The Country Life: Humane Society helps put some cats to work

March 4, 2017 Updated: March 4, 2017 at 2:43 pm
photo - This feral cat stays away from people but likes hanging out in the Radford barn with the other animals. Photo by Bill Radford, The Gazette
This feral cat stays away from people but likes hanging out in the Radford barn with the other animals. Photo by Bill Radford, The Gazette 

My wife and I didn't go looking for a barn cat; instead, one found us.

Our neighbor Shirley manages a feral cat colony, and one of those cats seems to have taken a liking to our property. It often can be found hanging out in the barn with the horse, mule and goats. Since it presumably has taken on the job of rodent control, and since the other animals don't seem to mind, we're happy to have it.

For those who haven't been adopted by a barn cat but want one, the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region might be able to help. The Humane Society has two categories available for adoption: general adoption barn cats and feral, less social barn cats.

"General adoption barn cats are cats we know to have outdoor experience, come with known hunting experience, and are cats who might not necessarily do well in an indoor-only environment, but they have presented us with no behavior issues and are generally good to be around people and other animals," Ami Manivong, feline programs manager, explained in an email. "Sometimes cats who are used to being outdoors don't adjust well to being indoor-only. The barn cat program provides an option for these cats."

The more social barn cats are housed in the Humane Society's cat adoption center. The feral ones are not in the public viewing area.

"This is to help reduce their stress and for the safety of everyone," Manivong said. "We use feral dens (boxlike structures) in our kennels to help staff remain safe when caring for them. The feral dens provide a safe place for the cat to be in without having physical access to the staff. These cats are not likely to be social, don't want to be handled, and will often hide."

Not having the feral barn cats on display makes adoption more challenging, Manivong said. One tool that helps is an online questionnaire.

"When an interested adopter lets me know they are specifically interested in a feral cat, I try to match them with a suitable cat," she said. "The questionnaire basically serves as an 'ordering' process. It is automatically emailed to us once it's completed via our website, and we will reach out to the potential adopter to have a more thorough conversation. That questionnaire gets the ball rolling."

The questionnaire includes queries about the facility where the barn cat will stay and what will be provided, such as bedding and heated water bowls.

"A barn cat with both indoor/outdoor experience may prefer an actual cat bed to sleep in (for example), but many feral barn cats are accustomed to sleeping on hay or something similar," Manivong said. "The initial conversation is when I take the opportunity to educate the adopter if necessary. Heated water bowls are not a necessity, but in cold Colorado winters they can be really beneficial. I also let the adopter know that many cats cannot thrive just on rodents because they are not considered to be nutritionally complete - they also need to be supplemented with a regular cat food diet."

To keep a newly adopted barn cat from wandering off, the Humane Society recommends an acclimation period; Manivong encourages adopters to set up the cat in a large dog crate at first.

"Cats are very territorial," she said, "so when we place them in a new territory, they need to re-establish their resources - food, water, bedding, etc. This generally requires time and patience. This is time for the owner to bond with the barn cat as well, which is so important when trying to get a cat used to his new home."

Feline adoption fees are reduced to $25 for a single barn cat or $40 for two. (A $15 license fee per cat applies for adopters living within Colorado Springs city limits). "Even though their fees are reduced," Manivong said, "they still come with the same pet adoption package a non-barn cat would come with - spay or neuter surgery, voucher for a veterinarian exam, vaccinations, pet health insurance, a microchip and lifetime registration, and their left ear is tipped to indicate they are a part of an outdoor/community cat program."

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