When I began working with shelter animals, I took an interest in fearful and feral cats. Cats often struggle to acclimate in shelters. Cages make them feel trapped and threatened, especially if they have had little experience with humans. Their fear makes them challenging to work with and find homes for. Many shelters have high feral euthanasia rates, but community cat programs provide an alternative outcome by seeking farms and other properties. Outdoor cats come with the added benefit of natural pest control!
It can be difficult to differentiate between cats who are truly feral—meaning a cat who has had little or no exposure to humans—and cats who are fearful but may have lived in a home before. While community cat programs are a fantastic alternative for feral cats, an indoor home will always be the best outcome for any animal. Removing the cat from a cage and placing it in a different environment, such as a free-roaming cat room or a foster home, provides an opportunity to better assess whether or not a cat is best suited to life outdoors.
An indoor home will always be
the best outcome for any animal.
the best outcome for any animal.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve fostered several fearful cats, including my most recent, a young gray feline called Charlie. When I first took Charlie home, it became clear she was not used to humans. An approaching hand caused her to panic and try to get away. If she was trapped, she would hiss and swat to protect herself. She had never had a reason to believe that humans could be kind.
After several weeks, Charlie remains scared of being reached for or touched, but she has learned to chase toys, lay near me, take treats from my hand, and sniff my fingers. She adores my other animals; she loves to explore and play. Charlie shows tremendous potential to bond with her family over time, so I have spent a lot of time sharing her story and searching for a home. Unfortunately, while many people want the best for animals with difficult journeys like Charlie’s, others are not so compassionate.
It’s disheartening how often people respond to our community cat program unkindly. “Let the Chinese restaurants take them,” they’ll say. “Let nature take care of it.” “I’d shoot it if it came onto my property.” Despite all the wonderful things about Charlie, someone replied by saying, “Why would you get a cat that you can’t even touch. OMG!” Advocating for these cats means encouraging others to see value in lives they don’t understand. The overpopulation of feral cats is a direct result of our negligence to spay, neuter, and contain our feline companions. These cats never asked to be homeless. They deserve a more humane solution than euthanasia, which is why so many animal rescuers advocate for TNR, which stands for trap, neuter, and return. Animals like Charlie have so much to teach us about patience and respect. The trust of an animal is so much more meaningful when it is earned.
Breonna Loxley is an animal care technician at an animal shelter. She is an avid artist, writer, and animal-lover. She lives with her parents, a younger brother, two cats, and one dog.
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