BOONE LIFE: Husband and wife befriend, feed stray and feral cats

Christina and David McCullen have been looking after stray and feral cat colony since 2006
Sunday, March 9, 2008 | 7:54 p.m. CDT; updated 9:34 p.m. CST, Monday, February 9, 2009
Cats emerge from their wooded refuge to the sounds and smells of Christina McCullen pouring out portions of food. McCullen looks after the feline brood twice a day with food and water. "If I could take them all home, I would," she said.

Christina McCullen and her husband, David, got more than they bargained for when they went out for dinner at a fast-food joint in October of 2006. The couple stumbled across a colony of stray and feral cats. These cats, who are either abandoned by owners or strayed from home, now live in the “comfy” setting of a wooded area in the midst of bustling Columbia.

The term “feral” is used for cats that are born into a cat colony and are free from human contact. Stray cats who are free from human contact for three months often stop purring and meowing, whereas feral cats will remain silent for the majority of the time.


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“I saw these cats and immediately started throwing chicken nuggets and fries their way,” said Christina McCullen. McCullen volunteers at Columbia Second Chance Animal Shelter and also volunteers with its partner program, Spay Neuter and Protect or SNAP.

It’s mission is to reduce feral cat population through a humane spay and neuter program. Typically the cats are released back into their colony environment, unless they are suitable for adoption.

“If the kittens are caught early enough, they can be raised in foster homes until they are adopted,” McCullen said. The ideal time to catch kittens is between 6 and 8 weeks old. Sometimes taming the kittens at this age only takes a few days.

McCullen, who has names for all the cats, said she loves the cats. Twice a day she brings food and water to the cat colony. Over time, the cats have warmed up to her presence. As soon as she stepped out of the car on Feb. 26, four cats emerged from their wooded refuge and approached her car in the parking lot. One by one the cats sat around McCullen as she cupped out the dry food and emptied tuna packets on the ground.

“If I could take them all home, I would,” McCullen said.

SNAP, which relies heavily on donations, will be hosting a “St. Catty’s Day” fundraiser from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday at at Main Squeeze, 28 S. Ninth St.

For questions or concerns about feral cats in your area, e-mail SNAP at For donations or volunteer information, e-mail Jessica at or stop by Columbia Second Chance at 205 E. Ash St.

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feral cat March 10, 2008 | 6:46 p.m.

If you like wild birds, reptiles, or baby mammals, this action should not please you. These cats are an invasive species that need to be controlled completely. By feeding these animals, this couple is helping to keep this "colony" growing and the "colony" will continue to desimate native popultaions of songbirds and wild animals. Google feral cats+song birds and you will see some of the data that suggests that feral cats kill more than 1 BILLION!! songbirds per year in North America. Not to mention the small snakes and lizards that are brutally killed by this invasive species. All cats should be kept indoors. And this "colony" should be trapped and either euthanized or adopted. People who feed feral cats are only adding to the killing of our songbirds.

(Report Comment)
christina mccullen March 10, 2008 | 8:24 p.m.

First of all, it should be noted that SNAP has neutered or spayed 26 cats from this colony so far and adopted out 10 kittens and 1 friendly stray. I agree that, ideally, all cats should have loving indoor adoptive homes. However, irresponsible humans, who chose not to spay or neuter, have now created this problem of large numbers of stray cats. Last year, the Central Missouri Humane Society was forced to euthanize ~75% of the cats brought to them. In addition, older feral cats usually do not make good household pets, so where are all these cats to go? On two previous occasions, cats from this colony were rounded up and euthanized. However, by Dec. 2006, there were once again 26 cats and kittens living there. SNAP advocates the humane solution of Trap, Neuter and Return which has a caretaker feeding the colony, overseeing it's health and making sure the cats are spayed or neutered. This stabilizes the existing population and prevents new animals from moving in to take advantage of a food source. Communities have found this to be a more economical and humane solution than continuously trapping and euthanizing these animals. Regarding the threat to songbirds, there is plenty of research that concludes that habitat destruction by humans, not predation by feral cats, is by far their biggest problem. Check out a national feral cat website,, for more research info. This colony of cats coexists with racoons, opossums, and yes, even birds. The birds love to eat the cat food and they peck holes in the frozen water dishes, allowing the other animals access as well!

(Report Comment)
Anita McIntyre March 12, 2008 | 8:48 p.m.

Until the City of Columbia REQUIRES by law that ALL pets be neutered and spayed, people will continue to dump cats and cats will be forced to live in colonies. Colonies that are trapped,neutered,spayed and cared for are healthy non-growing colonies. The ferals are created by irresponsible humans.Like every living soul,the feral cats have a right to be here. Cities across the US are enacting laws to protect feral cats, Columbia is , as usual, behind the times.
It never ceases to amaze me how quick some are to want to euthanize whatever does not meet their criteria for being on the planet."First it was....., then it was...., and now they are coming for me".

Posted by on Mar 12, 2008 at 8:43 p.m.


(Report Comment)
feral cat March 12, 2008 | 11:23 p.m.

Well, it is a shame that an invasive species is promoted before our native species. How about we let elephants and wildabeasts roam free and desimate our native species? Feral cats do not belong in a native community any more than kangaroos. Feral cats are destructive to native, threatened and endangered species. The welfare program that these "colonies" are given in the article, only promote the destruction of our native species.
You asked for us to get our facts about cats killing birds from Should we also trust to tell us the truth about second-hand smoke?

(Report Comment)
will cooper March 16, 2008 | 10:54 a.m.

Well, "feral cat", lets look at your logic concerning "invasive species", OK?
You are referring to these cats as being an "invasive species", and compare them to a scenario in which elephants, wildabeasts (sic), and kangaroos are here in Missouri or America roaming free to "disimate" (sic) "our native species".
You say that "feral carts" are destructive to native species and "do not belong in a native community any more than kangaroos" belong here.
Well, are not humans a species too? I believe it is Homo Sapiens. And, I will make the probably correct assumption that you are not a Native American, as most of us here in America aren't. Did not the Europeans not come to this continent and displace a native species? In fact, wasn't the ensuing genocide and subjugation of the human Native species here on this American soil
by European humans, an example of an "invasive species" decimating and being destructive to a native species? As you say, "it is a shame that an invasive species is promoted before our own native species". Yes, it is a shame that we Europeans have "brutally killed" the native human species that were here already, and have subjugated and marginalized the remaining natives, making them into a "threatened and endangered species".
By your own logic then, WE shouldn't be here! By the way, regarding feral cats, it's our "invasive" European ancestors who brought these cats here to begin with, remember? If there is blame, it's ours. Perhaps we should leave and go back to Europe, and take our cats with us? Also, as has been pointed out, it is us, European Homo Sapiens invaders of this continent, that have have decimated hundreds if not thousands of animal species on this continent by our destructive behavior since we have been here. Give the
cat species a break, will you? After all, it is their home just as much as it is yours now, and they as much as you have a right to eat. And before you climb on your high horse again, reflect on the fact that you belong to an invasive species much more destructive than cats.

(Report Comment)
Atish Sen March 16, 2008 | 10:51 p.m.

I second Mr. Cooper's sentiments. Arguements based on a concept of invasive species is unhelpful and does not address the issue of too many feral cats in Columbia. People just dump their cats for a variety of silly reasons. Also, they do not spay or neuter their cats. A city/county-wide regulation requiring spaying and neutering domestic cats would help in controling the feral cat population here. Trapping and euthanize stray and feral cats does to solve the problem. Other strays and ferals move into the area because it is a source of food and water.
I am Christina's husband (as per our marriage certificate) and am not David McCullen (an ingeneous creation by the author of the article). When Christina decided to care for this feral cat colony a year and a half ago I went along with her wishes to support her. Since then I have been amazed with the relationship that we have with these cats. Some care and affection, and some of the cats are now like pets. We can pet them, play with them, and in some cases have them on our laps. It did not take much effort to see these cats reverting back to their domesticated personas. It is heartening to see these cats wait for us and when they see our car come running up to greet us. Then they lead us, in procession, to their feeding stations.
To those who are up on their hind legs objecting to the care of feral cats my suggestion is to expand their horizon. As someone who never had any pet when growing up, I find that having a feral cat beginning to trust me, is a wonderful feeling.

(Report Comment)
feral cat March 16, 2008 | 10:56 p.m.

Will,while examining my logic, you committed so many errors in logic that I dont think I can cover them all.
1. Man(Homo Sapien) whether native American or european is just one species. So while we did commit some level of genocide(I believe that word is reserved for the ENTIRE extermination of a race or cultural group. And there are still many native Americans) we could not be considered an invasive species in relation to native Americans(or to North America.) I believe you are confused about the difference between a race and a species.
2. Yes we brought cats here as pets. Not to roam free along with extra food and health care provided by people who think they are "helping".
3. The cat species needs no "break" from me. It is doing quite well. Many of our native species are not doing so well, due in part, to people allowing their cat to kill our native, threatened and endangered species. Sorry if you see the value of one species higher than another. I want them all to survive. By promoting and helping feral cats you are promising the end of several species of native birds and reptiles.
4. Sorry if there are any grammer or spelling errors, I have a science background.

(Report Comment)
Holly Oswald February 12, 2009 | 8:30 a.m.

Feral cat- It is true that outdoor cats do occasionally kill birds and other species; however, the main cause of bird and wildlife decline is habitat loss, which is caused by humans, not cats. Development and pesticides kill way more birds than cats do. People are also at fault for the rising population in feral cats.
Cats can be removed, but the food source – rodents, dumpsters, etc. – remains. Thus, the surviving cats have less competition for food. They will breed several times a year, quickly recolonizing. A study by Karl Zaunbrecher, DVM, published in The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, also showed that removal creates a vacuum, which can be followed by an influx of an equal number of new cats. With the new cats, fighting and nuisance spraying increases as the new cats compete for a place in the community. In little time, you are back to square one.
An established colony will defend its territory to protect the food source, limiting the addition of new cats to the group; for this reason, leaving spayed and neutered cats in a colony is the best deterrent to population growth. The TNR approach stabilizes the colonies and eliminates many of the problems people find annoying about feral cats. Spraying and urine odor abates; mating yowls are eliminated; and fighting is reduced.

The only way to solve both of the problems is to promote spay and neuter and responsible pet ownership. Humans created this problem, not the feral cats.

(Report Comment)
Herman Kirkpatrick May 11, 2010 | 9:49 p.m.

Aren't we getting a little silly here. Cats are a great annoyance, whether neutered or not. They dig and poop in gardens and flower beds, and they certainly kill millions of birds. Why should people be inconvenienced by these animals? Moreover, is it any more painful for a cat to be put down or even shot than for it to be put to sleep to be neutered? Cat lovers, please love one cat at a time and have some consideration for people who don't want the inconvenience. These are cats, which have no souls, no afterlife. If you want to do some real good in the world, help human beings. Let's allow unlicensed cats to be exterminated.

1Jack Mack

(Report Comment)

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