Community Cat Advocacy
Community cats include all cats that live outside in our communities - those that are friendly but without indoor homes, unsocialized (feral) cats, and all other cats that are free-roaming in our neighborhoods.
Why Help Community Cats?
Community cats exist due to a failure of humans to properly care for pet cats, allowing them to breed and discarding them to the outdoors. These cats need and deserve our help, as do the communities that are trying to do right by them to stop reproduction and the cycle that leads to more suffering.
How We Can Help Community Cats
The most important thing we can do is Trap-Neuter-Return, sterilizing the cats, vaccinating them, and providing any needed veterinary care so that they can be good members of the community. Remember, if you feed you must also TNR to properly manage a colony.
So why talk about community cats? The number one source of cats entering our shelters is from this population, and over 3 million cats each year are taken to shelters. The problem, of course, is there are not enough folks adopting all these cats, forcing shelters to euthanize nearly 1 million cats each year. While the shelter and rescue communities work endlessly to find enough homes, they simply do not exist. Another issue with community cats is from a humane standpoint. Remember that even feral cats are from a domesticated
species and are still dependent on humans to some extent. Don’t get me wrong, these animals are amazing survivors – I’ve seen many cats with healed fractures, missing limbs, and lost eyes that appear to be doing just fine. That does not mean that all community cats can or even the majority will thrive without any human intervention. This is especially true of the previously “owned” cats that are tossed outside and abandoned by the humans that were responsible for their care. If all they have known was indoor life, imagine how they feel out there.
One real caveat that must be considered is that TNR needs to be targeted in order to work properly. What does that mean? All of the cats in one colony should be TNR’d as quickly as possible before moving to another colony. This makes sense based on how cats reproduce. They will increase the population exponentially and could render any TNR efforts useless if we do a few at a time from multiple colonies. Getting as close to 100% done at one time is more efficient as well, since you will not be re-trapping cats that have already gone through the surgery. Though this sounds like a daunting task, with the help of community partners, their trapping supplies and expertise, we have done colonies of 40, 50, and even 90+ cats in a single weekend. This would not be possible without high volume, high quality spay/neuter (HVHQSN), using more efficient surgical techniques that allow for smaller incisions, less time under anesthesia, and faster recoveries for the cats. This way we not only have the ability to help more cats, but we can get those who live outdoors back to their homes, and away from the stress that interactions with humans causes, more rapidly. Each year at Frankie’s Friends, we spay or neuter around 9,000 cats. Although we never seem to have a shortage of patients, I can only imagine how many more cats there would be in our region if those dedicated community cat advocates were not bringing in cats for TNR.
Using TNR to manage community cats not only benefits the cats, but the human community as well. Spayed and neutered cats are better citizens. They will rarely fight or loudly vocalize since the reason for most conflicts is associated with mating. Neutered male cats typically stop spraying urine. Vaccinated cats are protected against rabies and provides a “buffer zone” between us and rabid wild animals when they keep the wildlife out of their territories. Well-fed and healthy cats in managed colonies will keep rodents and their associated vectors of human disease away from us. I hear a lot of misconceptions about disease in community cats while assisting various cities and boroughs in dealing with issues in their communities. People are worried that feral cats will spread disease to humans, but direct interaction between people and feral cats does not occur in the majority of circumstances, as feral cats like other
wild animals, avoid human interaction. We are much more likely to get cat scratch disease (CSD) from a non-flea treated pet cat (Bartonella henselae bacteria that cause CSD are in flea feces). Other zoonotic conditions can be spread from the environment shared with cats but requires ingestion of the cat’s fecal material. Toxoplasmosis, often singled out as a concern by “anti-catters,” in addition to having to be transmitted by the fecal-oral route mentioned above, is only shed for two weeks in a cat’s entire lifespan and causes no ill effects to the vast majority of humans. There is a higher risk of getting toxoplasmosis from eating meat.
In all honesty, there is no viable argument against targeted TNR as the means for community cat management. Killing community cats isn’t only ethically questionable, it is not scientifically sound. The resources in the area still exist, and cats from neighboring colonies will come in and establish a new colony, causing a vicious circle. In a study with badgers, it only took 5 years for the reestablishment of a colony, so I would expect it would be even quicker since cats are induced ovulators and can have up to 3 litters each season. Relocating cats will produce the same result and is not easy on the cats being displaced. Ultimately, whether people love or hate community cats, we agree that we need to reduce their populations. The goal in the words of the Humane Society of the United States is to “dramatically and humanely reduce the number of cats outdoors, leading to much less risk and harm to the cats, no predation of birds and wildlife and the elimination of potential public health concerns and nuisance-related issues” through TNR.
It is up to us to realize that community cats are all our cats. It is our responsibility to help them in a way that makes them good members of our communities. The only sustainable way to do that is through targeted TNR. There are many groups out there that can help, but we do need more members of the veterinary community to step up. I want to invite anyone interested in
joining the effort to help community cats to contact us at Frankie’s Friends so we can connect you to people in your area who are out there directly working with the colonies. I would also invite any veterinarians, technicians, and veterinary students who want to learn more about HVHQSN, and how you can hone your skills to help more community cats, to reach out to us. Targeted TNR in Western Pennsylvania can happen when we all work together. We can save lives and make our communities better places for both human and feline citizens.
Helping Community Cats and their Communities through TNR
by Dr. Becky L. Morrow
Regardless of where you live, I bet that you have seen at least one “stray” cat wondering around your neighborhood. While she may be a lost cat, more often than not, even if the cat is friendly, she probably does not have an indoor home. It may be surprising to hear that there are tens of millions of cats living outside of our homes in the United States. We just don’t see that many cats around in most cases. Why is that? Many of these cats are what we refer to as “feral.” Though they are members of the same species as that furball purring on your lap, these cats have reverted to a wild or semi-wild (“semi-feral”) state. Feral cats typically avoid human interactions and often come out at night when we are less likely to be around. Of course, there are friendly cats outside as well, often referred to as “stray” cats. All these free-roaming cats, whether feral or friendly, are called “community cats.” Community cats live in groups that we call colonies. A colony can be as small as a group of 6 cats or include over 100 cats. It really depends on the geography of the area, available resources such as food, water, and shelter, and whether the cats routinely interact with one another.