Thursday, January 21, 2016

Answer Your FERAL Cat’s Question Day

People tend to have lots of questions about feral cats: Why do they live outside? Who takes care of them? Why do they run when I approach? Answers to these questions and much more can be found in our handbook, Alley Cat Rescue’s Guide to Managing Community Cats. (Available from Amazon and our website.)

But, since it’s Answer Your Cat’s Question Day, we thought we’d answer the questions we here from FERAL cats going through our Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program. 

Q:           Ahh! Why am I stuck in this wire box? I only came in for a tuna snack!
A:            Don’t worry buddy, it’s only a humane trap. We’re going to have you checked out by a friendly doctor, and this is the safest way to gather you up for the car ride. We know you’re probably pretty scared right now, so here’s a blanket over the top to make it feel more like the safe hiding spots you like.

Q:           I feel woozy. Why can’t I stay awake?
A:            You’re about to have some routine surgery, and that’s the anesthesia that will make you sleep right through it. You’re female, so it’s called spaying. The doctor will make a small incision on your stomach, and afterward you won’t have to worry about nursing any more babies or getting cancer in your reproductive organs. If you were a boy, it’d be called a neuter. The spay and neuter procedures are safe and they bring about your calmer selves, leaving you and your male friends with much less of an urge to roam, yowl, spray, or get in fights, which your human neighbors really appreciate. 

Q:           Ok, I’m awake again, but the reflection in the mirror looks funny. Are the drugs still making me bonkers?
A:            Yes, but that’s you in the mirror all right. The doctor gave you a little cosmetic surgery too, in the form of an ear-tip. She snipped off the top ¼” of your left ear so that from now on when people see you, they’ll know you’re vaccinated, sterilized, and part of a colony that gets food, water, and shelter from a compassionate caregiver. It’s the universal symbol that show’s you’re being cared for.

Q:           My flanks are sore too, like I got poked. What gives?
A:            Our friendly doctor gave you vaccinations for rabies and distemper, which will help you and your friends stay healthy. You also got flea and worm treatment to take care of those pesky parasites. All of this will help keep your whole colony healthy, and keep any disease or parasite from passing from you to people or domestic pets.

Q:           I’ve been in the trap for a few days and was beginning to think it was my new tiny home. But now I'm back outside, and I think these trees look familiar…
 A:            We’re returning you to your home! We can see you’re not at all interested in snuggling with giants that walk on two legs, so we brought you back to the home you’re comfortable at; your outdoor colony. Your caretaker will be by every day to bring fresh food and water, and has set up some cozy, insulated shelters for you to sleep in.  

Q:           This has been fun ACR, am I free to go?
A:            Yes, and here's a short-cut through the fence!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Trim a Nail, Save a Couch

Nail trimming is one of the basics of cat care that every caregiver and foster parent should try to master. Each and every cat does have claws after all (you know not to declaw, right?). Nail trimming is done by holding your cat’s paw, gently squeezing the toe to reveal the nail, and then clipping off only the sharp point while taking care not to cut too much off by cutting to the quick.

Nail trimming benefits cats by keeping their nails from growing too long and curling under, which can irritate the toe pad and cause pain. For cat guardians, it can reduce the incidence of accidental scratching, such as when playing with your cat, and also can reduce damage to furniture and household items. Trimming also provides guardians an opportunity to inspect the cat’s feet and toes for debris or injury.

Whether loop or straight handles, pick whichever works best in your hands and on your cat's nails.
There are a range of styles of pet nail clippers that can be used. Those labeled for cats are generally smaller and designed for cutting small nails, but small dog and puppy nail trimmers can work well too. Some look like traditional scissors with finger loops for handles, while others have straight handles. (In our experience, trimmers with the familiar finger loops often feel too small for our human hands and are awkward to use. We prefer the straight handles like the model shown below.) Try a few different styles to see what works best for you and your cat.

Perhaps the biggest challenge when trimming nails is finding a way to hold your cat still. The cats in our care span the range of tolerance for and experience with nail clipping, so here at ACR we use a few techniques to get every nail trimmed.

For cats new to nail clipping, it can be beneficial to go through the motions a few times, but skip the actual trimming. Allowing your cat to smell the clippers, or gently massaging her paws and then providing a tasty treat can build trust and help her become comfortable with having her paws handled. As your cat becomes more comfortable, you can start by trimming just one nail or paw and then letting her go for a stress relieving break. Eventually you can work your way up to clipping all nails in one sitting.

Some cats enjoy (or at least tolerate!) the occasional mani/pedi, and will sit in our lap and just let it happen. For a relaxed cat like this, we will hold her on her back in our lap and go from paw to paw, giving treats as necessary if she starts to squirm.

Linus gets wrapped up for his regular nail trim.
For those like Linus who don’t enjoy the process, first we try wrapping them in a blanket (like a kitty burrito) and pulling one paw out at a time for trimming. This serves to gently confine the cat and in some cases wrapping within a soft blanket calms them.

Of course, there are cats who never learn to calmly accept a nail clipping. If you have a helper and are comfortable working with a resistant cat, you can use what we call the scruff-and-stretch technique. This involves firmly grasping the skin on the back of the cat’s neck (i.e. scruffing, which doesn’t cause pain), while holding the cat’s body outstretched on a flat surface. This is a two-person technique, needing one to hold the cat by the scruff and lower body or legs, and another to clip the nails.

If you don’t have a helper or aren’t comfortable trimming on your own, you can always ask your vet or groomer for assistance. You can also use Soft Paws or Kitty Caps as an alternative to trimming. These products are small plastic sleeves that are glued on over a cat’s nail, and can be a fun, colorful alternative.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Spread Compassion for Cats in 2016

To feel compassion is to feel that we are in some sort and to some extent responsible for the pain that is being inflicted, that we ought to do something about it.
                Aldous Huxley - “Abstraction,” Texts and Pretexts: An Anthology of Poetry with Commentarie.

When we find a stressed out mother cat nursing her tiny new babies in a cardboard box next to a trash dumpster, it is this ethic of compassion that drives us to take action. When a skinny and flea-infested stray cat approaches us in an alley way and nuzzles our leg for attention, it is compassion that allows us to recognize his suffering and compels us to offer help.

One of our goals for 2016 is to spread compassion through our work and to change the negative attitudes some have for stray, feral, and community cats. One of the primary tools for doing this will be our new book, Alley Cat Rescue’s Guide to ManagingCommunity Cats. Our book not only provides step-by-step instructions for how to manage a colony of cats with trap-neuter-return (TNR), but also provides a broader picture of who cats are. There are chapters on the origins of domestic felines; how they evolved; how they behave and survive outdoors; and indoor versus outdoor cats and the unique needs of each.

In particular, we’ll be targeting our message to policymakers, and our Guide will be especially useful here as well. With science-based information about cats and predation, zoonotic diseases, reproduction, and social behavior, the book offers vital information officials need to back up their support of TNR programs and humane, non-lethal care for feral cats. We want as many sets of eyes as possible to see our book and read our message of compassion for cats, and that’s where you can help.
If you have a town council or mayor who’s reluctant to help cats, send them a copy of our Guide. If officials are proposing feeding bans or outdated catch-and-kill schemes in your area, buy them a copy and bookmark the chapter, “The Effectiveness of TNR Programs: Why Eradication Does Not Work.” Do you work or volunteer at a shelter with a high-kill rate? Bring a few copies in to share, or leave one in the breakroom open to page 32, which discusses how targeted TNR programs can greatly reduce shelter euthanasia and intake rates.

To reach a broad public audience, you can donate a copy to your local library, or drop a few copies into your neighborhood’s sharing library. And never forget close friends and family; even if they are not “cat people” we believe that reading our book will guide them to a new level of appreciation and respect for the fascinating felines that live among us.

Each day, the ethic of compassion is what drives us to “do something” for neglected, abused, abandoned, dumped, and suffering cats, especially feral cats who have been labeled as pests and vilified just for existing. We hope you’ll join us this year in educating your community about feral cats and spreading compassion for all the living creatures in our midst.

Alley Cat Rescue’s Guide to Managing Community Cats is now available from and our website,