Unexpected changes/dangers in the neighborhood and I'm struggling with deciding what's best for my outdoor cats

gemjasmine

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Two years and one month ago, a litter of cats were born in my backyard. My parents and I cared for the litter, even found a home for one of them, but ultimately decided to TNR the mother and remaining three cats. Only, the cats never actually wandered off to do their own thing. They became pets who took residence in our backyard and only wandered off for about 5 hours each day. We provided shelter, food, toys, etc in our backyard and the cats seemed content. Our neighbors understood the situation (my parents reached out to them) and agreed not to harm/trap them if they jumped the fence.

This arrangement worked for two years.

Then, four months ago, their mother died. I found her body while checking the mail. She had no marks on her and to this day I don't know what happened, but that event knocked the delusion that the cats would be fine outdoors. Additionally, the neighborhood has become increasingly dangerous over the past year. I've noticed four different large loose dogs running around by our house. Something is driving wildlife to check-out the backyard (racoons, opossums) despite me never leaving food out. And the neighbors directly next door from us are moving. I worry about these cats every time they wander, and I've been spiraling into panic attacks wondering who will replace our next-door neighbors. If something were to happen to the cats, I'm not sure I would survive it. I still have nightmares about their mother.

Despite my love for them, the cats have also been horrible for my mental health. I'm autistic with severe anxiety/depression. I've gotten so attached to these cats that even my own parents going into the backyard makes me panic. I've had numerous panic attacks and am now suffering physical health problems from the stress.

I just want my cats safe. There are a few options I've considered:

1) There are two local cat havens I've been looking at. Here and here. My ultimate goal is to find a safe, loving permanent home for the two bonded cats, especially since they are not completely feral and have always been around humans, and then keep the last one as an indoor only cat.

2) My dad offered to hire some people to build a catio where the cats could stay protected and together. I'm not sure about the specifics of this, but having them in one, safe spot will help with being able to find suitable homes for them long-term.

3) Leave them be. I absolutely do not want this due to my own worsening mental health. But if that's what's best for them, then I'll try my best to incentivize them not to wander.

Please help me decide what's best, for my sake and theirs.
 
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gemjasmine

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Thank you for these articles! Though, I worry that being in an enclosure would stress them out. Our house isn't big at all, and we already have two small dogs (the cats love them). So, if the cats go in the enclosure, they will have to stay there. Not an indoor/outdoor situation. We don't have room for all three.

I don't want the cats to feel trapped and be miserable. When I tried looking up more information about this, I kept getting articles about indoor house cats who wanted to go outside and not semi-ferals who have only been outside. Other articles have said that feral cats should never be indoors, and I wonder if that applies to them even though they let me love/care for them.

Will this arrangement be something they'd get used to? At least until we could find better homes for them (which might take months)? Sorry if these are dumb questions.
 

Jcatbird

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I am so sorry about mom cat. Maybe it was a natural end to a good life you provided for her. As for a catio, that is a great idea. I would suggest having it pretty much assembled before putting it there to avoid building noise. A brief time of someone being there should not be a problem for your anxiety or the kitties. The catio can be built in sections and then bolted or screwed together once there. There are lots of kits available and I am sure a competent builder can do preassemble parts. That gives the cats safety and time for you to tame them without worry. Metal mesh hardware cloth is tough and it is what I used to protect kitties here on the catio. Bringing the last cat inside as indoor only seems like a great solution to any remaining anxiety. I totally understand this kind of stress and I greatly admire you for working through this to help these kitties. Thank you for that!
 

DorasCats

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Two years and one month ago, a litter of cats were born in my backyard. My parents and I cared for the litter, even found a home for one of them, but ultimately decided to TNR the mother and remaining three cats. Only, the cats never actually wandered off to do their own thing. They became pets who took residence in our backyard and only wandered off for about 5 hours each day. We provided shelter, food, toys, etc in our backyard and the cats seemed content. Our neighbors understood the situation (my parents reached out to them) and agreed not to harm/trap them if they jumped the fence.

This arrangement worked for two years.

Then, four months ago, their mother died. I found her body while checking the mail. She had no marks on her and to this day I don't know what happened, but that event knocked the delusion that the cats would be fine outdoors. Additionally, the neighborhood has become increasingly dangerous over the past year. I've noticed four different large loose dogs running around by our house. Something is driving wildlife to check-out the backyard (racoons, opossums) despite me never leaving food out. And the neighbors directly next door from us are moving. I worry about these cats every time they wander, and I've been spiraling into panic attacks wondering who will replace our next-door neighbors. If something were to happen to the cats, I'm not sure I would survive it. I still have nightmares about their mother.

Despite my love for them, the cats have also been horrible for my mental health. I'm autistic with severe anxiety/depression. I've gotten so attached to these cats that even my own parents going into the backyard makes me panic. I've had numerous panic attacks and am now suffering physical health problems from the stress.

I just want my cats safe. There are a few options I've considered:

1) There are two local cat havens I've been looking at. Here and here. My ultimate goal is to find a safe, loving permanent home for the two bonded cats, especially since they are not completely feral and have always been around humans, and then keep the last one as an indoor only cat.

2) My dad offered to hire some people to build a catio where the cats could stay protected and together. I'm not sure about the specifics of this, but having them in one, safe spot will help with being able to find suitable homes for them long-term.

3) Leave them be. I absolutely do not want this due to my own worsening mental health. But if that's what's best for them, then I'll try my best to incentivize them not to wander.

Please help me decide what's best, for my sake and theirs.
I think a catio would be the best solution, to keep the cats safe and happy and for your peace of mind.
 

Furballsmom

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Other articles have said that feral cats should never be indoors, and I wonder if that applies to them even though they let me love/care for them.
As Jcatbird Jcatbird commented above, you can utilize the catio to work with them. Articles stating ferals shouldn't be indoors are missing the fact that any cat is smart enough to be socialized, some to a greater degree than others, and they can adjust to people/new situations. Jcatbird is living proof of this, time and time again :)
 

Jcatbird

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Those are not dumb questions. Perfectly reasonable. Just for comparison, I have brought in a socialized over a hundred totally feral cats of all ages. Kittens to seniors. Every cat is different and some socialize to be complete lap cats while some are companions as though you have a room mate who is shy. Only one here prefers not to be a lap cat. She was not a cat that grew up being around a friendly human. All the cats I brought in were very traumatized cats. Not just feral but much more of a situation that made it difficult but cats are so smart. They learn how wonderful life can be when they have a human to love and care for them where they don’t have to worry about getting wet, being frightened of thunder or any of the things you might worry about for them. They learn to recognize a safe haven and appreciate it for the great thing it provides. They sleep like they have never slept before. No more sleeping with one ear listening. It takes a little time to adjust but you will see the improvements. I have been surprised myself. The cat I thought would have the most difficulties adjusting did it rapidly and even went on to become a search and rescue cat for a lost cat. He found her and saved her. Almost all the cats I brought in don’t even desire to go back out. A couple do like a walk on a harness but they also want to come back in pretty quickly. Watching birds from a comfy spot is much nicer and they know it. Lol Given time, your panic attacks may become a distant memory and be replaced with the comfort and love a rescued feral can provide better than you ever dreamed possible. Even from the shy ones, laughter will be the new norm if you are patient and keep doing what you are to have gained so much trust from them. You obviously have great instincts with them.
If you have any lingering doubts, maybe these will help. Ferals can adore being inside or in catios. I have even put a small catio in my house and the kitties love snuggling down in there for a private nap.
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The most fierce old feral Tom had me wondering how he might adjust. I had never gotten very close to him or touched him.
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This is how it worked out.
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fionasmom

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I agree that a catio is a great way to go. Google and see what is out there, not just for you to buy, but also to see what others have built and how they have done it. If you start with a catio, you can then have enough time to see where this all goes and the cats will be safe. We have had members who have used catios successfully as part of a process to relocate feral cats to a new home.

I looked at the shelters and had the feeling that they do adopt out their cats. If you went this route, are these cats already adoptable? It sounds as if you are attached to these cats, though, so maybe this should not be the first option?

Neighborhoods change; one bad neighbor or new predators can upset the balance that you had before. You are being very proactive and logical in thinking about the cats' welfare.

All of my cats are, and always have been ex-ferals, with the exception of a couple of true strays/abandoned pets. As Jcatbird says, they seem to instantly know that their life has changed forever for the better. Next thing you know, they are wearing cute little dresses and eating off of silverware.
 
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gemjasmine

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We're going with the catio!

I've been looking up different types and am slowly allowing myself to feel hope. I really want this to work out and the comments here have made this seem like a possibility. To be honest, I was resigning myself for the first option of getting them somewhere safe as quickly as possible, even if it meant I would never see them again. But I'm so, so grateful for the help and reassurance that the catio could actually be a possible/humane option.

These guys thank you all too! :redheartpump:
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