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Simply Survival

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
I have had the privilege of meeting this author via email. Her involvement with ferals is as intense as her love for them. Here are some of her reflections and observations:

Simply Survival
By Lana

Unless you work with ferals on a daily basis, I would not be so quick to come to any conclusions about them. I rescue exclusively, ferals and otherwise abandoned outdoor cats. I have been known to take feral kittens from shelters and socialize them. I help manage a dozen feral cat colonies. This means that I give shots to the manageable cats, worm the ones who need it by doctoring their food on a scheduled basis. I trap the newcomers to the group and try to outwit the sly ones and coax them into a trap. My goal is every cat that is under my care will be spayed and neutered for the health of the colony. I do this of my own accord.

My process is to trap the cats, transport them to the vet where all their needs are then met. I keep them contained safely in my garage inside their traps until they recover from the surgery. They are then re-released back where I originally found them. I provide cat food to the farmers and other folk who have adopted one of my ferals for their barns.

Feral, outdoor, and barn cats (actually one and the same) are shining examples of the motto “survival of the fittest.†The kitten mortality rate in the beginning is high in these colonies, but the kittens that do survive are healthy, smart, agile, athletic and immune to most of the standard cat diseases. Human intervention (feeding, vaccinations, taking care of sick or orphaned kittens) helps to decrease the mortality markedly, but the offspring from this type of upbringing are not as healthy as those who have outlasted the most brutal environments.

Many ferals survive our cruel Midwest winters by living in small igloo doghouses packed with straw. These cats are similar to our smart, hardy, enterprising pioneer ancestors who settled America. Our ancestors, the ones who survived childhood illnesses, epidemics, childbirth and all the natural dangers that were present in their day, enjoyed a long full life. It has been my experience that the cats in the colonies under my care, also live long and prosper, defying the odds. Once colonies are spayed/neutered and vaccinated with FCVRP, the cats tend to live as long and sometimes longer than most housecats.

The cats that died in the past couple years out of one colony were all over fifteen. They died of cancer, causing me to speculate that since they lived near a farm, they became exposed to slow toxic poisoning from pesticides being sprayed in the fields.

One cat in a colony is over 15 years old. She is missing a leg and an eye from a run-in with another animal. She has delivered three litters of healthy kittens a year (which I trap, socialize, adopt out). She
has also eluded my trapping her for years. Even after her accident she would not go inside a trap. She self-recovered!

Upper Respitory Infections were virtually nonexistent in my colonies until I introduced a shelter cat labeled “feral†to the group. Otherwise, all the noses and eyes of the feral felines were clean and dry. After the arrival of the shelter cat, I had to stock up on antibiotics to treat all the sickly ones.

If outdoor cats are fed even a cheap dry food to supplement their diet of mice and other rodents, they are strong enough to handle the parasite load and pass it.

If they are not fed, then the parasite load weakens most of them and they fall victim to viruses and harmful bacterial infections, which could kill them. It is imperative that the farmers feed the cats, or only the hardiest of the cats will survive.

When I have to relocate feral cats, my rule is that the farmer must confine the cat for at least a week in a secure cage in the barn and the cat is fed only wet food during this time. Upon the cat’s release, the farmer must then feed on a routine basis and provide good solid shelter, and water year-round.

For suburban/city type cats the same guidelines apply. The cats don't wander after they are s/n, and kept in this fashion. My motto is “Spay and Stay. Ironically, I do not advocate that cats live outdoors. My own cats are inside only cats, though I do have an outdoor colony as well; however, living outside is a better alternative than death.

I do follow-up (and an initial barn inspection) visits and phone calls to check on my charges. I tell the farmers to call me for medical problems and I trap/pay for treatment with my own money. This is called colony management. Surprisingly, the s/n cats rarely have medical problems.

I have read, the difference between a wild animal and a tame animal is
that wild animals have to be handled and tamed with each generation. If kittens are not exposed to humans and handled by the time they are about 4 months (at the oldest -- sometimes 8 weeks is the cut off), they are afraid of humans and cannot be handled. They become the unmanageable ones, hard to tame and only the more skilled rescuer has the capability to locate that trust bond and build on it. The socializing time frame for these kittens varies from months to even years!

So overall, are felines really tame domestic animals or just wild animals that we tame every generation by our handling? This is a part of the feline mystique and the fascination point for me.

Behind any pampered pet cat is a feral cat ready to survive. For if
the cat is dumped (and many sadly are) it has to live by the genetic code, the natural instincts that will kick in, like an autopilot switch turned on. On the opposite end of that spectrum, some ferals revert to tame cats in weeks, letting me believe they were obviously pet cats that returned to their feral state simply to survive.
post #2 of 6
Thread Starter 
Here is Lana's second piece:

Instructing in the Wild Ways

Feral moms are very strict with their kittens; they have to be, for it is crucial in order to survive. If you observe a feral mom with her kits, you will see she trains her kittens to be quiet and stay in one place. This training comes in the form of growling, hissing, and even biting the neck or paws of a kitten at play. To her secrecy is the key to cheating death, it therefore takes awhile for a feral mom who has been brought inside to understand that her and her family are in a safe environment. Once she realizes this, she will give me her permission in her body language by relaxing when I am near, and eventually will look to me to train the kittens for her in this unnatural environment.

In barn colonies, the mom cats make their kittens groom themselves almost continuously. At first this was perplexing, but I came to understand that this constant grooming was an attempt to get the food smell off their fur so predators would not be attracted to them. The barn moms also curtail the playing periods of the kittens, keeping this activity to a bare minimum, again necessary for survival of the clan.

That is why, after the initial adjustment period many adult ferals or barn cats when brought inside for the first time often start acting like playful kittens; making up for what they missed out on play in kittenhood.

The moms show their kittens how to roll in manure. This is to disguise their smell from predators and make any food that might look tempting, smell anything but! The Mom cat will choose the dominant kitten (usually a male) and play rougher and longer with him, teaching him to become stronger so he can protect the colony when he grows. She will show her family that they need to run for cover every time a human appears, no matter what activity the family is involved with at the time. She will also shun a weaker, sickly kitten and oftentimes push this kitten away from her milk, saving her nourishment for the stronger siblings to have. Each kitten as they are born blind, find a certain nipple by smell, and lock on to that one nipple. They will claim that nipple every time they nurse, and will push any obstacle out of the way that might have their spot.

Feral kittens that are indoors and safe, handled by the ages of 4-8 weeks retain this learned behavior. Unlike their domestic cousins these feral kittens do not run amuck, knock things over or trash a room.

They are scrupulous about using litter pans (as I have found all ferals to be) for this is the ingrained behavior that keeps their presence from being noted by predators.

Outdoor moms are also lair oriented; they stay in a small space that will confine their kittens. This small space allows for a feeling of security. The moms make their kits follow them in a row, like ducklings and discipline those who get out of line (or those kits could wander off and be killed). They play at dawn and again at dusk when the night predators are elsewhere. But when night falls the moms retreat with her kittens to her lair, and there they wait until a new day begins.

LDG she said she would be honored if you would use her work on your website.
post #3 of 6
How insightful. Thank you so much for sharing these essays with us.
post #4 of 6
Absolutely! I agree with Heidi. Thanks for sharing these. I found them interesting and informative as well. Learned several things I didn't know about ferals and it explains so much.
post #5 of 6
I don't know how I missed this! I'm so glad she agreed! How wonderful!

post #6 of 6
I loved reading those! Very informative.

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