Stray, feral cats need some TLC, too: Despite the fickle weather we’ve come to tolerate at the Lake of the Ozarks, spring is a time of rebirth. First, it’s daffodils, then the ponds and lake come alive with spring peepers, dogwoods bloom and we’re finally sprinkled with oak pollen dust as our trees sprout their seasonal leaves. It’s also birthing season for feral and stray cats. Yes, there are homeless cats that roam the streets. Cats wandering around are not uncommon, especially in the area of The Strip where there is a constant source of food. They can sometimes be a pest, but most often they’re looking for food and some TLC. Not to be alarmed. They have their place in the food chain. According to the website Ally Cat Allies, feral, stray and pet cats are all members of the same species; they are all domestic cats. But stray cats and feral cats are also different from each other in a very important way — in their relationship to and interactions with people. Whether you are a shelter worker, veterinarian, or feral cat advocate — or you just share your neighborhood with feral cats — knowing how to tell the difference can help inform how best to interact with a cat or what, if any, intervention would be in each cat’s best interest. A “socialized” cat is one that is friendly towards people—or cats that enjoy companionship with us in our homes. Kittens becomes socialized by interacting with people—being held, spoken to, and played with—from an early age. If a kitten does not become accustomed to people holding her and petting her within this crucial window, she will grow up apprehensive of humans and will not be suited to or happy living in homes. What is the difference between a stray cat and a feral cat? Pet and stray cats are socialized to people. Feral cats are not socialized to people. While they are socialized to their colony members and bonded to each other, they do not have that same relationship with people. A stray cat is a cat that has been socialized to people at some point in her life, but has left or lost her domestic home, as well as most human contact and dependence. Over time, a stray cat can become feral as her contact with humans dwindles. Under the right circumstances, however, a stray cat can also become a pet cat once again. Stray cats that are re-introduced to a home after living outdoors may require a period of time to acclimate; they may be frightened and wary after spending time outside away from people. Again, don’t be alarmed if you see a cat or cats hanging around The Strip. They are hungry and they may want to be your friend. Ideally, cats should be neutered to help curb overpopulation. If you decide to bring a stray or feral cat into your home, or under your care, make sure you have him or her neutered. Contact any of a number of veterinarians, Dogwood Animal Shelter, Ozark Kats and K9 Shelter, Blue Moon Sanctuary or others. To learn more about feral and stray cats, click on https://bit.ly/3twDcdH.