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Caring for Stray Cats in Urban Neighborhoods

Anne Evans Anne Evans Caring for Stray Cats in Urban Neighborhoods
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When a stray cat starts hanging around your yard, what can you do? Some put food out and most probably do nothing. When Amber, the kitty that was hanging around Lisa Craig Morton’s backyard for awhile, showed up one night with bleeding wounds, Morton knew she had to do something.

“In January of 2012 he was on our back porch, bleeding everywhere,” she says. “It was going to be a very cold night and I was frantic to try to help him.”

She felt stuck because Amber was a stray and would not let Morton nor Morton’s husband touch him or come near him.

So, she called a friend active in the pet rescue business who advised her to trap the cat.

“She let me borrow her trap and walked me through all the steps,” says Morton. “I put the trap on my porch, lined it with cardboard -so the cat’s paws didn’t slip through the cage- and put a can of tuna in the back. Within 15 minutes, Amber went in to get the tuna and he was trapped.”

Morton transferred Amber into a kennel crate for his trip to the vet. She then took him to Rascal Animal Hospital to be examined, stabilized, and also neutered. Rascal Animal Hospital works with cat and dog rescue programs, they offer a 24-hour emergency vet clinic, and they will do spays, neuters, and vaccinations at a reduced rate for stray animals. To calm a stray cat during transport a stray cat, cover the crate with a light blanket.

For Amber, the veterinarians cleaned all of his wounds, gave him an antibiotic, vaccinated him, and neutered him.

“$187 later he was officially ours,” says Morton.

The kennel crate was large enough to provide him with a small litter box, a water bowl, a food bowl, and space for his recovery. After a few days of rest in the crate in their garage, the Mortons released Amber back into the alley.

“We were not sure if he would ever come back,” she says.

Morton and her husband continued to put food out for Amber, and he did keep coming around. To try to ensure the intended animals eat the food, do not leave large amounts food out for extended periods of time.

“It took over a year before he would let us pet him,” she says. “Now we think of him as ‘our cat’ and he clearly thinks of our yard as his home. When I go out to feed him in the morning, he doesn’t even care about the food anymore; he’s all about getting petted first!”

The Mortons bought an outdoor shelter for Amber from Feralvilla.com. Another resource they use is Alley Cat Allies, where you can find other people in your area active with Trap-Neuter-Release. Most veterinarians will clip the ear of a cat that has been through this process so that others know that cat has been taken care of.

“The goal of Trap-Neuter-Release is not necessarily to find forever homes for stray, feral cats,” says Morton. “It is more to stem the tide of additional cats being born from stray cats that are not neutered. The process could also be used to catch a house cat that is lost or that has run away.”

Morton’s interactions with Amber have been so positive -learning to patiently build trust with him and the joy of knowing how much he trusts her- that it has changed the way she thinks about pets.

Amber relaxing in Morton's backyard.

Amber relaxing in Morton’s backyard.

“The experience with TNR with Amber has been really positive for me,” says Morton. “I really think I saved his life or at least saved him from a life of hardship and suffering. It is heartbreaking and disturbing to see stray cats and dogs that are hungry and not well. In Victorian Village it is a big challenge.”

She continues, “I never in a million years thought I would become an advocate for something like this, but now I am very open about sharing it and encouraging or helping others to do the same in their neighborhoods.”

If you’d like to get involved with helping strays with Trap-Neuter-Release, check with your veterinarian about reduced fees for services and vaccinations.

Lisa Craig Morton pets Amber, a formerly stray cat that she brought back to health.

Lisa Craig Morton pets Amber, a formerly stray cat that she saved.

Feature photo by Walker Evans. Story photos provided by Lisa Craig Morton.

From March 3rd to March 9th, Columbus Underground is celebrating Pets Week 2014! Throughout the week, we’ll be showcasing the extraordinary ways that pets can change a person’s life, fun places to take your dog, pet related businesses, and more!

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  • Peggy Kaplan

    What a great story about Amber ! so nice that Lisa and her husband chose to help where so many people look the other way .
    For anyone looking to fix a feral for as little as $10 please contact Shelter Outreach Services . You can get a trap from Colony cats for free.

    • Crazy Cat Lady

      Just for clarification, Colony Cats will lend you a trap (short term) if available. They don’t give them away. Cat Welfare and Pet Promise also have voucher programs to get feral/stray cats fixed for low cost.

  • Thanks for the article about TNR.

    The Franklin Park Civic Association is about to undertake a program to try to help reduce the overpopulation of feral/stray cats in the Near East. Information on that program, as well as some helpful general information on TNR is available at http://franklinparkassociation.org/2013/12/21/trap-neuter-return/

    There are some important items from the article that need to be clarified.
    There is a very big difference between stray and feral cats. Strays may be (or have been) socialized to humans. Feral cats are not socialized and will avoid human contact. Both can inflict serious harm to if cornered or frightened, especially when injured.

    The article mentions that the caretaker transferred the cat from the trap to a kennel crate. This should not be attempted. The cat should be kept in the trap for the safety of the trapper, the cat and the veterinary staff that will perform the surgery (aside from taking a risk that the cat may escape during transfer).

    Eartipping is often required by organizations that are involved in TNR. It helps to identify those animals that have been altered. An ear-tipped cat captured can easily be identified and released if caught again – avoiding an unnecessary trip to the vet (and stress on all concerned).

    Some of the stray cats will become comfortable with their caretakers, allowing and even seeking affection and petting. Feral cats are unlikely to ever be so trusting.

    It is a rewarding undertaking to feel that you are making a difference in the lives of the animals, but anyone interested in undertaking such an effort must work with someone who has experience in TNR. It’s also important to understand that there is a further responsibility beyond spay/neuter to provide food and shelter for the animals.

    Alley Cat Allies is an excellent resource for information on TNR, with videos of the process including an overview of the surgery.

    A comment to the article references $10 for a feral fix through SOS of Ohio. That special pricing for TNR is coordinated and approved through Cat Welfare. They have limited funds for the program that are authorized by application. SOS of Ohio’s actual costs to administer the surgery and vaccines far exceeds $10.

    James Flannery
    Franklin Park Civic Association


  • JamesF – Great additional information and good luck with the program in Franklin Park. I would just add that when I did the TNR with Amber, I was coached through it by a very experienced TNR and cat rescue person who has done (and still does) extensive work with SOS and Cat Welfare. They were the ones that advised me to transfer the cat from the trap to the kennel crate. So perhaps there is just some difference in opinions on this step of the process. Because of the timing of when I captured Amber ( late on a Friday night) and how sick he appeared to be, I didn’t go to SOS for the vet services but chose to go immediately to a 24-hour emergency vet clinic and my contact recommended Rascal Animal Hospital. They were great.

    I also agree with your comments about abandoned strays vs. ferals. That is why I mentioned that the goal of TNR is not to make house pets or find forever homes for all the cats on the street. The only exception I think is when you discover a litter of feral kittens. If you are able to trap them early on, they can be socialized and can be wonderful house cats. And trapping the mama cat and getting her fixed is also critical!

  • Achekov

    Don’t feed them, or they just come back with kittens. Donate to those programs that do the sterilize and re-release with the notched ears or take them to the pound. That is unfortunately the best solution.

    • TeriM

      Donate to the programs and volunteer to trap and help!! i have a couple trapping at an apartment complex and they need help!! They are trapping all over the north end and very often using their own money. To tell people not to feed starving cats is absolutely terrible.

      • TeriM

        Correction..I don’t have the couple trapping ..I asked for help to get the cats spayed and neutered. AND Colony Cats stepped up and asked two of her angels to contact me. So far they caught three ferals I caught one…(two pregnant) AnD three (actually 4 one pregnant) of the friendlies were placed in rescue because Colony Cats stepped up big time.. ..:)

    • TeriM

      AND taking them to the pound means sure death to them and 35 dollars to you..

  • JamesF – Still trying to think why we would have received different advice about transferring Amber from the trap to a kennel crate. All I can think is that we were clearly not trying to implement a full-scale TNR program with a large feral cat colony. We were not sure if Amber was feral or an abandoned stray. He had been hanging around our yard for a good 6-9 months and had been fed as a “back porch kitty” most of that time. That may explain why the rescue person who coached me suggested I transfer him to a kennel crate. She has done hundreds of TNR cases. Amber was also pretty clearly injured and I remember the rescue person being concerned that he might injure himself further in the trap. At any rate, we did use extreme caution when we trapped and transferred and transported Amber. We wore long-sleeved sweatshirts and work gloves to protect us from any possible bites or scratches.

  • Mona

    SOS has a grant through Petsmart charities to do 400 trapped cat surgeries in April. Call them for details. 614.396.8707

  • I’m glad that everything worked out with Amber!

    There are no “absolutes” since every caretaker and every cat are different, so you have to exercise your best judgement and err on the side of caution.

    My concern is that an inexperienced reader would follow the story without a little further research into best practices and unknowingly expose themselves to a hazard – a cat bite can be serious business (have scars to prove it).

    There are sometimes differing standards in the field – for example it’s generally accepted that the ear-tip be the left ear. When I worked with Capital Area Humane Society in past years; however, they tipped the right ear (and couldn’t really explain why they deviated from the standard).


    • All good points JamesF. Thanks for all the work YOU are doing and have done to make animals lives better. Sounds like you have a ton of experience and lots of stories!

  • Another thing about when I worked through Capital Area Humane Society was that any of the ferals that were found to have FELV were euthanized – other programs do not follow this practice.

    CAHS used to have very limited annual funding available for TNR but it was quickly exhausted. They were also unable to be flexible as to when cats could be taken in for surgery (you could only take them in before 9am on Thursday). You also had to let them know ahead of time how many you’d be bringing in.

    Not a “terrible” approach, but the cats didn’t get the memo ;) When you are trapping a colony – you don’t know if you’ll end up with 2 or 20 or whether you’ll be able to get them in a day or a week. Those of us involved in TNR do the best we can.

    Another piece of misinformation is a perception by many that anyone who feeds the ferals/strays is a cat hoarder. That is just not an accurate statement. The majority of the folks feeding are caring people trying to do a good deed. Not all of them have had the resources to take that kindness to the next level by having the cats for whom they care spayed/neutered – it may be that they simply do not have the funds, or they may not know about programs such as TNR.

  • archibaldquinn

    This is my cat’s window boyfriend! He’s been sitting on our windowsill singing her love songs for the past two weeks. He’s very sweet.

  • RiverLover

    I used to be active trapping, fixing and releasing feral cats. This is a wonderful article, so good to see. But don’t give up on feral cats! I’ve tamed 3 over the years and they were incredibly wonderful, loving cats once they got over their fears, which took time. They were also brought indoors. This is key.

    Here are some good tips on taming ferals~

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