Why So Many Feral Cats in America?

Why So Many Feral Cats in America?

by Elisa Black

Feral cats NY, USA. Photo by amalthya (Flickr)

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Feral cats NY, USA. Photo by amalthya (Flickr)

There is an out of control problem with feral cats in America. I'm going to throw my personal opinion into this one a lot and hopefully offer a few solutions. I'm not going to put blame on any one person or cause as this doesn't seem to change things. I don't know the extent or situation of feral cats in other countries so I'll keep my opinion centered on the United States where I live.

I personally believe a lot of the problems with feral cats stem from loving owners who for one reason or another have to give up their pet. There are growing problems with unemployment, government funded cutbacks and the high cost of pet care. Everyone in America is being affected by one form or another unless they're very rich.

Let me explain. The unemployment issue has put our economy in the worst condition we've seen since the Great Depression of the 1930's. People lose their jobs, their vehicles and their homes. As heartbreaking as it may be, this is the reason a lot of pets end up homeless.

Government cutbacks are also causing a lot of animals to be abandoned. When funds are cut to fields such as medical assistance jobs are lost. Benefit criteria are changed so people who once had assistance with medical, food or housing are left without funds. When food assistance programs are cut, it puts a pet owner in a bad situation. They must now feed themselves and often there isn't enough of an income to feed a pet. One may ask why this person has a pet in the first place. Many went from a good financial situation to bad in the span of less than a year. It doesn't take long for money to run out once a family is hit by hardship.

People needing minor medical treatment are now overcrowding our emergency rooms when a doctor's office would suffice. The problem is money for a doctor. It's just not there. So the emergency room treats a patient and the patient doesn't pay. Ever! This gives the hospital the legal right to take their money out of a federal or state tax refund. This is the one time of year many Americans look forward to either to catch up on bills or put a down payment on a vehicle. Now it's gone.

The high cost of pet care is also a concern. Pet insurance is great. Medical advances in helping pets live longer lives are a blessing. Until you have a seriously ill pet requiring thousands of dollars in treatment. Running a vet practice is a business. The issue of malpractice is always out there and this has increased fees. But at what point does a beloved pet become a dollar amount? I remember the day when the average vet bill was under $50 and that included the antibiotics. Euthanizing an animal is also getting more expensive. All of these thoughts go thru a persons head when they have an aging pet.

Let's backtrack to the financially strained cat owner. I believe there is a lower amount of ferals in the vicinity of a no kill shelter. For a list of no kill shelters in the U.S. see Fluff Net. Personally I live in the area of kill shelters. Shelters in my area are regulated to the point a picture ID must be presented to leave an animal. This prevents citizens from outside the county cannot turn in an animal. The animal must be left at a shelter in the county of the owner. I don't agree with the logic behind what I'm about to discuss because I've always had good results with ads offering my rescues to a good home with a vet reference. These ads are run free of charge by most local newspapers.

Many cat owners convince themselves it's beneficial to the cat to just drive out into the country and dump the cat off in a "good neighborhood." They try to rationalize that the kill shelter would give their cat 3 days but in the wild it could find "a good life." A "better home." I understand their misguided logic but it really burns me up to think about this. Can you imagine what this must be like for the poor cat. It is left without food water and a comfortable place to sleep. Picture the mental anguish. It's heartbreaking. Again-RUN AN AD! With a vet reference you're ensuring the cat a decent chance. How do "dumpers" live with the guilt?!!

Trap, neuter, return answer to feral cats is a great idea. IF a person has the funds to do this. Often food and water are all that can be offered to a feral because, again, the money isn't there for a lot of people. Even the clinics in my area charge $80 for a male and $100+ for a female to neuter and give all of the tests and shots. I may be wrong but I believe the feral problem has to start with people getting the message that abandonment is not an option.

Many future cat owners don't want a shelter cat because they're under the impression the animal was turned in due to behavior problems. This is entirely untrue. Check out this link for the real reason behind many deserted animals and why they were left at a shelter. The Myths of Sheltered Pets. Most are turned in because of pet costs, moving, or death of it's human.

The National No Kill Advocacy Center has the best approach I've found. Their research shows that if all kill shelters adopted their policies it would save close to 4 million cats and dogs who will die each year in a shelter. This agency is staffed only by people who have worked in a no kill shelter environment. It is also the first to embrace the concept of a No-Kill nation. For more on their work please see No Kill Advocacy Center. This site also has advice on how to change the status quo by reforming animal control . This is site worth surfing. It gives me hope that one day kill shelters will all be replaced with this organizations compassionate plan.

My online friend Katie Faulkner is an example. Check out her site at FurrButts Photography

She does pet photography as a business and does a LOT of work with shelters in her area. She is one of the ANGELS we talk about on this site. I admire her more than anyone I've ever known in how she has turned her talent into a way of helping animals. I've never met her but greatly admire her talent.

I hope everyone has learned from this article, especially those living abroad who don't understand the feral cat problem in America. I must end the story here. My cats are calling for their dinner.


Why So Many Feral Cats in America? to Feral cats

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Why So Many Feral Cats in America?

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Nov 23, 2010 Feral Cats in America
by: Judy Duston

I totally agree with all the messages that are posted here.A lot of people buy cute little kittens,& when they are no longer cute & cuddly people especially the children consider these pets as throw aways,I have found over many years that cats have been turned loose out doors,none have been fixed therefore they mate & make millions more,I found and tried to capture many bob tailed kittens on the beach in New Hampshire,the residents yelled at me saying they did not want me feeding near their homes,I said I would like to capture the kittens & eventually have the older cats fixed so they could no longer mate,the man was rude then asked when I could get the cats out of there?I said by feeding them they would eventually trust me & come to me,the man then said he didn't want these cats messing in or around where they lived,my patience had some what worn thin so I said well sir unlike some humans;animals do not go to the bathroom where they eat.So this loving human called the estate in charge of these condo's then he proceeded to call the police,I said to the police I had notified the dog officer & when I said feral cats he said diseased?then said NO Way....I found that by all of us that really care about animals and put our info.out there for the public to read will help educate the public immensely,the system puts the public on a guilt trip, why not us? with helping save their lives not for the sake of money but for a life of a true animal.
Two other off subject matters.I found several no-kill shelters that are & do kill animals,I was informed that no kill means that the doors are always open to more animals & when they are over the limit they are put to sleep with out any questions asked,not even a second thought.
Again if & when we allow people to put adds up on adopting these sweet little cats from breeders kids/adults will continue to buy and again these poor cats are found homeless & with out homes.If we cannot stop breeders at least we can try other options.One other issue;animals are in shelters because it's all a chain reaction deal,money market.The doctor tells his patients they are allergic to their pets,they are then surrendered into shelters, iams & other labs buy them then when testing is done they are sent back to shelters for re-sale,I have been to 80% of shelters through-out Massachusetts & New Hampshire to find all brand new shelters built within the past few years,vets.are also in on this money making deal.I found that Jesse Venturer/ex-government is also getting active puting the gov.s info.right out there,some of his videos are rather graphic but if thats what it takes to open societies eyes then so be it.
I hope we all have a safe & happy vegan & vegetarian ThanksGiving; God bless...

Apr 01, 2010 It's weird
by: Joyce Sammons

I'm still trying to figure out how the people who go to the FREE CLINICs for people have nicer cars than the rest of us. This country is nuts now. I've actually seen people turn one cat into a shelter and go in to pick out another. Our cats aren't library books. You don't get to change out every few weeks.

Apr 01, 2010 Merrily makes the point
by: Michael

Merrily makes the point I absolutely agree with. Nearly all Americans who throw out cats or relinquish them because of financial difficulties could easily afford to care for their cat. It is a state of mind.

I am convinced that lots of these so called poor people still drive four wheel drive "trucks" or whatever they are called and eat at the local restaurant most evenings.

But the cat has to go.

Mar 20, 2010 Some Just Don't Care
by: Merrily

Although I agree that the recession in the USA has had an effect on the feral cat problem, I have to agree with Bob that it goes much deeper than that.
Many years ago I was quite well off, and never thought money would be an issue in my life.
One January, I became ill, I had medical insurance so I thought all was well, I would just see a Doctor, and he would make me well.
Life doesn't always turn out like you expect it to, and I didn't get well, I got worse. My insurance company didn't want to pay for medical tests and were never able to diagnose me.
It became clear to me that I needed better medical care, and I was going to have to go beyond my health insurance to get it.
Over the next eight years I saw the best doctors, and fought a devistating illness. To fight that fight I had to close my business, sell my assets and spend everything I had on medical care.
Now I live on Social Security, and very little at that.
My two cats, and my ferals who I feed eat well, and still get extra treats from time to time.
I always make sure to pick up samples of cat food, or cut coupons for free cans of food. My two cats eat Wellness because it is good for them.
It is not easy to live on so little money each month but there are millions of Americans in my shoes,or worse and I lived to tell about my illness.
Like Bob I always manage to make ends meet, but the cats never do without. I can not imagine my life with out all of my cats,they bring so much joy to my life and make it all worthwhile.

Mar 15, 2010 Some people are never happy
by: Jane A

I honestly don't know why some Americans get cats,I can only think it's the 'must have' syndrome.
They don't like it that they have claws, so they get their toes amputated.Then they don't like it that the poor things develop behavioural difficulties from the very operation supposed to make them more house/kids/dog/furniture friendly.
So they lock them up,squirt water at them,yell at them,hit them,then eventually throw them out.
Those cats along with the cats already thrown out there by other people who should never have had a cat in the first place have no choice but to colonise to survive.
Thankfully not all Americans are like that but a lot are and I think that has made the feral cat situation much worse.
A lot of the cats out there aren't actually feral.
It's too easy to throw a cat out if it doesn't suit and then go and get another.

Mar 14, 2010 Michael I agree !
by: Ruth

Education about the care of animals is sadly lacking. I've always said people should be made to sit a competence test before being allowed a pet of any sort. Sadly this is never going to happen and people are going to keep on abusing their pets,more out of ignorance than cruelty.

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

Mar 14, 2010 Denial
by: Finn Frode, Denmark

In the middle ages some poor people would abandon their children in times of hardship like famine or plague. The fairytale of Hansel and Gretel echoes that, although it was not written down until much later. Leaving the children in the woods to fend for themselves allowed their parents an escape into denial of what they had really done...
The mechanism behind abandoning a pet is exactly the same. It's a sick kind of denial.

Finn Frode avatar

Mar 13, 2010 Expectations
by: Michael

One reason why people abandon is that they have the wrong expectations. They are too high. Everything is going to be rosy chez moi. There are tasks to do in caring for a cat and some people don't understand that before adopting. There should be some sort of training going on. I call it "expectation management". People enter the adoption process too casually and carelessly.

This leads to poor veterinary care, cats being confined to garages (yes sounds horrific), aggressive cats because handling and care is poor, inappropriate elimination due to poor management and stress caused by people and so on. This leads to abandonment early. The fault is ours.

Education is the key and I suspect that people with generally poor education are also more likely to be irresponsible with regard to cat keeping.

So at a basic level, it comes down to the general education of children and standards of parenting - doesn't always?

Michael Avatar

Mar 12, 2010 Feed Cheap
by: Joyce Sammons

I've been feeding my cats chicken and vegetables and whole wheat bread. They are growing and at their last vet visit both showed healthy and happy. It's really not expensive to feed a cat.

Mar 12, 2010 Bob is correct
by: Michael

I have a lot of time for Bob because he is correct. I don't even think a person who keeps a cat has to be a "cat lover". They just have to decide that if they adopt a cat they do it for the life of the cat and stick to the unwritten agreement. That is normal. And I bet that most if not all the people who abandon cats have a big car in the drive and this and that. Keeping a cat if you are hard up can be cheap. It really is about an attitude. The underlying approach from too many people is careless and irresponsible.

I know we have to allow for the fact that we are humans and all that imparts but we have an unwritten agreement with a domestic cat that has been in existence for 9,000 years and it states that they benefit us and we feed and protect them. We must stick to that simple agreement and discharge are obligations under it and stop being careless.

Michael Avatar

Mar 11, 2010 Feral cats (2 of 2)
by: Tracey

It’s also about making a quick buck. I've been looking at UK sites such as 'preloved'. There are kittens galore (from £40 to £120 for 'fluffy' kittens) After speaking to some of the people selling and reading the adverts they obviously don't give a damn who they sell to (usually the highest bidder) they don't care what happens to these kittens thereafter, they probably won't be neutered by their new owners only then to be thrown out when the novelty wears off for the cycle to start over again.

These sales websites ought to say [NO] to selling animals. UK EBay doesn't allow livestock to be sold! With a smaller sales arena these uncaring people would find selling more difficult and hopefully give up.

I wish the RSPCA would pay these kitten breeders a visit. They would soon see that they are letting their cats become pregnant time after time and letting them go as young as 6 weeks. But there again the RSPCA are a law unto there selves as I found out yesterday;

I was talking to a guy who ran a housing complex for disadvantaged young people. He told me a youngster had been evicted however he owned a big unneutered Tom who he'd left in the flat. Before he moved out he turned the heating up full so when the manager went in it smelled pretty bad

He rang the RSPCA and believe it or not someone told him to 'put him out and he'll make his own way’ well of course I was furious, wasn't his fault he knew nothing about cats, he was coming to the end of his shift, another lad was moving in so poor puss was thrown out. He said he was neither a cat or dog hater or lover; he was indifferent but would never hurt either. He said he felt sorry for the cat as he was still hanging around but the other youths were feeding him.

I explained that a domestic cat couldn't fend for his self as he'd been used to being fed. I also said 'imagine how he felt? Abandoned then thrown out of his home into the cold, he would be terrified!'

I gave him my email address and asked him to please let me know that he'd found him somewhere to go. I told him try the CPL & other rescues but email me if he was getting no joy. I hope the poor little soul will be ok.

Thanks for nothing RSPCA. Education is what’s needed not encouragement to be irresponsible.

To finish I just feel that its people who just tire of cats so throw them out. I’ve known people fall on very hard times and they’ve put their animals before themselves. This is what happens when you truly love them.

Mar 11, 2010 Feral cats (1 of 2)
by: Tracey

Eliza, an interesting article; Here in the UK we also have feral cats and I do feel that uncaring callous people are to blame.

I work for a housing trust, my friend from work called me last year on a bitterly cold day and said listen to this; it was a kitten crying. The cleaner had heard him at the back door (a part of the grounds where no one really goes.) My friend had taken him in and fed him but his eyes were sticky. I went across to see what I could do and found this tiny Black scrap around 4 weeks old. Believe it or not although he needed warmth and food he still spat at the cleaner when she spotted him! Yes he was a little feral scrap! I took him to the vets; my local CPL were brilliant, they paid for his cat flu to be treated and his blood test which was negative.

After lots of TLC he's now 6 months old, silky, cheeky, named Charlie and in his forever home, but if no one had heard him it would have been so different, he would have likely died a cold and awful death through no fault of his own.

My friend and I scoured the grounds at the time to see if we could see if he had a feral family, we did find a family but the kittens were much bigger. Until that day my friend had not known this family were there but now she does she has alerted her tenants and they feed them. Our next step is to get them neutered.

Our little Charlie had either been thrown out by someone, belonged to a different feral family who we didn’t see or belonged to the family we'd spotted but been a late single kitten that she'd got pregnant with as soon as she'd given birth to her current brood. (They were all Black by the way!)

The area Charlie came from is inner city Birmingham and believe it or not Feral’s have a very hard life but somehow manage to survive against all odds. All of the housing trusts schemes in the inner city have feral cats which are mostly fed by the tenants. Cats have a knack of knowing where to find food. The cats at my friend’s scheme were adept at raiding the fast food bins (fried Chicken) nearby.

Despite this these cats weren’t always feral and fearful, I'm sure generations ago they belonged to someone. That person couldn't be bothered to get them neutered and then threw them out. They breed then become a nuisance so the same sort of people who threw them out in the first place persecute them.

These poor creatures should be curled up in front of a caring keepers fire not out in the cold, running scared.

It’s about responsibility which is all too often lacking in society today.

Mar 11, 2010 Why so many feral cats in America
by: Rudolph.A.furtado

Very interesting to note the effect of "UNEMPLOYMENT" in the "First World Countrys" and its chain reaction on the upkeep and maintenance of pets. In India we never have had any 'Unemployment benefits" from the Government and hence more of a "Savings Economy", where the average Indian saves most of his income in case of "Unemployment" or discharge from employment due to "Medical unfitness".

Pet upkeep is costly in India compared to the averages wages of a common Indian employee and hence a luxury. Pets, especially dogs are mostly abandoned in Mumbai due to behavior problems or incompatibility with its human owners. As for "feral Cats", they are totally unnoticed on Mumbai's streets and markets, never an inconvenience to humans nor euthanized in pet shelters.

Mar 11, 2010 I agree
by: Kathryn

Feral cats have been a problem for a long time now and it's all down to uncaring people who should never have had cats in the first place.
To them they are replaceable objects.If they don't 'toe the line' they are thrown out.
Neutered or un-neutered, with or without claws,they are treated like trash.
Then when the poor things join a colony to survive they are vilified and chased away by most people.
How many of the cats called feral are true ferals, from generations born wild. Not as many as are descended from domestic cats thrown out I bet!
People have family trees and a lifetime of care and on their death are counted and given a funeral.Not so cats, yet their lives are equally as important and they have the right to live that one life the same as we have.
If someone takes in a pet, they owe it to that animal to care for it the rest of its natural life.

Mar 11, 2010 My thoughts
by: Ruth

England is in a recession too but we are not abandoning our pets, because to us they are family, they are not possessions.
We've always had a very hard time in the North East of England,millions of people,poor enough already, lost their jobs last time the Conservatives were in power and national concerns were privatised.
The rich got richer, the poor got poorer and still are.
The backlash still remains here,many fit men and young people can't find jobs even now.
Our family was always poor, we lived in a tiny house without a bathroom,indoor toilet,or even hot water,until the late 1970s.
I worked with animals,
for a pittance of a wage,my father died at only 55, my mother was ill with the shock, my sister was just 19 and didn't earn much either but we still managed to feed and care for our pets.
My sister and I even picked pennies up from the roadside in those days and collected empty bottles from neighbours to cash in for a few more coppers.
There is NO excuse EVER to abandon a family pet! I agree with Bob too that the feral cat problem has been around for a lot longer than any recessions.
I think in the UK we DO something about problems,we have done TNR feral cats for a long time, we always have plenty of volunteers here for animal welfare. It seems in the USA you don't have as many who care as we do here and those of you who DO care are overloaded and can't do it all on your own.
Take our declawing battle, we have very committed UK 'troops' who give hours of their time even though they have busy lives,whereas a lot of our USA 'troops' have fallen by the wayside.
You can't generalise really though as there are good caring people and those who don't care, in all the countries in the world.
Feral cats are a person made problem but most people don't want to know that !

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

Mar 11, 2010 Disagree
by: Bob

I live in the US as well, and I have to disagree. The feral cat problem was here way before this economic mess we're in. Unfortunately I know of people who simply abandoned cats because of behavioral problems that could have been remedied. I no longer associate with those people. I too lost my job, but five years ago, not during this crisis. I went from a $12 per hour job to living on unemployment for 5 months, then to an $8 per hour job as a temporary employee. After nine months, I was hired into the company that I was working for as a temp, and have been there ever since. It took another two years to get back to the same rate of pay that I was making at my old job. During my crisis, I also had to live with no heat in my house except a space heater in my bedroom for 2-1/2 years because I couldn't catch up on my gas bill. I scrapped metal for extra money, picking up any metal I found on garbage night and even picking up old wheels left on the side of the road and dumped over hills just to scrap the rims. There were times that I lived on ramen noodle soup because it was all I could afford. I almost lost my house once during that time, ended up in the hospital with a stress related ulcer (and actually flatlined in the ER), and did jobs I never want to have to do again just to keep it all together. But not only did I make damn sure my cats were fed, I also took in both Dodge and Zep during that time. When El Ray needed his surgery, I sold things I'll never get back to pay the $1100 vet bill, but he was more important. I am now doing very well, making a good deal more than I ever did at my old job. But I had to work my way up to it, and after five years I am just now getting out of the hole, so to speak. But no matter what happens, I won't let my cats suffer. They don't know what it means to be anything but spoiled, and they never will. And most of the "cat people" I know feel the same way I do.

Mar 10, 2010 This should be a good discussion.
by: Elisa Black

I can almost bet those living outside the U.S. will agree more with you and the ones in the U.S. will see it more my way. This is going to be an interesting story to watch.

But things really have gotten worse here. Unemployment maximum for my area is $320 a week. It a person made $100,000 a year thats just too bad. Now they live on $320 a week. This is happening to people who have worked for the same employer for 30+ years and thought they had job security.

Health care is a nightmare. My daughter was diagnosed with cancer almost 3 years ago when she was pregnant. Her Dr. planned to operate 6 weeks after she lost the baby. Medicaid cut out her medical after 2 weeks so no help with the cancer. She managed to obtain 3 months of medicine to treat the cancer. She was supposed to remain on the medication for 2 years.

We hear cutbacks and mergers and job loses day in and day out. Americans are losing all kinds of benefits yet out president dishes out money like candy to other countries and to bail out big companies. At the same time he tells those who need help that the money isn't there. People from hurricane Katrina are still living in storage building houses. So we not only have a recession problem, we have a great loss of faith on what is supposed to be the leader of our country.

Unfortunately the trickle down affects animal shelters. They still have their fundraisers but with 14% employment or more people just don't have it to give. I believe that has also lowered the adoption rates. The future here is more uncertain and people are scared.

I guess I understand the situation because I'm right in the middle of it. I worked 30 years and never drew unemployment until now. I've searched and searched for a job for almost a year. The news tells of people who once earned $100k+ per year are now having to settle for minimum wage jobs. Two weeks before I lost my job I was told it was "safe."

I hate to ask what happens when all of the unemployment extensions run out and there's NO money coming in.

I have a lot going good for me. Time to write. Time to teach myself new skills. I'm great at stretching a dollar until it cries out in pain. I know enough herbal medicine to save a lot of doctor and vet visits. It's been said that the average American is only 2 paychecks from financial ruin. Unfortunately that is true.

Mar 10, 2010 Many Thanks
by: Michael

Elisa, thanks for a great article and helping me understand the feral cat situation in the US. I am, though, going to disagree with you although I have a lot of respect for your point of view.

Firstly we create all the underlying causes. We created the recession. I know it is human and we can't be too tough on ourselves but we can do better and that includes me.

Secondly, the recession is only one factor, a recent factor but before the recession there was still a major problem.

Thirdly, I think that when it comes to lives of animals and adoption we should ask ourselves before adopting whether we can under all circumstances care for our cat for the life of the cat. If we are unsure, we shouldn't do it.

There has to be more of a black and white situation when it comes to cats lives.

Michael Avatar

2 thoughts on “Why So Many Feral Cats in America?”

  1. I live in a community where the local veterinarians voted against a no cost spay and neuter clinic because they feared they would lose business. I do not understand why they would think this as they had no concern for feral or abandoned cats. How would they lose money for cats that had been abandoned or for cats born feral?

    I am on a fixed income and have felt a strong compassion for feral and abandoned cats and try to get them fixed when I see them in my neighborhood. I got them fixed by going out of town to a more humane city where they only charged twenty five dollars plus a rabies shot when you brought in a feral or abandoned cat to be fixed so that they can then be released into the community and have shelter and food given to them by those that had them fixed. (myself and hopefully others that were concerned and compassionate). I regret to say that this clinic was closed down as they could no longer afford to stay open. In the town I live in, we had a chance to do the right thing for these poor cats but the veterinarians that are supposed to be caring would not allow this town to have a low or no cost clinic. I do what I can and I am sure there are many others like me but it makes me sick to know that there are not thousands but millions of cats that are euthanized in the kill shelter of this small town every year. I will go to my death trying to do my best with the limited funds I have but at least I have done something. I feel sad that the vets in this town have no compassion for these poor cats and are only interested in making money for themselves. I wonder how they can live with themselves. This behavior is sociopathic.

    • they feared they would lose business

      They probably believe it would be the thin end of the wedge. Vets protect their money like a tiger protects his prey.

      It is all about money. That is the prime motivator. There is something wrong at the heart of our relationship with the domestic cat if we can carry on as normal when there are so many unwanted cats euthanized and so many feral cats living miserable, short lives.

      Thanks for your comment. I think like you.


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