Despite all their differences, house cats share over 95% of their DNA with tigers. One major difference is the fact that thousands of years ago, Felis catus was successfully domesticated by humans. Domestication is no easy feat – out of 148 terrestrial herbivorous mammals, only 14 were able to be domesticated.
According to the author Jared Diamond, there are six criteria that must be met for successful domestication. First, the animals must be easy to feed, second they must grow and mature at a rate that makes economic sense, third they have to breed well in captivity, fourth they need to have generally nice temperaments, fifth they must be relatively calm, and sixth they must have a strong social structure. Thousands of years ago, cats met all of these criteria, though precisely how domestication is still up for debate.
The timeline for domestication is unclear. There is evidence that suggests cats in Cyprus were domesticated around 9,500 years ago; however, a separate study and genetic analysis indicates that domestication began closer to 12,000 years ago. One interesting theory is that wildcats actually domesticated themselves, after one of the cat species had a genetic variance that made them approach humans and stick around, while others were potentially caught in order to hunt mice and other pests. By keeping cats as rodent hunters, humans may have provided them with desirable amenities such as warmth and food. Over time, this mutual relationship produced the breeding of slightly tamer cats than their wildcat relatives.
However, even today’s cats still retain some of the behaviors of their wild cousins. Sometimes they couldn’t care less about you, yet you care deeply for them. Humans do nearly everything for cats; clean their litter boxes, pet them, feed them – but unlike dogs, they do not constantly seek our approval or aim to satisfy our needs. Which begs the question – who has domesticated whom?
At ACR we emphasize the importance of TNR, which helps free-roaming cats live a better life and helps shelters by decreasing intake. This is even more apparent during Kitten Season. If adult cats are fixed, future generations don’t have to suffer like sweet Jelly Bean did.
Jelly Bean’s mom, Sally, and one of his siblings were brutally attacked. This left mama cat with an infected wound. Sadly, the kitten that was attacked had to be euthanized due to his injuries. Because of the trauma from the attack, Sally stopped feeding the other two babies. Then sadly, overnight, a second kitten passed away.
Jelly Bean then stopped eating altogether and we had to rush him to the bet. We had to visit two specalists to find out what was wrong, and eventually had to feed him around the clock with small drops of kitten milk. Finally, just as we were losing hope, he started gaining weight!
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the end of Jelly Bean’s troubles. We found him unresponsive one morning and he was rushed to the emergency clinic. He was diagnosed with a gallbladder infection and was put on antibiotics. He also had to spend the night in the ER. Fortunately after his stay at the clinic, Jelly began eating beautifully and is a growing normally! While recovering, he loved purring and snuggling with Pudding, an orphan kitten who was definitely in need of some company! His mom, Sally has been spayed, vaccinated, and healed from the attack as well.
We are also happy to report that sweet Jelly Bean has found his furever home and is living life to the fullest. Here at ACR we are committed and persistent when it comes to sweet babies like Jelly Bean. If his parents were fixed through TNR, none of this would have had to happen. Not every cat or kitten gets a chance at treatment, especially feral cats. Therefore, sterilizing cats through TNR is vital to make sure there is as little suffering as possible.
One of the biggest frustrations amongst neighbors of community cat colonies surrounds the cats digging and using the bathroom in their yard or garden. This can lead to calls to animal control, which will ultimately lead to the cats ending up in shelters and most likely, being euthanized. So how to address this issue?
An outdoor litter box is something all community cats want, and can benefit from. An outdoor litter box provides the cats with a proper place to use as a toilet, thus reducing the chances that they’ll do it where they’re not wanted. Outdoor litter boxes benefit everyone, as cats are happy to have a safe, quiet, private place to use the bathroom, as well as allows them to more easily coexist with neighbors.
So the next step is to build your cats their own outdoor litter box. There are different variations, but it’s smart to follow a similar blueprint as to how indoor litter boxes are built. First, build a frame. Start with a frame of four walls that are the correct height for the cats in the community. If there are kittens present, make the walls shorter so they can get in and out easily. If you’d like to cover it, feel free. This is especially important if you live in colder, rainier, or snowier parts of the country where the litter is likely to frequently get wet. However it can also be left open in drier, warmer climates. Covering the box makes it more like a shelter, which will help the cats feel hidden and safe. There’s no need to build a bottom, as you’re looking for easy drainage. Choosing the right litter is also key. Traditional litter won’t work unless the box is fully covered. Otherwise, use materials such as sand or peat moss. Finally, don’t overfill. Use just enough litter for cats to comfortably dig in, which is a big attraction for them in the first place.
When it comes to placement, choose quiet, hidden areas that would be attractive to cats. Out of the way areas that have little traffic are good choices. Also, keep it away from the cats’ food and water. Spend time observing their favorite spots, and place the boxes there, in particular where you’ve seen them use the bathroom before. If your litter box is uncovered, place it in an area surrounded by bushes or other plants so they can use the bathroom in private. Be sure to keep it clean, and scoop the boxes regularly, as you would a box indoors. Finally, give the box appeal by mixing some of the area’s natural soil and leaves into the litter so it appears familiar to the cats, and therefore safe. Discouraging cats from using other areas with humane deterrents will also help encourage them to use the boxes you’ve set up.
How to Make a Cat Condo
Now that the weather is turning chilly, it’s important to provide your community cats with adequate shelter to keep them warm. Cat condos are an excellent way to provide your cat with a place to stay warm when it gets cold outside.
First, you’ll need some materials. Purchase a large, dark-colored, plastic storage container.
Then for insulation, buy one roll of silver milar house insulation, brand name Reflectix Insulation. It looks like quilted tin foil and can be purchased at home improvement stores, like Lowes. Finally, you’ll need a roll of silver Venture Tape UL181A-P/UL181B-FX. It is important you buy this brand, as it is the only one which will work. Also get some straw from your local gardening store.
Now that you have all your supplies, take a sharp knife or razor and cut a cat-sized door at one end of the container. If there is a natural indentation on the container, it will make the perfect door, so cut that out instead.
Take the Reflectix Insulation and line the inside of the container, on both the side and the bottom. Tape it down securely with the Venture tape. Tape off all the seams, as well as line and tape the top of the container.
Place some straw on top of the insulation, and then place the lid of the container on top. To check if your cats are using the condo, lift the life and check for a cat-shaped indentation.
Although community cats will naturally search for shelter during a disaster, they are still vulnerable to severe weather and other emergencies. Luckily, there are still lots of things you can do to help them ride out severe weather and other natural disasters.
First, create a list of all the cats in your colony. Include updated information as well as descriptions and photos. This will help you relocate any missing cats and determine if any are being cared for in shelters or by other rescue groups. Keep contact information for the local shelters and rescue groups handy so you can easily communicate with them in the event of an emergency. Find someone who will act as the back-up caretaker if you are absent, and put their contact information in your wallet, as well as post it in a visible place in your home.
Take precautionary measures by securing or removing objects in or around the colony that could fall, become airborne, or otherwise potentially injury the cats during a disaster. If you are concerned about flooding, move shelters and feeding stations to higher grounds. Wooden shipping pallets, found in lumber yards or home improvement stores, can be used to do this. Tie shelters and feeders to sturdy structures, such as a fence or a tree, to anchor them. Take caution when placing heaving objects like bricks or rocks on top of shelters as they could be dangerous in strong winds.
If there is the possibility of heavy rain, cover the shelters and feeding stations with tarps. Tie the tarps at an angle, and either hammer stakes into the ground or tie the tarps to a permanent structure to secure them. In case a caretaker is not able to return soon, leave extra dry food in covered feeding stations and inside the shelter, far away from the openings. If appropriate, lay some straw inside the shelters for additional warmth.
To help you prepare, store portable shelters, litter boxes, food, and water in a nearby garage or other covered structure. Also keep extra food, bottled water, batters, and flashlights easily accessible. If you are aware that a disaster is imminent, try to trap the friendly cats and kittens and take them to a safe place. Don’t attempt to trap or contain feral cats.
Although unlikely, it’s always best to prepare for the worst-case scenario. Taking the time to prepare and disaster-proof your cat colony will give you peace of mind as well as help keep the cats safe in an emergency.
October 7, 2019 - Dozens of cat advocates streamed into a public hearing in Los Angeles on Monday to express their concerns over the City’s proposed plan to begin supporting TNR activities again after more than a decade of frustration. The city was forced to stop supporting TNR by a Court injunction in 2005, and ordered to produce an Environmental Impact Review (EIR) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The good news is that the City’s Draft EIR states that it wants to return to a policy where, “TNR is the preferred method of dealing with the free-roaming cat population.” Unfortunately, as Alley Cat Welfare’s Dale Bartlett testified, the proposed plan includes elements designed to protect the city’s Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA) that would make TNR practically impossible in certain locations.
The city has proposed a feeding ban in all Environmentally Sensitive Areas and a one-mile buffer zone around the areas. In those areas, which comprise a huge portion of the city, feeding would only be allowed as bait inside traps, limited to 30 minute increments, would be required to be monitored at all times, and could only occur during limited daytime hours when many cat advocates are busy at their day jobs. The restrictions are far too stringent and would make the trapping of free roaming cats who live in or near an ESA impossible. As a practical matter, regularly scheduled feeding prior to trapping is necessary in order to acclimatize cats to the feeding schedules which eventually lead them to enter traps. Thus, limiting feeding to the baiting of traps will lead to fewer cats captured, which is clearly not the desired outcome.
ACR asked the city to remove ESA’s from the proposal, and our comments were echoed by other leading local and national TNR supporters. We were the only group to suggest that, if for legal or political reasons the city remains insistent on keeping the ESAs in the proposal, they should at least amend the language in their proposal to allow feeding when it is a necessary component of an active TNR effort, rather than restricting feeding to the actual baiting of traps. As we explained to the City’s representatives, “Efforts to manage any free roaming colonies that exist inside or adjacent to any Environmentally Sensitive Area should be prioritized and certainly shouldn’t be hamstrung by well-intentioned restrictions.”
The deadline for written comments on the City’s proposed program is October 28, 2019. We need all cat advocates to email the head of the program and tell them that you strongly support the return of TNR to Los Angeles, but with the removal of ESA’s from the proposed program. Please send your comments by October 28 to:
Dr. Jan Green Rebstock
firstname.lastname@example.org and please cc: email@example.com
Additionally, please feel free to use the template below:
Subject: Reintroduce TNR to Los Angeles; Remove ESA restrictions
Dear Dr. Jan Green Rebstock,
I strongly support the reintroduction of TNR into the Los Angeles community and the humane reduction of the city’s population of feral cats. Communities throughout the country have shown that TNR programs result in fewer cats entering and being euthanized in shelters, fewer cats on the streets, and a decrease in neighborhood complaints. However, these programs are only successful when they are allowed to operate freely and without unnecessary restrictions.
Unfortunately, the proposed Citywide Cat Program currently includes a feeding ban in Environmentally Sensitive Areas and a one-mile buffer zone around these areas. These areas comprise a significant portion of the city, and the proposed restrictions on feeding within these areas would make trapping feral cats living there nearly impossible. Failing to trap cats living in these areas would prevent them from being spayed or neutered, leaving them to breed indiscriminately and continuing to add to the feral cat population. Therefore, in order to establish a robust and successful TNR program in Los Angeles, I respectfully request for the removal of Environmentally Sensitive Areas and the related exclusion zones from the proposal.
Please support the reintroduction of TNR in Los Angeles in all capacities and ensure that the program is designed for successful management of community cats throughout the entire city and without unnecessary restrictions.
[Your city, state, zip]
[Your email address]
For more information on the proposed program, including the 1400+ page Environmental Impact Report, click here.
While cats have earned a reputation for being standoffish and aloof, a new study shows that our feline friends are more attached to their owners than previously thought. According to researchers at the University of Oregon, cats can form bonds with their owners similar to those formed by dogs and even infants. The study found that when cats live with a caretaker, the majority of them turn to humans as a source of comfort.
Researchers recruited both kittens and adult cats, as well as their owners, to participate in an experiment that has been used to test bonds between dogs and primates with their caretakers. In the study, cat and kitten owners entered an unfamiliar room with their animals. The caretakers then spent two minutes in the room with their cat, then left the animal alone for two minutes, and then returned for an additional two minutes. The study found that about two-thirds of the cats and kittens greeted their owners when they returned, then resumed exploring the room, and periodically returned to their owners. Based on this behavior, researchers concluded that the cats and kittens were securely attached to their owners, and considered them a safe base in an unfamiliar situation. Perhaps surprising to some, the findings among cats are nearly identical to the findings in studies conducted on dogs and infants, showing that cats form bonds with humans nearly as frequently.
And this wasn’t the first study that suggests cats like us more than we think. A 2017 study also conducted by the University of Oregon found that a majority of cats preferred interacting with a person over eating or playing with a toy. Furthermore, additional research has shown that cats know their name, and are sensitive to human emotions and moods.
So, it logically follows that some of this research is also applicable to feral cats. While they may not form the same kind of attachment as housecats do, there is evidence to show that feral cats still do bond with their caregivers. While they generally can’t be touched or held, over time feral cats become to know and trust their caregivers and form bonds with them. Feral cats can respond to their names as well as greet their caregivers, and sometimes will even allow to be pet while they are eating.
So while there is still a lot to be discovered about cats, these studies confirm that they are complex and intelligent animals who are in fact capable of love, despite their sometimes indifferent demeanor.
UPDATE: On August 6, 2019, Judge Jennifer Weiler vacated Ms. Segula's 10 day jail sentence. However, Ms. Segula was ordered to stop feeding the cats and was cautioned that if she continues to feed them that she would face jail time in the future. As for the cats, they will still be looked after. They will be spayed/neutered, given shots, lab tests, and deworming for free thanks to the combined efforts of PAWS Ohio and Stautzenberger College.
A 79-year-old Ohio woman is facing jail time for feeding cats.
When a neighbor moved away and left behind his cats, Ms. Segula began feeding them outside her home. After the death of her husband and her own cats, she said they kept her company. Now, however, after years of warnings, citations, and complaints, Ms. Segula is facing jail time.
The problems with authorities began three years ago, when residents of Garfield Heights began complaining to the local Animal Warden about Ms. Segula and the cats. Ms. Segula was informed of the city ordinance prohibiting feeding stray cats, but she continued feeding them. After receiving numerous citations and being placed on probation, she recently admitted to still feeding the stray cats and was sentenced to 10 days in jail for contempt of court.
However, there is still hope that Ms. Segula will avoid jail time. The original judge from the case, who was on vacation when Ms. Segula was sentenced, has agreed to give her a new hearing. Furthermore, local nonprofits are stepping in to help Ms. Segula and her strays. PAWS and The Forever Friends Foundation are joining together to help trap the cats and put suitable cats up for adoption, and find barn placements for others. Additionally, The Stautzenberger College, Brecksville campus is going to provide all medical care, including sterilization, for the cats.
When asked why she risked so much for these cats, Ms. Segula said that it was simple, “I’m a cat lover”.
JessiCAT. “LATEST UPDATES! 79-Year-Old Woman Will Receive New Hearing From Judge For 10-Day Jail Sentence.” Cole & Marmalade, 31 July 2019, coleandmarmalade.com/2019/07/31/latest-updates-79-year-old-woman-will-receive-new-hearing-from-judge-for-10-day-jail-sentence/.
Krakow, Morgan. “She Was Feeding the Stray Cats That Kept Her Company. Now the 79-Year-Old Is Going to Jail.” The Washington Post, WPCompany,30July2019, www.washingtonpost.com/science/2019/07/30/she-was-feeding-stray-cats-that-kept-her-company-now-year-old-is-going-jail/?utm_term=.8b68aef2fcd2.
We’re tackling the challenges of Kitten Season right now on both coasts. Our Los Angeles team recently found another (yes, ANOTHER) family of nursing kittens on a rooftop, while our Maryland staff have worked hard to get single moms and their kittens out of area municipal shelters.
Cats can reproduce quickly and this is what leads to the shelter overcrowding, and euthanasia, that ACR works so hard to prevent. Kind and compassionate people gather up these young cat families and bring them to open-intake shelters, assuming that this is the best thing to do for them. Of course, municipal shelters always have limited space, time, and resources. Despite long hours and their best efforts, staff are frequently forced to make that most difficult of decisions, about who can be cared for and who cannot.
Cats who need more than a basic level of care and assistance are most often the unlucky ones; cats with injuries, infections and behavioral issues fit the bill, as well as kittens under eight weeks old. These are all cats who need a place and extra time and care to heal, grow, or socialize. Unfortunately, because there are so many new arrivals each day, shelters are not able to provide what these cats, who are the most in need, require.
The root of this problem is unchecked reproduction. Unsterilized, free-roaming cats produce 80% of the kittens entering shelters each year. While the vast majority of indoor-living cats are spayed or neutered, only 2% of cats who live outside are sterilized.
Sterilize Today to Avoid Euthanizing Tomorrow
The best way to tackle these problems is by spaying and neutering outdoor cats. The phrase Kitten Season always brings “kitten rescue” to mind, but the most effective process for lowering the euthanasia rate and saving more lives actually begins before kittens are even born.
Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) specifically targets unsterilized outdoor cats, the population with the lowest rate of spay/neuter and highest contribution to the kitten population. When these cats are sterilized, reproduction stops and they become much less likely to engage in nuisance and territorial behaviors. Spay or neuter, especially when done early in life, are also effective ways to protect cats from cancers of the reproductive organs.
After these free-roaming cats are sterilized and vaccinated, they’re returned to the outdoor homes they prefer, where a caregiver provides shelter and daily fresh water and food. Being “returned” also means they take up no additional cage space or shelter staff time, leaving those resources available for the daily arrival of other cats in need.
But, what about those month-old kittens found with mom in the backyard? The truth is, a kitten is best off with her mother until she is weaned, around eight weeks-of-age. Despite the inherent challenges of outdoor life, the nutrition and guidance that mother cats provide is almost always superior to what a human can do with foster care. When mother cats with kittens are discovered in a safe place outside and all appear healthy, the best thing to do is provide close supervision while creating a plan and preparing to have each sterilized and adopted or returned.
While we’re drawn to new kittens and doing everything we can to enable their young lives, we must never forget about the parents. If we rescue three kittens but don’t address mom (and dad), in short order there will likely be three new kittens in the same spot needing rescue once again. Free-roaming adult cats are just as deserving of quality treatment and care as kittens, and each time we act to keep them from reproducing and out of the shelter themselves, we create the opportunity to help a cat or kitten who’s already here.
We've got a new petition that we hope you'll sign to try and protect the feral cats of Australia. If you haven't seen the recent news story about the mass culling of cats going on right now, you can read it here.
When the Australian government in 2015 announced its plan to kill 2 million cats by 2020, we were appalled just like you. We crafted a petition and wrote to the Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, and Ambassador to the U.S., Kim Beazley, to let them know about the humane solutions available for managing feral cats. While trap-neuter-return (TNR) by itself may not be enough to manage the outdoor cat population-especially in wild, unpopulated rural areas-that certainly doesn't mean we need to resort to the lethal methods being used in Australia today.
For example, exclusionary fencing can be used to create safe areas for both wildlife and cats; a government-supported spay/neuter program could greatly reduce the number of cats reproducing outside. We believe that when communities come together around principles like "no-kill," "adopt-don't-shop," and "compassionate conservation," they find ways to value and support each and every life, be it furry or feathered. The mass culling of animals is always a tragedy and never the answer.
Unfortunately, the Australian plan was put into place and hundreds of thousands of cats, if not more, have already been killed. Please take a moment to lend your voice to feral cats in Australia and sign and share our petition.
Alley Cat Rescue is leading in the way in promoting humane and compassionate care for ALL cats.