Winter was coming and the cats all knew it. Their coats were growing thicker, daylight left the sky a little sooner and flies stopped invading the food bowl. But what these feral cats didn’t know was that they were all about to lose the home base for their colonies and a rapid rescue mission was underway to build them new ones.
Over the past few months, the Harmony Fund has been swept up in a relocation project for a handful of feral cat colonies that were suddenly forced to leave their territory. The cats lived on the grounds of inner-city neighborhoods, condominium complexes and in the parking lot of a former restaurant. But due to property owners who had reached their breaking point and wanted them gone, all the cats were facing a situation in which volunteers could no longer bring them daily food and the colony would have to disperse and fend for themselves through winter without the meals they had come to depend on.
Can’t You Do Something – We Can’t Let Them Starve
“I’m sick with worry over this,” one volunteer named Barbara said as she contemplated the fate of the cats. “What are we going to do? This is terrible. I can’t sleep over this. Please, can’t you do something?”
She was not the only one. All across the city of Worcester, Massachusetts, volunteers were carrying the worry of what would become of these cats, with visions of them slowly starving in the snow or being hit by cars as they move from street to street in search of food. But we had other plans for the cats and it was simply a matter of connecting the dots.
We began putting the word out that we were looking for barns and that the Harmony Fund would provide free food and litter for the cats for life. We simply needed barns to bring them to. And although things started slowly and not a single offer came in after a plea in the local newspaper, eventually, through word of mouth, people began to step forward and soon we had our village. In the end, we set up three separate barn havens, each different than the next, but all of them secure.
The Safest Way To Relocate a Feral Cat
The biggest concern in trapping and relocating feral cats is that they will run off in a panic as soon as they are free. As many as 50% of relocated barn cats will take off and often because the acclimation process is insufficient. The typical strategy is to take a cat, put it in a large dog kennel inside the barn for two weeks and then one day open the door to the cage and hope the cat stays. The problem with that method is that you’ve basically kept the cat in confinement and fear for two weeks and haven’t given him/her a whole lot of incentive to stay. Food alone is not enough and without giving the cat some kind of contained access to the exterior of the barn, they don’t have the opportunity to adjust to the sights and sounds of the neighborhood. An indoor-outdoor run is simply the ideal set up.
So what we did instead was to create large, enclosed indoor areas that included whole rooms or jumbo cages connected with tunnels going from the top floor of the barn to the bottom. By allowing the cats freedom of movement during their acclimation phase, we significantly decreased their stress and increased the odds of them accepting their new homes. Two of the barns are attached to a permanent, spacious grassy area which allows the cats limited roaming rights in the outdoors. The third is a free roaming farm where the cats are allowed to visit the rock walls and meadows nearby. A bell is always sounded when they are fed wet food and this helps to bring them in before dark.
Divine Timing: After 25 Years, We Rescued the Last Cat With Just Hours to Spare
Of all the cats who were brought in, we were most struck by the incredible circumstances surrounding the colony living on the grounds of a once-popular diner. The cat colony began many years ago when waiters would feed them scraps. It wasn’t until the restaurant closed that I happened to drive past one day and saw a parking lot full of cats. I turned around and drove in to investigate and wasn’t quite sure what to do when I realized the size of the colony. I saw a mother cat and seven juveniles as well as other adults in the distance. That was the day I brought over their first bowls of food and water and the effort would continue for more than 12 years.
There were a few of us who worked together to get the cats spayed/neutered and vaccinated and to provide straw, blankets and beds in the storage trailer where the cats were sleeping. We often found that new city cats would migrate here and we continued to bring them in, one at a time. We had some who were friendly and placed up for adoption. Kittens made their way into our homes until they were old enough to join families. And one elderly cat who appeared to have been dumped there spent her remaining years with my family. Through it all, there were complaints from the property owners, and though I was able to negotiate peace for a while, eventually they soured as their property became a hot spot for drug deals and for people looking for a place to dump old furniture and appliances during the night. The cats simply got caught in the middle and the property owners decided the cats should leave and that anyone caught feeding them would be subject to arrest.
It took us many weeks to find a barn to take this colony and during that time we continued to feed them despite the tension. Police cars would occasionally stop by to see what a volunteer was doing, and each was given the nod to carry on. On the final day of trapping, when the last two cats were carried away in their humane traps, a strange thing happened. A big truck came in, hitched up to the storage trailer and towed it away. This trailer has been the primary shelter for the cats for what probably amounts to more than 25 years in total. It was whisked away within two hours of the final cats leaving the property, and had we not caught them when we did, the cats would have slept out in the freezing rain that night, or worse yet, taken off.
Relocate Only If Needed
In most cases, it is preferable to feed feral cat colonies in their established territory. Relocation is reserved only for situations in which the safety of volunteers or the cats has been jeopardized. Today, all the cats from this cat rescue operation are thriving in their barns and some of them have even begun to play with the mouse toys we leave out for them.