This winter, thousands of feral cats will be subjected to bitter cold, a lack of food and fresh water – but you can help keep them safe. All it takes is a bit of compassion and some creativity to save a homeless critter from freezing or starving during these long, cold months – the animal shelters can’t do it all by themselves. If there are homeless, feral cats in your neighborhood, please take it upon yourself to offer them a little support this Christmas.
First things first: those kitties need some shelter. In the summer, feral cats make do with whatever sort of shelter they can find: the spaces underneath porches or behind apartment washing machines; even overgrown fences. When the snow comes, a lot of these spots are filled up with snow and ice and become unusable. You can help out by setting up dog houses, lean-tos and even old Tupperware bins with an entry hole cut in one side. Anything will work, so long as it keeps out the weather. Smaller shelters are a better option for cats because it takes less time for the animal to heat up the space and keep it warm.
For added warmth, try to add some hay or straw to the shelter. Never use clothing or blankets because they can freeze to the cat’s body and cause additional physical problems. Adding hay or straw makes the shelter more comfortable and helps the cats warm up when they are inside. If you have access to fresh, clean straw, it’s the best choice for insulation. Straw helps retain heat while repelling moisture, which makes it the best option. The shelter doesn’t need to be pretty, or scented like cat nip; it just needs to be accessible and visible to the feral cats in your area.
The thing about feral cats is – and if you are an animal lover, you probably already know this – they are generally terrified of people. You won’t be able to pick up an outside kitty and just plop him down in his new shelter, so try to entice him in with a nice offering of food near the entrance. Feral cats are great at hunting out free snacks, even in the snow, so as long as you leave a nice meal near the shelter, it will be found.
The next thing you should provide for your outdoor cat community is food and water. This can be tricky, since food and water are both messy, wet and liable to freeze solid in harsh climates. Don’t try to put dishes inside the cat shelter, since they will be spilled and the cats will be frightened when you try to put your hands in their shelter. Instead, keep a feeding station near the shelter so it is easy to access for both you and the cats. Most importantly, don’t forget the water dish and let it freeze – cats can easily die of dehydration during the winter when all water sources are frozen.
Try to feed the cats on a regular schedule, if you can. They will get to know this schedule quickly, which ensures that they won’t be scared when they see you coming. It also is better for their little stomachs, and will help them keep warm.
It isn’t difficult to change a feral cat’s life this winter; once you see what a difference a little warmth and fresh water makes, you’ll be filled with a Christmas spirit that lasts all year long. If you need any help to keep your local ferals safe, contact your nearest Humane Society or animal rescue group. Animal rescue societies are always grateful for help, and they may even have some supplies that you can use for free!
Merry Christmas, happy winter and happy kitties!
By Mandy Gardner