Free Roaming Cats
It's estimated that there are at least one million free roaming cats in the Greater Toronto area.
There are colonies of stray and feral cats everywhere.
- It is estimated 400 feral cats are born on the streets of Toronto every day.
- Feral cats (unlike stray cats) are not good candidates for adoption unless trapped or caught at a very young age (under 2 months, 3 months in extreme cases) as they are fearful of humans and generally do not make good companions in a home situation.
- Feral cats are the offspring of stray domestic cats that were not spayed or neutered.
These stray and feral cats are living everywhere, behind malls and plazas, underneath bridges, in parks, behind restaurants, old barns and farms, in residential neighborhoods and even the subway system.
Most people do not set out to be cat caretakers. Most often they come across a cat or cats by accident and follow their instinct to help. The first impulse is to feed the cats, which is important because food and water are necessary for their survival. Not feeding the cats and hoping they'll “go away” is not realistic. They can't go away, and they may starve, but they will continue to reproduce.
However you became involved with free roaming cats, your best course of action is to start feeding and as soon as possible, begin a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program to trap, vet and sterilize all members of the colony.
TNR programs operate largely through the dedicated efforts of committed volunteers.
TNR works because it breaks the cycle of reproduction. In general, the cost of TNR is less than half the cost of trapping, holding, killing and disposing of a cat. TNR protects public health and advances the goal of reducing the numbers of free roaming cats in the environment. Most of the public supports humane, nonlethal TNR as the long-term solution to stray/feral cat overpopulation.
Assessing the situation
- How many cats?
- Which cats should be trapped and in what order?
- If there is a mother cat and kittens, the decision should be simple. Kittens are readily adoptable, adults are not (especially if they are feral) and the spaying of known female cats at known points in their cycle is a priority.
- Is the cat is injured? If so it too should be trapped and immediately taken to the vet who will inform you as to whether it is a nursing female. At that point a decision will be made as to whether she should be released so that the kittens survive. Perhaps an injection of a long lasting antibiotic could help.
- It is equally important to neuter male cats although timing is not quite an issue. They will roam for miles and may be hit by a car. They also fight and frequently have abscessed bite wounds.
- Ask your neighbours if they have cats and if they allow them outdoors. If their cats are outdoor cats get to know them in order to avoid trapping them.
If it is not a neighbours cat and it is tame it could be lost. Take it to the vet and have it scanned for a microchip.
- How many are females?
- Helpful Hints: Orange or orange/white cats are primarily males
- calicoes (orange/white/black or white/peach/grey) are always female
- tortoiseshells (orange and black mottled together, or peach and grey mottled together with no white patches) are always female
- brown tabbies with slight patches of orange (called torbies) are female.
- Tom cats are usually war torn with shredded ears and scars and have very round jowly faces
- Females are usually quite petite, especially when unaltered.
- As for black cats/ tuxedo cats/grey etc. it is anyone's guess.
- If it is a female, how long have you been observing it for? If there are periods of time when she is not seen she could be tending to kittens. If you have never seen her before, you had best wait and continue observing. It could be a neighbour's cat. Or it could have kittens.
- Is there any chance that she could have kittens?
- If so do you know where the nest is? Don't go looking for it…..she will relocate the kittens if it is disturbed.
- How many kittens does she have?
- Are the kittens eating on their own? You do not want to trap kittens if they are not eating on their own and still nursing. Bottle feeding is not fun, so wait before you start trapping.
- You must trap all the kittens first and then the mother.
- Kittens should be caught as soon as they start eating on their own. If you wait until they are older than 6 weeks of age they will invariably be feral kittens…..and it will be a time consuming and "painful" process taming them.
- There are large box traps available that have on occasion trapped entire families, mother included. These should only be used if you know exactly the number of kittens in the nest and if the mother is in the habit of eating alongside her kittens. Remember that there may be a very small kitten in the litter. This kitten will be the last one to start eating on its own so it may be some time before the mother can be caught.
- Are your neighbours willing to help you with fostering while the animals are recovering from the spay/neuter procedures and with the care and feeding of the ferals once they are ready to be released? Male cats need to recuperate for about 1-2 days and females should stay in for 3 days.
- It is important to get neighbours involved. Apart from sharing expenses, if you have to move then there will be caretakers to continue feeding.