feral cats live in neighborhood colonies among residents.

Spring and summer are kitten seasons here in my town. You wouldn’t know there was a feral cat problem unless you dig into posts on Nextdoor.com or you asked one of the volunteers at our Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) programs. Our neighborhood cat population grew significantly in 2023, and our shelters are scheduling adoption surrenders for September. In short, the shelters are full.

Neighborhood cat colonies include abandoned domestic cats (pets) and their wild offspring. Kittens born into these colonies develop wild instincts early, including hunting birds scavenging, and invading area homes with welcoming surroundings. Shelters know families won’t adopt these cats that are not socialized with humans.

My introduction to community cats

I met the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando in April 2022 when a beautiful gray cat took residence on my patio. She was quiet and couldn’t “meow.” I named her “Squeaks” after the sound of excitement she made when the food bowls came out.

Squeaks is a feral community cat.
Squeaks is the oldest female in the local community cat colony at 3 years.

She rewarded my kindness with a litter of five cats that Spring. These babies could meow, and worse, they could chew and bite. They were cute but a lot to handle for a non-cat owner.

Feral cats develop bonds with residents once they are assured of their safety.A family of feral cats in residence doesn’t fit my idea of the perfect outdoor oasis. It often felt like an invasion when the cats would congregate on my back patio. I hated going out into my backyard, and enjoying my pool or patio was impossible.

The cat family occupying my porch slept and chewed on everything in sight, ruining my chair cushions and pool noodles and knocking orchid pots off tables. They charged my door whenever I stepped outside. They hunted the birds in my backyard, and it didn’t matter how much food I put out.

We named the kittens based on their features and traits. I can tell you that naming these feral cats makes it harder to let them go for adoption. But consider how much better their lives are with an adopted family versus living in the wild, and it is an easy choice.

I watched Squeaks teach her babies to hunt by biting off the head of a garden snake. That was enough for me.

How the local TNR organizations help

The TNR organization traps stray and feral kittens. Each cat is tested to see if they can be socialized for adoption. Each cat is spayed or neutered and receives the appropriate shots. Cats are returned to the colony after receiving their treatment if they cannot be socialized or adopted.

The Pet Alliance volunteers trapped four of the five kittens a week after weaning, and the kittens were socialized and adopted. Squeaks received shots, was spayed, and returned to the colony around our neighborhood. We tried to trap the last kitten for weeks. She was smart and managed to evade all traps.

Months passed, and she grew up visiting my house and the neighbors for food. My neighbor names this cat Felix because of its coloring. I called it Possum from when it arrived but changed the name to a more distinguished Harriet. Almost a year to the day, Harriet showed up on my patio to give birth to four more kittens.

Cats are prolific breeders if left unfixed. They reach a mature age at five months and can produce several liters of kittens yearly. Controlling the colony’s population is the only humane way to provide for the safety of these feral cats.

Trapping Feral Cats for TNR

It is essential to use a humane trap. The object is to capture the cats and not injure them. Most TNR organizations provide traps to residents free of charge. You might want to own a trap If you live in a rural area with a lot of raccoons and wildlife, but it usually isn’t necessary when caring for community cat colonies.

kitten in a Haveaheart trap.
This beauty was named Bandit because of her facial mask. She wasn’t happy being trapped. But she was adopted two hours after being brought to the Pet Alliance. A far better life than the cat colony.

Bait the traps with cat food. We lined the trap with newspaper and placed a small amount of food about halfway into the trap and then a more considerable portion at the back of the trap. Place the trap along the cat’s natural travel lane — typically a fenceline or flower bed where they’ve been spotted. Then wait patiently.

How neighborhood cats assist residents

Older residents in my neighborhood attend to the feeding of cats every day. There are no starving cats in my neighborhood.

The cats do help keep the neighborhood free of pests and rodents. The population of invasive Cuban frogs dropped to almost zero when the cat colony was around.

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