The Feral Cat

Introductory note on the feral cat: I write this from the standpoint of someone who likes all cats and all animals. What underpins this article is that I like fair play, honesty and for people to respect animals (and people).


What is it about the feral cat that so polarizes society? What is it about the feral cat that makes many people in authority dislike them? And yet there are people, especially older women, with the gentlest of hearts and intelligent minds, who care deeply about the welfare of feral cats. They often end up fighting neighbours, the authorities and even the courts as a result of helping them. The feral cat divides a nation. In general, the division tends to be along the lines of alpha male to beta female.

Feral Cats

Feral Cats. Credits: All under creative commons license. In descending order: by Brisbane City Council, Tim (Seabamirum), by Newtown grafitti, by Professor Batty.

What is an alpha male human? He is ambitious. He might run a business and likes to acquire money. Often they are in local, state and federal government or even in the veterinary profession. The right-wing ones like guns if they live in America. It is their right under the constitution to bear arms. And a good proportion of these like to take pot shots at feral cats.

They see the feral cat as a spreader of disease. This is made worse by the fact that they see the feral cat as a non-native species that attacks and destroys native species. These are convenient points of view that provide alpha male with an excuse to shoot or poison the feral cat. I say that these arguments are convenient excuses to persecute the feral cat because they place a non-native animal at a lower status than a native animal. Is that correct? Why should a non-native species be less important than a native species when it was pure chance in the first place that made a native species what it is. The false argument that non-native species are less important than native species is particularly galling to someone like me as it is the human, mainly alpha males, who introduced the cat to countries like America in the first place. They created the feral cat non-native species. I think it is very hypocritical and short sighted of some males (and females) of the human species to seek every opportunity to malign the feral cat or try and exterminate it under these irrefutable circumstances.

There is also the difficult matter of finding so called “facts” about the feral cat. People who dislike feral cats tend to convert anecdotes that criticise the feral cat to facts about feral cats. They don’t even know they are doing it. They often seem blind to the truth, so desperate are they to find a justification, any reason, to exterminate them.

Of course, not only are these people blind to their weak and hypocritical arguments they are also blind to the fact  – yes a fact – that it is impossible to exterminate the feral cat. And in any case the feral cat is now so much part of the ecosystems of many countries that to exterminate it would almost certainly result in unforeseen and dire consequences.

As to the transmission of disease, the usual handle that the feral cat hater likes to pull or hold onto when arguing his case against the feral cat is toxoplasmosis. These horrible people rant and rave about how feral cats spread this terrible disease that turns us all mad. They have convinced themselves that toxomplasmosis is the number one threat to humankind. Toxoplasmosis is the ammunition that the feral cat hater uses to attack the cat.  I would ask them to read some reliable books on the subject. I have, and I wrote a page on the subject: Truth About Toxoplasmosis and Cats. I would politely ask people who use this disease as ammunition to read the article and then try to rethink what you are doing.

There is no doubt that a hatred of the feral cat is handed down within families from parent to child and so on.  They never challenge themselves on the matter of the veracity of their knowledge of the feral cat. Their beliefs are deep rooted. It is part of their culture. These people represent a sizable proportion of the populations of various countries.

Although this battle over large segments of society rages on there are also microcosmic wars going on within smaller groups. The classic case is the apartment block with communal gardens. Within these complexes it isn’t even just the feral cat that has trouble, domestic cats belonging to people are also sometimes outlawed and persecuted in an illegal manner. The reason why apartment blocks are battlegrounds over the cat generally is because people in apartments are living much closer together. Also within society about 30% of people dislike cats, 50% like cats and the rest fall in between (that is not a fact, just my opinion).

What of the people who cannot ignore the plight of the feral cat? The gentle old lady. They see an animal that needs help. The feral cat does need help. They live on the fringe of human society and settlements living short miserable lives. Many are stray cats. They are not true feral cats. They had “owners”. They are becoming feral cats and their offspring will be feral cats. One thing for sure and which you cannot deny an old lady who feeds feral cats, and perhaps operates a trap-neuter-program, is that she is a good women. She may be argumentative and difficult but she is single-handedly discharging the obligations of all people in acting responsibly towards the feral cat because it is our problem. We created the feral cat problem and we therefore have a duty to resolve it humanely. Nothing else will do.

There are many instances of good women who are given a hard time when they try and do what the authorities should be doing with public funds: finding a way to mop up our problems. People – and some are, of course, men – who care for feral cats should not end up at court defending their actions. Courts have to follow the law. They have to apply the law. The law is made by politicians. And politicians are often alpha males who don’t care about the feral cat. That is why the gentle old lady sometimes has to resolutely fight the alpha male in court. That is one more reason why these ladies deserve our admiration.

The problems of the feral cat needs a sea change in attitude in respect of cat carekaking so that all cat owners are educated in cat behavior and keeping a cat in a way that is both in the interests of the cat and society. Long term proactive steps would achieve what the gun can’t, eliminate the feral cat and the feral cat problem in the most gentle and humane way.


Comments

The Feral Cat — 19 Comments

  1. The notion that feral cats are a non-native species, and are thus fair game to shoot, trap, poison, and kill, at least here in the Americas, is a ship that sailed about a thousand years ago with the Vikings and again five hundred or so years ago with Columbus. Felines have existed here since before humans have and domestic cats are just another feline.

  2. It has been several years since I first wrote ya’ll the stories of my ferals. I was going through my old photos for a project we are working on and ran across these. This big tom wandered into my colony one day out of the blue , and as all my ” girls” were already spayed…Thank you again Michael and everyone here who helped…I couldn’t for the life of me decide why unless he was just hungry and somebody left the damn “Vacancy sign ” on!!! He was a HUGE old boy.Probably three at the time of these pics. He hung around and the others let him know his place ,so I was very surprised to see him every day. Any way I went out one early morning to feed and he came up on the deck with this HUGE gaping wound! Scared me to death cause I had NO IDEA how he was even still ALIVE!! I thought for a long time it was coyotes but found out later that the neighbors dog had got him! I just wanted to re-share this , sorry as they are graphic,to remind folks what can happen to cats when they are outside and left to fend for themselves! I called my vet tech friend and she came out to look at him ,but he had disappeared! For days I hadn’t seen him,and we searched,but no luck for almost a week and I just knew he had gone off and died from his wound! NOPE! To my surprise this boy showed up and his wound was actually healing(as you see here).My friend did get him tranq’ed , got him neutered and full of some anti-biotics and cut him loose,eventually. Just wanted to remind folks,if you do have a colony of ferals they are still at risk to all kinds of harm.Take care and please Never leave your inside/outside kitties unattended!!!

    • Phew.. your comment sort of scared me. It was like a drama. I am pleased he survived. It is hard to see a cat with a wound like that. I think you did great to treat him. Well done. I feel sad for these cats. They are in a difficult and hostile environment sometimes. The human made environment.

      Thanks for visiting Jan. Stick around, we need you.

    • He looks like a sweet boy – how awful his wound must have been. You were able to get so close to him. Well done and thank you for helping him.

    • A terrible wound. So happy you were able to help him. There are so many dangers for cats, especially ferals.
      Raccoons have become my #1 concern these days. I didn’t realize for a long time how vicious they can be, but I’ve seen them in action. They are also very smart.
      I hate not being completely consistent with feeding colonies, but I have to, sometimes, change time a little in an effort to avoid a raccoon invasion. I bring “junk food” (the cheapest dry dog or cat food available) to distract and keep them at bay. Many, many times I just stay with a colony until all eat and the coons depart.
      Coons are, also, big rabies carriers. My cats and I are vaccinated. I was scratched once by a coon and bitten once by an oppossum (that was my own fault there).

      • For some weird reason,I suppose cause I never tried to touch him,Stranger would get quite close as long as my hands never dropped below my waste he was fine.My friend wanted pics so she could see if it was actually healing or if it was getting worse and we needed to put this poor guy down.THANK goodness he did heal.Looked funny with that big dip in his back,but I hear he is still hanging gout there at the park with a few newbies.Yes I’m a big sucker.I take food out twice a month to still help the ladies who took over.There are only 7 kitties now tho..Stranger,Sister and Physco are still there from my original bunch! OH DEE ,We had horrible coons bigger then my Sadie(dog).I did the same thing ,stood over the kitties till all ate then put food back in house! And just so you know although possums are nasty and annoying they,for some reason DO NOT carrying rabies.But their bite can be awful also!!!

        • I, actually, like the possums. They are not messy and are courteous with the cats. They will eat with the cats and pose no threat. I came across a possum “playing possum” one morning with a baby in her pouch. I thought she might be dead and brought my foot too close with the intention of just nudging slightly. Boy, did she ever nail me! She bit through my sneaker and THROUGH the nail on my big toe. I deserved it!

    • Wow Jan tha’t really something. Where I lived in Canada there was a huge black feral cat who used to come by. Well once, in the middle of winter I saw him and half of his face was wounded, no fur, kind os scabby – I couldn’t believe he was even alive in the minus 15 degree weather. If I didn’t have a cat I would have let him inside. Well I assumed he was dying but he was around for years after with his face healed. I don’t know how it happened but my feeling is that in a city like Toronto it must have been a human who did it. Knowing what I do now about cats I wish I had helped him. He was big and chasing after my tiny little female cat so I was scared of him hurting her. Poor thing. I feel awful about it. I should have just helped him with warmth, food and antibiotics.

  3. I live out in “the country” in South Texas. While my son was visiting town several months ago, he picked up a stray feral kitten and brought it home. I figured it was about 2-3 months old. I felt that since it was a kitten we could “domesticate” him and add him to the two we already love. I’m beginning to wonder if he may, perhaps be some wild species because he is still VERY timid and allows very little interaction with us. He plays very rough with the other cats. One is a year old and the other is probably 10 months (both rescued cats). He will come and sleep with one of us at night, and occasionally will approach us, but it definitely has to be HIS idea. I know some cats are just that way to a certain extent, but I believe if it actually is a species other that domestic, he would be happier in the wild. Is this possible? And then, since we have taken him in, have we ruined his chances of survival? Or…did we just adopt him too late? We love him but want to do what’s right. We once had a feral cat that was a little wilder than this one and she got out, returned a couple months later and then managed to get out again never to return. About a month later we visited a local zoo and saw they had a very rare species that looked exactly like Mahana..the one who escaped. The zoo is now out of business and gone, and I don’t even remember the name of the cat to look it up. That one was dark with orange specks all over. This one is gray and black striped with a wide line of black all the way down his back. Your thoughts? (tee-hee..a cold front just blew in…he jumped up off the pile of clothes and came a curled up right next to my butt!! VERY rare opportunity!)

    • Hi Carol. Thanks for sharing. The picture is rather small. He has a beautiful spotted tabby coat which is not impossible to see on a domestic cat.

      However, he does have one feature that makes me look hard. He has “ocelli” at the back of his ear flaps. They are a bit faint but there nonetheless. These are the white areas – white spot – in the middle surrounded by black.

      Ocelli are only seen on wild cat species or First filial wild cat hybrids as far as I know. Someone might correct me.

      So, on that basis, I think you have a wild cat hybrid (F1) or perhaps a captive wildcat that escaped (in fact all individual wildcats are already hybrids anyway because of extensive cross breeding with domestic cats). The only wild cat species he looks like to me is the North African wildcat. They don’t exist in the wild in N. America.

      My guess is that he is a first filial wildcat hybrid. Perhaps a captive African wildcat (or anyone of the wildcats) x domestic cat that has escaped.

      That is a pretty wild guess (excuse the pun). Please upload a fresh photo that is larger at about 600 px across.

      If he is a hybrid he is meant to be a domestic cat and should looked after but they are more demanding. I’d keep him. He needs late socialisation. I guess play and interaction on his terms will break down the suspicion.

  4. Please keep him, Carol. He is so beautiful.
    If demanding, so be it.
    He, obviously, loves you or he wouldn’t have come near your butt!
    Some cats need more affection, attention, and one-on-one time than others, even on their own terms.
    Take the stretch. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

  5. Cats ARE an invasive species in the U.S. Then again, so are humans.

    Which species has done more to harm the other species?

        • No problems. It is interesting to note that if North America had had a small native wild cat species similar to the North African wildcat then the domestic cat in North America would be a native cat to the continent. North America got quite close to that situation because, for example, the American bobtail is a cat that could have been domesticated and turned itself into a domestic cat. Also, many many years ago there were ocelots in North America and is not beyond the bounds of one’s imagination to believe that this small wildcat could also have been domesticated. It just so happens that the North African wildcat living to the East of the Mediterranean Sea was chosen as the one to be domesticated.

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