By Alisa Mullins
National Feral Cat Day is this month, and I am reminded of a feral cat I knew years ago. When the cat first appeared on my front porch, he had long, silky fur. I started feeding him and trying to earn his trust. But as the months passed, he got into fights with other cats and developed enormous abscesses that refused to heal. Finally, after several unsuccessful attempts, I managed to trap the cat and whisk him to a vet. Sadly, the big, once-handsome cat tested positive for FIV, the feline equivalent of AIDS. The disease had ravaged his gums and teeth, most of which had fallen out. Even worse, an infection had spread from his gums to his heart, doing irreparable damage.
It was all over. The injection was painless, making this poor cat’s death more peaceful than much of his life had been.
Deadly infectious diseases such as feline AIDS are just some of the many dangers that feral cats face. These forgotten cats do not die of “old age.” They are attacked by other animals, are hit by cars and die of exposure or starvation. During winter months, automobile engine fans slice through cats who seek shelter under warm car hoods. If cats escape these perils, they may still fall prey to cruel people. PETA receives calls every day about stray and feral cats who are mutilated, shot, drowned, poisoned, beaten, set on fire or used by dogfighters as “bait.”
One feral cat helped recently by PETA’s cruelty caseworkers had what appeared to be a bloody red mustache that turned out to be a horrific chemical burn that had eaten away part of her upper jaw. Another feral—a kitten just 6 weeks old—was rescued with PETA’s help after being trapped for days in a storm drain. His left front leg was so mangled that it had to be amputated.
Even easily treatable conditions can be deadly for feral cats. Minor injuries can turn into raging infections and abscesses. Untreated upper respiratory infections cause cats’ eyes and noses to become so caked with mucus that the animals can barely see or breathe. PETA’s caseworkers have lost count of the number of feral cats they’ve seen with their ears scratched bloody as a result of desperate attempts to alleviate the pain and itching of ear mites. Some cats die of blood loss or anemia from worms and fleas. Two former ferals whom I trapped and tamed later suffered from repeated urinary tract infections, which can lead to blockage in male cats. I shudder to think of the painful, lingering deaths these cats would have suffered without treatment.
It is because these terrible fates await most feral cats that PETA believes that trap, neuter, return (TNR) programs are not usually in the cats’ best interests. TNR may prevent future generations of cats from suffering the hardships of life on the streets, but they fail to address the misery experienced by cats trying to eke out an existence in alleys and behind Dumpsters.
Advocates of TNR argue that feral cats are just as deserving of our consideration as other felines. They are absolutely right. And it is precisely because we would never encourage anyone to abandon their own cat in a parking lot or at the end of a rural road that we should not advocate the same for feral cats.
The only real solution to the feral cat problem currently plaguing communities across the country is to aggressively promote spaying and neutering. Feral cat colonies don’t spring out of nowhere—they are the direct result of irresponsible people who abandon or allow their unaltered cats to roam outside. That is why it is vital to promote the spaying and neutering of all cats, not just ferals.
No cat, whether feral or not, should be abandoned and forced to endure the harsh conditions of homelessness.
Alisa Mullins shares her home with several rescued cats, including two former ferals. She is a research specialist for The PETA Foundation.