The last thing you want to hear when you’ve been caretaking a colony of feral cats, on your own or with a group of volunteers, is that they “need to move.” Maybe there is construction work going on in the area and the cats have to move for their own safety. Cats living in an office park, a hotel or a myriad of other high trafficked places, even if they’ve been there for years, might finally find themselves on the wrong side of a new management team who wants them out. It also may be that you are moving and there is no one local to take over feeding and caring for the cats in their current location. Relocating them to or near your new home or where new caregivers can take over may be your only option.
Whatever the reason, you or your group now is faced with the daunting task of finding a new safe haven for members of your colony. The job is made even more challenging since relocation is stressful for cats, even owned ones (See: How to get pets over the stress of moving to a new home). Once relocated, cats may try to go back to their former outdoor home and some cats may get injured or die in the process of trying to return. However if you have no choice and your colony needs to move, there are ways to go about it with the most change of success.
Take stock of your colony: Before you even beginning the process of moving your colony; assess each cat to determine if they might be placed in a home. Over time, some feral cats develop a bond with their caregivers, coming up close to them at feeding time. Some of these cats and certainly kittens, if there are any in the colony, stand a chance of adjusting to a home, given some time.
Find a safe location: If possible, move all the cats to one safe location, since the cats will be less stressed if they can remain with their colony members. If you can’t find one location to suit everyone, at least try to keep bonded cats together. Safe venues for relocating cats include barns, stables or homes in the country, all of which provide land to enable cats to roam. Just make sure the areas are not near lots of traffic or wildlife that could cause the cats harm. Some businesses also may be interested in cats for mouse control, so network among friends and family to see if they have any leads. If you are placing cats in different locations with different caregivers, make sure you get a commitment that they will provide the cats with proper care – food, water and even vet services, if needed.
Set up a confinement area: Cats need to be trained that their food source has changed. That means confining the cats in their new area(s) for at least three weeks so that they adjust to the change. Cats can be confined in a barn, a garage or in cages if there are no available buildings. Have the confinement area reads to go before you begin trapping and transporting the cats. Confinement is absolutely essential to the successful relocation of the cats, so they don’t try to return to their former home.
Move the cats: Once you trap the cats, immediately move them to their new location and settle them into their confinement area. While in confinement, the cats must have clean water, fresh food, a pet carrier or similar small shelter where they can hide. Don’t forget to scoop litter at least once or twice a day.
Follow up: If someone else is caring for the relocated colony; check in to see how the cats are doing. Visit the colony in its new location, if possible. And be sure that there is no food left at the former colony to avoid a new group of feral cats moving in.