Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
We have a couple of feral cats at our work place and are giving them food. One of the mothers took two little kittens up into the roof about three weeks ago and she could not get to them again. We took them in so that we can find good homes for them, but they still are in the office as I am looking after and feeding them. The mother cat hovers around as she obviously knows they are in the office. My question is, will she take them back once she gets to see them when they are alone?
Thomas: Well, Magda, there are a couple of parts to your question. First, what do you do about the feral cats? Second, are the kittens socialized enough to become domestic cats? And finally, would the mother cat take the kittens back if you were to put them outside?
Bella: As for whether the mother would take the kittens back–it’s possible but unlikely. She’ll smell that they’ve been handled by people, and that will probably keep her from wanting to get near the kittens.
Tara: And finally, now that the kittens are socialized to people and are no longer feral, do you want to give them back to the mother? Since you’ve already said you’re wanting to find good homes for them, the answer is almost certainly no.
Thomas: But the bigger picture remains–what do you do about the feral cats? You don’t want to have them trapped and killed because that’s just going to create a vacuum into which more feral cats will come, and your feral cat problem will return once again.
Bella: The best way to deal with a feral cat colony is a process called trap/neuter/return. What that means is getting the cats into humane traps and bringing them to a vet or your local animal rescue to have them spayed and neutered, then returning them back to their home colony at your work place.
Tara: We were able to find out from your email that you’re located in South Africa, not too terribly far from Johannesburg. There are a number of animal welfare groups in Johannesburg that might be able to help you trap, neuter, vaccinate and return your feral cats.
Thomas: Trap/neuter/return (also known as TNR) is really the best and most humane way to manage feral cat colonies. First of all, by having them neutered you’ll prevent more and more kittens from being born.
Bella: Secondly, you’ll be able to stop the fighting, spraying and other nuisances feral cats can bring about.
Tara: Finally, the cats will be healthier in the long run because they’ll be vaccinated against rabies and other diseases that can plague wild animals.
Thomas: The best thing about TNR is that it allows the feral cats to stay on site and decrease in size by attrition. This keeps the colony stable, thereby not allowing a new bunch of cats to fill the vacancy created by trapping and killing.
Bella: You may be able to get some help with TNR from the Johannesburg SPCA. If they can’t do it, they may be able to connect you with groups in your area that are doing the TNR work. They may also be able to help you place the kittens once they’re old enough.
Tara: Another group, Animal Allies, specifically works with TNR, so they also may be able to help.
Thomas: Long story short: We are pretty sure that mama cat wouldn’t take the kittens back, since they have been handled by people. And we’re not sure you’d want to send the kittens back to the colony if you’ve been able to socialize them and they could find good homes.
Bella: We strongly recommend working with TNR groups in your area to help get the feral cats fixed and returned to their colony at your workplace.
Tara: And finally, we’re so happy that you and your co-workers care so much about these kittens and their mothers and fathers.
Thomas: Do any of you have other advice for Magda? Have you dealt with a feral cat colony, and how did TNR work out for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments!