Those of you who have lived or spent any time in the northwestern corner of Pennsylvania have probably seen the cats around here that run loose. Barn cats, many people call them, but in reality, many of them are feral cats and while they might live on one person’s property, they are often not pets or owned by anyone.
What Is a Feral Cat?
Feral means something that was tame and became wild or something that was born to a tame animal that became wild. So, a litter of kittens born to a house cat that was tossed out in the wild would be a litter of feral kittens.
Why Does It Matter If a Cat Is Feral?
There are several dangers and risks that come with a population of feral cats (or even just one):
1. Feral cats do not see vets. This means that they do not have their shots and might have any number of diseases, including rabies.
2. Feral cats are just like wild animals. They are not socialized and do not trust humans.
3. Because feral cats do not see vets, they do not get spayed or neutered, and that means that two cats turns into ten, ten turns into a hundred.
Are Feral Cats a Problem?
Feral cats are a problem in many places, like cities where the human population is denser. Many people let their cats run loose or abandon them when they no longer want them, and the more people there are in an area, the more cats there are to be abandoned or turned loose.
But feral cats often get overlooked in rural areas, like northwestern Pennsylvania. In fact, most people around here don’t even look at them as strays. They simply call them ‘barn cats’, a name that arose from the fact that many cats would take up residence in the barns that are plentiful in northwest PA. Because the cats are beneficial to the farmers – they eat the mice and other rodents that might destroy grain and hay crops – the farmers oftentimes leave them alone and let them stay.
Unfortunately, nothing is done to ensure that these cats don’t breed more and more feral cats, and usually the farmers don’t have the time or money to make sure that all of the cats get captured, taken to a vet, spayed or neutered, and vaccinated.
My Experience With Feral Cats
I work at a long-term resident care home in the middle of no where. There are fields on one side and woods on the other. It’s pretty and secluded – and infested with feral cats. There are at least four separate cats that I know of, and to make matters worse, one of the cats has just had a litter of kittens. I don’t know how many she had. I only saw two, but that isn’t to say there aren’t more.
When I first saw the cats lounging on the deck chairs, I thought how nice it was for the residents to have pet companions. I shortly realized that these cats were not pets.
The residents like to watch the cats and so they insist on feeding them table scraps, which is fine by me. At least I know the cats aren’t starving. PA health laws state that the residents can not bring the cats into the home to live though, so the cats are not becoming socialized or saved really. They are still completely feral.
Most of the cats get frightened and ready to run if anyone comes onto the deck, though two of them – siblings no doubt (see picture) – will often let you come quite close to them. Last night, I put my hand right up to one of their faces, was sniffed, and then ignored; however, you can’t pet any of the cats under any circumstance.
Several of the cats have been captured and taken to the vet’s by one of the resident’s daughter, but most of them were not able to be caught. Because these cats have not had their shots, it is exceedingly dangerous to get near them or to try and capture them out of fear of contracting some sort of disease, such as rabies.
Twice I have found cats in the dumpster. Once I had to let one of the cats out of the dumpster. It ran from me like I was trying to hurt it, not help it. Why were the cats in the dumpster in the first place? They could smell the garbage from the kitchen and were digging for food. They also eat bugs, especially moths, and anything else they can catch.
Fortunately, the cats don’t look like they are starving and seem to find plenty to eat, but what happens when the kittens grow up and have more kittens? Soon a handful of feral cats is two handfuls, three handfuls, etc. Table scraps aren’t going to cut it, and the cats will be a borderline infestation if nothing is done.