Sunday 15 August 2021

For how long have feral cats been in the United States?

Common sense dictates that feral cats have been in the United States since domestic cats have been in the country. And domestic cats have been in the country for less than 500 years. I'm going to be a bit vague because we know that European settlers brought ship's cats. Cats were brought over in the early 1600s but there were earlier settlements. However, we don't know whether there were ship's cats on these boats. I think it is fair say that feral cats have been in the US for less than 500 years, say 400 years.

Early settlers into the USA with a boy playing with a black cat
Early settlers into the USA with a boy playing with a black cat. Image in the public domain.

I think it is fair, too, to state that as soon as domestic cats were landed onto American soil with English settlers, it is likely that they mated and created offspring and some of those offspring became feral. That's a reasonable assumption. They didn't have spaying and neutering of domestic cats in those days. The connection between cat caregiver and cat was looser. Full-time indoor cats were not on the radar.

All the ingredients were there, less than 500 years ago, for the creation of wondering domestic cats leading to stray cats leading to feral cats. To be a bit pedantic, we could argue that around 400 years ago there was one feral cat in America and today they are too numerous to count. Some people say that there are an equal number of feral cats to domestic cats which could put the number of feral cats at around 90 million! I think humankind screwed up cat domestication.

Other people quote much smaller numbers. Dr. John Bradshaw in his book Cat Sense states that the number of stray and feral cats in the United States is somewhere between 25 and 80 million. Feral cats obviously find living in America very conducive to procreation.

This may be because they have some distinct advantages such as decent weather in certain parts of America were it never gets too cold and the numbers are constantly added to by cat straying from the domestic cat population. Also, as they are less fearful of humans than genuine wild cats, they end up scavenging from human waste to sustain themselves when prey is difficult to find.

Thirdly, because feral cats should be domestic cats cared for in the home and because they resemble domestic cat unless they are very dirty, and because there are kind people in America, they are looked after by volunteers in TNR colonies. These good people spend their own money feeding them, neutering and spaying them, vaccinating them and providing veterinary care on occasions. A far cry from the life of the first feral cat.

P.S. Early illustrations of the era normally show dogs but not cats. Dogs were more popular in those days as they were distinctly utilitarian. The feral cat population in Australia is unknown. The authorities believe it is far too big at around 12m.

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