Feral Cats: Humane Solutions and Socialization
Feral Cats in Communities
The best solution for communities who have an unwanted feral cat population, plus the most humane solution for the feral cats.....is trap, neuter/spay, and release to a colony.
This has worked very successfully for some time. They cats are trapped and taken the next morning to be spayed and neutered. Then brought back to a shelter or home and kept quiet in a kennel/condo for another night if possible. This is a time consuming and challenging process but again it is the best solution. You should never try to handle the cat yourself. The vet will anesthetize the cat right in the carrier before the surgery. Then you should be able to get the cat into a kennel by opening the carrier door right up to the kennel door. Food and water and a small litter box should be provided.
To release to a colony, use gloves to carry the kennel. And keep your distance once opening the door. Remember these cats are frightened by captivity and can react with aggression.
It is important to find places (colonies) where they can be released but have shelter and food and be away from traffic. Eventually the colony dies out because there is no breeding or reproduction.
There have been attempts to find easier ways to control feral populations that have not worked out. France tried putting out bait with contraceptives in it, but they couldn't keep other mammals away from it....and they didn't want to decimate the squirrel and raccoon population.
I have found it is possible to socialize feral kittens.....difficult but possible....Again it is a serious commitment of time and effort. Plus one has to be very careful not to get injured.
I only worked once with truly feral kittens. There is a difference between a feral (wild) kitten and an unsocialized kitten. An unsocialized kitten is usually accustomed to being around people but not used to being handled by them. A feral kitten has reverted to primitive wild instincts.
Huddled in Corner
My Work With Feral Cats Kittens
Someone left a box with three kittens on a church door step. The kittens were about twelve weeks old which meant they could get their first vaccines. I sought advice and the first thing I did was to confine them to a kitty condo. That way I could grab them. Handling them was the whole approach to socializing. I had done it with Chihuahuas. I would grab them with gloves and wrap them in a towel and hold them. I realize now I was using the pressure/swaddling technique developed by Temple Grandin for animals. I would hold one kitten at a time for a half hour, several times throughout the day. Then I would return the kitten to the condo. I also spent time in the room talking to them in the condo and trying to get them to play through the bars. I gave them small meals often in order to get them used to my hand coming near. They never tried to attack me but would huddle in a corner afraid of my hand.
The two girls began to progress. Now when I brought them out of the condo, I began loosening the towel and petting them. I started first with just petting and scratching their heads. When they seemed to get used to that, I would reach farther down in the towel to pet them. The two girls started to relax being in my lap. Soon they were no longer shying away from my hand in the kennel. Next I could hold them without the towel. They began to purr and enjoy my touch and relax. We were able to find adopters for them who would continue the work I was doing. The brother however was as wild as the first day he arrived. I never could handle him without gloves and he fought the swaddling. We had him neutered and released in a feral colony where he would have food and shelter.
The website A Conversation on Autism explains why the pressure of swaddling works
"Both human and animal studies indicate that deep pressure is calming and reduces arousal in the nervous system. Researchers have shown that pressure applied to both sides of a person’s body decreased metabolic rate, pulse rate and muscle tone. Gently pinching a rabbit’s skin with padded clips creates a deactivated EEG reading, relaxed muscle tone, and drowsiness. Rubbing and gently pinching a cat’s paw will increase tonic inhibitory neural activity in several brain areas."
I would never ever put pressure on a feral cat's paw however, they are too likely to scratch when they are afraid.
Three Months Socialized
Below are the two girls at a little more than 3 months at an adoption event. They showed well.