I’m sharing two photos with you that I think will speak for themselves. These are not before & after photos. They show two different cats, same breed/type (domestic short-hair), same color (tabby), and approximately the same age (between one and two years old).
The first one was found by us on our farm at only 7-ish weeks of age. He grew up inside, eating high quality food, and being dewormed and vaccinated appropriately. He’s bright-eyed, alert, playful, and his coat positively gleams. We don’t know his history or where he came from (we assume he was dropped off since he was really too small to have wandered up on his own) but for the vast majority of his life he’s been well cared for.
The second cat has had a rougher start. He’s been hanging around the farm since October, and we just managed to trap him this week and get him in to the local low-cost spay/neuter clinic to be neutered & vaccinated. He’s scared to death in this picture- the trap stressed him immeasurably, and for that reason all I was able to do was snap a very quick cell phone pic of him. He has giant, chronic sores under his chin from draining abscesses (caused, most likely, by fighting with other cats), and he’s quite thin. Life really hasn’t been very good to him. We don’t know his history either; he looks so similar to the other cat pictured that he could possibly be from the same litter, but that’s purely conjecture.
Our hope is that now that cat #2 (now called Foster) has been neutered that he will begin to become more settled and allow us to tame him. He’s definitely not the first feral we’ve trapped around here, and so far we’ve had great success with gentling these wild cats. But I feel that the difference between these two cats illustrates so well a major issue- the feral cat problem.
It’s estimated that there are as many as 50 million feral cats living in the United States and there are several schools of thought as to how to address this issue. Many people support (as do I), the policy of TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) for feral cats. This allows the cats to live out their lives, usually in colonies with other feral cats, without reproducing and further contributing to the feral population. Since most trapped cats are also vaccinated for Rabies, TNR helps prevent the spread of this deadly disease via feral cats. Others feel that since cats are not native species, they should not be allowed to live as wild animals. And this point of view has merit too, because cats can be very destructive to the native bird/rodent/small animal population. And, as we can see from the above photos, there are definite advantages to living indoors. For the cat, indoor life is so much safer and healthier. Outdoor cats get hit by cars, and eaten by coyotes, and abused by people.
No one person can solve a 50 million feral cat issue by themselves. But all of us can make a commitment to not contribute to it. It’s estimated that (exponentially) one female cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 kittens in a seven year span. So if you have cats, spay & neuter them. If you have stray cats hanging around, or feed a colony of ferals, spay & neuter them. There are organizations all over the country that will assist with TNR for wild cats, and many of them are also committed to finding homes for the ones that have the potential to be good pets.
For Foster, having a home would have been a much nicer existence than he’s had so far. Now he’s neutered and will not be reproducing, and he’s vaccinated so will stay healthier, and we’ll certainly feed him for as long as he wants to stick around. But he won’t get to experience the same human-pet bond that the tame cats get. And that’s a shame, because all cats deserve that.