Taos Feral Feline Friends Shelter
Helping Homeless Cats
Taos Feral Feline Friends began in 2004 as a cat rescue organization. Its first shelter residents were feral cats awaiting euthanasia at the local Humane Society, rescued and brought home by Leanne Mitchell. Since then, the Shelter Program has evolved into the largest, no-kill feline shelter in Northern New Mexico.
Feral and stray cats are common throughout Taos and Colfax Counties. Many local residents appreciate the rodent-controlling benefits of outdoor cats and will provide food and water to them. However, some people simply dislike stray animals on their property; others find that the outdoor population that they have been feeding has grown too large for them to manage. TFFF intervenes to save cats' lives in these situations, preventing the needless cruelty or euthanasia that often befalls unwanted cats.
Rescuing feral cats requires the use of baited traps. We use the Hav-A-Heart brand which is designed to prevent any harm to the animals. We show local residents how to set and bait the trap and upon capture, we transport the cats to the shelter. Cats that are obviously sick or injured are taken immediately to a veterinarian for treatment.
We receive requests for rescue assistance mainly from local residents, including both property owners and concerned neighbors. We encourage people to contact us before attempting a rescue. Feral cats are extremely wary of humans so an attempt to merely "grab" them results in, at best, a cat that is more difficult to capture, and at worst, injury to human and/or cat.
The primary shelter facility is an 814 square foot former guesthouse located in Ranchos De Taos, New Mexico. Since it was previously occupied by people, it has a number of desirable features that benefit cats. The house is heated; it has a kitchen area with running water, a sink, a refrigerator, a range top, a microwave, etc. amenities that help make daily feeding and cleaning easier. There are a total of 4 rooms with closable doors that permit each group of cats to be kept separate. The cats are free to roam within each room - it is a cage-less shelter. Each room is windowed with forest views and the main room has a large skylight. Two of the rooms have ceilings with exposed wooden supports that the cats can sit or walk along, effectively increasing the usable areas of the rooms. The structure can easily accommodate about 60 cats and is presently reserved for our feral cats.
A cage-less environment is important to the health and well-being of feral cats. When cats accustomed to running free are confined for lengthy periods in cages, they can become lethargic and even stop eating. Our cats are free to run and play, within their room. They interact with the other cats in the room, forming a community similar to an outdoor feral cat colony, but much safer. The shelter colonies accept new residents without incident. Eating habits and litter box use are normal. Fights are seldom observed. By all appearances, the ferals are well-adapted to life at our shelter. Two rooms have windows opening onto screened-in porches, allowing our residents to enjoy the outdoors, weather-permitting. This is just another example of TFFF's commitment to create a pleasant home for our cats.
Controlling and preventing feline disease is an important part of the Shelter Program. The shelter is cleaned and disinfected on a daily basis. Before a cat is permitted to enter the shelter community, it is screened for FELV (feline leukemia) and FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus). Due to our open environment, cats with these serious illnesses cannot be placed in the general population. Cats with less serious problems, such as upper respiratory illness, are kept isolated from the main shelter population until they recover. For this purpose, and for other special needs, for example, a mother cat nursing young kittens, cats are housed in three or four designated rooms of our residence. Non-feral cats, companion animals, are also kept in the main house where they have more contact with people. All cats held at TFFF are sterilized and receive FELV, FVRCP and rabies vaccinations upon their arrival at the shelter.
TFFF actively seeks to find permanent, loving homes for both companion and feral cats. Despite the common misconception that feral cats are unadoptable, we have been successful in finding individuals who appreciate the wild nature and rodent-controlling abilities of feral cats. We require a $25 non-refundable, adoption fee for a pair of feral cats. Although this is only a small fraction of the cost that TFFF incurs in terms of shelter and veterinary expenses, it helps insure that the adopter truly believes in the value of the animals. On the other hand, we have learned that higher fees discourage adoption. For companion cats, TFFF charges a non-refundable $25 adoption fee. This provides a good value to the adopter since spay/neuter and vaccinations have been completed.
The adopter completes and signs TFFF's Adoption Agreement. This provides us with contact information and sets forth any specific veterinarian obligation (such as follow-up vaccinations) or special needs associated with the animal. We contact each adopter at least once to see how the cat and owner have adapted and to verify that the veterinary obligations, if any, have been met. For three months following adoption, TFFF will accept back any cat for any reason at the adopter's request.
To promote the adoption of shelter residents, TFFF advertises in the local newspaper. Kittens are usually in high demand throughout the year. Adult companion cats, depending on their age and health, may require a year before a home can be found, although the average residency is 3-6 months. Feral cat adoptions take more time to arrange. A suitable home for feral cats requires shelter from the elements and predators, specifically wild dogs and coyotes, and a human caregiver. Given that Northern New Mexico has been plagued with serious rodent problems, including human fatalities caused by the mouse-transmitted Hanta virus, TFFF believes that the community obtains material public health benefits from properly managed cat populations. By building awareness of our organization and promoting the rodent-control advantages of cat ownership, TFFF can significantly increase the demand for both companion and feral cats.