Who Are Caregivers?

Caregivers in this context are humans who provide care to a cat colony.

Caregivers can be individuals looking after their own cats, from householders to farmers; they can be workers in any kind of business, rural or urban, that feed local cats; they can be teachers, lecturers and students at schools and colleges where colonies have moved in. Anywhere you find cats, you’ll usually find caregivers. Some are delighted to take on the responsibility of their colony – others are extremely reluctant. In Ireland most feline colonies have some level of caregiver in their neighbourhood, and are seldom completely isolated from humans.

Many caregivers say they love the animals they give guardianship to, but just as many are indifferent to the felines who live alongside them. At the end of the day, the emotional involvement of the caregiver is not important. What is important is the level of care they provide to their charges. It can be useful to refer to the Five Freedoms when assessing the level of care given.

It’s worth making the assessment. Firstly, the more care caregivers provide their colony without your intervention, the more help they are likely to be to you in your TNR venture. And secondly, the different caregivers require different approach- and working-strategies in order to work with them effectively – for the best outcome for the cats.

Types of Caregiver

Needless to say, caregivers vary in the amount of care they give to the colony. Though we’ve itemised three extreme types, most caregivers will lie somewhere between Perfect and Adequate on the continuum, rather than falling exactly into one category.

The Perfect Caregiver

The perfect caregiver may or may not love her cats – what she does do is care for them. She seldom needs your services because she has all the cats in the colony neutered already. Her colony has a high quality of life.

Her cats are:

  • well fed on a regular, healthy, dry cat food diet and have access to water at all times (and they likely get treats of fish, chicken and wet cat food from time to time)
  • neutered and eartipped
  • given the standard annual vaccination if humanised, and with a modified live virus vaccine if feral
  • defleaed & dewormed every six weeks
  • given timely vet consultations when they’re ill, and vet prescribed medications as necessary
  • euthanased by a vet when they’re untreatably ill, their quality of life is at an end and it’s the kindest thing to do.

In addition:

  • She acknowledges responsibility for all the cats in her colony.
  • Her cats have been FIV/FeLV tested. She keeps a close eye on those who are positive for signs of illness and rushes them to a vet in a timely fashion for diagnosis and treatment when it’s needed.  And if any are positive for FeLV, the others are vaccinated against it.
  • She keeps an eye out for newcomers and, on their arrival she ensures they are vet checked, treated for any illnesses and (when old/well enough) neutered, vaccinated and treated for parasites.
  • She keeps detailed statistics on her colony to feed into feral cat and TNR research (when cats arrived in the colony; numbers of males and females; when they were neutered, vaccinated, defleaed; when they’ve been ill; who’s died; who’s arrived pregnant and given birth; who’s been rehomed; etc).
  • In the unlikely event that she does need your help, she’ll be delighted to find out about TNR (if she didn’t know already) and will be very willing to pay your expenses, and probably a donation on top.

In fact, the Perfect Caregiver probably has a trap and equipment of her own to deal humanely with her ferals. If you meet a caregiver like this and she’s not already volunteering in animal welfare, recruit her immediately!

Best Practice

The Perfect Caregiver. Say no more.

The Adequate Caregiver

At the midpoint of the spectrum you’ll find the Adequate Caregiver. Again, they may or may not purport to love their colony members. Either way, their level of care is usually pretty minimal, but seen as adequate by Irish legislation. The animals in their care may have a borderline or poor quality of life. The exception might be their ‘pet’ cat or cats, whose lifestyle will be completely different, and of higher quality, than their colony.

The ‘I’ve been feeding them for three years but they’re not my cats.’ mentality comes under this heading.

The Adequate Caregiver and their colony:

  • The colony is fed randomly with little regard to, or knowledge of, a healthy feline diet. They’re probably given milk as a ‘treat’ (milk is very bad for cats, who are lactose intolerant – it should NOT be included in their diet). The cats may get wet and/or dry cat food, table scraps, compost, etc.
  • Two or three of this caregiver’s cats might be neutered, though they’re unlikely to be eartipped.
  • There will almost definitely be a few kittens around in the spring and summer, though their litter mates will have died.
  • If the Adequate Caregiver worms and defleas at all, the last time is likely to have been months, if not years, ago.
  • They may take cats to the vets occasionally, most likely when they’ve been ill for a while and any disease has a good hold.
  • They are likely to diagnose and treat their animals themselves, without the advice of a veterinarian.
  • If they take animals to the vet for ‘euthanasia’ at all, it’s most likely to be to save on vet bills treating an ill cat, rather than because there’s no other option. (See our Glossary for a correct definition of euthanasia.)
  • They may acknowledge responsibility for two or three cats in their colony – ones they adopted or are particularly fond of. The rest of the colony either belongs to a neighbour, were dumped on them or similar – at any rate, they don’t consider the other cats their responsibility.
  • If they’ve heard of FIV/FeLV at all, they’re more likely to ‘know’ the myths rather than the facts. And they’re unlikely to know their charges’ status.
  • This group varies in terms of their knowledge of their colony. Some will know every cat by name, and spot every newcomer. Most will have at least a few that they can identify and tell a few stories about. At this stage newborns and newcomers are not their responsibility.
  • While they may well know the stats for their colony, it’s unlikely they’ve got anything written down coherently. Some may well be able to give you useful statistical information on their colony’s history.
  • They often don’t want Trap Neuter Return (TNR) – they want Trap Neuter Release (ie. release the cats anywhere but back where they came from) or Trap Neuter Kill. And they’re unlikely to want to pay much, if anything, towards the TNR service.

The Don’t-Care Caregiver

At the bottom end of the scale is the caregiver who really doesn’t care at all and/or doesn’t take any real responsibility for their charges. They may tolerate the colony in order to control vermin, though they often see cats themselves as vermin. These guys’ cats need the most help. And Don’t-Cares, unsurprisingly, are the least likely to be of help to you in your TNR work.

Most caregivers fall in the spectrum between Perfect and Adequate, but you’d be surprised at the number of Don’t-Cares there are. And how many of their neighbours Don’t-Care to intervene on the cats’ behalf. It’s likely some of the cats in this colony have a life ‘not worth living’. Don’t-Carers technically neglect, and our inadequate legislation is unlikely to afford an intervention. At the extreme end of the Don’t-Care scale you’ll find potentially prosecutable cruelty and abuse. (See our Glossary for definitions of terms.)

The Don’t-Carers and their colony:

  • If they feed them at all, they feed them table scraps, dog food (cat’s can’t survive without taurine, so dog food is no good to them), but mostly expect them to hunt for their dinner. There is a slim-to-none chance one or two of this caregiver’s cats might be neutered, though they’re unlikely to be eartipped unless they were neutered by an earlier TNR effort.
  • There will definitely be several litters of kittens around in the spring and summer. Most of them will die of malnourishment or illness. The Don’t-Carer may well drown the remaining kittens, or kill them in other ways, as an inhumane means of population control.
  • The colony will never have been dewormed or defleaed.
  • Cats are never taken to the vets.
  • If an animal falls ill, it’s left to it’s own devices.
  • To this group euthanasia is an unnecessary expense.
  • Some Don’t-Carers in this group will have no problem in acknowledging responsibility for the colony – ‘They’re my cats’ – they just don’t think that responsibility entails caring for them.
  • If they’ve heard of FIV/FeLV at all, they’re more likely to ‘know’ the myths rather than the facts. And they’re won’t know their charges’ status. In general they’ll feel cats are ‘naturally’ sick and unhealthy creatures.
  • Again, this group varies in terms of their knowledge of their colony. Some will know every cat and spot every newcomer. Most will have at least a few that they can identify and tell a few stories about.
  • While they may well know some stats for their colony, they won’t have anything written down. Some may be able to give you useful statistical information on their colony’s history – if you can hold their attention for long enough.
  • They couldn’t care less what you do with the cats and definitely won’t want to pay towards your expenses.