Feral cat

By Karen Gadke


BOONE COUNTY – When we decide we want to give back, do something outside of ourselves – which is one way of staying young and healthy – most people choose an obvious, often “glamorous” human cause, while animal-related causes receive a very small percentage of the total charitable effort.

I have worked for many causes, been on many “missions,” both human and animal-related.  Because of my involvement with sled dog training/racing and therapy/reading dogs for several decades, dogs have been my first choice among animals.

But a cat tragedy I stumbled upon more than seven years ago changed my direction somewhat.  I have not abandoned my other causes, but after becoming acquainted with a situation of severe neglect involving about 15 cats, I learned that cats need attention more than any other companion animal, especially in Boone County.

I won’t go into the gory details describing the misery of these poor creatures at an empty house near Capron.  These cats were diseased, emaciated, covered with sores, limping and drinking out of mud puddles, starving to death, as dictated by the owners of the uninhabited house.

I had no way but to report the horror to Animal Control (now Animal Services), and the employee I spoke to promised to take care of the situation, which meant trap and kill the cats to end their misery.  I called a few days later but was not told the outcome.  Perhaps they didn’t find any cats alive.

This story has haunted me ever since, and has prompted me into helping many cats over recent times, mostly by having them spayed or neutered to help control overpopulation, and finding homes for adoptable ones, most of them with the help of PAWS Humane Society in Rockford.

I often ask myself, why many people have so little respect for one of the most beautiful creatures with whom we share this planet.

Fortunately, there are many wonderful people who have adopted cats, have had them spayed or neutered, and derive endless pleasures from them.

However, many people have not been reached by education about the plight of the feral cat and the fact that unsprayed family cats have created the biggest portion of this tragedy.

I hope to reach and enlighten these people, because it is time we shed some light on this deplorable issue and the sad lives of the thousands of feral cats that live/hide in Boone County and everywhere else.

To briefly explain the difference between stray, feral, and barn cats.  A stray cat is an abandoned cat.  She once had a home, but lost it.  She could be a sweet kitty you can take home and keep as a pet.

A feral cat has been removed from the pet cat status by one, two, or more generations.  This cat is wild and wary of people.  He/she likely will bite if you get too close and he/she feels threatened.  Feral cats have been chased, stoned, and subjected to many other hardships and cruelties, so we can not blame them for not trusting us.

A feral cat must be trapped and delivered to the veterinarian in the trap for spaying.  They should be returned to the place they came from and should be fed, or they could possibly become barn cats.

Some people contend that a feral cat could be rehabilitated to pet cat status, but that would be the rare exception.  With all the sweet cats cooped up in cages in shelters and eventually having to be killed because the shelter has to make room for an endless influx arriving every day, why not give those poor abandoned cats a chance?

Barn cats that are scheduled to be spayed or neutered may be tame or wild, but unless the owner is present and catches them and places them in carriers for transportation to the clinic, they should be trapped.

Even when trapping and not manually handling the cats, it is safer to wear leather gloves.  Be ready to throw a towel over the trap after the cat goes in, because the cat will go crazy and may hurt herself/himself.

They calm down immediately after the trap is covered.  Never open the trap after the cat goes in.  It is best to have a small water dish inside the trap beforehand, so some water can be dribbled in from the top.

Feral cats live in colonies wherever they find food and shelter, often close to humans.  They keep the rodent population down, but they can also be a nuisance from digging in gardens and trying to find food scraps in garbage cans.

They are not a danger to people.    They are too shy to approach a human being, but will defend themselves if cornered.  People should leave them alone and instruct their children to do the same.

Feral cats should not be taken to shelters where they will be killed. (About 90 percent of all cats entering kill shelters are killed).

These cats should be trapped, sterilized, vaccinated, and then returned to their colony, where they are bonded with the other members of their clan, to live out their lives without reproducing.

This procedure is called TNR (trap/neuter/return).  It is the humane way to stabilize cat populations.  If there are no offspring, the colony will slowly die out.  And while there are still cats for a while, mating behavior stops.  The colony is at peace, and the cats can enjoy what’s left of their lives.  The average lifespan of a feral cat is only two years.

Many communities use inhumane ways to decrease the number of cats, i.e., poisoning or the gas chamber where six or more cats and dogs are stuffed into a box and the gas is turned on.  Imagine the horror scene inside that small space, while these poor creatures fight for their last breath.  These methods are so cruel and totally unnecessary.

TNR works.  The cats are sterilized and vaccinated.  Most veterinarians ear-tip the cats (the tip of one ear is snipped off) so that they can later be identified as sterilized. Without more offspring, the colony slowly dies out.

Stateline Spay/Neuter and Education Fund (on Facebook, phone number, (815) 569-2642)) and other animal welfare groups, encourage people to have their family cats spayed or neutered, and help the feral cats in their neighborhoods by having them sterilized and feeding them.

Contact them for help, to learn more, or to volunteer your help.  You may also contact Boone County Animal Services.

Dr. Probst of the Belvidere Family Pet Hospital is the only veterinarian in Boone County who has reserved Wednesday mornings for low-cost spaying/neutering.

Financially, this is a sacrifice on the veterinarian’s part and Stateline Spay/Neuter and Education Fund and the rest of the animal welfare community of Boone County appreciate this important contribution to stabilizing the feral cat population and alleviating much suffering.

People can call the clinic, make an appointment and pay a $15-per-cat co-pay plus $12 for flea treatment if needed. There may be an added fee for a Rabies shot.

Please feed the cats and let them live out their lives.  If you have cats in the neighborhood and need shelters for winter, there are some free ones available.

Call (815) 569-2642.  If you are unable to pay the co-pay, call this number as well.  Also call this number if you want some help toward sterilizing your family cat or dog, and we will send you a voucher to help defray the cost.

Space here is not enough to cover all the details, so please call.  We can help you trap too, lend you a trap or crate, and answer questions.

If you have any free time and want to volunteer, i.e., run an errand or take a cat to the vet, we will be grateful.   No offer of your time is too small, and there is no commitment to continue.

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