Hi Becki! I'm in the process of relocating feral cats to my house right now. I'm using the techniques published by Alley Cat Allies. It's a long read, but worth it (www.alleycat.org
Safe Relocation Of Feral Cats
Part I: Is Relocation The Answer?
The first recommendation for relocating a colony of feral cats is: don't do it. Unless the cats' lives are threatened, or their environment about to be demolished, the optimum place for them is where they currently live.
Cats are territorial animals and form strong bonds with the location they inhabit. They have likely lived there for a long time, perhaps many years. A food source exists in the area and the cats are acclimated to local conditions. Relocating feral cats, whether a few or an entire colony, is a difficult, time-consuming, and problematic undertaking.
A far better course of action is to resolve the problems that are forcing the cats out of their established home. There are straightforward solutions to most problems. For example:
+ If neighbors want the cats removed because of nuisance behaviors associated with breeding, such as yowling, spraying, and the birth of endless kittens, humanely trap and sterilize the colony. This is the keystone of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR).
+ If the cats are using gardens as liter boxes, build them a sheltered liter box or place sand in strategic areas for the cats to use as liter. Scoop regularly to alleviate odors and flies.
+ If cats are climbing on cars or other property, gradually move their feeding station away from the situation and the cats will usually follow.
Negotiate with the neighbors and property owners. Diplomatically explain that the cats have lived at the site for a long time, that they will be sterilized, which will cut back on annoying behaviors, and that a managed colony will be stable and healthy. Also explain that if the present colony is removed, new, unsterilized cats are likely to move in and the problems will recur. See the guides and factsheets listed in the Resources section for more strategies to keep feral cats living in their established territories.
Part II: Planning The Relocation
Only after you have exhausted all the possibilities does relocation become an option. Because cats form strong bonds with the location they inhabit, moving a colony of feral cats, and convincing them they want to stay moved, is a complex process involving specific procedures that must be followed without shortcuts. Otherwise, the relocated cats may not stay where you put them.
Access the Colony
Feral cats develop strong bonds with one another as well as with their establish homes. Determine how many cats are in the colony and try to find a new location that can take them all. If this is not possible, Alley Cat Allies recommends that ar least two cats from the same colony always be moved together. They should be cats who have formed a bond with each other. The move will be less traumatic and adjustment to their new home easier if they have the security of one or more trusted companions.
You have two options for dealing with kittens:
+ Option One: Remove the kittens, sterilize and tame them, then adopt them into good homes. Kittens up to the age of eight weeks usually socialize rapidly if they receive a lot of care and attention from humans. (See Resources, below: "Taming Feral Kittens.") If this level of care is not available, follow Option Two.
+ Option Two: Sterilize the kittens and return them to the colony. The kittens should then be relocated at least in pairs, same as the adults.
Finding New Homes for the Cats
The colony's new home should be located a reasonable distance from heavy traffic or other vehicular dangers, must provide shelter from inclement weather, and must come with a new caretaker who understands that he or she is assuming responsibility to feed, shelter and care for the cats.
+ Barns and horse stables often make excellent homes for feral cats. Ask everyone you know who lives in a rural area for leads to appropriate barn homes. Place notices in newspapers and flyers in stores, especially hardware stores, feed mills and farm supply depots. (See Resources, below: "Barn Cat Flyer."
+ A backyard or alley can become the new home if neighbors and/or property owners will assume the cats' care. Again, posting flyers in a promising area may get results.
When you find a promising location, inspect the area carefully and talk to the prospective caretaker at length. Some people assume that a "farm home" means any rural place without supervision. A country home that is occupied only on weekends is not a good home. Cats need daily food, water and monitoring.
Develop an adoption contract (similar to one used for domestic cat placements) in which the new caretaker will commit to providing basic needs, including veterinary care, and to having any new cats who appear in the colony spayed or neutered. (See Resources, below: "Feral Colony Adoption Contract.")
Problems to Watch For
Be wary of homes on busy country roads. There may be fewer cars on country roads, but people tend to drive faster. City cats are accustomed to slower city traffic. City cats are sometimes killed on rural roads before they can adjust to new conditions.
Be careful of dogs at the new home. Some dogs are very aggressive toward cats. The caretakers must be willing to introduce their dog(s) to the cats slowly and not allow the cats to be frightened or chased or they will run away. In a new neighborhood, the cats can easily get lost.
Cats and horses get along well, once the cats adjust to the horse's size. Other animals such as racconns, foxes, and opossums get along with adult cats in their own fashion. Kittens, however, are at risk because wild animals may consider them to be prey.
Coyotes will prey on both cats and kittens. In areas with coyotes, the cats stand a better chance if they have access to a shed or similar structure that has several small openings that tehy can run in for safety. This is safer than simple cat shelters. You may also consider building a fenced area for the feral cats. A ten-foot fence with a sharp inner angle will keep coyotes out. If the enclousre does not have a floor, sink the fence at least ten inches into the ground because coyotes can dig under fences. Always take food and water up at night, and make sure garbage cans are sturdy with tight-fitting lids. (See Resources below: "Do-It_Yourself Cat Fence.")
Part III: Relocating The Cats
This process is straightforward: Trap the cats and transport them immediately, in covered traps, to their new home. This project should move quickly, without interuption, an in as calm a fashion as possible.
Upon arrival at the new locations, the cats must be confined for two to three weeks. Confinement allows the cats to adjust to the environment in safety and to accept it as their new home. If set free upon arrival, all cats will take off and attempt to return to their former home. In addition to being dangerous for the cat, who is now lost in an unfamiliar territory, it can be traumatic for a rescuer who has put a lot of energy, money and care into the relocation.
Transfer the cats from the traps to large cages or cat playpens you have already installed in an environment with moderate temperatures - not too hot or cold. Transfer each cat by placing the trap in the playpen, then opening the trap door. Be sure the playpen door is firmly closed when transferring the cats or they may escape.
Alert the new caretaker that during the first day or two the cats may try to find a way out. Most cats settle down in the cage after a day or two when they realize that no harm will come to them.
WHile the cats are confined, they must have clean water, fresh food and clean (or scooped) liter at least once, preferably twice, each day.
In addition to one humane box trap per cat, you will need:
+ Large cages and/or cat playpens for the initial confinement period at the new home. Cat playpens are large and require more than one person to install. (See Resources section for details on ordering playpens.)
+ Adequete litter boxes, litter and food, and dishes, so that you do not have to locate these items in an unfamiliar area. Feeding cars canned food curing the confinement period appears to help them accept their new home. Once they are released, dry food is fine.
+ An appropriate vehicle. Never transport trapped cats in the trunk of a car or other unsafe or unventilated vehicle compartment. Cover your car seats with plastic, towels or newspapers before placing the cages/carriers in the vehicle.
Practical Details of Feral Cat Relocation
Be skeptical if you are told that the barn is excape proof and that the cats cannot escape. Few, if any, barns are truly escape proof and feral cats are escape artists. Always install cages/playpens for the confinement period to ensure that the cats remain in their new homes.
Successful confinement periods range from two to three weeks. A much longer confinement period is unnecessary and unhealthy, and can jeopardize that relocation project. If confined for too long, the cats may run away upon release, from fear of being confined again.
Make sure the confinement area is located near a place where the cats can hide once they are released from the playpens. They will likely run and hide when first released, but will reappear in a day or two.
Make sure the new caretaker will bond with the cats by talking to them or playing a radio softly to get them used to human voices. People who make an effort communicate with cats have the most successful relocations.
If a cat escapes from the playpen, the caretaker should set food and water out, then sprinkle used liter (specifically feces) around the barn. Cats often hide for a period of time but usually stay on the premises. Leave plenty of food and water out to encourage the escapee to stay close.
After The Move: You're Not Finished Yet
Plan to call or visit the new caretaker regularly to ensure that the cats are well cared for. You may be able to provide valuable support or advice. Also stay in touch so that you may have a contact for future relocations.
If you have relocated an entire colony, try to completely remove the food sources in the old location to discourage a new colony of feral cats from forming. But remember, because the original colony has been removed, new unsterilized cate are likely to move in and problems recur.
A survey conducted by Alley Cats Allies revealed that relocations were most likely to succeed when four main points were adhered to:
+ Several cats from the same colony were relocated together.
+ Cats were confined for two to four weeks in large cages, sheds, barns, basements or escape-proof shelters.
+ Cats were fed canned food every day for a short period (two to six weeks) and then dry food.
+ The new caretaker made frequent (minimum twice daily) verbal attempts to bond with the feral cats.
You have undertaken one of the most difficult tasks in working with feral cats, but if you follow the procedures and techniques outlined in the guide and in other factsheets reffered to, and if you take no shortcuts, you have a good chance at success. Good luck.
Guides, factsheets and flyers available from www.alleycat.orgor
by mail from Alley Cat Allies, 1801 Bellmont Road, Suite 201, Washington, DC 20002-5147.
1. "The ABC's of TNR"
2. "Humane Trapping Instructions for Feral Cats"
3. "Making Feral Cats Welcome in Your Community"
4. "Taming Feral Kittens"
5. "Barn Cat Flyers"
6. "Feral Colony Adoption Contract"
7. "Do-It-Yourself Cat Fence"
Information about ordering playpens/confinement cages can be found at www.cdpets.com/enclosure.html
or by calling 1-888-554-7387.