Yes, cat caregiver is a real term. I recently ran across this term while researching some cat rescue related content and realized that I am a cat caregiver and, even better, a cat caregiver with a free-roaming cat colony. Take that, cat ladies!
According to some of the articles I’ve read on the subject, being a cat caregiver includes feeding, making sure they have access to fresh water, getting the cats spayed/neutered, attending to sick or injured cats as necessary, etc. However, there are a few things I have found to also be true of a cat caregiver, especially if you are maintaining a free-roaming cat colony.
In addition to the above, the following are my tips and tricks for maintaining a successful cat colony;
- Just like with indoor cats, let the cat come to you on his own terms. He will either eventually warm up to you, having built trust with you (stray), or he’ll continue to make his rounds through your yard, glaring at you as he walks by (feral). Either way, he’ll be eating the food you left out for him. Don’t take it personally.
- Spend as much time giving your outdoor kitties affection as you can. Anyone who doesn’t know better will tell you that cats are just here for the food and that is partially right but, when they are getting fed regularly, are feeling good and cared for, their needs turn more to affection. So much so that they will bypass food you’ve left out for them in search of some good ol’ TLC. Even though outside kitties generally have multiple food resources, it’s not often that they also have friendships with those sources. So, make the time, let them know they are loved. It keeps them friendly with you and with other cats in the colony. The hope being that, eventually, you can find a good home for the ones that are now used to regular human interaction.
- Partner with your local SPCA or veterinary clinic. Especially in areas where feral and stray cats are rampant, there are generally spay/neuter programs in place for either free or discounted services and vaccines. A Havahart (have-a-heart) trap is great to have around for those untouchable feral kitties or any random male that shows up looking for a female in season. . . Ooooor if a possum decides to move into your garage after finding kitty food there. It happens.
- Reflective cat collars with bells for the cats that are friendly with you/allow you to touch them. Not only does it make them more visible to drivers at night, the bell helps alert birds and bats when they are being hunted so they have a better chance of survival. The bell is also a friendly alert when your kitties are nearby and in need of your attention.
- Build a raccoon-proof raised, freestanding house or covered platform for your colony (that they may or may not use). Wrap the bottom of the platform with metal sheeting, which raccoons are unable to grab hold of. Also, be sure to place the structure in an area away from buildings or trees that raccoons could then drop down or crawl over from. Raccoons can climb but they can’t jump so this will keep them from being able to eat all the cat food in one sitting while still giving your kitties easy jumping access to the platform. This is especially handy if you leave town for a few days at a time and don’t want to leave your colony without a food and water resource.
- Have a backup caregiver. While the above mentioned platform is an awesome resource, it is no replacement for an actual human overseeing the care of your colony. The platform can make your backup caregiver’s life a little easier but you should always have someone checking up on your colony while you are gone.
- Give up on your patio or outside furniture being your own. If there are cushions to sit on, they will be sat upon by your outside kitties. All day. Every day. If possible, buy or create safe, warm spaces for your kitties to snuggle up, especially if you live in an area that freezes over night. Cat bed liners with the heat reflective material inside that reflect the body’s own warmth back to it are a nice, inexpensive option that the cats seem to really appreciate on cold nights.
- Create space. Even though kitties of a single colony are friendly enough with each other and get along, they are still instinctually contending for resources. That means creating perceived separation, especially when there are 5 or more cats, to keep the peace. Have several feeding stations around your property where the kitties can come and go with little to no interaction with other cats of the colony, if they prefer. This includes watering stations and bedding areas as well.
- Finally, understand that, as much as you try and as much as it may feel like it sometimes, the lives of your free-range kitties are not entirely within your control and protection. You are here as a guardian and caretaker but you won’t be able to protect them from everything, especially cars, vicious dogs and wild animals. Do your best, do what you can, but never blame yourself for something that is ultimately beyond your control. Control is an illusion in all aspects of life and being a cat caregiver of a free-roaming cat colony is no different. That being said, be sure that your local non-emergency and emergency animal control phone numbers are programmed into your phone or kept somewhere handy, just in case.
Obviously, a cat colony is not for everyone as it is a commitment. The cats you choose to care for depend on you. If a colony of free-roaming kitties happens to find you and adopt you as their caregiver, my hope is that you’ll find my advice helpful and that you will be encouraged to assist in any way you can. I believe you will find it quite satisfying and your neighborhood stray and feral kitties will thank you for it, each in their own way.
For more resources on becoming a cat caregiver, please check out Feral Cat FOCUS of WNY They have a ton of great information on caring for your local stray and feral kitties.
If there are any other cat caregivers out there, let me know in the comments, what would you add to this list?