“I own a truck repair company that services the very large vehicles that are the backbone of goods transportation across North America. Recently we found evidence that rodents had been chewing through wiring insulation. Today, much of it is soy instead of petroleum-based and this is attractive to rats and other rodents.
“If you saw the Disney movie Ratatouille, these are not like adorable Remy.
Some of ‘our’ rats are enormous, and mean-looking. A couple of them gorged themselves on so much insulation that they apparently decided to take a little after-lunch nap and could not get out when a technician started the motor. It didn’t take long before the most peculiar odor filled the shop. Opening the hood led to the discovery of ‘filet of roasted rat in motor oil.’
“Well, Mr. Beaver, the first thing we thought was ‘Get a cat!’ But next day, out of nowhere appeared two beautiful white cats. They were chasing a rat. We tried to approach them, but they ran away, so obviously they are feral cats. One of our employees loves cats, and he’s been buying cat food, setting it out for them, as they have taken up residence under a little shed we have in the rear of the property.
“Last week the next door neighbor came over and said there is a law against feeding feral cats. I looked it up, and he is correct, but I do not understand why we can’t feed them. Can you explain why?”
Valid Reasons for Not Feeding Feral or Stray Cats
For an answer, I contacted Norfolk, Virginia-based PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and spoke with Animal Care and Control Issues Manager Teresa Chagrin. She has passionately worked for animal rights “my entire adult life,” and her dedication came right through the phone lines during our chat.
“Dennis, there is a valid reason why many states and cities have laws aimed at preventing the feeding of feral animals, and specifically cats. This is a huge issue across America,” she observes.
“It is important to understand that the media describes all homeless cats as feral, even if they are extremely social and have never spent a day outside in their life. Possibly their owners might have moved or just put them out. So, not all homeless cats are feral. A feral animal–such as a cat--is a domestic animal who has never been socialized or lived with people. They have lived in the wild. It does not make them wild animals, it makes them feral animals.”
Leaving Food for Feral Cats Lures Wildlife - Cats are Killers
I asked Chagrin, “What is the risk in leaving food out for feral cats?
“Part of the problem is that when you leave food out for homeless or feral cats, it lures all kinds of wildlife to these bowls of cat food. There is a reason we are told to not feed the bears or any wild or feral animal. This disrupts their natural behavior and lures them into areas they would otherwise stay away from.”
“Next, domestic cats in the US kill billions of birds and reptiles, every year. Cats are the largest human-related cause of wildlife decimation in our country. Leaving your own cat to roam at night is destroying our bio-diversity. Cats kill even when well fed. They are natural born hunters,” she points out, adding:
“And we must not forget the fact that diseases pass between cats and other species that can kill wildlife who have eaten out the bowls of food left for feral cats. We have seen typhus outbreaks traceable to fleas on cats. So it’s bad for cats who belong indoors, for wildlife and public health.”
But, we hear, “Get a cat if you’ve got rodents. Is that true or just a myth?” I asked Chagrin.
“People see fewer rats and assume it's because the cats have killed them—but it's actually due to the rats changing their behavior, and this was confirmed by an interesting study done by researchers at Fordham university in 2017 to see what the presence of cats would do to a rat colony at a Brooklyn waste management facility.
“When the rats sensed the presence of cats, they modified their behavior and kept out of sight.”
If you see feral cats on your property what should you do? Chagrin offered these suggestions:
“Don’t feed them! Instead, call Animal Control and your local animal shelter. They may be able to set out a trap for the cats and will instruct you in what to do if one is caught.’
“Finally,” she recommends, “Rodent-proofing buildings, keep trash in secure, covered containers, and clear areas near buildings that may be attractive nesting spots.”