Community cats sounds a lot a lot better than feral cats. Free roaming cat is better than feral cat too. Why don’t we start calling feral cats “community cats”? We don’t know, but community cats probably do serve the community in keeping rodent populations down. Which brings me to the slightly vexed question of how do you define what a feral cat is? People who don’t like community cats refer to them as feral cats, pests and disease spreaders that are wild and mangy. People who want to help cats that are free roaming and on the fringes of human society would prefer to call them community cats and see in them vulnerable animals of our making that need our help and do no harm.
Another complication is that community cats can be barn cats which are useful. Or they can be genuine stray cats. A stray cat is not a feral cat. A stray cat is probably between domestic and community cat. I am sure that stray cats are bundled in with feral cats in studies about feral cat behavior. There is a fine line sometimes between feral and stray cats, which makes it difficult to study feral cat behavior.
One scientist defined stray cats as cats that were taken from dumps and residential and industrial areas. The same scientist referred to feral cats as cats that were “remote” from these places.
Sometimes scientists refer to feral cats are non-reliant on humans. Whereas strays are reliant on humans for food and shelter. This is wrong too as feral cats do raid dumps or live near restaurants and hospitals. But as mentioned, it can be a fine dividing line between a stray and a feral cat.
M.R. Slater¹ has the best way to define a feral cat in my opinion. His definition also accommodates what can be a gradual change in some cats from domestic to stray to feral. Although most feral cats are probably born out of a feral cat mum.
Mr Slater says that a feral cat is a cat that cannot be handled by a person. That is, a cat that is no longer or never was socialised to people and is therefore no longer domesticated.
“Socialisation” is the process of a cat developing appropriate social behavior towards people and other companion animals. All cats need to go through the process.
Having defined what a feral cat is, the next difficulty is applying the test. Testing if a cat is socialised or not can be tricky because, for example, in a cat shelter environment a cat will be stressed and defensive. He may lash out giving the impression that he is wild and dangerous. A stray cat or even a domestic might give the impression that he is a feral cat and unsuitable for adoption. Even the character of the person doing the testing could affect the cat’s behavior considerably. In another post I wrote about how cats choose and companion. Cats do like and dislike people.
Finally there is the way a person handles a cat. Mishandling a cat can lead to misjudging the cat’s character.
I think we should start calling feral cats community cats and treat then accordingly. We may find lots of them are more friendly towards people than we imagined and no longer deserve to be classified as wild and dangerous feral cats.
Note: 1. Book: The Welfare of Cats. Photo on Flickr.