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A social disgrace, an indictment of our species and a heartbreaking reality of modern society – the feral and stray cat population is not only a solvable problem, it's largely our own fault in the first place.
It is true that cats can be very independent creatures, and some do choose to stray, but in the vast majority of cases, the problem starts with us and is down to a couple of simple facts.
The first cause is people who either don't know how, or choose not to bother, to look after their cat properly, ultimately leading the cat to look for a better place to live. These people, either through ignorance or selfishness, lay the foundations for the misery of thousands of cats, forced to fight for what they need to survive.
This is true of both the cats they neglect and of their offspring, and to make matters worse, living wild virtually halves the life expectancy of their once beloved pet.
The second problem is a failure to spay or neuter. An un-neutered male cat will wander further and more often, will get into more fights, will spray their territory with foul smelling pheromones and will go on to make many more little cats every year. If they go feral too the problem is compounded.
If all non-breeders' cats were spayed and neutered not only would fewer cats stray in the first place but the stray cat population would also be limited to one generation.
In the USA there are large-scale TNR (Trap Neuter Return) programs that, whilst they don't provide homes, they do go a long way toward limiting the growth of the feral population. Schemes like these have yet to reach our shores, but that doesn't mean you can't do your bit.
The first thing we can do is to make sure our pet cats are spayed and neutered as early as possible.
There is often a feeling amongst cat owners that they should let their female cat have one litter before getting spayed, as they may feel they've missed out on motherhood if they don't. In reality, this idea is simply a human concept that doesn't apply to cats.
Cats don't know that mating leads to babies; to them it's nothing more than a biological urge. Spaying your cat removes the urge and the possibility of pregnancy so all maternal urges that might follow simply don't happen.
That's not to say a spayed female cat will be less loving. It also doesn't mean they won't have the urge to look after kittens in need, they often do; they just won't make any kittens of their own.
Neutering Male cats is an even simpler argument to make. Neutered males simply don't have the urge to mate and that's all there is to it. It's also a somewhat pleasant surprise to many people that neutered males are more relaxed and friendly, less likely to wander off and are much less likely to continue to spray.
There is nothing cruel or untoward about neutering and spaying, and in almost every instance it is actually the best thing you can do for the cat, and for the many future generations of cats that might otherwise be born into a difficult and dangerous environment.
The next thing we can do is to look after any strays or ferals in our own neighbourhood. Looking after them not only includes feeding them, but also if you can afford it, get them any necessary medical attention, including spaying or neutering, you can then let them go again if you like. Often stray cats will return to a kind home after the operation and will, if allowed, become part of the family through their own choice.
Regardless of what you can personally do for an individual stray, there is one thing we can all do – help to educate all cat owners about the stray and feral problem and the benefits of treating cats properly - including getting them neutered.
We must all take responsibility for this disgrace and we must all take positive action to fix the situation we have created.
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