Chances are you’ve seen, or at least have heard of outdoor cats. Some may be cats who are allowed to roam outdoors by their guardians, other may be community (feral or stray) cats who call the outdoors home. In fact, the ASPCA currently estimates that there about 20 million free-roaming cats in this U.S. That figure includes a mix of truly feral cats, semi-socialized cats, and lost or abandoned cats.

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For many, it’s hard to see felines living outdoors. The first instinct may be to give them a can of cat food, which is certainly a kind gesture, but in reality, feral cats are often just as safe and healthy as our own house cats. It’s been shown that feral cats have equally low rates of disease as indoor cats. The lean physique of some feral cats sometimes leads people to believe that they are starving or ill, but studies find that feral cats have healthy body weights and fat distribution. Outdoor cats tend to live much more active lives than the house cats who sleep on the side of our beds.

If a cat looks well cared for, they are more likely to return home without your help. If they do hang around, chat with your neighbors or post signs to see if you can find their family.  Feral cats are afraid of people and usually, run if approached. They will not allow you to touch them and you shouldn’t try because it can endanger you or the cat. They’ll only eat food you’ve provided after you’ve moved away. A cat is probably feral if he’s still unapproachable after several days of feeding.

Of the 70 million stray animals that live in the U.S. only about six to eight million make their way into the shelter system. Only about three or four million of animals in shelters are adopted into homes. Knowing these heart-wrenching statistics, animal lovers undoubtedly want to help their feline friends. If you want to help feral community cats, other than providing them with food, here are some suggestions that may go a longer way than food.

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Ways to Help Feral Cats 

Make a Shelter

You can build a feral cat shelter yourself by constructing insulated shelter boxes to help to keep them warm and dry even on the coldest and snowiest days. This video tutorial will walk you through the necessary steps. Smaller shelters work best, as they help to recirculate cats’ own body heat. Also, be sure that cats don’t become snowed into their shelters by keeping doorways free of blowing snow and drifts.

Volunteer 

One of the best ways to help cats is to volunteer with a rescue organization that helps manage feral cat colonies. Colonies are groups of cats that live in the same area and form a sort of family bond. Some volunteer groups work to provide shelter and food for colonies to help them get by. Although feral cats are usually very wary of people, they can come to trust volunteers – or at least, trust them enough to happily accept much-needed supplies. You can help even more cats by organizing a group of volunteers to aid feral cats while allowing them to keep their freedom.

Trap-Neuter-Release

Another way to help your community cats is to participate in Trap-Neuter-Release, or TNR, programs during the warmer months. This will help keep their populations under control in the winter. Experts debate whether TNR should be done in the winter since it requires a portion of a cat’s winter coat to be shaved and the trapping process may expose the cats to the winter elements. If TNR is attempted in the winter months, be sure that adequate shelter is provided through each step of the trapping and recovery processes.

If there’s no local group helping community cats, you can TNR the cats! You’ll find lots of great information to get the skills and confidence you need in the Neighborhood Cats TNR Handbook.

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If you’ve never helped community cats before, don’t worry, you can still be an advocate.There are lots of resources, such as The Humane Society of the United States’ Lobbying 101 for Cat Advocates, to help you be the most effective advocate possible. You can also check out “Managing Community Cats: A Guide for Municipal Leaders,” which can be purchased in print form or downloaded for free.

Do you have experience with helping community cats? Leave a comment below and share with the One Green Planet community!

Lead image source: hkase/Flickr

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