What is a Barn Cat?
A barn cat, working cat, or “feral” cat is unsocialized to humans, meaning that they tend to be fearful of people and keep their distance. Barn cats are not suited to live indoors as pets, and attempting to force them to do so can be extremely harmful to you, the cat, and your home.
Unlike many shelters across the world, Nevada Humane Society is able to offer Barn Cat Adoptions for feral cats with no other options, respecting a feral cat’s needs without ending their lives. If a cat is truly feral, the most compassionate choice is to let them live in an outdoor home.
By neutering and vaccinating the cats, providing for their basic needs (food, water, shelter), and following the acclimation guidelines given to you at the time of adoption, a caretaker (you!) plays a role most supportive of feral cats by giving them the opportunity to live among their own, be free, and answer to their own unique natures.
For the meager cost of daily cat food, fresh water, and available shelter, feral cats will help keep your building rodent-free. While these cats have no interest in curling up in laps and being pet, they are diligent workers intent on earning their keep with plenty of time to spare for rolling in the dirt, sun bathing, and peeking around the corner in anticipation of their dinner. For many people, this provides all the benefits of having a charming nearby cat without the obligations and maintenance of a domestic pet.
Be prepared for a period of adjustment for your barn cats. Moving to a new home is stressful for anyone, cats included. After a short stay in secure confinement and some effort on your part to help teach your new workers that this is a good, safe home with a good, safe caretaker, the cats will soon be doing rodent patrols with enthusiasm.
- These cats are not suitable as indoor pets. They are happy to live out their lives in large gardens, stables, barns, or small outbuildings.
- Outdoor cats are homed with the understanding that you will provide ongoing food and shelter and will make every effort to acquire medical care if the cats become visibly ill or injured. Note that our clinic will see any feral cat for free on our normal Trap-Neuter-Return clinic days, and traps may be rented out for this purpose.
- Providing food for cats to assure they are well-fed has proven to make them more efficient hunters. A hungry cat only catches enough prey to feed itself, whereas a well-fed cat will also hunt for sport.
- By providing both food and shelter for an outdoor cat, you will help build a bond between you (as the food provider), the cat, and their new home (a safe shelter).
Barn Cat Adoption Program
Through our Barn Cat Adoption Program, cats are matched with appropriate indoor/outdoor homes FREE OF CHARGE, and come to the adopter already spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and microchipped. Available cats range from feral to semi-feral, but they have all been selected for our Barn Cat Adoption Program because they are not suited to an indoor home and have no original outdoor home to return to. This program saves cats’ lives while providing an effective rodent deterrent for the adopter.
We keep all interested adopters on a list to be contacted as we have Barn Cats available, in the order that they reached out to us.
Barn Cats are not an immediate solution to any rodent problem. They are a month-long investment in continued non-toxic pest control.
We urge you to keep these questions in mind before reaching out to us about adopting any Barn Cats.
- What kind of structure do you intend to use for shelter for the cat(s)? This can include barns, garages, warehouses, enclosed gardens, etc.
- If the structure is not a barn and has no heat source, do you have an insulated doghouse or something similar for very cold or very hot weather?
- How many cats are you looking for? At least a pair is best.
- Do you have dogs that run loose on the property? If so, have the dogs been around cats before?
- Will you accept totally independent cats that you may rarely see (unsocialized), or only cats that are semi-social (will hang out in visible places, will likely greet you when you come into the barn, etc.)?
- Are you willing to follow the Acclimation Procedures and then continue to provide food and water for the life of the cat(s)? Cats cannot live on hunting alone, and supplementing with cat food will not reduce their drive to hunt.
- Do you wish to have someone set up the acclimation crate for you, or are you comfortable doing it yourself?
- What is traffic like near your property?
- Do you have resident outdoor cats on your property, and if so, are they spayed/neutered?
- How soon were you looking to adopt?
If you are interested in hiring a few working cats for your property, please follow this link https://www.shelterluv.com/form/cats/NHS/396-barn-cat-adoption to submit an online application. Our staff will reach out to you as soon as we can.
How To Acclimate Your New Outdoor Cat(s)
When you adopt barn cats, you want them to stay on your property and view your barn as their new home. In order to accomplish this, the cats must be confined for an initial 4-5 weeks. The cats should be in a completely enclosed location, preferably a large cage or dog crate inside their home structure. This familiarizes the cats with their new environment, and teaches them that it is a safe location with reliable resources that they should feel comfortable calling home.
Why do they have to be confined for the first 4-5 weeks?
Cats are very sensitive to their environment and need time to adjust to new surroundings, sounds, and smells. It takes between 4 to 5 weeks for a cat to associate a new place as their own territory. You can help create positive associations between you and your new cat(s) with the following steps:
- Spend time with the cat while it is confined. Talk gently to it, read the newspaper out loud, or otherwise hang out. Bring other members of the house with you and have conversations. This way the cat will get used to the sound of your voices. Although the cat may hide at first, it will be watching, listening, and getting familiar with their new caretaker(s).
- Do not “free feed” or “over feed”. You will want to get your new kitties on a strict feeding schedule. For example: In the morning, place dry food in the acclimation crate for 15-20 minutes, then remove. Be sure not to “hover” too closely. You need to give your cats some privacy during mealtimes. Return in the evening and place some wet/canned food down for 15-20 minutes, then remove. Allow access to water at all times. This will help to associate your arrival with good things (like yummy food) and to help establish you as their new caregiver.
- Never try to pet your barn cats. Not only can this be dangerous for you, but it will also make your new working cats feel threatened and dismantle any progress you may have made in earning their trust. These are FERAL CATS. If you have earned their trust, they will let you know.
Alternatively, cats that are relocated without proper acclimation time and effort generally run off, never to be seen again. Cats form strong bonds with their home territory, and most will do what they can to go home. This allows them to easily fall prey to unknown hazards or predators in the new area.
It is deeply important that the time be invested to make the cats feel safe, familiar, and comfortable so that they have a better chance at survival and you have a long-term mouser.
Be aware that during the first day or two, the cats may struggle to try to find a way out of the crate. Keep the crate covered with a sheet until they settle down and realize no harm will come to them.
How are the cats confined?
You should be equipped with an extra-large dog crate with proper space for their necessities, which includes food and water bowls, disposable litter boxes (which need to be replaced daily), and a place to hide. It is recommended that a portion of the cage/crate be covered with a sheet. This will allow cats to feel more protected and hidden.
We send cats home in covered cat carriers. When you arrive home, turn the carrier away from you and carefully open the latch on the carrier door, still holding the front of the carrier closed with your hand. Place the carrier inside the larger crate and let go of the door so that the cat can push it open after you have locked the door of the outer cage. This minimizes the chance of the cat escaping. Afterwards, you can reach from outside the cage to tie the door open against the side, giving them a safe hiding spot.
Pending counseling and at staff discretion, NHS may opt to send a representative to inspect the acclimation area/plan and offer any necessary adjustments to ensure that both you and your furry new employees are set up for success.
If you are unable to provide these accommodations, we have kits available AT NO COST. We simply ask for a $50 deposit by cash, check, or credit card information in case the equipment is not returned or is damaged beyond repair. This deposit/payment information will be returned to you upon the return of the equipment.
Other suggestions for acclimation/confinement:
- An unused chicken coop (or other large bird aviary)
- A dog run (as long as it is completely enclosed and escape-proof from below, the sides, or above)
- A “catio” (a screened in structure built especially for cats)
Please note that any structure must be checked for gaps, holes, and integrity; when a cat wants out, they will do everything to find a way to do it. We suggest zip-tying the sides of the cage if it seems they are at all moveable. If there are any pane windows, on the item for confinement OR the structure it is in (e.g. a barn), they must be covered with a screen or other item to allow cats to see outside but not run head-first into it.
What happens after the initial confinement period?
It’s best to close all doors and windows in the barn, open the crate door in the evening, then leave. The cats will want to explore their new surroundings at night. By morning they will have found good hiding places, although they may still prefer the security of their crate. Leave the crates up for an additional five days, so the cats can get back in if they want. After the release, they will usually think of that barn as home and decide to stay.
You can ease the transition by continuing to place their food and water in the crate with the door open, and then in that same location after the crate is removed. After a few weeks, feel free to gradually move the food and water location to the place of your choosing.
You will need to continue providing daily food and water after the crate is removed. Cats are territorial creatures; they will usually maintain a home base once their scent has been established, a continuous food/water source is provided, and they feel safe.
DO NOT RELEASE IF IT IS RAINING or there is the POTENTIAL FOR RAIN. Cats find their home by scent and rain will wash it away.
- During acclimation, it is important to get your cats used to the movements and noises of all members of the household. You don’t want there to be any “surprises” after release. If you have any other outdoor pets, such as dogs, introduce them by allowing them to go near the cages for brief periods only. Make sure the cats know of their presence.
- Sprinkling used litter (after removing the feces) on the ground will help the cat to recognize its territory and will let it know which areas to use as its toilet. This mimics its natural marking behavior. You can also fill the openings of rodent tunnels with used cat litter to frighten them away!
- Although a semi-feral cat cannot be stroked or petted, it will come to recognize the adopter as a food provider. It may greet them or follow them (at a distance) when they put food down. This is a great compliment and demonstrates familiarity and a level of trust.
- If treated kindly, nervous and semi-feral cats may turn into friendly, even affectionate cats. This may take years, if ever. It is important to not force attention onto an unwilling/nervous cat as it may damage any trust already built.
- Most barn cats settle into their new territory well. They may disappear for a day or two on exploration trips, but will return for food. Continue to put food out as normal.