Feral kitty under wooden pallets

All photos: Elizabeth and Jason Putsche/Photographers For Animals

Jason and Elizabeth Putsche are a husband and wife photography team that have spent the last five years observing and documenting the enigmatic lives of feral cats, also known as alley cats, street cats and community cats.

Whatever you call them, these wild, resilient creatures have long been misunderstood and maligned by humans, which is a shame because all felines — domestic or feral — deserve respect.

"The care and compassion we give our animals at home should be extended to these cats, even if we can’t pet them," Elizabeth explains. "Each has a personality and individuality — and each has a story to tell."

In an effort to dispel myths and encourage people to think twice about their feline prejudices, the Putsche's are working on a documentary that brings the plight of feral cats into the spotlight. The project is part of Photographers For Animals, a nonprofit founded by the Putsche's in 2014 to inspire positive changes that benefit animals.

Kitten cuddling adult cat

Cats become feral when they are not raised in proximity with humans early in their lives. This lack of socialization makes it very difficult to successfully adopt them out once they've reached adulthood.

On the surface, not having a "forever home" might sound like a sad, lonely fate for all the adorable stray kitties in the world, but the truth is that most cats are perfectly capable of surviving in the wild. Removing a feral cat from its colony and asking it to conform to the role of a house pet is usually just a death sentence. In fact, unsocialized feral cats are at the highest risk to be killed when brought to shelters.

Instead, many cat advocates recommend allowing them to roam wild, while also enhancing their quality of life through local Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs. During a TNR operation, volunteers humanely trap the cats, bring them to a vet clinic to be neutered and vaccinated and then release them back into their neighborhood.

Cat with nicked ear

To prevent retrapping the same cats over and over again, the cats are "eartipped," which is an universally accepted method of tagging that involved nipping the very tip of a cat's ear while they're asleep during their surgery.

A group of feral kitties

"There are a lot of misconceptions about community cats," says Elizabeth. "We want people to see them as they truly are — independent, healthy, loved, and thriving outdoors."

Continue below for more photos from their project, and be sure to follow Jason Pustche Photography for more updates!

Black cats walking around boat trailers

Kitty hanging out under porch

Kittens with mother cat

Cat hanging out near fire hydrant

Kitty couple

Cat near trashcan

Feral cats in the alley

Kitty peeking out

Cat with ducks

Cats on picnic table

Feral cat yawn

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Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

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Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.

Alley cats gain a powerful ally in photographers
These captivating, resilient creatures have long been misunderstood and maligned by humans.