Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

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October 22, 2012
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Pet column: America's forgotten felines

Once they or their immediate ancestor had a home. Now they are "community cats." Generally labeled "feral," they are wild, semi-tame, stray, or abandoned and number at least as many as felines with comfortable, loving homes. The estimate for the United States is about 60 million, but no one knows for sure. Most live in fear of humans. A quiet, dedicated cadre of self appointed guardians look out for their welfare. October 16 is the eleventh National Feral Cat Day to promote awareness and compassion for America's forgotten felines.

Founder of NFCD, Alley Cat Allies, points out that outdoor cats have lived alongside humans for more than 10,000 years. They are the same species as pet cats, felis catus. They are not adoptable, although their offspring can be if caught and fostered before 12 weeks of age. Thousands of communities now have programs to enable humane co-existence with community cats. In fact, until fairly recently all cats, tame and wild, were outdoor cats. Indoor-only house cats evolved with the invention of kitty litter around 1947 and its widespread use in the 1960's. Until then, it was considered impractical to keep a cat indoors. Legend credits Sir Isaac Newton with inventing the cat door in the late 17th century to accommodate his in and out felines. Until the 1930's, spay-neuter surgery was not readily available or safe. Both mating and birthing took place out of doors. Cats became increasingly popular pets with the introduction of safe spay-neuter surgery, kitty litter, refrigeration and protein rich canned cat food for pets who didn't hunt. Unlike dogs, who became omnivorous and more dependent with domestication and breed manipulation, domestic cats retained their carnivorous nature along with their in natural survival instincts.

Trap-Neuter-Release was introduced and accepted worldwide after decades of owner failure to spay-neuter pet cats, dumping no longer wanted pets, and the public realization that wholesale killing of roaming cats only created a "vacuum" effect as it does with many other species. Exterminated cats were quickly replaced with new populations. TNR is the humane, and most effective way to respect the lives and control the numbers of ferals and other victims of human abandonment, TNR results in the eventual decline of a cat colony as members cease to reproduce. After initial trapping, vaccination and sterilization of group members, their human benefactors, often supported by human societies, provide food, monitor health, and rescue kittens which can be socialized and adopted as domestic pets. From San Diego to New York, organizations like Alley Cat Allies and the Feral Cat Project champion education and humane treatment for all cats, specifically feral cats.

When sterilized and under anesthesia, the feral cat is eartipped. The left ear is cut straight across the top no more than 1/4 inch to signal other caretakers and veterinarians so that an already treated cat is not trapped again. Monitored community cats live healthy, relatively disease free lives compared to lone strays who suffer horrifically on their own. The stress and injuries from mating behavior and uncontrolled reproduction is eliminated.

Although it is a crime in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to harm or kill a cat, owned or unowned, court cases periodically arise due to senseless cruelty. Some perpetrators cite flawed studies claiming that free roaming cats kill inordinate numbers of birds, even threatening extinction in some areas. In fact, the primary food source for feral cats is rodents or scavenged human garbage. Proven by solid science, the primary threat to birds and other wildlife is human invasion and destruction of habitat.

In Lake Tahoe casino areas, mobile home parks, and apartment complexes feral colonies establish periodically as food becomes readily available. In addition, "porch pets" are fed but not claimed or provided veterinary care by well meaning people not allowed to have a pet in their home. Being responsible means that when a lone cat is spotted, an effort is made to find an owner of what may be a lost pet, not an abandoned or truly wild feline. Both El Dorado County Animal Services and the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and S.P.C.A. take and keep lost and found reports. Experienced caretakers can tell the difference readily when a new face appears in a colony. Here's a public thank you to those who in all weather provide dependable care for Tahoe's community cats. We salute your selfless dedication.

- Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help "Keep Tahoe Kind". Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Oct 22, 2012 05:26PM Published Oct 22, 2012 05:25PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.