A wide-eyed cat huddles in the back of a carrier or cage. Is this cat truly feral, or is she friendly but simply frightened?
ASPCA research, “Is That Cat Feral?” led to the creation of the Feline Spectrum Assessment program (FSA), a four-step process designed to help shelters know more about cats who enter with unknown histories.
How It Began
The ASPCA surveyed the field to find out how shelter staff assess the socialization status of incoming cats, and found only 15% of 555 respondents had standardized, written guidelines.
At the ASPCA Spay/Neuter Alliance spay/neuter clinic in Asheville, NC, a simulated shelter environment was created to study cats before their spay/neuter surgeries. A wide variety of assessments was performed with nearly 300 cats, including:
- Free-roaming, unowned cats being cared for by a caregiver
- Unowned cats currently living in foster homes
- Owned cats living with people in a home environment
The cats were assessed and observed at set times for three days using 47 behavioral measures and 16 physical/environmental measures.
Later, the research was expanded to include hundreds more cats in the care of other agencies, and the list of measures was narrowed down to those holding the most promise as valid indicators of socialization status.
FSA, a joint venture with Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, grew out of that research.
FSA is a fast procedure of about five minutes per cat, per session. Depending on what behaviors show up, it may be repeated four times across three days.
A cat’s response to FSA can inform options such as adoption, foster, behavior modification, working cats and return to field.