There has been a lot of controversy around the subject of feral or community cats in Brevard County. These animals are similar to stray cats but are typically unsuited to adoption as they are not comfortable in human homes. These cats are often more comfortable living in loose communities near human habitation, but without some sort of intervention, these communities can quickly grow out of control. Brevard County’s Space Coast has chosen a progressive way to deal with these feral cat communities that balances the needs of human and feline residents in the area.
The Difference Between Stray and Feral Cats
Stray cats are cats that once lived with humans, but were abandoned or lost at some point in their lives. These cats may be somewhat wary but are more likely than feral cats to be affectionate or friendly towards humans. These cats may have some difficulties adjusting to life on the streets, particularly finding appropriate food to eat and avoiding disease.
Feral cats, also sometimes referred to as community cats, are cats that have never become socialized with people and in most cases, have never cohabitated with them. They were born on the streets, either to stray cats or other feral cats, and are not typically friendly towards humans. While feral cats can often live long and rewarding lives on their own, in most cases, their lack of experience with humans makes them unsuitable for lives as pets. Because of this, nearly all feral cats that are turned into animal pounds and shelters for adoption end up getting killed.
How does Brevard County Handle Feral Cats?
Feral cats, if left to their own devices, can reproduce at an incredible rate, with females often becoming pregnant early, in some cases two and occasionally three times within their first year of life. This type of overpopulation creates problems for both man and beast. For humans in the area, they have to contend with unrestrained mating behaviors of the felines, including spraying, yowling, and fighting, while the cats are at more risk of starvation, injury, and disease.
Some areas across the country have implemented catch and kill programs or relocation programs to reduce their resident cat populations. Studies have shown that the vacuum effect, an effect that has been observed across multiple species of animals, prevents this method from being effective. New cats from neighboring areas frequently replace cats that are removed from a resource-heavy area. Instead, Brevard County employs TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return) and RTF (Return to Field) program to manage the feral and community cats in the area.
What Do TNR and RTF Entail in Brevard County?
Instead of killing healthy community cats, they are trapped in humane traps, either by volunteers or individual citizens. They are spayed or neutered and given a rabies vaccination before being released back to the areas in which they were found. This prevents them from reproducing, reducing the overall number of feral cats without creating a vacuum effect.
Cats that have been through these programs are marked by removing the tip of one ear during their sterilization surgery, thereby making them easy to identify without causing lasting harm. Sterilizing the cats helps reduce annoyances to humans living in the area by toning down mating behaviors, such as yowling, fighting, and spraying, as well as improving the quality of life for the cats, preventing many of the infections that are often related to either fighting or pregnancy and birth.
Encounters with Feral Cats
If you encounter a feral cat in your neighborhood that does not have a marked ear, you can help in a couple of ways. One way to help is by contacting a known, licensed caregiver in the area. Another way is by buying or renting a humane cat trap and contacting one of the many community resources that helps ensure the cat gets proper medical care. You can reach out to the South Animal Care and Adoption Center in Melbourne, the Space Coast Feline Network, H.O.P.E (Helping Overpopulation of Pets End), the Brevard Humane Society or the Animal Guardians of Brevard. *Space Coast Pet Services does not handle or care for feral or stray cats.
If you encounter a mother cat with kittens, it is best for the kittens to stay with their mother until they are around 6-8 weeks old. Once they have reached this age, they may be able to be socialized and adopted. If you see newborn or very young kittens on their own, please do not remove the kittens unless they are in immediate and grave danger, and watch their progress from a distance of at least 35 feet or farther so as not to alarm the mother and prevent her from returning. If you are confident that she is not returning, or if they are at least 6-8 weeks of age, you can remove the kittens and transport them to a local shelter.
Be cautious when handling cats and cages. While raccoons, bats, and foxes are more likely carriers of rabies, unvaccinated cats can also carry the disease, and bites or scratches could necessitate a tetanus shot and a round of rabies shots for you as well. You do not want to endure the severe pain of rabies shots if you don’t have to!
Discouraging Feral Cats on Your Property
In most cases, feral cats don’t cause a significant problem for nearby homeowners, but even cat lovers can get frustrated when unknown cats linger on their property for too long. Fortunately, there are several ways to discourage cats from lingering on your property or using your flower beds to dig or defecate.
First, check with your neighbors to determine if the cat or cats in question are pets, strays, or feral and if there is a caregiver in the area. If you live near a cat colony that is cared for by a licensed caregiver, you may be able to discuss solutions with the caregiver. Other options for deterring cats in your yard can include:
- Employ nontoxic fragrances out that are naturally repellant for cats such as fresh orange, grapefruit, or lemon peels, or scattered coffee grounds.
- Keep bird feeders and birdhouses well out of the reach of cats
- Use ultrasonic deterrents in the garden
- Add pebbles, rocks, or pinecones to the soil to make the texture unpleasant to cats.
- Put chicken wire or netting on the ground around anything recently planted or newly turned soil.
- Add specialized rubber mats with plastic tips under the soil, like the PetSafe ScatMat
- Use motion activated sprinklers
While feral cats are not suited to being pets, they can live harmoniously with their human neighbors with just a few considerations. While it is crucial to ensure that community cats are not continuing to contribute to an overpopulation problem, having cats roaming the neighborhood can help to reduce the overall number of problem rodents, like mice, rats, and shrews. That’s a big plus in my book!
Community cats typically avoid humans and their pets, and undisturbed feral cats are rarely the cause of either bites or the spread of disease. The TNR programs that many areas, including Brevard County, have adopted help to allow independent felines their best chance of a long, satisfying life, as well as making them better neighbors to nearby humans.
Melanie is the owner and founder of Brevard’s premier trusted in-home pet care company. With a Sociology & Criminal Justice degree from the University of Tennessee, she took her corporate security background and combined it with her lifelong passion for animals – that’s how Space Coast Pet Services was born in 2016! She is certified in Pet First Aid & CPR, insured, and proudly completed a full background check successfully. She is committed to ongoing training and education for herself and her team. To learn more, click here.
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