One of the most common questions we get asked, "How many cats do you guys have?". While we don't try to be evasive, it may sound like that. With a free roaming sanctuary, we really could not say absolutely, we have X number of cats. We probably have less than one hundred, and more than 50. We do keep track of Our Regulars, which you can see in our Photo Gallery.
Managing a herd this size requires us to be constantly vigilant with multiple aspects of the colony. Our dedicated volunteers - that live on site at the sanctuary - are available to respond to problems, issues, needs, or emergencies usually as soon as they happen.
In order to ensure that we keep a safe, happy, and healthy herd, we do these things everyday - off our checklist:
As you can see, with a free roaming colony, the only real way to manage it is through hands on efforts. We need to "see" our herd mates every day, to check and see if they are healthy, is someone limping that wasn't yesterday, etc...
This also gives us the chance to medicate the herd. An example of this would be the typical summer/fall Upper Respiratory Infection (URI). Once one member of the herd catches a cold, it will flash through the colony relatively quickly. As soon as we see the runny nose, and goopy eyes, we break out the L-Lysine. There is not much you can do for a virus, other than support their immune systems. We get the 500mg pills from the local grocery store, grind them up with a mortar/pestle, and add them to the soft food.
How do we handle all these cats, don't they fight? We manage our location just as much as we manage our herd. They kind of go hand in hand.
When we introduce a new cat to the existing colony, we monitor their integration for the first few days. They stay in the Meow Motel, and adjoining barn open space. This is where we typically see how they are going to integrate into the herd. In the rare cases where we do actually get a feral cat, we introduce them very quickly to the "rocks". Using doors and gates, we show them where the feeding station is, and where we feed soft food at. We don't try and introduce these guys to Our Regulars, we just let them choose their own way.
Most of the cats that we get, that are not truly feral, are just scared. We introduce them to the feeding stations in the Meow Motel, on "The Veranda", and the Kitten Cabin. Here they can spread out, eat by themselves, and watch other herd members come and go. This has proven to be the best way to integrate a new herd member, low and slow.
We make sure that the cats always have a location they can go to where they feel safe. We have positioned our outdoor houses in "neighborhoods", and sometimes, in isolation, away from other houses. Offering your free roaming cats choices in their location is just as important as feeding them. They have to feel like they have choices, and they are not being forced into anything. Whether it be where they eat, where they sleep, and who approaches them, the cats need to be the ones that decide the interaction.