How can you tell if a cat is stray, lost, or feral?
One way is to look at its ears.
If a cat is part of a managed feral cat colony, chances are good its left ear will be tipped. Look closely at the cat. Is its left ear missing the pointy end? That’s an ear tip.
If that seems extreme, consider the alternatives. Some caretakers have their cats tattooed, but in order to see whether the cat is tattooed, you need to catch it. Remember how many tries it took me to get Fireheart? (At least four!) It’s even harder to get a cat who has already been trapped.
When an ear-tipped cat is turned into a shelter, shelter employees can quickly see that the cat is part of a managed colony, and they can work to trace the cat’s home. Without an ear tip, a feral cat will be killed in the shelter, sometimes upon intake if the facility is full.
In our suburban neighborhood, we had our backyard cats ear tipped and microchipped. There are a lot of people around here, and I want to make sure these cats can continue living in peace. Even if these cats are turned into a kill shelter, their ear tip and chip will let the shelter know which rescue group manages these cats.
I used to dislike the look of the ear tip. I think cats are beautiful, and tipping their ear changed their appearance for me. But after we trapped Ghost and had him neutered, I changed my mind. Before, he was just a stray cat wandering the neighborhood. Now he’s the neighborhood cat, and his tipped ear shows that I care about him. (Not to mention he won’t be fathering any more kittens!)
And I think that ear tip is just gorgeous.