Ferals: Creatures Without Voices

Did you know that there are between 60 and 100 million homeless cats living in the US.

Often, feral cats are the babies of unaltered cats who were abandoned outdoors. These cats never had the opportunity to socialize or learn trust and live in fear of people.

Feral cats, just like our house cats, depend on people to feed, water, and shelter them and to keep them safe from harm.

Most feral cats live short, hard lives on the streets. Rarely do they die of “old age.” Some are trapped and brought to shelters where most are euthanized. There aren't a lot of options for feral cats; however many have found a way to make a difference through the TNR program.


I had the opportunity to learn more about TNR from animal advocate and friend, Cheryl Caruso.

I'm just someone who cares very deeply about animals and tries to help where I can.  I would like to leave this world a little better than I found it.
What is TNR and How Does it Work?
Trap-Neuter-Return, or "TNR," is the most humane and cost-effective method known for managing feral and stray cats and reducing their numbers. The cats, who typically live together in a group called a colony, are humanely trapped, brought to a veterinary clinic, spayed or neutered, vaccinated and ear-tipped, the universal sign that someone cared.   After they've recovered from their surgeries, the cats not socialized to humans are returned to their colony site where the caregiver provides long-term feeding, and their population gradually reduces over time.  When foster or permanent homes are available, young kittens and friendly adults can be removed and placed for adoption.
How Did You Get Started?
I was raised by animal-loving parents.  Our family bred collies so I was always surrounded by animals and they brought me great comfort.  Specific to TNR, that began as an adult when I purchased a home in a gated community that had a feral cat problem.  The township has an epidemic of feral cats (a staggering 300,000 plus).  These helpless, hurting, sick and starving cats and kittens were showing up at my door shortly after moving in, some dying at my front door.  I felt compelled to be part of the solution.
What is Your Biggest Challenge?
The biggest challenge when dealing with the general public is ignorance.  The feral cat crisis is not due to animal misconduct but rather to human error.  Behind every successful animal rescue is a group of dedicated people putting up with the most unimaginable resistance from the most unrelenting ignorance while righting the most unfathomable wrongs in the name of compassion.
The biggest challenge when dealing with the feral cats themselves is trapping.  The animal has to go in the trap in order to be successful at TNR.  Over time and with experience you find the best ways to make that happen in the majority of cases.  However, these animals are smart and can allude you for quite sometime, if not their entire lifetime.
How Do You Fund Your Program?
This work is done on a voluntary basis, there are costs involved and coordination with a vet that works with feral cats.  If you volunteer with a no-kill shelter, it's strictly your time and perhaps the cost of gas that would be required.  However, most people who work TNR are funding the program themselves, as I have consistently done.  To reduce the cost, connect with a vet in your area that will spay/neuter and test at reduced costs.  It can be a 24/7 job if you let it.  You must be physically and emotionally strong not to become burnt out, and that's a very real "cost".  Feeling overwhelmed is inevitable.  However, I have found it's worth every effort.  Ferals didn't ask to be born into harsh conditions and often are very sick.  The care they require depends on a 100% commitment to whatever it takes...countless hours of love, affection, tolerance, food, veterinary care, etc.  If you are blessed enough to capture the kittens and put the time in to socialize and watch as a once fearful, hissing, scratching, biting kitten ultimately turns into a loving, sweet, purring companion based on your input, well, there is nothing like it.  It makes the time, money, lack of sleep, hectic scheduling all the more rewarding.
What Success Are You Most Proud Of?
There are been so many success stories over the years and they all grab your heart.  Each and every one has meaning.  One that is near and dear to my heart is my cat Moo.   My better half went out for his nightly walk.  He came back with a kitten he found sitting under a car, in the wheel well, crying.  It was dark, he couldn't get a good look at her, he only knew she was screaming at the top of her lungs as if all the world had forsaken her.   When we put her in the light, we could see she was in a horrific state and barely a few weeks old.  We didn't know what had happened to her, only knew she would die without our help.  I brought her to our vet the next morning where his first impression was to put her down.  He quickly reconsidered and said, “Let me keep her today while you go to work and re-evaluate.” He determined her to be a fighter.  Although she was deeply infected with an untreated herpes virus, an infected eye and multiple mouth sores, she wanted to eat!  The decision was made that if we were willing to take her home, syringe feed her and go through whatever it might take as a foster to get her healthy, we'd see where we would all end up, and put her up for adoption.  Weeks turned into months of infection, fever, meds and finally an eye removal, all of which she was a complete trooper about.  One of us slept with her every single night to make sure she was ok.  We poured 100% of our love and resources into this kitten only to realize she wasn't going anywhere.  She was secured in our hearts, in our home and part of our family forever.
Moo copy
How Can Others Help?
Others can help by not pretending that ferals are not there.  People can help in little ways and big ways, whatever suits their financial and time constraints.  Ferals are creatures without voices.  To turn away would be tantamount to providing no assistance if witnessing a violent crime.  They ask nothing of you, have no egos, operate on intuition and natural instinct and are beautiful to watch in their natural state.   See a cat who needs your help?  Feed him .  Can't feed?   Contact your local TNR organization that can assist.    The can even provide training in TNR if you'd like to get involved trapping.  If you have the resources to foster, contact your local no-kill shelter and put in an application.  All the costs are incurred by the shelter so that's a great way to be involved, spread your loving energy, and help without impacting your finances.   As Mother Theresa said, "Not all of us can do great things, but we can all do things with great love."  Reach out.  Care.  It's really just that simple.
About Cheryl:
Rev. Cheryl Caruso, PhD Candidate, CNC, APP is a Board Certified Holistic Health Practitioner, accredited by The American Association of Drugless Practitioners, a Professional Member of The American Association of Nutritional Consultants, a Polarity Therapist, as well as an Ordained Interfaith Minister, a graduate of The New Seminary, chartered by The Board of Regents of The University of New York and a CBD Educator and Senior Director for Kannaway, a Division of Medical Marijuana Inc. .  Other professional affiliations include The American Association of Holistic Health, The Coalition of Natural Health, and The Association of Interfaith Ministers.  Rev. Caruso has been a student of A Course in Miracles since 1995, and has been living a life based on the principles she teaches for over 25 years, counseling patients in her practice since 1998.