Cats cannot simply be “dropped off” in a new, strange area that is not their home no matter how “nice” or “safe” it may look. Not only is this illegal (misdemeanor animal dumping), but cats released in a strange place will panic and not know how or where to find food or shelter. They will often try to find their way home, putting them on a dangerous, wandering path of busy streets, loose dogs, hostile humans, and possibly hostile reactions from other cats.
Sometimes cats lose shelter when a dilapidated building or garage is torn down. This is not a reason to relocate cats. Cats are very resourceful and will find other places to shelter. Focus your efforts on talking with neighbors and asking if you can place shelters in their yard, not on relocating cats. Returning feral cats to the area they were found is the safest, most ideal outcome. Even if the environment is run-down or doesn’t seem ideal to us, for cats it is their home turf – where they know the lay of the land, have staked out hiding and sheltering places, and where their territory has been established. If a feral cat colony loses its feeder, the best alternative is to spend the time talking to neighbors and finding a replacement feeder. Sometimes a community can work together to help the cats. One person can agree to feed, another person can pay for the food, another person can host shelters on their property. See Community Appeal Letters.
Bringing a feral cat indoors because you think it’s safer than where you found it is never appropriate; feral cats brought inside homes will hide, often refuse to eat, inappropriately urinate and defecate, attempt to get out, and will become depressed and physically and mentally stressed. Cats who do not feel comfortable in the company of humans will not play or get any exercise if they are hiding all the time. People who let feral cats indoors often realize their mistake and panic as they do not know how to get the cat back outside again. Feral cats hiding in closets and under beds will not simply walk out an open front door and need to be trapped and released back outside.
If all efforts have been thoroughly exhausted, we recommend relocation to an individual family’s yard or horse barn with a limited number of spayed/neutered cats, as opposed to a sanctuary. Keep in mind that it is much easier for one family to care for a limited number of cats than it is for a sanctuary owner to try to care for hundreds of them. Relocation is a complex process that should only be done according to best practices by experienced animal welfare volunteers or staff.
Barns can be appropriate places for feral cats to live and thrive, though not without risk: inadequate acclimation, coyote and loose dog predation, getting lost in cornfields or large rural expanses, and the inability or lack of understanding of their guardians to make the effort to trap sick or injured cats is an issue. Stay rates (the percentage of cats that are placed who stay around) are at best 70%. Many run off and are found at nearby barns, but many disappear, and rural municipalities are not known to reliably scan deceased animals for microchips and notify owners. Barn relocation is considered a last resort, and should be done according to best practice protocols involving proper acclimation and informed, adequate counseling of the caretakers.
If you have a difficult situation and you’re not sure what to do, contact Cats in Action using the form below.