Monday, August 29, 2011

How much care can you give a feral cat?

Feral cat Franklin in a photo taken through a window
I took this photo through the kitchen window. 

Trap-neuter-release programs are a huge boon for feral cats. These programs allow feral kitties to live out their natural lives in the communities in which they were born, and the caretakers of those communities agree to provide food and some sort of rudimentary shelter for those animals, as well as agreeing to spay/neuter the newcomers.

Franklin is in his own feral cat community in my backyard. At one point, there were about 5 cats in this community, and the ferals mixed with the semi-tame, owned cats my husband inherited. But now, there's just Franklin. I've been working with him, but it's hard. 

Now, Franklin won't run from me unless I am about 1 foot away. If a door or a window separates us, he won't run away at all. This is huge progress. But still, I am constantly reminded of the fact that I can only provide him with basic care. If he needs something major, he will never allow me to get close enough to help.

Case in point: Franklin has terrible seasonal allergies. His eyes water and drip during the spring and summer, and he often chooses to simply close his eyes instead of squinting through the mess. When the air clears a bit, after a rain or a cooler day, he can hold both eyes wide open once more but he has a giant crust around his eyes that he can't seem to clear off as much as he tries.

I would love to take him to the veterinarian and get him medicated eye drops to deal with this problem, and I'd happily apply those drops. I'd also happily clean off his face.

But I can't do either of these things from a foot away.

Helping a feral cat often means accepting these sorts of limitations. You provide them with a safe place to live, and you provide plenty of clean water and tasty food. But that's about the most you'll be able to do. They are still wild animals that cannot or will not accept your close contact. And often, that means these cats have to deal with bothersome health issues you could deal with, if they would only let you.

When I talk about this, people often remark that cats like Franklin would be better off dead. But let's think about that. His eyes may be watery, and his fur matted. He may have days when he doesn't breathe all that well. But he eats three times per day. He sleeps in a heated building at night. He has clean water. He runs through the grass with his cat pals. He sleeps in the sun.

He's no house cat. But I think he enjoys his life. I give that to him. If you care for a feral cat, you could do the same. Why not?