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6) Planning for substitute colony care. Who will care for your cats when you cannot?

Life is full of the unexpected. Don’t wait until you are not able to take care of your colony to find a substitute or replacement caregiver. If you are the only caregiver and nobody else knows your colony’s location or size, don’t wait another day to find a substitute caregiver. Most caregivers are very bonded with the cats they care for. They have named them, they know their routines and behaviors and the cats recognize their car and their voice when it is feeding time.

“Nobody is going to care for them like I do,” you might think, but it is better to find a sincere person who can step in when you are out of town, or as much as we don’t want to think about it, if you are ill, become disabled or pass away. The best care you can give to the feral cats you look after is the arrangement for their ongoing care. You’ll feel better that another compassionate person will fill your shoes if necessary.

Start with people who may already know about your colony that you believe you can trust and who may be interested in volunteering. Locate others in your town who are caring for cats or contact your local Trap-Neuter-Return organization. (You may be able to find a local organization through various online communities. If you cannot find one, you may want to create a network of like-minded cat caregivers or possibly a grassroots group for your town. Learn more in our Starting Your Own Organization Guide.

Follow these steps to find the best person for the job:

  1. Gather all records. Be sure that all of the cats have been neutered and vaccinated for rabies. Ensure that all of their records are in order. Include photos of each cat and her/his name, behaviors, and friend(s) or others cats he/she is bonded to in the colony. Use the Alley Cat Allies Feral Cat Colony Tracking System to help keep organized records.
  2. Locate potential candidates:
    a. Check in with neighbors, store owners, friends, and family in the area. But, don’t assume your family or friends will be the best for the job.
    b. Ask the new property owners (if you are moving).
    c. Post ads in the newspaper with your name and phone number. DO NOT include the address of the colony or your home address.
    d. Post flyers around town, send messages to local e-mail lists, and post notices on local online bulletin boards.
    e. Contact veterinarians and humane organizations in your community to let them know of your situation. Be sure to tell them that all the cats are neutered and vaccinated.
    f. Check with Alley Cat Allies Feral Friends in your area. These fellow caregivers and trappers may be able to help or know of someone near you that can. There may be a feral cat network active in your town.
  3. Educate your substitute/replacement about your normal feeding schedule and ongoing care. Once you identify a replacement caregiver, explain what you do, which could include daily food, water, shelter upkeep, neuter of any new members, and the occasional vet visit. Provide the new caregiver with copies of all medical records (neuter certificates, rabies certificates and tags, microchip information if applicable, and a description and photo of each cat), and be sure to keep a copy for yourself.
  4. Decide on the details of your arrangement. Will the substitute/replacement buy the cat food when they feed? You may need to share the monthly costs of caring for the colony together. They may not be financially capable, in which case you may need to continue to buy the food and make plans to get it to your new partner. What if a cat is injured or sick, will they trap and transport to a veterinarian? Decide in advance which veterinarian(s) are suitable to take a feral cat to and who will be covering the veterinary fees. Most veterinary clinics require payment at the time of services. Learn more about working with a veterinarian.
  5. Sign an agreement. Write up a simple agreement stating that you are transferring to or sharing care of the cats with the new caregiver. Include specific information about the colony for clear identification. You should both sign and date this document, including both of your addresses and contact information.
  6. Do everything you can to avoid relocating the cats. Relocating cats is only an option in dire circumstances when the cats’ lives are threatened. It is hard on the cats and rarely successful. Familiarize yourself ahead of time with what relocation involves by reading Safe Relocation of Feral Cats.

In Case of Emergency

Carry information about your colony (and your companion animals at home) in your wallet. This will inform emergency workers of what to do in case something happens to you or a disaster occurs in your town or at your home. Include all contact information for your substitute caregiver, including names and phone numbers. The same kind of “Emergency Contact Card” can go in your car’s glove compartment and to your back-up caregiver(s).

Post the same card on your refrigerator and other prominent places in your home. The information should be noticeable so family or emergency workers will not miss it! (Refer to PerPETual Care: Who Will Look After Your Pets if You’re Not Around? by Lisa Rogak for more information.)

Read more ideas for being prepared for the unexpected.