This story from Fayette, Iowa, USA reminds us that sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between domesticated, free-roaming cats and feral cats. An undergraduate research project conducted by Upper Iowa University under the supervision of Dr Paul Skrade, assistant professor of wildlife biology, is taking place in the community which includes trapping, sedating and attaching a tracking collar to feral cats. They need to identify non-domestic cats as part of their research project. The project is well known in the area but not universally known.
The purpose of the study is to investigate and collect information on the predation of wildlife, particularly birds by, feral and stray cats. Dr Skrade says that the participating cats suffer no harm. However, that assessment is not 100% guaranteed to be true based on Gizmo’s story.
Meghan Williams has a cat companion, Gizmo, who likes to be a free-ranging pet. He is very much an indoor-outdoor cat and he wandered into one of the traps set up by this research project.
Dr Skrade makes it clear that they do their best to differentiate between feral and domestic cats. They do this by observing general behaviour (the cat is friendly rather than fearful), by looking for tags or other identification items on the cat, and the general condition of the cat (clean and well fed or perhaps dirty and underfed).
But clearly these observational tests are not hundred percent secure because in this instance Gizmo was deemed to be a feral cat based upon his appearance and demeanour. Gizmo was trapped, sedated and a tracking collar affixed to him. The collar contained details of the research project including contact details which proved useful in this instance.
Once the trapped cats are sedated they are placed back in the trap with the door open so that when they recover from the sedation they can walk out and behave as normal again. Gizmo returned home but he was groggy on his feet and Meghan Williams was concerned about him so she took him to her veterinarian. The point that Williams makes is that her cat was vulnerable to an accident, such as a car accident while sedated. He was not in a fit state to be outside wandering around unsupervised at that time. She claims that the project placed her cat at risk.
The veterinarian, Dr Ryan M Buitenwerf, DVM, contacted Dr Skrade using the details on the collar. It was confirmed that the cat had been given Rompun, a sedative, and the veterinary fees were paid for by Dr Skrade.
Nothing untoward happened in terms of Gizmo suffering any ill effects other than the temporary sedation but it does highlight that ever present difficulty in distinguishing between stray, feral and domestic cats. I note that the research project does not scan for a microchip. This must be for practical reasons. It would make identifying the cat’s status more certain, however.
The story also highlights the dangers of letting cats wander outside freely, particularly in America where there are predators preying on domestic cats such as coyotes.
The story was reported on the KWWL.com website for which I thank them.