Feral Cat Colonies
In general, feral cats are cats that have reverted to the wild. A feral cat may have been a housecat who was abandoned and left to fare on her own or she may have been the offspring of a cat living outdoors. It is estimated that in 2020 there were about 30-100 million feral cats in the US. Cats who, by necessity and through no fault of theirs, live outdoors learn survival skills that enable them to live. They become nocturnal and are very wary of people and pass these fears onto their offspring in attempt to keep their offspring safe.
Feral cats can be partly, or occasionally even significantly, domesticated if they are placed in the company of people, however, in the case of adult cats, this domestication process may take as long as several years depending on the temperament and age of the cat, the length of time that she was living outdoors and the amount of contact they have with people during the taming process. It becomes progressively more difficult to tame a feral kitten as they age, so it is best to start taming feral kittens before 8 weeks of age. ￼
Feral cats are often found in fairly predictable areas. Virtually every large city has feral cat colonies formed when negligent owners abandon their cats and leave them to wander the streets. In addition, many farms have barn cat colonies to the control rodent populations.
Feral cats can live long lives if they have sources for food and shelter. Because feral cats are often difficult to domesticate, caring for the colony is a humane and effective way to provide for these cats. By trapping the cats and having them spayed or neutered and then returning them to their colonies, the number of feral cats will, over time, decrease. This method of caring for feral cats is called trap-neuter-return (TNR). The cats are trapped, then spayed or neutered and then returned to their feral colonies. Hopefully all cats in the colony can be trapped in order to have them spayed or neutered before more kittens are born. In communities where homeless kittens are able to be adopted, an attempt should be made to rescue the feral kittens in order to tame them. The kittens born in feral circumstances should be separated from their mothers as soon as they are weaned (4-5 weeks old) and before 8 weeks of age. They can then be tamed and adopted to homes.
Excellent information about TNR, how to care for a feral colony and how to tame feral kittens can be obtained from Alley Cat Rescue and from Alley Cat Allies.