There's two types of ferals; those who are completly on their own and those who live the sweet TNR life. What they have in common is that they are (probably) not tame and they don't live with humans. But despite both being homeless in a sense, their lives look very different. We should be ashamed of the ferals left to their own. But we needn't be so worried about the TNR's who are neutered and have caretakers. I'm hoping to explain why in this post.
Feral Cats in Denmark
In Denmark we got around 500.000 feral cats. You don't notice them like you do in other countries as they keep a safe distance from humans and mostly come out at night.
Most people don't notice the homeless cats they come across as it's still normal to see pet cats out and about in Denmark. If we see a lone dog in the streets, the story is completly different, as we don't have dogs running wild in Denmark. Most people would definitly try and help a lone dog, assuming it was lost. Others might suspect that a cat is homeless, but mistakenly think that the cat will be alright, so it doesn't matter.
If you ignore a fertile feral cat you can be sure of two things: Soon there will be a lot more and they won't have nice lives.
People mistankenly think that the cat can easily take care of itself in the wild. But it can't. It's not meant to live in our climate and has no natural way of building a nest. So they depend on finding suitable shelter and therefore stay close to humans. They live on the habour, around shops and dumpsters and even in our back yards scavenging for food. Life here is a strugle with illnesses, fights and search for food and shelter. So homeless cats is a problem in Denmark, even if we barely notice them. So far it is mostly the cats who suffers as many are still able to turn the blind eye.
My Cat Colony
I live sort of on the country side with fields, sheeps and horses nearby. With this comes the mice and then the cats. In my area a lot of people have an oldschool approach to cats. They may sleep in the barn and maybe they will even be offered some food (but it might be the leftovers or the cheeper dog food). The cats are tolerated as they are good at keeping the mouse population down. They are not considered pets though and therefore the cats are not tame even though they live close to humans.
I first became aware of the cats in the area a couple of years ago. Back then I did not now for sure that they were homeless. I talked to my neighbours but never found any catowners. More and more cats seemed to pop up in the area. Later I found out that the cats all came from one neighbour in particular, where they take shelter in a barn. Here they live as a colony which is why I often refer to them as community cats. Reliable sources tell me that the cats are being fed there once a day, but the owners claims to have nothing to do with any cats. They told me so flat out themselves.
Food and shelter is not enough
So my neighbours are providing food and shelter, but are not willing to take responsibility for the feral population in the area. In fact they are only making it worse. In the long run it's not enough to offer ferals food and shelter as this only helps them short term. Well fed cats will have bigger litters. One female cat can have up to 4 litters a year and can have as many 4-6 kittens at a time! That's a lot of mouths to feed. At some point the area won't be able to provide enough food. More cats probably means more fighting and there won't be shelter for everyone. Many cats will die of hunger, wounds or the cold. Many of the cats will struggle with being indread also. No food or shelter can ever fix that.
The only way to avoid a CATastrophy in this situation is by neutering the whole colony. Since the cats are not tame to take to the vet, this is done by TNR. Trap Neuter Return. You trap then in a humane trap, take them to a vet to get fixed and eventually return them when they are back on their feet. This is an excellent tool to limit the number of feral cats in an area (it's even more effective than euthanasia!). Unfortunatly I was a little late with my traps to the party and we had a long, warm summer for the cats to bread in. So within months, the seven or so cats I knew about, turned to more than 20! I've been trying to TNR them all for a year now and I'm still not done.
If we provide food and shelter AND make sure the cats are neutered, the situation is suddenly quite different. They no longer have to stray, there will be less fighting, there's food and shelter for everyone and no one has to die from giving birth or take care of kittens. By effectively removing these issues from their lives, the feral cat can actually have a decent life. Without having a couch to sleep on and someone to scratch them behind their ears. They can even manage without their own Instagram account! (that's not an option for my Ronja and Victor).
Should You Tame a Feral Cat?
A lot of people ask me if why I don't find loving homes for the community cats I feed. And sure, if they were tame, adoption would be the best solution. But you have to understand that even though they grew up near humans, they did not grow up with humans. Cats are born wild and needs to be in human hands rather quick in order to be truly tame and social being.
An attempt to tame ferals would be a huge project. For most of these cats it would be a huge violation to be forced behind walls and away from their colony. Maybe if you had the ressources to put all the cats in foster care, it would eventually be a succes for most of them. But how long must the cat suffer from stress before it gets used to it's new living arrangement? How long can we keep the cat prisoner and not call it animal abuse?
And doesn't it take away space from a cat who is better suited to be a pet cat? The shelters are full of cats looking for new homes and foster families are constantly in demand. So where are the 500.000 homeless cats in Denmark even supposed to go in order to be tamed? Or just my 20 colony cats for that matter?
Last but not least: Would these cats end up with a better life, because they live in a house with humans? Or just a different cat life?
A Rich Life Outdoors
The famous Kitten Lady who has saved houndreds of cats by TNR, has this to say about ferals:
"Just because a cat isn't tame, doesn't mean they can't have a wonderful life. Cats have been living along side humans for more than 10.000 years and for the vast majority of that history, they've been outside. […] It's only been for a couple of generations, that we've been wanting cats to conform to these wild expectations that all of them should want to be inside. Cats have their own desires and lives independent of us and our agendas. So if you spend even a moment working with feral cats outdoors, you see that their lives are rich with experience" - Kitten Lady
I couldn't have said it any better myself. The idea that all cats are inherently better off living with humans, is something we've made up. As long as we take care of the cat's basic needs (including desexing!), the cats can live full lifes without us. You can watch the full video on ferals by Kitten Lady here.
I know people mean well, when they hope that my community cats can become tame and get adopted. And I agree that it's not a nice thought, that the cats are outside when the weather is really bad. I understand that as good as anyone. I always think of my ferals on cold nights. But they have their barn and several other offers for shelter. And I believe that there is more than one recipe to a good cat life.
I also believe that it's easier to change the humans mind on what make a cat happy, than to change the cats mind on what makes it happy. By trying to tame a feral you are attempting the latter.
Community Cat Caretaker and Freedom
To be born as a feral cat in Denmark is a very bad card to be dealt. But the ferals living at my neighbours were lucky enough to be TNR'ed. They have a warm barn on one side of the fence and a caretaker with a nice buffet and a good vet on the other. Now these community cats are about as spoiled as my two indoor cats and they have eachother.
So I guess what I'm trying to say is that TNR project aren't just the only solution or a workaround for ferals. For some cats, it might actually be the best life they could wish for.
The ferals get to be free in my area, but they are not left to themselves. I always try to improve their feeding station and do good by them. So don't feel too sad for the free TNR cat. It might be a tough life, but it's a good one. They already have a loving home; they just live outdoors and in my heart ❤️
If you spot a cat you suspect to be homeless or lost, I hope you will act on it. Cause the feral or stray cat needs your help getting better or getting home. If we ignore these lost cats, Denmark will end up the same way as a lot of other countries with hungry, imbred and injured cats everywhere. Also; fix your pets, so they don't get lost and end up contributing to the homeless cat population, please.
To sum up:
Fertile feral cats: Bad
TNR cats with caretakers: Good!