Feral cats differ from their brethren

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Sir: I really enjoyed reading the letter by Al Farquhar in the Dec. 10 issue of The Chatham Voice. He obviously cares very much for birds, and so do I.

After all, animals and birds were created by the same God who created us – and we came along after them. When my wife Ginny and I lived in Elliot Lake, I was a member of Elliot Lake Field Naturalists Club which is dedicated to conservation of the environment and caring for the 182-hectare Sheriff Creek Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected habitat for birds, mammals, and reptiles.

I know birds and other small creatures are often killed by cats and it saddens me to think of this effect on the bird population of most countries. And Ginny and I have had (inside) cats and dogs in our house ever since we were married.

I have a 2007 story in my files from The Windsor Star concerning Windsor’s exploding population of feral cats. There was an estimated 25,000 of them on the city’s streets at that time and I’m sure that figure has ballooned. Feral cats have a rotten life. They face sickness, starvation and bad weather; they could spread disease to house pets; and they risk being hit by cars and attacked by other animals in their desperate bid for survival.

The trouble is how people regard cats. I remember once that Stoney Creek Council was arguing about classifying Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs as pets. One councillor made the comment “a pig is a pig is a pig,” meaning pigs belong on farms, not in cities as pets. Some people regard cats as all belonging in the same basket, so to speak. Feral, stray and pet cats are all members of the same species; they are all domestic cats. But stray cats and feral cats are also different from each other in a very important way – in their relationship to and interactions with people.

Some people believe cities should license cats. I believe the authorities license domestic cats in Calgary. I’m not sure about Hamilton. I know councillors there wrestled with the problem for several years. But that probably isn’t the answer, as it would mean numerous people would just dump their cats to save paying for a license.

Feral kittens can become socialized by interacting with people – being held, spoken to, and played with – from an early age. If a kitten grows up as a feral cat, she won’t become accustomed to loving people holding her and petting her, so she’ll grow up scared of humans and will never settle down living in homes.

Ginny and I have experienced this and the kittens have turned into perfect pets and have socialized with our other cats and dogs.

We have also adopted  stray cats – cats who have been used to living with people at some point in their lives, but have left or lost their domestic home. We have rescued them and, even though they have often been scared and wary at first, they have turned into wonderful pets.

We have good friends who often take feral cats to be “fixed” at their own expense and then release them again. That’s probably the only answer, although it would obviously take many years to finally eliminate feral cats even though they have a much shorter life expectancy than pampered house cats.

Maybe the answer is PAWR – that is Pet and Wildlife Rescue. It’s a non-profit rescue organization operating out of Chatham-Kent. I believe PAWR is dedicated to rescuing all animals in distress and I think that includes cats!

Stephen Beecroft

Chatham

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