Managed Care, Negotiating for and Relocating Feral Cats
“Feral cats and kittens have a right to life and a right to be humanely cared for”
Managed Care at Home Site Location
One of the most important factors in creating a safe and well-managed environment for feral cats is that everyone involved be knowledgeable about their care. There are numerous situations where the caretaker is not familiar with information essential to maintaining a safe home site for the ferals they are caring for. What usually begins with feeding a cat or two, can escalate into an explosion of cats and kittens over a short period of time.
Feral cat caretaking is a long-term commitment and it is necessary to understand how to do it successfully. There are circumstances where the caretaker, unknowingly, creates difficult situations that could have been prevented with the proper information and action. Every caretaker should be informed and educated as to the implementation of trap, neuter, vaccinate and return. This is to be carried out as an essential part of caretaking.
Many complaints are directly related to feeding. Since feeding is one of the most important aspects of care, special detailed information as to how this can be accomplished successfully, is the first objective. Refer to Instructions for Feeding Feral Cats and Feeding Priorities under Challenging Circumstances. No matter how friendly the immediate area, feeding should be done with utmost discretion, even if you are feeding on your own property and it is completely safe and protected. Not all of your neighbors may be friendly to your endeavor. Permanent feeding stations should be protected from the elements, placed out of sight and, if necessary, camouflaged. Dry food and water containers can be covered with dark plastic material and duct tape or sprayed with an exterior brown, dark green or black paint. Be careful not to spray paint on the food and water surfaces. Four sided box type structures can be easily made to enclose a feeding station. Thick art foam board or any sturdy material that can be cut and put together with duct tape and glue and covered with heavy black plastic garbage bags or other dark plastic materials, with an opening to place food and water during the winter months, usually hold up well. This type of cover would need to be modified for areas with heavy rains and/or extremely cold weather.
If the cats are being fed on a daily basis, without the use of permanent feeding stations, do not draw unnecessary attention to where and when they are being fed. This is especially important in hostile territory. Do not use white paper plates. Do not leave plates with food unless they are out of sight and protected from the elements. Dark plastic plates or anything that blends into the surrounding environment, for all feeding is recommended. Feeding from cans and leaving empty cans and food containers will create an unsightly mess. You can be asking for trouble.
There are numerous innovative ways to safely feed without drawing unnecessary attention. Look around the area and locate the best place. Feeding under your vehicle or one safely parked, in the bushes, behind dumpsters, in small corners of buildings, abandoned areas and buildings, alleys with little or no traffic, behind structures, near fences, etc. You may need to move the feeding area to the near vicinity if it becomes unsafe. In most cases, having permanent feeding stations that are out of sight is safer for the cats. The cats do not need to come out when you arrive for food, if they feel it is unsafe. Dry food can be continually supplied with only the wet food when you arrive. I cannot stress enough that feeding stations that are in sight are, for the most part, unsafe for the cats. It is better to have a few small ones hidden, than have a large obtrusive one. People who do not like cats have open season with large, in view feeding stations. This type of feeding may be more convenient for the caretaker, but can put the cats in jeopardy.
Inexpensive plastic storage bins that have been painted or can be purchased in brown, green or black, and covered with black plastic material can be placed in discrete places out of sight. To make them more waterproof, flap-like awnings can be created from heavy plastic sheets or garbage bags and duct tape to further protect the food and provide camouflage. Refer to Sheltering and Feeding Stations.
It is important not to discuss with strangers, how many cats there are and where they are being fed. Keep your conversations confined to your circle of trusted friends. When you feed, if indicated, check the surroundings. Does it feel and look safe? If not, wait a while before you bring out the food.
If the feeding areas have not been properly maintained and this is the only complaint, follow the proper guidelines. Go out of your way to assure anyone complaining that you will make every effort to maintain a properly cared for area.
It only takes one complaint to jeopardize their chances to be fed and cared for. Your decisions and choices should be made with this in mind.
We recommend, if possible, a good quality of dry and canned food be available for your feral cats and kittens. Inexpensive food will fill an empty belly, in the short term, but in the long term, you can have malnourished unhealthy cats and kittens, susceptible to disease and sickness. Feral cats, living out of doors are under considerable more stress than the cats living inside your home. They require extra nourishment to maintain a healthy immune system. Depending upon your financial resources, you may need to contact local pet stores and animal welfare organizations for food donations. Garage and bake sales, car washes and other ways of raising money can be helpful. If you know other people who are feeding or you have friends who could get together and form a group to help transport food and feed, this can relieve some of the burden. Do not hesitate to ask at the local markets, religious organizations and other places for donations for food. Use every resource you can think of for assistance. Initially, you may be the only person the feral cats and kittens have to care for them. It is a long- term commitment.
Feral cats living in close proximity to private residences, public places, businesses and so on, roam around the immediate areas. They will also use these areas for their litter box needs. This can be another common complaint, and reinforce the “myth” that “cats are dirty and unhealthy” to have around. Persons will not take kindly to picking up noticeable and odorous cat litter from their area. Just as there are dog scoopers and bags for deposits, the caretaker may need to keep an area cat feces clean. Many caretakers use litter boxes in areas where cat feces is a problem. If the boxes are outside a structure, they will need to be covered. Keeping them clean will also be one of the responsibilities of feral cat caretaking. If males are spraying on cars and other public places, a spray bottle with deodorizer will be required to alleviate the problem. We have also recommended car covers for unwanted paw prints. Take a walk around the area and see if anything needs your attention. Usually, once the males are neutered, the spraying is reduced or stops. Cleanliness and neatness will prevent a lot of problems from arising.
Feral cat caretaking is labor intensive and requires commitment and responsible choices, but in the long run, the rewards far outweigh the time and effort. You can close your eyes at night knowing that you have made a very important and compassionate contribution to the “homeless ones”, and to the community they live in. There may be times when you may question this, but rest assured, your contribution is priceless.
Nothing is more time consuming and stressful for a caretaker than being confronted with a situation where the cats “must be gotten rid of” because of complaints that might have been avoided.
Negotiating For Their Right To Stay And Be Cared For
Unfortunately, there are many circumstances when the caretaker is confronted with a hostile situation and negotiations for the feral cats right to stay and be cared for at their home site becomes an urgent priority. In addition, their very lives may be in jeopardy. If the caretaker, or person who has taken the responsibility of caring for the cats, does not have the necessary skills or is too emotionally involved to negotiate, a friend, relative or experienced person connected with an animal welfare organization will be required. There are instances when the situation is so emotionally charged, that face to face communication is not possible for the caretaker. Someone who can present a rational and informed presentation is essential. At the start of official negotiations, come prepared with all of the documents and information that is available and be well versed in any questions that may be asked. Negotiations go smoother when all parties are well informed about the situation and what needs to be done to resolve the problem. Do your homework. A calm and understanding manner will go a long way in negotiating.
What are the issues confronting you and what do you need to resolve the situation?
Distribution of For All Interested and Concerned Parties is a good place to start. I have found that the more printed materials you have that are educational, the better your chances are to shift from emotional and aggressive stance to a more linear approach. Arrange everything in a colored folder with your card as if you were giving the most important presentation in your life. All printed materials should be professional and neat. I have used this method under extreme conditions in board meetings and meetings in alleys. Bring plenty of portfolios for everyone. No one should go away empty handed.
Some of the issues confronting you can range from the cats not being spayed or neutered, thereby creating nuisance situations with mating, spraying and yowling and other disturbing behavior. If the cats have not been spayed or neutered, Refer to Instructions for Humane Trapping of Feral or Rescued Cats and Kittens. This document should also be included in the informational document, for negotiating. Other issues can include sick kittens, nursing mothers, paw prints on cars, cats using open public or private areas as litter boxes or persons who just “want to get rid of them”. It can be the absence, death or illness of a caretaker. Every situation is unique and there are countless circumstances that can warrant negotiations and action of some nature. Some will require a simple and straightforward resolution, while others will be more complicated. However, each one will need to be carefully evaluated and acted upon according to the circumstances.
Keep a record of the complaint and complaining person or persons, with names and phone numbers. Be very professional and official in your demeanor. After you have gathered the pros and cons of the situation, you need to decide what action to take. Go over each complaint and determine what needs to be done to remedy the situation. Identify those persons who are cat friendly and form a group of volunteers and advocates from them. If there are no cat friendly persons, then you will need to negotiate with whomever is complaining. The For All Interested and Concerned Parties document includes statistics for the Los Angeles area, but is also applicable in content to areas throughout the United States.
Having pertinent educational materials, professionally presented, is essential. Situations that seemed hopeless have turned around, with the cats being cared for safely at their original home site.
Moving Feeding Stations To Nearby Site – Trapping not required
If negotiations fail for the cats to remain at their home site or the area is being demolished, under construction or there are other hazards present, moving the feeding stations and shelters to a nearby location could be a viable option. In many cases, the relocation off the property in question or on the same property to a safer location may be all that is required. Canvas the area and use your common sense. Talk with persons in the adjacent and surrounding areas as to the possibility of locating permanent feeding stations and sheltering. Once again, leave For all Interested and Concerned Parties document and educational materials with your name and phone number or create your own document or flyer for a particular situation. If indicated, talk to managers, tenants, neighbors, homeowners and businesses in the area, but stay within a reasonable radius. In cases where the area is industrial or commercial, private homes or small businesses adjacent to the larger areas can be good places for permanent relocation. Be creative. Talk to other caretakers, your local pet rescue organizations, get advice and assistance. Try not to be intimidated. Be friendly, informative and persevere. More importantly, no matter how the circumstances present or how bleak they may look, always personally question everyone and make your own contacts and come to your own conclusions after the situation has been thoroughly assessed. We have had people tell us the situation was hopeless, no one would ever cooperate and so on. The results were just the opposite once we began personally talking to people in the area and presenting our case. Best to negotiate with persons who have the authority to make decisions.
Example: Over the past several years, we had been successfully feeding and caretaking a colony of 23 cats at an industrial location with businesses, offices, warehouses and garden areas. The cat were residing in the area where the offices were located where shelter was available and the caretaker who worked in one of the offices was feeding and managing. Everyone was spayed and neutered and no kittens had been born for many years. Management did not approve of the cats but we won the battle. Everything was good until the person caretaking left her employment. Within a few days we were issued an edict that all the cats had to be off the property within 30 days or they would be trapped and taken to the shelter. All feeding stations at the area were destroyed as well as anything the cats had been using.
We began negotiations with the businesses on the property and found the perfect location about ¾ of a block away on the same property (12 acres). Agreements were drawn up and we began the process.
We began to feed the cats about 50 feet from the original site. After a few days at this area, we moved another 20-30 feet and so on. In the meantime, we constructed five shelters (see our video on sheltering) and installed them at the
new site. Put treats inside. We also set up their permanent feeding stations discretely located and safe. Put some dry food in and sprinkled some treats around the area.
We continued to feed them a tasty wet food and about half way, most of the cats had found the new feeding and shelter and were not showing up at our feeding trail of 50 feet. We accomplished this in about three weeks. They never went back to the old location. You can be creative and do variations on this relocation. We do not advise crossing streets unless absolutely necessary. If doing a relocation along an alley to a destination, do the same process with homeowners.
Creating shelters from permanent structures at the site. We have placed heavy duty black plastic and waterproof tarps over wooden palates that were stacked up permanently and then slid cut up pieces of cardboard in between the openings on the bottom. The cats were already hiding in the wooden palates for shelter and this just made it waterproof and warmer. Everything was easily replaced. Refer to our Sheltering and Feeding Stations.NO HAY NEEDED IN LA! This method does not require trapping. Circumstances vary and the decision as to how this is coordinated into the move should be made by the caretaker and all persons involved in the welfare of the cats.
Once any form of agreement has been negotiated, take the necessary steps to implement whatever has been agreed to. In some cases, a simply written agreement is appropriate or in other instances a more comprehensive one may be required. A written agreement can be a valuable reference when negotiating as an example of success and trustworthiness. It can also act to absolve the caretakers of any liability while caretaking. It outlines specifically what is being done and by whom and is a good accumulative resource record. Refer to Agreements.
Relocation To Areas When Trapping Is Required
If there are no other options and the cats must be removed from their present location, your only alternative will be to trap and relocate to a pre-negotiated and safe place. Trapping and relocation can be as close as a mile away to a residential area in backyards, to farms, horse ranches or any rural area or city area that is safe and a permanent caretaker and shelter is available. There are stringent guidelines for relocating feral cats.
There are numerous ways to make contact with persons who will accept feral cats for relocation. You can advertise in the local and rural newspapers, write letters to farms, horse ranches and other suitable areas. Put up flyers in pet stores, veterinary offices, markets and any place where the public can see the notice. Contact your local humane societies, rescue groups and other animal welfare agencies for contacts and information. Talk to all of your friends who may have backyards or know of a safe place to relocate.
Since feral cats form colonies (families) that are very close, a lot will depend upon how many will need to be relocated. It is always better to relocate at least 2 together from a colony, if not more, depending upon how much space is available. Relocation is worrisome and stressful for all concerned and should only be considered if all else fails.
If the cats have not been spayed or neutered, this will need to be done prior to relocation. Refer to Instructions for Humane Trapping of Feral or Rescued Cats and Kittens.
After you have made contact with a prospective relocation area, you will need to go there and negotiate an agreement as to where and how the cats will be cared for. Inquiries as to what dangers there are at the location, such as coyotes and other predators is important. Relocation to places where the cats will be preyed upon is not acceptable.
During the journey to their new home, make the trip as stress free as possible. Do not play loud music or create a lot of noise while traveling with the cats. Be sure there is enough ventilation in their carriers, crates or whatever enclosure you have them in for the trip. Under no circumstances put a cat in the trunk or open bed of a truck. They must be protected from any condition that will create stress. Depending upon the length of their journey, be sure they are provided with water and food, even though they may not partake. Make them as comfortable as possible and keep them covered appropriately to lessen their fear of being enclosed and in a strange environment. Check on them frequently to be sure they are not suffering from car sickness or hyperventilating. Cats do not adjust easily to change and this change is a very serious one for them to adjust to. If they have recently had surgery, make sure they have recovered sufficiently for the journey. They are being taken to an entirely strange and frightening place where there are no familiar smells or landmarks to boundary their territory. They will be enclosed for 4 weeks or more in a strange place that is totally different from what they have experienced. Every effort should be made to make their journey and confinement experience as calm and protective as possible.
Their new home must be adequately prepared before their arrival. The four week confinement should be in a safe, enclosed, water proof and escape proof dwelling, on the premises. It can be a guestroom, laundry room, garage, barn, out-buildings, storage areas, spare rooms or any place with light and good ventilation. Keep in mind that the place where the cats will be confined should also be their safe haven when released. They will need to have access to and from this location. Litter boxes will be required. Create safe places for them. If in a small room, place bedding and boxes for them to hid and sleep in. Cardboard boxes or carriers with blankets and bedding make good hiding places and are warm for sleeping. They can also be covered with blankets or towels to make them more cozy and safer for hiding. If they are in a large area, put their boxes, carriers, litter box and food in a more confined space, rather than scattering it about. Keep everything away from the door and away from drafts during the winter. When entering and leaving the area, create a barrier in front of you and behind you, such as a piece of cardboard, towel, etc. Enter and leave carefully to see that no one escapes. Most of the time the cats will hide and stay as far away as possible, but there may be a brave one who will try to escape. It is best to do the feeding and cleaning during the daylight hours.
A trap should be available at the relocation home along with trapping instructions.
If a cat escapes out of the room, create a safe and dry shelter with special wet food and water next to the place where it escaped from. Put as many things with their smells on it, perhaps the carrier or crate used during the trip. Re-trapping the cat should be attempted right away for the four- week period of confinement. We had one cat escape and as a result, the time of confinement for everyone was extended until the re-introduced cat had stayed the four weeks. However, no one seemed to mind, as it was safe, warm and cozy with big windows for sunning.
However, if there is no success in re-trapping, be sure that the above noted instructions for feeding and shelter are provided for the escapee. Also, be alert to sighting the cat as it may find a new place to hide. If you manage to locate the cat, provide food and shelter near the area where it is hiding, since the food and water is enclosed in the room with the other cats and there would be no access to it. Depending upon how long a time it has been since it escaped, you might also try setting the trap and if successful, return it to the new relocation holding room, with a little longer stay for those already there.
One relocation that we accomplished resulted in a little gray tabby (very) feral female named Gracie not wanting to leave her new found home (the bridle room for horses) where she had spent a few more than the usual required four weeks. The cat door was opened, then the big door, people came and went, horses walked by, no amount of coaxing with food or anything else could get Gracie to leave the bridle room. When all was quiet, she would sun herself by the big window and when people came, she would hide. But, she never left the bridle room. Finally, after three months, a big towel was wrapped around her and she was pushed and squeezed into a carrier and taken to a beautiful guesthouse furnished with priceless antiques. There were eight other special felines living in this luxurious (indoor only) guesthouse. Gracie has lived there for three years now and still no one can touch her. She sleeps on a very expensive antique bed and is quite content. However, the other cats at the relocation site, after their confinement period was up, flew out the door and have remained on the property in barns and in other safe dwellings. Not Gracie, she had her eyes on that guesthouse and lives there in absolute luxury and safety. We call the good lady at Christmas to thank her and hear all about Gracie.
A vital aspect of relocation is the new caretaker. The new caretaker or caretakers should be totally committed and responsible in assuring the feral cats will be taken care of with compassion, patience and understanding. The caretaker will be feeding and tending to the needs of the cats and it is important that they spend some time talking with them at least three times a day. They will soon become accustomed to the smells and voices associated with their food and new home and this will reassure them, even though they may never come out of hiding. The objective is to provide a safe and lifetime home for the feral cats who have been relocated. After they have been allowed out of their initial space following the four week period of confinement, it is essential that at least one, and if possible two small openings be available for them to enter and leave their original shelter area as they please. They will become frightened easily and will require easy access to the only safe place they know. They may find another safe shelter area, if there are several buildings on the property, such as barns, garages, etc., but it is best to let them decide.
Once released, the new caretakers should observe them as closely as possible, keep a daily head count and watch for any signs of problems. Plentiful wet food along with dry food on a daily basis is a necessity. The food should be of good quality and fresh water available at all times. If they are participating in rodent control, they will still require daily feeding with nourishing food. Contrary to popular opinion, cats cannot remain healthy on a diet of rodents. Many will not eat them unless near starvation.
Most ranches and farms have dogs living on the premises. It is important the dogs see the cats as residents and are not allowed to harm them once they are out of their shelter to roam around. Carefully evaluate any situation where dogs are present and the possibility of them harming the cats, before you decide on the relocation. It may be necessary to confine the dogs for a reasonable period of time, to allow the cats to become accustomed to their new surroundings, before being confronted with the dogs. Feral cats do not take kindly to dogs as they have been living out of doors in unsafe conditions, and are exposed to all types of dangers, including dogs that kill cats and kittens. It will be a big enough adjustment for them to familiarize themselves with their new home, without being chased or frightened unnecessarily, even if the dogs would never harm them. The cats do not know this. If there are gardeners working on the property, they should be informed about the use of harmful pesticides and discontinue use where the cats are residing. Persons on the premises need to be notified of the cats living there and every effort made to create a safe and compassionate environment.
The persons or organizations who brought the cats to their new home should be in contact with the new caretaker during the weeks while in confinement and then weekly following release, to be sure they are all accounted for and adjusting well. Continued contact is needed and during the years they live in their new home. Communication between all concerned parties is essential.