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Identifying Feral Cats in Shelters

Slater MR, Miller KA, Weiss E et al: A survey of the methods used in shelter and rescue programs to identify feral and frightened pet cats, J Feline Med Surg 12:592, 2010.

At least 2.5 million cats enter animal shelters nationwide on an annual basis and at least half are free-roaming cats. Free-roaming cats are defined as any cat living part of the time outdoors. Animal welfare organizations must make disposition decisions on intake of millions of cats each year and it can be difficult to differentiate between feral cats and frightened socialized cats.  This study’s objectives were to learn about methods used to evaluate and categorize incoming cats, amount of time cats are held before assessment, and the level of cooperation between welfare agencies to minimize euthanasia of feral cats. The authors find no widely-accepted criteria or information-gathering guidelines among the responses collected. Only 15% of the 555 respondents had written guidelines. Many respondents indicated that time was the most important element of deciding if a cat was feral or not.  Minimal holding times were highly varied, with 1-3 days cited as the most common holding time among all organizations, especially animal control programs. Approximately half the groups transferred feral cats to trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs at least occasionally. The results of the survey highlight the need for more research to develop focused standardized guidelines for determining feral status early in the shelter intake process. [VT]

Related articles:
Wallace JL, Levy JK: Population characteristics of feral cats admitted to seven trap-neuter-return programs in the United States, J Feline Med Surg 8:279, 2006.