarian or uterine cancer. Neutering male cats will prevent testicular cancer, and reduce the risk of injury, as neutered males are less likely to fight with one another.
Also, consider this: feral cats are born outside, and are wild animals like chipmunks, raccoons, squirrels, deer – all of whom are subject to the same hardships of weather, food shortage, and inhumane treatment by humans. If animals who live in the wild are all suffering, we’d have to euthanize them all! And, though we agree with the Humane Society of the United States that the best life for cats is an indoor life with loving caretakers, the reality is that this isn’t possible for millions of animals. The Michiana Feral Cat Initiative believes that a chance at life for healthy cats is better than no life at all. We also believe that, because humans have created this problem, it’s time for humans to find a humane way to confront this problem, by TNR.
Does TNR work?
Yes! TNR is a program that has been implemented in almost all states in the US, and many countries, and has been used for almost three decades. Shelters in areas that have successful TNR efforts report far fewer cat intakes (and, as a result, lower euthanasia rates) than they had before TNR was implemented. In Indiana, TNR programs have already been implemented in many cities and towns, including Indianapolis, Bloomington, Speedway, Hamilton, and Terra Haute, and a similar program is running in Elkhart (Elkhart County Feral Cat Coalition). Cities across the United States are on board with TNR, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Omaha, New York, Baltimore, San Diego, Miami Beach, Washington DC, and Salt Lake City, among others.
Does Trap/Euthanize work?
Attempts to eradicate cat colonies by trapping and euthanizing them has proven unsuccessful. Removing the cats from an area leads to a vacuum effect – new cats move into the vacated area to exploit whatever food source the previous residents had found. And new cats, and survivors from the original colony, will continue to breed – and the next generation of cats is even more cautious and unsocialized. As a long-term solution, widespread euthanasia does not work.
Do these cats become a nuisance in our neighborhoods?
These cats already live in our neighborhoods, whether we choose to do something to help them or not. With TNR, the cat population becomes stabilized and, over time, decreases. By sterilizing them, many nuisance behaviors are cut down, including spraying, fighting, and yowling. Further, it helps the community by reducing the number of kittens that wind up in shelters – allowing other cats to be adopted, and not stretching shelters’ resources to the limit.
Aren’t feral cats a danger to birds?
Cats do hunt birds, mice, chipmunks, and other small animals. There is no reliable way to estimate how many birds are caught by cats in a year. The MFCI advocates keeping cat colonies far from natural wildlife preserves and parks, to help reduce this issue. But we also recognize that millions of cats live outside, and TNR can only help the problem by reducing the population of cats that are hunting.
Can I tame feral kittens?
Feral kittens younger than 2-3 months can be tamed, and should be. Unfortunately, a high percentage of kittens don’t survive outside – national organizations estimate that half of kittens born outside die in their first year. If homes can be found or shelters can take these kittens, that’s great! The Michiana Feral Cat Initiative supports taming kittens. But, because we focus on TNR for outdoor cats, we do not offer shelter or foster options for cats at this time.