Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Is It Better to Bring In or Leave Colony Cats Outdoors During a Hurricane?

Miami cats community cats stray cats
Callie lets us near her to feed, but never touch her.

Miami has just survived the wrath of Hurricane Irma that reached us two days ago.

Needless to say it was stressful from the preparations, to holding our breath as Irma struck land,  unleashing her fury as she skirted Miami, and her agonizing slow withdrawal.

In the end we are grateful that our families, pets and the Miami Riverfront cats all survived unscathed!

As we finish cleanup efforts and slowly return to normalcy, upon reflecting on recent events many questions were asked of volunteers and small rescue groups that care for homeless cats.

"Why didn't you trap the cats, cage them and evacuate?"

Every situation is different depending on the type of cat (feral or friendly), and the resources of the volunteer/caretaker in terms of  reliability of shelter, space, funds and supplies and distance to non hurricane state.

Regarding feral cats, per Alley Cat Allies:
 ...for truly feral cats, their best chance of survival is using their own instincts and abilities to respond to changing circumstances. Like wildlife, feral cats will instinctively seek higher ground during floods.

With regard to friendly cats, it depends on the friendliness of the cat and its known comfort level with indoor environment. This is key.  Colony feeders may have friendly relations with some cats where they can pet them and pick them up. However, this does not necessarily mean that a friendly cat will remain friendly indoors.  Cats dislike change in environment. Some outdoor cats may experience high stress levels indoors not only from new surroundings but from being caged for days. This may be more stressful for the cat than a hurricane.  

At Riverfront Cats, one beautiful all black male cat is named Romeo. He is a Romeo. He seeks attention and affection from caretakers before eating.  He enjoys petting and tolerates being picked up. However, Romeo also suffers from seizures when in a carrier.  We learned this on two occasions. First when he was trapped for TNR. But also years later when placed in a carrier and taken to vet when he showed signs of illness. While exiting the vet office, he had seizures and was rushed back inside to the vet. Thankfully he has not become ill again. With the news of Hurricane Irma, we knew he had to remain outdoors. Days in a carrier would more likely kill him than the hurricane. We trusted his instincts to survive. He also knows to meow for help or attention as he once appeared lost or stuck in his part-time refuge--the storm drainage on our condo lot. Thankfully it is shallow that he was able to jump out on his own.

community cats black cat hurricane preparedness
Romeo an affectionate colony cat

In a category 4 or 5 hurricane, it is likely that an average house will lose a roof, parts of the home or entire home. The roof is usually the first to go. That is why they are called "catastrophic" storms. One has to expect the worst to prepare for it. In this case, bringing in colony cats and caging them for days is not wise.  There is also guaranteed loss of electricity. Unless there is a concrete shelter with no to minimal windows and a generator for emergency power source, and solid roof, as difficult as it may sound, it may be best to leave the cat outdoor.

Evacuating Can Sometimes Be More Dangerous
As native Floridian having lived through various storms and hurricanes, and learning from other hurricane related events around the country, sometimes evacuation poses more danger.

In Miami we were fortunate that the hurricane shifted, taking Miami outside the cone, and we were only impacted by outer bands. Still powerful with gusts of winds as high as 90mph but nowhere near the strength of a Category 3 or 4 at 130mph. The Riverfront Cats have weathered many tropical storms. So when Irma moved, we were very confident the Riverfront Cats were going to survive. 

"Do you know where an outdoor cat seeks shelter during a regular storm?"

Most of us do not.  We know they have their hiding places during a major storm.  Therefore one has to think like a cat, not human and trust their instincts.

These decisions are a struggle for caretakers.  There are many factors to consider and weigh.  Colony cat caretakers should never be judged.  Outsiders can offer funds or resources or other options. But never judge.

To learn more about protecting a cat colony before and after a storm, visit Alley Cat Allies, "Disaster-Proofing a Community Cat Colony".

We Are Here to Help
We are here to help you assess your situation and whether to evacuate with pets. Contact us at We offer recommendations only. The decision is ultimately yours. Be safe.

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