You will need to screen potential "adopters" to make sure they understand the nature of feral cats, and confirm that they are willing to care for these animals for the rest of their lives. Make sure they do not have any false expectations of friendship with the cats (unless the cats are indeed tame), and that they will agree to feed them every day. Relocating a feral cat to someone's weekend home is not a good solution, unless there is a property caretaker who will care for the cat every day. Feeders on a timer may work, but most likely will just be plundered by raccoons and other wildlife, and the cat will go hungry. Some people believe that withholding food makes a cat more inclined to hunt due to hunger, but it is much more likely that the cat will vacate the premises with nothing to anchor it there. Explain to the property owner that a healthy, well-fed cat WANTS to hunt - it is their instinct. Understand: there is never a guarantee that a cat will indeed be a successful and prolific hunter. Given the opportunity, however, it is very likely that the cat(s) will get right to work!
Other concerns you should have when choosing a rural home for cats is the prevalence of predators in the area. Kittens can fall prey to many predators, including foxes, hawks, owls, and coyotes. Adult cats usually coexist fairly well with most animals their own size, but in Northern California they can fall prey to coyotes and bobcats, as well as the occasional mountain lion. It is unlikely that all risk of predators can be eliminated, and the risks/benefits must be weighed - is the only other option for this cat euthanasia at a shelter? Are there safeguards on the property to help deter wildlife - dogs, fences, places cats can safely get away from other animals? Is there a heavy human presence that will discourage these animals? Are there any modifications to structures that can be made to improve cat safety?
DOGS: dogs on the property may or may not be an issue when relocating cats. If there are dogs on the property, find out if they will have immediate access to the area where the cats will be caged, as well as where they will be living afterward. What breed are the dogs? Have they shown any prey drive in the past? Do they chase cats? Almost any dog will chase a running cat out of instinct, but not all will do it with the intent to harm. What prior cat experience do they have? If there have been barn cats on the property in the past, what was the relationship between the dogs and the cats? Even if the dog is no more than a playful puppy, you don't want the cats to be chased away. Just as in the case of predators, the cats need to have a safe sanctuary to get away from over-friendly canines, such as a loft in a barn.
SHELTER: As part of your screening process, you will want to find out how close the cat's shelter will be to busy roads. An ideal property will provide shelter a safe distance from dangerous streets. The shelter could be as small as a dog igloo, or as large as a barn. The important factors are - will the cat have shelter that: protects them from the elements, is safe from other animals, and is located in a place that the cat will be likely to want to use? If a small moveable-type shelter is to be used, placement should be considered carefully. Out of the way of most human traffic, but in a place protected from the weather as much as possible is ideal.
TRANSITION PERIOD: The property owner will need to agree to keep the cat in some form of containment for approximately four weeks. This is the "transition period." The cat will need to live in some form of enclosure (see Getting Prepared below) for one month before being released. This involves cleaning a litterbox everyday for a month, as well as providing food and fresh water daily. The reason for this forced confinement is to allow the cat to become adjusted to all the new sights, sounds, and smells of their new environment. Whether there are horses, or barking dogs, or machinery, or farm workers, the cat needs to be desensitized to all the busyness so that they will be inclined to stick around after their release. If the property owner is willing to manage the extra efforts involved in the transition period, you're ready to start the process.
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