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My Feral Cat Colony

feral cats eating

Around 15 years ago I bought an old house that used to house a ramshackle variety store. A feral cat colony had established itself around the wooden vegetable displays and old skids and boxes in the front. There was a canopy protecting the area and the odd handout from the owners.

They were a timid lot that came out mostly at night. When I got around to paying attention I took a count of the cats. 5 or 6 tomcats were frequent visitors. They were a loud and smelly bunch of cats who fought for the honour of looking after the 6 or so females. Everyone who could have kittens had a bunch. I counted about 12 or so kittens. There were also 5-6 or so juveniles and assorted cats possibly strays.

My first move was to connect with the Annex Cat Rescue and get involved in a trap/neuter/release program. In this way I managed to trap all the females and a couple of the boys. At one time I had 3 cats in my recovery room.

tom cat

Tom cats fight a great deal and are usually covered in bite marks and scars. Here this ginger cat has a blodied ear and scarred nose. Although very aggressive he was small and had a hard time keeping up with the larger toms.

They also wander more than the neutered cats. This little guy was eventually killed on the road. My neighbour told me and to make me feel better she explained that he was not really flat!

The toms never live very long.

This particular Cat, Ginger was trapped and neutered and had a few good years. Here is ginger cat's story.

We were doing some renovation to the old store. It had not had a scrap of paint or an upgrade in 35 years!!

small kittens

At the same time as I was trapping/neutering/and releasing the cats, I had managed to catch about 7 wee kittens from 3 litters. One of the litters was about 12 weeks old and the cats were wickedly fast and difficult to catch. I ended up with a pile of babies some as young as 3 weeks. Their eyes were barely open.

These little guys went in a warm room in a cat bed. I had to feed them every 3 hours with kitten formula. I used a variation of kitty GLOP and it worked very well. Check out the GLOP RECIPE here

kittens eating outside

Raising tiny kittens is a lot of work. You have to feed them often and make sure they pee and poo by rubbing their little tummies and keeping them clean. You also have to wash them because they get covered in sticky food as they learn to eat.

Here the kittens have all learned to eat and are a lot less work. They have to be cleaned everyday because they tend to walk through their food and wear a lot of it.

All the inside kittens were eventually adopted out having been dewormed, defleed, and vaccinated.

Many of the outside kittens died from an epidemic of panleukopemia that swept through the colony. I rarely see sick cats now because everyone is vaccinated.

oscar and kittens

I got unexpected help from my big cat Oscar. He turned out to love kittens and helped me by keeping the kittens clean. He also took it upon himself to teach them the ropes. He spent an hour patiently showing a kitten how to get on the high couch. I would keep an eye on them and report to me if anything was wrong in his opinion. Oscar would fuss endlessly if they were crying.

He was very patient and kept them clean. In the photo he has just spent a half hour giving the white kitten a bath. He half sat half held him in his paws and washed him thoroughly.

kitty condo

Proper Shelter, the Kitty Condo

Eventually the vegetable stands were gone and a privacy fence put up. This period also saw the opening of my kitty condo. A 6 plex housing unit that proved a great success with the feral cats.

I also added a couple of feral cat shelters that proved to be great favourites.

Regular care

Fast forward a couple of years, and the numbers had drastically gone down. A few of the big males had gone missing. I don't think they last very long fighting and competing as they do.

There were no breeding females in the colony so the big boys were not so interested anymore.

I had captured and brought in to be adopted several strays. Cats born of wild parents and caught after 12-16 weeks can almost never be tamed enough to be adopted. These are the true feral cats. Strays on the other hand were tame to start off but for many reasons ended up on the street. They can often be tamed.

This is how I got several of my cats, just by opening the door and saying "Welcome".

Since I feed regularly every day, I could monitor who was there and how they were doing.

I trapped and neutered when I could but some cats are difficult and smart, particularly if they have almost been caught before and managed to escape. This makes them very suspicious.

Some new Cats Join the Colony

One Ear has been neutered

Cats are territorial and will keep other cats away but sometimes outside cats manage to join either because they are very aggressive or because they are very young and no threat.

This is how One Ear and Gingerale managed to join the existing colony.

I captured both and neutered them. One Ear who was very wild and aggressive was returned outside after a couple of days of recovery and very good eating.

Cat on couch

Gingerale was a 6 month old cat who was very wild also but not snarly. I thought I would give a try at taming him. It's usually almost impossible to tame an almost grown cat. At best they allow you to touch them but never really enjoy being around humans. His story is a great success. Read about Gingerale here.

There is a link to a video of Gingerale playing fetch. He taught me the game and will play for a hour straight.

spot cat on garage

Another cat that came around was Spot. She was not accepted by the colony. I fed her on my back garage where she would come. Eventually I gave her a shelter.

Read about Spot, a friendly stray's, story here. She eventually got adopted.

feral cattessy the cat after adoption

Tessy is a rare feral cat that volunteered to be tamed. Here are the before and after photos. She went from skinny covered in sores to sleek and happy in her adoptive home.

At this point I only have 3 cats left.

feral cat mama

My old matriarch Mama, had died of a stroke at the age of at least 15 and probably more. She was fiercely defensive and protected her family with great courage. I had caught her and neutered her, vaccinated, de wormed and de flead her. The vet had also extracted a broken tooth while she was under. I don't think she appreciated that too much but it improved her life.

She was the founder of the colony and all the younger cats were related to her. She had a very particular look. She was a very clever cat and her daughter inherited this. She was also pushy and bossy. Maybe because she had either had known the other cats as her own kittens or known them as grandchildren.

abbey and her kittens A cat with an eye infection

Her daughter Abbey had presented me with kittens a few years earlier. She is now a matronly cat who rules the roost and can push anyone away from a dish of food. She spent a couple of unhappy weeks inside while we dealt with an eye infection. It's interesting that while we had her at the vet's she was tested for worms and came up negative. I regularly de-worm the colony and I guess over the years the territory they live in has been cleaned of worms so they do not re infect themselves. I guess they were lucky.

Abbey is quite ancient by feral cat standards, definitely over 13 and is starting to lose weight and look doddery.

I am known as a Cat Lady!!!

In my hood people know I look after the cats and if someone needs help with kittens I often get called. This is how I got these 3 little girl cat. This is a happy ending cat story. Cute Alert!!

The end of a Colony

For all practical purpose my colony is ended. I only have 3 cats now and one is very old.

This is a good example of how, with proper management, overpopulation of feral cats can be controlled. The key is vigorous trap/neuter/release.

Releasing neutered cats has the effect of keeping other wild cats away. This means that the numbers will gradually go down and the cats that are left will be healthier, fight less, and be quieter. IF the cats are removed completely, other wild cats invariably move in the free territory. If the managed cats are still there after neutering and vaccination, they occupy the territory and provide guard service to keep any wilder animal away.

Final Update

After a few years at the old store, we retired and moved to the Niagara Region. I decided to trap and move the remaining 2 cats. One had decided to move in and lived out her remaining year inside.

Abbey was fiendishly smart and I despaired of catching her. Eventually I managed to trap her and her buddy, Mr. Red. I don't think they enjoyed the trip to their new country home very much. I kept them inside in cages for a few days to settle them down a bit then put their houses on the porch along with their bedding and food and let them go. I added a heater because they had been inside for days and it was cold outside.

They promptly took off and disappeared for 2 days. I figured I had lost them to any of the many animals that live in the area.

One morning they showed up at feeding time and moved into their original shelter houses.

When summer came around Mr. Red started sneaking into the house when I was not watching. Soon he became tame enough that he did not run away when he saw me. By the fall he was an almost tame house cat. He had no intention of spending the winter outside. Although never a lap cat he became quite tame.

Eventually he died of pleurisy.

Abbey never tamed. She got used to us enough that she stayed on the porch if we came around but was never tempted to become a house cat. I captured her when she developed a second eye infection and since it was the dead of winter, I kept her inside for 3 months while we dealt with her eye, and waited for the weather to warm up. I had had the vet come and do a house visit to vaccinate and check out the cats, and we had shaved the dreadlocks off of her. I eventually put her shelter in the covered pool area that stayed quite warm and she waited for the warmer weather there. She did not have a very good coat yet.

By this time she was a very frail old lady cat, at least 16. She lasted through the summer and had a wonderful time birdwatching, looking for mice and sunning herself. She died in the fall. The last cat of a large colony.