"It is very important to have all community cats spayed/neutered because it is the only 100-percent-effective way to prevent unwanted kittens."
– Aimee Christian,
ASPCA Vice President of Spay/Neuter Operations
While the number of community cats in the United States is estimated to be in the tens of millions, sadly, many communities still opt to control populations using outdated, ineffective methods—including lethal elimination or relocation. Community cats who end up in shelters make up a large percentage of cats euthanized throughout the country every year. The ASPCA endorses Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) as the only proven humane and effective method to manage community cat colonies.
Community cats include the following:
While some community cats tolerate a bit of human contact, most are too fearful and wild to be handled. Community cats often live in groups, called colonies, and take refuge wherever they can find food. They will also try to seek out abandoned buildings or deserted cars—or even dig holes in the ground—to keep warm in winter months and cool during the summer heat.
If a community cat survives kittenhood, his average lifespan is less than two years if living on his own. If a cat is lucky enough to be in a colony that has a caretaker, he may reach 10 years. Community cats who live in a managed colony—a colony with a dedicated caretaker who provides spay/neuter services, regular feedings and proper shelter—can live a quite content life.
A community cat is primarily wild-raised or has adapted to community life. The ASPCA defines a stray cat as someone's pet who has become lost, or who has been abandoned.
TNR is the method of humanely trapping community cats, having them spayed or neutered and vaccinated against rabies, and then returning them to their colony to live out their lives. TNR also involves a colony caretaker who provides food and adequate shelter and monitors the cats' health. TNR has been shown to be the least costly and the most humane, efficient way of stabilizing community cat populations. TNR helps stabilize the population of community colonies and, over time, reduces them. Nuisance behaviors such as spraying, excessive noisemaking and fighting are largely eliminated and no additional kittens are born.
By stabilizing the population, cats will naturally have more space, shelter and food and fewer risks of disease. After being spayed or neutered, cats living in colonies tend to gain weight and live healthier lives. Spayed cats are less likely to develop breast cancer and will not be at risk for ovarian or uterine cancer, while neutered males will not get testicular cancer. Neutering male cats also reduces the risk of injury and infection, since intact males have a natural instinct to fight with other cats. Spaying also means female cats do not go into heat. That means they attract fewer tom cats to the area, which reduces fighting.
A community colony caretaker is an individual (or group of individuals) who manages one or more community colonies in a community. The caretaker keeps an eye on the cats—providing food, water and shelter, spaying/neutering and emergency medical care. Some shelters and rescue groups even give out free or low-cost spay/neuter coupons to colony caretakers.
To get started, download our guide, visit the Alley Cat Allies online community for ideas and expertise or attend Neighborhood Cats’ online workshops.
Ear-tipping is a widely accepted means of marking a community cat who has been spayed or neutered. It also often identifies them as being part of a colony with a caretaker. Ear-tipping is the humane, safe surgical removal of the top quarter-inch of the left ear. The procedure is performed by a licensed veterinarian, typically during the spay/neuter surgery and rarely requires aftercare. Ear-tipping prevents an already-spayed or neutered cat the stress of re-trapping and an unnecessary surgery.
To help your cats be better neighbors to your neighbors, kindness and patience are key. Find out what about the cats is bothering your neighbors and work with them on those specific issues. Let them know that TNR offers a solution that helps both the cats and the human residents.
Sprays, motion-activated sprinklers and ultrasonic animal repellents, coupled with TNR and ongoing management, can help you and your neighbors coexist with your neighborhood cats. Just make sure your product of choice is nontoxic to animals.
Community cats are not adoptable and shelters rarely will accept them. The fact is, most community cats exhibit wild, shy or frightened behavior, and it's impossible to predict how or if they will ever acclimate to indoor life. While a community cat might look exactly the same as a pet cat, community cats survive by avoiding close human interaction. When properly cared for, community cats are happier outdoors in their own territory.
Some semi-community cats are actually stray cats who don't exhibit quite the same shy behavior as the majority of community cats. Occasionally, these cats are born in the wild but, for no particular reason are less fearful of humans than is typical. Many semi-community cats lack the knowledge to survive on their own, and are often rejected by established colonies. It is possible for some of these cats to be socialized, but it depends on their trust of humans. It is very important to take caution, especially with cats who seem to straddle the fence between community and friendly. Getting them to trust people again might be hard, making them extremely difficult to adopt out.
Eradication: The deliberate and systematic destruction of a community cat colony, by whatever method, almost always leads to the “vacuum effect”—either new cats flock to the vacated area to exploit whatever food source attracted the original inhabitants, or survivors breed and their descendants are more cautious around threats. Simply put, eradication is only a temporary fix that sacrifices animals' lives unnecessarily, yet yields no positive or beneficial return.
Relocation: Many communities have rounded up colonies of community cats either for euthanasia or to relocate them to another area. This does not work, because community cats are very connected with their territory: They are familiar with its food sources and places that offer shelter, as well as resident wildlife, other cats in the area, and potential threats to their safety. Even when all community cats are removed, which is difficult to achieve, new cats will soon move in and set up camp.
Relocation is something to consider only if keeping the cats where they are becomes a threat to their lives, such as their territory being demolished and there is no adjacent space to shift them to, or if the cats' lives would be at extreme risk should they remain where they are.