You see these cute creatures run from under bushes in restaurant parking lots. You see them scurry across vacant fields. Sometimes you see mothers with kittens, wild eyed and frightened at the sight of people, living on their own amongst us. They are the feral cats, animals without a human home, creating their own home in the wild. A FERAL cat is an outdoor free-roaming animal never socialized to people. In contrast, a STRAY cat is a lost or abandoned pet who is friendly to people and can easily be rehomed. Some feral animals were born in the wild while others were once domesticated pets abandoned and then reverted to “wild” behavior.

Community cats, a new term for these animals, implies that these creatures deserve to have a place outside in our communities. They need not be rounded up and exterminated, but rather are able to sustain themselves. While the lives of community cats are shorter than indoor housecats, they live in colonies enjoying the great outdoors and the company of their fellow felines. There are a few sanctuaries in the United States where feral cats are allowed to live in protected environments such as Cat House on the Kings near Fresno.

Jackie and Bruce Martin decided to make a difference for the Coachella Valley feral cats. While living in Orange County they started volunteering for animal organizations and fostering cats. After moving to Desert Hot Springs in 2011, they founded Feral Alley Cats and Friends, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to trap, neuter, and return these cats. Jackie explains, “I told myself I had to do something. To me it is a blessing to be able to go out there and help these cats. I also educate the people in the community about where they can get low cost spay and neuter vouchers.” So far their organization has spayed and neutered 240 cats and feeds approximately 100 community cats daily. They recently obtained a grant from the American Society to Prevent Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and used this money to enable volunteers to Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR) more cats. This husband and wife team work with Animal Samaritans’ veterinary clinic where low cost spay and neutering is provided to the animals. Most of these cats have never been to a vet, and the Martins hope to raise enough money to include vaccinations as part of their service.

The website for Feral Alley Cats and Friends explains the problem created by cat overpopulaton. “A pair of breeding cats producing two or more litters a year can produce 420,000 offspring over a seven year period. The overpopulation carries a hefty price tag. Statewide more than $50 million (largely from taxes) is spent by animal control and shelters for cat related expenses.” .

Can you capture and socialize a feral cat? The window of time in which you can capture and socialize a feral cat is generally under the age of 12 weeks. These kittens can be adopted into homes, but the socialization must be done at an early age. The older cats are best left outside to fend for themselves. Feral cats are protected under our animal cruelty laws. Their needs are not met by our current public animal control and shelter system, when they are rounded up and killed in shelters at taxpayer expense. Our no-kill private shelters cannot take them because they cannot place them in homes.

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What can you do to help? Make sure your own cat is neutered or spayed. Make a donation to Feral Alley Cats so they can spay and neuter more animals. You can watch a video about how to TNR at www.alleycat.org . Feral Alley Cats is a wonderful resource in the Coachella Valley. If you need assistance with feral or stray cats, contact them at (760) 309-2344 or check out their website at www.feralalleycatsandfriends.org.

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