Feral Cats, Stray Cats, and the Kittens In Between

feral catsBy Stacey Frazier For the past few weeks, I have been following the story of a feral cat in B.C. Canada. An organization called Tiny Kittens works to trap, neuter and release (TNR) feral cats in the British Columbia area and they recently caught a 6-year-old pregnant ginger female they named Evolene.

X-rays were taken shortly after capture showed that she was approximately 45 days into a pregnancy that usually lasts around 60 days. Evolene was horribly malnourished, infested with fleas and parasites, suffering from severe dental issues, and only a few weeks away from delivery what could have easily been her 18th litter of kittens. She was in bad shape. Now, 20 days later, she has put on 2 pounds, been treated for parasites, is warm, safe, and comfortable in the care of the operator of the rescue group, awaiting the birth of her kittens.

It became apparent very early on that Evolene was not a truly feral cat. She was probably a pet that had been dumped near the rural dairy farm where the colony lives.  Feral cats live their lives without human contact, vs. a stray that is forced to learn to live on its own. The speed at which she accepted the help and attention of her human caretaker showed that she had at one time known and trusted humans. It is heartwarming to see this still very thin, and very pregnant cat rush to her little cubby box for attention when her human comes to feed and check on her. It also is a harsh reminder of the emotional and physical toll abandonment has on these trusting little souls.

Feral cats are found in every town. Cats that are dumped, abandoned, and run off find themselves having to fend for themselves on the streets and in the wild. If they were not spayed or neutered before ending up on their own the rate at which they reproduce is alarming. A female cat can have up to 3 litters a year. An average litter size is 3 to 5 kittens. A female can become pregnant as early as four months old. Within one year of being abandoned, a female cat can be responsible for the birth of 8 to 15 kittens, and 16 to 30 kittens will come from her offspring, all of which will be born feral. While a fair percentage of these kittens do not survive until reaching the reproductive age, it is still a staggering number of cats being born. Cats that must find their own source of food. Cats that have no protection from predators. Cats that have no way to fight illness, disease, and injury.

The sad truth is that the most of it could be avoided by people simply spaying and neutering their pets. Unwanted kittens would not be turned out on the street. Female cats would not have unexpected pregnancies and not be dumped in strange neighborhoods or on country roads. Once-trusting house cats would not find themselves fighting off aggressive males and having litter after litter after litter.

Evolene will have a happy ending. Her kittens will be born in a safe, comfortable place. They will be adopted into loving homes with people who will make sure they are fed and cared for. They will be able to sleep soundly without fear. They will be able to live the life all creatures deserve, whether they be feral cats, companion cats, or all the kittens in between.

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