Helping feral cats and kittens
Last month, a Bay Village police officer asked if I could help a Russell Road resident with a kitten. Responding to its cry, two neighbors pulled a kitten from its hiding place in a cluttered garage, and they didn’t know what to do with it. Bay Village offers no animal control services for cats.
I took the kitten expecting to quickly place it with a rescue organization, but it is kitten season and all rescues were full. Then the county health department called to ensure that the kitten would be held for 10 days quarantine because the kitten had bitten one of its rescuers. While highly unlikely – the CDC reports only two documented cases of rabies transmission to humans from cats since 1960 – all mammals can contract rabies and it is almost always fatal. However, if the animal is infectious it will become ill or die within 10 days.
This story has a happy ending. Friends of the Bay Village Kennel came to my rescue and paid the kitten’s veterinarian fees. Renamed Liberty because she was born sometime around July 4, the kitten was disease free and thrived. A spot opened at the Animal Rescue Center in Eastlake, where she is available for adoption. But the story raises important questions.
What should you do if you come across feral cats or kittens? First, do not try to touch them. Although feral cats are the same species as domesticated cats, they have been born in the wild and are not socialized to humans. They will fight as though their life depends on avoiding capture, and their life often does depend on escaping from well-meaning humans.
Feral cats that are brought to shelters are not adoptable and are usually killed. For this reason, the Cleveland Animal Protective League will not accept healthy feral cats. Instead, APL encourages residents to trap, neuter and release (TNR) the cats back into the neighborhood where they were found. While in its clinic, APL also vaccinates the cats against rabies and other diseases. You can identify a cat that has been TNR’d by its tipped left ear. For more information on TNR contact the Cleveland APL, clevelandapl.org.
Young feral kittens can be domesticated, but that may not be the best thing for them. Caring for young kittens can be difficult and expensive, and socializing them takes time and patience. Once the kitten is ready, a home must be found and there are not enough homes for all of the cats and kittens needing one.
The experts on feral cats, Alley Cat Allies, recommend that if you want to help a stray kitten, watch it for a while. See whether mom returns, and then watch the family. Feed them so they stay around and learn to trust you, provide shelter if necessary, and when the kittens are old enough, trap them and take them to the APL for TNR.
historian, legal historian, former tax lawyer My book, Bankruptcy in an Industrial Society: The History of the Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio will be published by Akron University Press in November.