The first choice should always be to leave feral cats where they are. This is the territory they are familiar with; they already know all the good hunting and hiding places. They feel safe there. Some may have lived there many years - their entire life, in fact. Relocation should only be considered if the cats are in danger. Relocation is not always 100% successful, and is a difficult project to embark upon. Forgotten Felines provides these guidelines for people wishing to relocate their feral cats with the best possible outcome - the cats are safe, and they choose to stay at their new home for the rest of their lives.
If the cats have become a nuisance on the property where they reside, it is preferable to solve the problems they are creating, rather than remove them. Ask us for information regarding deterrence of undesirable behavior. For example, if the complaints are regarding fighting, yowling, spraying, and/or litters of kittens, it must be understood that this behavior stems from unaltered cats mating. TNR (Trap-Neuter-Release) helps solve these issues. Altered cats are much more likely to peacefully coexist, and no more kittens means the colony is under control. Contact Forgotten Felines for information on our low-cost spay/neuter clinics: (707) 576-7999.
If, for the safety of the cats, relocation is the only option, follow these guidelines for the best possible outcome. Without following these specific steps, cats may not stay where they are relocated.
NOTE: RELOCATION INVOLVES THE CAT OR CATS STAYING IN AN ENCLOSURE ON THE NEW PROPERTY FOR ONE MONTH! THEY MUST HAVE THIS TIME FOR TRANSITIONING TO THE NEW PROPERTY. CATS CANNOT BE SIMPLY RELEASED IN THEIR NEW LOCATION - THEY WILL BE TERRIFIED, AND MOST LIKELY RUN AWAY.
If an entire colony needs relocating, the best case scenario is to find a place where they can all go together. If this is not a possibility, then placing the cats in two's and three's is less traumatic than being placed alone.
VERY IMPORTANT!! Do NOT relocate unfixed cats. Arrange to have cats altered prior to relocation, ideally having them go directly, post-surgery, to their new home.
When kittens under the age of eight weeks are present, the ideal solution is to trap and socialize the kittens, and find homes for them. This lessens the number of cats in the colony, reduces the amount of food to be purchased, and reduces the impact of the colony on the neighborhood. The other advantage, of course, is these kittens get a better life. If you have weaned kittens 5-8 weeks of age in your colony, detailed instructions are available from Forgotten Felines regarding trapping and socializing feral kittens. We have lots of good tips and tricks to share! Keep in mind that, past the age of eight weeks, taming feral kittens can be a very difficult and long-term project, so getting these kittens in your possession ASAP is the key. Be aware that kittens will not tame down sufficiently if left to run free outside - they may become friendly to you, but will not be candidates for adoption.
If socializing is not an option, and kittens will continue to live in the colony, please do not TNR until kittens are three months old or older. This will enable the veterinarian to administer a rabies vaccine at time of surgery. If kittens are to be relocated, it is imperative that they go in pairs, with sibling(s) or mom.
FINDING THE RIGHT RELOCATION SPOT
Rural locations are generally best, because there is often a need on such properties for "mousers." Property owners with livestock have grain and hay, and rodent problems often go hand-in-hand. Also, agricultural concerns, such as organic farms and vineyards, are often seeking a poison-free alternative for the control of mice, rats, moles, voles, gophers, etc. Cats can be the answer! Network with friends, relatives, co-workers, and neighbors to see if you can find someone in need of a good hunter or three. You never know - a co-worker's neighbor might have an uncle with a ranch that would welcome barn cats. If you cannot find a barn home through networking, try putting up fliers at feed stores, agricultural supply stores, or farm animal veterinary offices. Forgotten Felines recommends asking a small adoption fee for a cat, to give it "perceived value" in the mind of the adopter, making it more likely that the adopter will care for the cat afterward. Unless it is someone you know and trust, we do not advocate giving a cat away for free. After all, they will be receiving a cat which is spayed or neutered and (hopefully) up-to-date on vaccines - a significant value!
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.
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.
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.
Getting Ready - what you will need:
- A large cage or enclosure of some sort with room for the cat to move around plus room for a litterbox, bedding, and dishes. Rabbit cages work especially well. Aviaries, chicken coops, or a completely enclosed dog run (including a roof) can be used. Be aware that dog crates have a distinct disadvantage: the large door. There is more of an opportunity for cats to rush past the caretaker while the door is open because the opening is so large. A cage where the door is to one side of the cage is better, so the cat has a place to move away, off to one side, from the caretaker when they reach in to clean the litterbox and bring fresh food and water. In addition, custom cat enclosures are available online: www.catfencein.com, www.cdpets.com, and www.purrfectfence.com are just a few. (Keep in mind that cats are natural escape artists, and will have lots of time on their paws to seek escape avenues, so make sure it's secure - a small hole to you may be the perfect escape route to them.)
- A large sheet, blanket, or tarp to cover cage.
- Blankets, towels, or other bedding for inside.
- If possible, make available some sort of cubbyhole (box, carrier with door removed) for cat(s) to hide in.
- Two sturdy, hard-to-tip dishes (straight-sided heavy ceramic work well).
- Litter box and litter.
- Dry cat food.
- Optional: toys, catnip, cat treats, canned cat food.
The cage/enclosure needs to be sheltered from the weather. A large enclosure should have a roof or other secure covering. A smaller cage should be positioned inside a structure, such as a barn, garage, shed, etc. Ideally, the cat(s) should be able to see the outside area where it will eventually live. This will facilitate acclimation to the new home. Cats will naturally be extremely fearful when they first arrive. As noted above, they will need a transition period to adjust, as well as to become accustomed to their new caretaker who will feed them every day. The choice of location for the transition cage is important. The cats need to be near the hub of activity, if this is where the rodent control is needed, but at enough of a distance so they can observe everything without feeling threatened. Do not place the cage directly on a cement floor.
When deciding on appropriate coverings and bedding for the cage, consider the time of year, and be prepared for the extremes of temperature and weather. A tarp might keep off a light rain, but if it is accompanied by gale force winds, the tarp may be inadequate. If the weather is very cold, make sure the maximum amount of warm bedding is available, and that the covering will provide some insulation. In extreme hot weather make sure the cage is completely shaded, yet make sure there is maximum airflow. Certain fabrics work better than others. Cotton, if it gets wet, tends to stay wet and eventually will mildew. Synthetic fabrics can often be the better choice in damp weather, while cotton can be better when it is hot. Make sure everything is set up and ready at the new location prior to the cats arriving, if possible. The less time the cats have to wait in their trap or carrier before being released into their temporary lodgings, the less stress.
You will either be trapping an unfixed cat for a spay/neuter appointment who will then go directly to its new barn home, or you will be retrapping a fixed feral.
If you are trapping a new cat, plan your relocation around your appointment date. Plan to have everything set up and ready in advance. Follow Forgotten Felines' Humane Trapping Instructions for best results. Plan to pick up the cat post-surgery and take it directly to its new home, and transfer it into the relocation cage.
If you are retrapping cats that have been trapped previously, you may encounter some difficulty as many cats retain a memory of their "trapping experience." Arrange to have your traps several days in advance of the day you wish to trap, and tie the door open and begin to feed the cats inside the trap. For best success make sure cats have access to no other food during this period. The idea is to get them used to walking inside the trap without fear. Most cats will eventually overcome their suspicions if they have no other food options, so if possible give yourself a several-day buffer to get the job done. Another helpful hint: get a trapped cat out of the feeding vicinity ASAP to minimize the impact on the yet untrapped cats you hope to catch later.
There is a special type of trap designed to assist in catching those really difficult-to-catch cats. It is called a drop trap. You can buy them online or make your own (go to http://www.droptrapdesign.blogspot.com/), or possibly Forgotten Felines may be able to loan you one. Call us for availability: (707) 576-7999. Drop traps can work when trap-savvy cats won't go into a traditional humane trap.
Keep in mind a frightened cat will want to hide from its captors. Have the cage well covered to provide a dark cave-like atmosphere, and place the door end of the covered trap just inside the cage door. Open the trap's door, remove the covering from the trap, and usually the cat will choose to exit the trap and go to the darkened cage. Make sure the cat is well away from the doorway before removing the trap and shutting the cage door. If the cat is reluctant to leave the trap, tap the bars or blow gently on the cat. Tip the trap at a slight angle, making VERY sure no escape opening presents itself. Most of the time the cat will see the clear advantages of moving into the larger, darker cage. It definitely helps to have a second person to hold the trap steady and keep it aligned with the door, to help prevent possible escape.
Transferring a cat from a carrier is much more difficult. The way the door swings outward makes it problematic to line up with the cage door. And, the cat will not be motivated to leave because the carrier is just as dark as the cage! If you must transfer a feral from a carrier to a cage, contact Forgotten Felines for more detailed advice on this type of transfer.
If you will not be the continuing caretaker for these cats you will want to follow up with the property owner to check on the progress of the relocation, both before and after the release. Encourage the new caretaker to interact verbally with the cats, and tell them that providing wet cat food as a treat (to be associated with their daily visits to the cage) will help the cat "bond." This feral cat may or may not ever be touchable, but it can understand kindness, and will gain a certain degree of trust for their caretaker. Cats that form this "bond" will be much more likely to remain on the premises post-release.
Make yourself available to the new caretaker for any questions or issues that come up with the cat. They may not be truly cat-savvy, and will rely on your guidance and advice to make the relocation process successful.
Remember not to make any guarantees regarding either the cat's choice to remain on the property, nor regarding their hunting abilities. Your efforts can increase the likelihood of the cat choosing to stay forever, but the cat will ultimately decide for itself what it wants to do.
THE VACUUM EFFECT
You have chosen to remove feral cats from a specific location for a specific reason. Unless it is an empty field or thicket that is about to be bulldozed for condos, the original location may be subject to the Vacuum Effect. There was a good reason why those cats chose to congregate in that yard, field, parking lot, apartment complex, etc. They either had access to a good source of food, or a safe sanctuary to sleep in and have their kittens. Whether the food source was the back of a fish market, a dumpster behind a restaurant, a heavy rodent population, or a kindly little old lady putting out dishes of kibble, it drew cats like a magnet. When you remove a colony from a source of food, eventually a new group of cats will move into the vacated area, drawn to that source of food. The problem simply continues, with a brand new bunch of UNALTERED cats - and the cycle begins again. TNR must resume to prevent more kittens, and you are back to where you started. That is why leaving a fixed colony in place, with all cats spayed and neutered, is preferable to relocation.
Forgotten Felines is available to address any concerns you might have regarding relocation. Depending on equipment availability, we may be able to lend you traps, cages, etc. Please call us with any questions! (707) 576-7999.