It’s a hard-knock life for feral dogs and cats.  Unlike their relatively “pampered” counterparts, animals without forever families do not have access to veterinary care (so disease and parasites often make their lives short), food and water, a shelter with cozy creature comforts or an abundance of toys to call their own.  While some neighborhoods are faced with higher statistics of feral cats and dogs than others, the ASPCA estimates that there are millions stray and feral animals (mostly cats) living in the United States – with those numbers increasing by the day.  The seasons of extremes (winter and summer, in most areas) do even more to tug at the heartstrings of animal lovers.  Oppressive heat and blustery cold prove that only the toughest will survive.  Obviously, you don’t want to encourage these often desperate animals to trust ALL humans (because not all people have good intentions), but it does seem impossible to stand there and watch an animal collapse in your front lawn due to extreme dehydration (and with some places in the U.S. reaching temperatures in the 100s, this could be a very common scene).  So what can you do?  Before you head off to your kitchen and fetch a big bowl of water for the neighborhood feral population, please continue to read this week’s topic:

How to help keep the growing problem of animal homelessness under control.

The first thing to understand is that there is a BIG difference between “stray” animals and “feral” animals.  A “stray” cat, for example, is one that formerly had a family but is now living on the streets (for whatever reason).  A feral cat is one who has been born “in the wild” and has had no domestic experience whatsoever.  Stray cats tend to trust humans and, therefore, allow people to get close to them.  On the other hand, it can take a lot of convincing to get a feral cat to trust a human enough to be within touching distance.


The ASPCA and organizations, such as Alley Cat Allies, believe that the most humane solution to keeping homelessness under control is to employ the TNR method.  TNR means that these animals will be trapped, neutered (or spayed) and then returned to their current environs.  Why is it working?  It doesn’t put additional strain on the already overcrowded animal shelters and it stops animals from mating – which, instinctively, dogs and cats do for the survival of the species.  The health impact, a reduction in breast, ovarian and testicular cancer, is an additional positive side effect.  So how can you help?


1) If you are comfortable working with stray or feral cats, there are many local and national organizations that host workshops to educate you on what to do when you find these animals.  Topics will include how to trap the animals and where to take them for spay or neuter surgery.  These classes will also introduce you to other local animal lovers that you may be able to call upon for support and advice.


2) When it’s a matter of feral kittens, the best way to ensure that they have a shot at a long and healthy life is to bring them inside and socialize them right from the start.  Caring for them until they are old enough to be adopted out will keep them out of the elements, as well as prevent them from being attacked by predators.


3) Fostering a stray cat (do not attempt domesticate a feral cat) until you can find her a home can be a minor bump in your everyday life (especially if you don’t currently have a pet of your own).  However, stray cats generally have excellent people skills and would be very appreciative of the temporary safe haven.  The fact is, stray cats have a high likelihood (up to a 70% chance) of being euthanized if they are merely taken to a shelter.


4) For those who aren’t comfortable working directly with the cats, but still want to help, there are many things that you can do.  For example, you could help connect with local veterinarians to raise awareness about feral cats and to ask for voluntary service with the TNR method.   Animal advocate organizations always need funds to support their business, so hosting a fundraiser is another great way to get involved.


5) Adopt a stray cat.  Life on the streets is a tough time, and there is no better gift you could give than a safe and warm home.


Don’t forget to visit the Wisconsin Pet Care blog again next week as we take a more in-depth look at becoming a foster parent for a four-legged friend.  And in honor of the 4th of July, we’ll pay particular attention to what happens to the dogs and cats of military families when soldiers are deployed (and tell you how you can help!).