October recognizes the feral cat, a very misunderstood and increasingly controversial feline. Ferals live in the wild and are afraid of humans. Only the most young can be socialized to become pets.

Trapping feral cats has its challenges. (Photo courtesy Friends of Feral Felines)

There’s a huge difference between a feral and a stay. Strays have either lost their way or been thrown out. They haven’t reverted to their wild instincts. Over time, they will. Ferals may once have been someone’s pet. They may have strayed. They may have been discarded. They have been so disconnected from humans that they have become wild cats, afraid of humans, and cannot cohabit with them.

Alley Cat Allies was formed 21 years ago, when co-founder and president, Becky Robinson, encountered a colony of feral cats in a Washington, DC, alley.

In 2001, alley Cats Allies designated National Feral Cat Day – the official date being Oct. 16, 2012. The idea is to raise awareness about the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program, where feral cats are humanely trapped, taken to a veterinarian to be neutered and returned safely to their colony.

Feral cats live in colonies, group of cats that help take care of each other. Volunteers monitor the colony to make sure the ferals have access to food, water and shelter. Sometimes the colonies must be re-located because they are in unsafe areas. In cooler winter climates, volunteers make sure the cats have access to fresh unfrozen water.

Ally Cat Allies established the first national network to connect this whole TNR community of volunteer trappers, transporters, veterinarians and spay/neuter clinics. There are formal organizations set up as 501(c) nonprofit organizations. Others are loosely connected with no formal structure.

The thing about National Feral Cat Day is that the educational and fundraising activities go on throughout the month of October and beyond. Feral Cat TNR programs from Honolulu to Maine will be participating, some with ongoing projects to create sustainable change for ferals, others with a one-day fundraising event to raise money to keep the work going.

With that in mind, Paws questions why we don’t make October National Feral Cat Month, bringing their plight to the forefront in a time when free roaming cats are getting a really bad rap from the bird community. National Bird groups contend feral cats are decimating endangered and exotic birds. Paws questions, “are cats the only predators that hunt birds?” That’s doubtful, and Paws will return to that question in a future post.

The great thing about National Cat Feral Day is that Ally Cat Allies is awarding 22
$1,000 Community Impact Awards to the 22 organizations that are making the greatest impact on cats.

According to the Alley Cat Allies’ website, it is the only national advocacy organization dedicated to the protection and humane treatment of cats, including the TNR programs. In 2010, they report that TNR has become the official policy in cities and counties across the country, including Washington, DC, Chicago, Illinois, and now Chattanooga, Tenn.  On their website, Alley Cat Allies says, “In 20 short years, we’ve changed America to better understand and respect the lives of cats.

Today, Alley Cat Allies continues to lead the way for a better understanding of feral and free-roaming cats. They boast of more than 250,000 supporters, working in grassroots advocacy and educating people about the value of the TNR program. They have worked with policymakers, veterinarians, nonprofit and volunteer groups.  From a headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, their staff of nearly 30 people provides the national voice for cats and the millions of Americans that value cats’ lives.

In 2009, Alley Cat Allies’ research on the status of neutering cats in US households in the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association.

Thirty one days of National Feral Cat Day would be a great idea, even though it shares the same month as Halloween, where many shelters ban the adoption of black cats. Twenty one years later, feral cat organizations face as many, if not more challenges than they did when they first started. Education, legislation, and local understanding of feral cat issues are as, if not more, important than ever.

Do you have experience working with feral cats? Do you think October should be designated as feral cat month? Please take a moment to share your thoughts and experiences.