…There is a difference.
A “stray” cat is one who has been abandoned or who has wandered away from home and become lost. Stray cats often remain friendly or can easily be re-socialized, and are good candidates for adoption into a new home.
A “feral” cat is an unsocialized cat, born to a stray or unsocialized mother and never exposed to human companionship, or a cat that has reverted to unsocialized behavior after spending a long time lost or abandoned. Such cats are fearful of humans and avoid contact; they will not behave aggressively unless they are cornered or mistreated. “Feral” adult cats usually cannot be tamed or live comfortably indoors with people. “Feral” kittens placed in a loving and attentive foster home before ten weeks of age can usually be fully socialized and put up for adoption.
Whether “stray” or “feral,” the reason there are so many free-roaming cats is the same: our neglect as a community. We must all share the responsibility for breaking the reproductive cycle that brings staggering numbers of unwanted kittens into the world each year. Bringing free-roaming cats to the shelter or rounding them up for removal and/or euthanization is not only cruel but simply doesn’t work.
What does work is trap-neuter-return (TNR). This practice, which is at the heart of ICRA’s philosophy, reduces feral cat populations and improves their quality of life. Stray and feral cats are humanely trapped, evaluated, vaccinated, neutered, and given needed medical attention. Tame cats and young kittens are placed in foster homes and, when ready, placed for adoption; unsocialized cats are returned to a safe location where they live out their lives under the watchful eye of volunteer caregivers.