“In Maricopa County, cats are not subject to the same licensing and leash laws as dogs so Maricopa County Animal Care and Control (MCACC) cannot pick up stray or feral cats for the shelter or take action against those feeding cats in their neighborhoods. Many times, members of the community may act as Colony Managers ensuring that a feral cat colony is a Managed Colony (cats in these communities are usually fed, watered, vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and monitored for overall health). Other times, the cats are self-reliant and can survive in the neighborhood on their own, without any direct assistance.” (MCCAC)
If you are interested in becoming a feral cat colony caregiver, the following guidelines and suggestions will help you provide proper care to your feral cat colony:
Proper management of a feral/free-roaming cat colony is a long term, year round responsibility and should not be undertaken lightly. If you cannot commit to proper care and long-term management, do not put food out for any cat. Once you put food out you become a “colony manager” and the cats become dependent on you.
Be on alert for any new cats which might enter the colony. Immediately trap, sterilize, and identify them before returning them to the colony. This provides humane care while gradually reducing the number of cats in a feral cat colony. See our page on TNR
Use the Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate and Return (TNRV) method. Keep a record for each cat. Keeping track of colony members, their health, new cats that have joined the colony that may need to be neutered, and your ongoing Trap- Neuter- Vaccinate- Return program allows you to monitor your progress and provides you with back-up evidence that may be needed someday. Include description, gender, age, date when spayed/neutered, and vaccinations.
Work with local animal humane organizations in an effort to find homes for cats that appear to be socialized, stray, or abandoned.
Leave feral kittens with their mothers until they are approximately five weeks old. At that time you can capture and socialize them for adoption. If you can not commit to the time and care to socialize kittens, leave them with their colony and spay/neuter them at about 12 weeks.
If you go on a trip or move, arrange for a new caregiver or neighbor to handle colony duties. Remember! The cats depend on you and it is better for them to stay where they are currently living.
Consider having backup caregivers to care for the colony, especially in the winter months.
Create a feeding site. A feeding station establishes a specific area where the cats know to come for food, so they spend as little time exposed to the elements as possible.
Feed and monitor the colony on a daily basis at approximately the same time every day. The cats will look forward to the food arriving and it will make it easier to check on the health of the colony.
Never care for a colony of cats on property you do not own or do not have permission to be on in (this should be in writing). You are putting the cat’s life in the hands of the unknown. The cats will depend on you and you might be forced to stop caring for them. Then what will become of the cats?
Purchase several large plastic water bowls from pet stores or a discount store. Look for ones that have a wide base so they easily tip over. Fill a large soda bottle or water bottle with water and store on site so you always have water handy. Be sure to keep water clean at all times.
To protect food and water from the elements, place them in a covered shelter (feeding station). This will protect the cats as they eat or drink. There are many variations and types of feeding stations to put food and water in. They can be purchased pre-made or you can build your own.
A simple feeding station with a roof and sides will protect food and cats. It’s important that one side of the feeding station be open because only a small opening or doorway could allow one cat to stay or sleep in there and keep the other cats out. A stand with a sloping roof, open on two sides, and off the ground, may be all that is needed for several cats to eat together.
One of our favorite feeding stations is a Rubbermaid storage bin. It’s easy to clean because of the removable top and quick to put together. Small automatic feeders and waterers will fit inside. Use a box-cutter to cut out most of one of the long sides, leaving a few inches off the ground to prevent flooding. Having difficulty cutting the plastic? Try blowing hot air from a hairdryer on the area where you plan to cut. This softens the plastic and makes it easier to cut through.
When feeding in the summer, bugs can pose a problem. To help keep bugs out of the food place a small heavy bowl in the middle of a slightly larger bowl. Partially fill the larger bowl with water. The bugs cannot get to the food because it is surrounded by water.
In the winter, take hot water to the feeding stations. This helps keep water drinkable for a while before it freezes. If you have a feeding station near an electrical outlet, an electrically powered water bowl designed to keep the water at a temperature above freezing is an option. These are available at most pet supply stores and feed stores.
Do not encourage wildlife to eat at the feeding stations. Many feral cat colonies have been eliminated due to people feeding wildlife. Think of the long-term commitment you have made to the cats and keep a low profile so you don’t anger neighbors.
Always keep the feeding area clean and neat. This will prevent neighbors getting angry as well as keeping the night creatures such as skunks and raccoons out of the feeding area.
FOOD AND WATER:
Provide fresh food and water at a consistent time each day. Feral cats soon learn when the food arrives and will be waiting for a fresh supply of rations, even if they are hiding in nearby bushes.
Never feed cats at night. This will encourage skunks, raccoons and other nocturnal animals to come for food. Only feed feral/free-roaming community cats during daylight hours.
Never throw food on the ground as this will encourage rodents to come to your feeding areas. Feeding stations and areas should be kept clean and neat. Do not leave dirty dishes lying around. Be a good neighbor and in return your free-roaming cats will be good neighbors.
In the winter months, cats need extra calories to maintain their energy levels so be sure to provide colony residents with extra rations. if you know your colony will eat right away, warm up the canned food prior to taking it to the feeding site and add a little warm water to the food for extra moisture. Always provide dry food because canned food will eventually freeze.
In summer months flies are attracted to canned food so offer limited amounts of canned food during the summer months. Also in the warmer months, keep the canned cat food separate from the dry food.
BE A GOOD NEIGHBOR WHEN CARING FOR CATS
It is common for conflicts to stem from issues between neighbors or people living in the same area as a feral cat colony. Try to resolve problems with neighbors immediately and don’t wait until problems only get worse. For the health of the cats and for good community relations:
Get the cats spayed or neutered and vaccinated as soon as possible.
Keep the feeding location neat and clean.
Keep food dishes in one place to facilitate cleanup and to provide a tidy appearance.
Remove feeding dishes within 30 minutes.
*Remember, in Arizona all cats are considered free-roaming and all cats, including feral cats, are protected by law. Please see ARS 13-2910.