There are tens of millions of them in the United States and, chances are, a few in your own neighborhood, ducking and diving and trying to survive. But are they ferals, or are they strays?

Ferals were born and raised in the “wild,” and keep their distance, explains Jane Ehrlich, feline behavorist ( Strays can, very cautiously, hover around the patio or food bowl.

“Unlike many strays, ferals aren’t going to be truly socialized, and no shelter wants them,” Ehrlich points out. “When they’re under 10 weeks, there is a reasonable chance their ‘edges’ can be softened; it’s that 2-10 week period for them to be socialized that’s crucial. Even with a lot of human love, they won’t be as tamed in nature.”

Strays, once owned but now abandoned or lost, have adapted to the harsh outside life. Those “community cats,” as they’re sometimes called, are more at ease around people, even with the caution that comes with harsh survival, and are more reliant on compassionate people for food.

“Life’s difficult out there,” Ehrlich says. “Those kids suffer weather extremes: cold, snow, intense heat, rain. They also face starvation, infection and attacks by other animals.”

According to the ASPCA, half of feral kittens die from disease, exposure or parasites before their first year. If a feral survives kitten-hood, his lifespan is fewer than two years if living on his own. “If lucky enough to be in a colony that has a caretaker, he may reach, perhaps, 10 years,” Ehrlich says.

“As a feline behaviorist, I’ve rarely seen ferals that old, but with a dedicated person or group offering TNR (trap/neuter/return), regular meals and proper shelter, they can live a reasonable life of several years.”

Contact Altered Tails (602-943-7729) or the Arizona Humane Society (602-997-7585, option #5) for low-cost spay and neuter information for ferals.


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