Feral Cats

Feral Cats

“Feral cats have a home – outdoors! And although they appreciate a can of cat food, they don’t want to snuggle with you on your couch.”

– Alley Cat Allies

Often the cats people see in their backyards, in parks, and in alleyways are feral cats. These are homeless animals—abandoned or born wild—who may not be accustomed to humans but are still dependant on people for survival. Since feral cats are usually not tame or socialized, they can’t be placed in homes, and are routinely killed if they are trapped and taken to the City’s Animal Care and Control Department.


Truly “feral” cats were born on the streets and have not been socialized to people. Most have never had any human contact but some were once semi-tame cats that now have to fend for themselves. These cats do the best they can to survive, facing many hardships, but many manage to lead a good existence, especially here in California with our temperate climate. They live in neighborhoods, shopping centers, creeks, commercial properties and near dumpsters—anywhere they can find shelter


It’s important for everyone to take responsibility for the neighborhood stray. Left unattended, this cat can reproduce and before long there will be dozens and dozens of strays in your neighborhood. If the cat is altered, it’s still our responsibility to make sure that his needs are met.


  • There are an estimated 125,000 homeless cats in Santa Clara County.
  • Cats represent two-thirds of all animals in shelters and are euthanized at a far greater rate than dogs or rabbits.
  • Stray and feral cats can live anywhere they find food and shelter.
  • “Feral” and “stray” are not the same.  Strays can usually be adopted; feral cats cannot.  Feral cats are content living outdoors
  • Studies show that feral cats are as healthy as house cats.
  • Feral cats avoid human contact, especially people they don’t know.  They don’t want to interact with you or your children.


The best thing you can do for feral and stray cats is Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR).


Simply removing feral cats from a location is very ineffective as it only opens a territorial void or “vacuum effect” and then more unaltered cats move in, starting the breeding cycle all over again! In addition, unless your local shelter has a Shelter-Neuter-Return (SNR) program the feral cats taken to a shelter will most likely be euthanized. We are fortunate in that 5 of our 6 animal shelters in Santa Clara County all have a SNR program. If you find an unaltered feral in your neighborhood it can be taken to a shelter, altered and returned to your neighborhood. “If you saw a stray cat in your community and could only chose between two courses of action – leaving the cat where it is outside or having the cat caught and then put down – which would you consider to be the more humane option for the cats? Over 80% of Americans believe that leaving a stray cat outside to live out his life is more humane than having the cat caught and killed.” – Alley Cat Allies


Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) has proven to be the most humane and effective method of managing feral cat populations. AS with SNR, TNR, is where a feral cat is humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, then returned to the location where they were trapped without being brought into a shelter. It breaks the breeding cycle while allowing the cat to live out its natural life in its original territory. It is easy to do and there are many written instructions and support groups to help you.


TNR reduces homeless cat populations by sterilizing cats so they cannot reproduce. TNR, when accompanied by ongoing homeless cat management, is the most effective, humane method of reducing homeless cat populations. Sterilization helps make cats better community citizens; colonies gradually diminish in size. By reducing or eliminating yowling associated with mating, fighting and wandering, TNR makes colonies more stable, decreases the number of newcomers and improves the health of the cats.


Feral cats can live a healthy life outdoors, alone or in colonies. They do not carry disease. They do not attack people. They do not have to be a nuisance. All across the world, people are caring for stray and feral cats. Although the roles that people choose to assume may vary, one thing remains consistent—people take great satisfaction in helping to improve the quality of life for cats. Some people carry out trapping and ensure that the cats are vetted, but they may or may not be the caregivers. Others serve as both the trapper and the colony’s caregiver. In circumstances where there are several people involved who work or live in the vicinity, the cats may enjoy a team of caregivers who feed the cats and make sure they have clean water to drink.


Relocating feral cats should be undertaken only as a LAST RESORT after all other alternative are exhausted. Because feral cats bond strongly to both territory and their caregiver, it is best to leave the cats where they live. Ferals become well-adapted to their territory and can live safely and contentedly in a host of locations. Relocating a feral colony can open up a void that allows unneutered cats to move into the area starting the cycle all over again.