We operate a trap-neuter-return (TNR) program for feral cats in the Cowichan Valley, and the 'R' part of that process is very important. We cannot take feral cats away from property owners who don't want to be bothered with looking after them. We fix hundreds of ferals every year and we have no head office or shelter. We are simply a network of volunteers who work out of our own homes, and so all ferals (aside from tiny kittens) must be returned to where they came from, with an agreement with the property owner that he/she will feed them after we have 'fixed' and returned them.
That being said, there are rare circumstances where a feral cat cannot go back to where it came from because of a serious risk to its survival. For example, perhaps we would be contacted about a cat living at a construction site. She would be at risk of injury if she stayed there, and after the construction company left there would be no one to continue feeding her. Therefore, we are always looking for 'barn homes' where we can place a pair of feral cats to save their lives.
The cats must be in lockdown in an escape-proof holding space for one month so that they get used to you, their new feeder, and learn that this is their new home and that food comes from you. This space can be a workshop, tack room, garage, outbuilding, etc, and if you don't have something along those lines then we can loan you an extra-large wire dog kennel to keep the cats in for the month. If the shed or similar space is quite small and the cats are at risk of bolting past when the door is open, the wire kennel will be needed. After the month of lockdown, the cats can be released outside, and they should stick around.
Dogs are an important topic when it comes to placing barn cats.
A dog that gets excited around cats, has a high prey drive, or has a history of chasing cats (or squirrels), is not suitable to have on the same property as barn cats. If there is a dog on the property, it must be mellow and disinterested in cats.
Also, the cats must have a dog-free zone of adequate size. The dog-free zone could be a fenced part of the property that the dog could not access, but it could not simply be the interior of a shed where the dog has access to the outside of it, because the cats would either be marooned there for a day or prohibited from it for a day until the dog goes into the house at night. The cats would probably not tolerate that routine, and would move elsewhere.
The reason we ask so many questions about dogs is because we are trying to guard against the cats becoming runaways. It is always upsetting to hear that the cats for whom we put in the effort to rescue have fled their barn home and once again are homeless with a dim future.
With feral cats, when it comes to fight or flight, they always choose flight. They are going on instinct to survive (because it has gotten them thus far while they have lived rough) and the best way to do that is to run away from anything that moves and is bigger than them. The only time a feral cat is going to fight is if it is cornered and has no alternative but to defend itself from an attack or what it thinks is an attack. If the feral cat gets cornered by a dog, there is the possibility that the cat will swipe and the possibility that the dog will retaliate. We don’t want that to happen.
A property where a dog is free to roam everywhere wouldn’t be an acceptable barn home. Sometimes people have the idea that it is fine for cats and dogs to be intertwined in a chase/evade battle of wits until the end of time. Tame cats might have the confidence to participate/tolerate that type of relationship, but feral cats are different. They don't have that kind of confidence; they will just bolt and not stop running until the creature that they think was after them is nowhere to be seen. Even a lovely, affectionate dog who adores tame cats can lead to runaway barn cats. We can tell the cats that the dog is boisterous only because it wants to make friends, but unfortunately the cats aren't going to take our word for it.
Suitable placements for barn cats include an acreage, farm, vineyard, barn, stable, warehouse, etc.
Barn homes are very useful to our work. If you can meet the requirements outlined above and would like to become a barn home, please see our page titled Adopt our barn cats.