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January 11, 2012

Feral Cats: Taking the Chill Out of Winter

The Humane Society of the United States


  • A feral cat checks out his new outdoor enclosure in the warmer months before winter set in. Audrey Kramer/The HSUS


  • Feral cats visit their outdoor home in upstate New York. Audrey Kramer/The HSUS


  • There are many ways you can help feral cats in your neighborhood. Audrey Kramer/The HSUS

by Nancy Peterson

Winter can be brutal in upstate New York, where temperatures in the single-digits are common. For animals living outside, sometimes even their fur coats aren't enough to keep them alive. No one is more aware of this than Audrey Kramer, a feral cat caretaker from Rochester.

How it began

There are many paths to becoming a feral cat caretaker. Audrey Kramer's path began on Mother's Day 10 years ago, when she found and carefully rounded up a litter of 4-week-old kittens living under her porch.

After she finally found a veterinarian willing to work with her, Kramer tried her hand at trapping the kittens' wild mother. She was elated when she heard the trap door close. Stray Mama's days of motherhood were happily ended when Kramer transported the cat to the veterinary hospital to be spayed, vaccinated, and ear-tipped. Following her recovery, the lucky cat was taken under the wing of an experienced feral cat caretaker who would continue to provide food, water, shelter, and care for as long as Stray Mama lived.

Helping ferals

Once Kramer became involved with feral cats, there was no stopping her. On her own time and dime, she trapped about 40 cats at a local dairy farm. She returned the spayed and neutered cats to the farm and set up feeding stations for them.

Although there was lots of straw in the barn for the cats to burrow into, Kramer also provided straw-filled shelters for those bitter winter nights. On one particular night, Kramer's heart melted when five cats climbed out of one small shelter to greet her.

Here's what you can do to help feral cats in your community »

Although Kramer moved away from the area, she still travels an hour each day to feed the remaining barn cats. If un-fixed cats show up at the farm, it's easier to help them now because there are several non-profit organizations in Rochester helping caretakers like Kramer.

Where are they now?

The four feisty kittens Kramer rescued from under her porch are all doing well. Although Kramer had no experience socializing feral kittens, she had help from her resident male cat, Pookie. He took a particular interest in the rambunctious kittens, regularly playing with them and grooming them. Much to Pookie's delight, Kramer kept two of the kittens, who she named Mac and Arthur. The two other kittens were adopted out, and, after all these years, Stray Mama continues to do well thanks to her dedicated caretaker.

What you can do to help feral cats

In addition to food, water, and shelter, feral cats need to be spayed and neutered so they don't continue to reproduce. You can make a difference. Thanks to many dedicated people and organizations, it's now easy to find assistance to help feral cats. Who knows where the path may take you?

Learn more about making shelters for ferals

Simple Cat Shelter Design
Making Plans For Feral Cats
Fancy Digs for Ferals

Nancy Peterson is cat programs manager in the Companion Animals section of The HSUS.

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