Position Statement on Community Cats and Community Cat Programs
The ASPCA supports humane, lawful, and effective strategies for humanely managing community cat populations, including programs involving trap-neuter-return-monitor (TNRM), return to field (RTF) or, as a last resort, community cat relocation (CCR). Such community cat programs not only provide life-saving options for cats who might otherwise be euthanized when admitted to a shelter but also can stabilize, and even reduce over time, the population of community cat colonies (Levy and Crawford, 2004; Robertson, 2008).
Community cat populations generally consist of a mixture of feral cats, semi-socialized cats and lost and abandoned pets. Community cats are found in all areas of the country and tend to gather together in colonies. No one knows how many community cats live in the United States, but estimates are in the tens of millions. Community cat issues are complex and varied, impacted by geography, climate, the presence of other animals including predators, past and current community cat programming, cultural norms and numerous other factors. As such, multiple approaches, crafted to address the particular needs of a given community, are often necessary in order to effect a positive impact for cats and the communities in which they live.
Community cat programs may also raise legal issues, including those related to laws prohibiting abandonment of animals or defining and creating obligations for animal owners and caretakers. Before engaging in any community cat program, legal counsel should be consulted to ensure that the program’s activities are permitted under applicable state and local law.
COMMUNITY CAT PROGRAMS AND THEIR ALTERNATIVES
As discussed in detail below, it is the ASPCA’s position that unsocialized community cats are best served by focusing resources on TNRM and RTF programs, distribution of exclusionary devices (such as fencing and keeping garbage bins closed) and deterrents, and public education concerning the humane management of community cats. Socialized community cats are best served by placement into new homes whenever possible. In all cases, community cat programs involve sterilization which decreases nuisance behaviors and increases welfare. To achieve the additional goal of decreasing the overall size of the community cat population, research has shown that a critical number of cats in a colony, neighborhood or other defined location must all be sterilized within a relatively short time period. Studies have estimated that more than 60 to 80% of remaining intact cats (Budke and Slater 2009, Miller et al 2014) in the group must be sterilized each year for the population to decline over time.
The alternatives to community cat programs, including trap-euthanize strategies, have been shown to be impractical, ineffective, and often inhumane. With the exception of closed populations of cats on islands, attempts to eradicate cat colonies almost universally failed. Cats who are removed are replaced through reproduction, the movement of other cats into the territory and the addition of lost and abandoned animals who repopulate the vacated space (Campbell, et al 2011). Feeding bans are difficult to enforce and are ineffective at decreasing cat populations. For those cats who have become dependent on food provided by a caregiver, a feeding ban can be inhumane, as it often forces cats to subsist on insufficient resources.
The ASPCA does not support the management of cat colonies in ecologically sensitive areas; in areas where demolition or development is likely to cause harm or where cats are being subjected to harm or abuse. In such cases, the ASPCA recommends relocation of community cats and/or the adoption of friendly cats. After the cats are removed, exclusionary measures and deterrents should be put into place to prevent immigration of new cats to the area.
It is important to note that community cat programs should be considered as just one component of a multi-pronged approach to cat issues in the community served. A comprehensive approach requires that community cat stakeholder groups be engaged and any program be implemented in partnership with other TNRM, RTF or relocation programs, and with low/no cost sterilization programs. Any cat program implemented in isolation is less likely to be successful and often will not efficiently utilize whatever resources are available to support cats, whether community cats or owned cats.
A discussion of considerations and guidelines for TNRM, RTF, and CCR program continues below. In addition to the guidelines referenced herein, additional minimum guidelines for RTF programs are included in Addendum 2.
Program Considerations: Trap-Neuter-Return-Monitor (TNRM)
Ideally, the management of community cats should include trapping, scanning for the presence of a microchip, vaccination, sterilization, ear “tipping” (surgical removal of the tip of one ear as a visible sign that the cat has been sterilized), microchipping (when feasible), returning the cat to its original location, and caregiver(s) monitoring and caring for the colony, e.g., ensuring the cats receive adequate food, water and shelter. Sterilization not only prevents birth, but also largely eliminates the objectionable spraying, vocalizing and fighting behaviors of cats in the colony.
TNRM programs should only return the cats if they have a caregiver, if the environment is conducive to successful outdoor living, and if there are no known threats by local residents to the cats. Recognition by animal control officers and shelter staff that an ear-tipped cat has already been sterilized allows for healthy cats to remain at or to be returned to their origin, rather than be admitted to an animal shelter. TNRM programs should also assist with installation of exclusionary measures or deterrents to limit cats’ presence in dangerous, ecologically sensitive or contested areas.
TNRM programs are preferred over RTF programs because;
1) services are provided to the cat without involving admission to an animal shelter, which increases stress for the cat and the potential for exposure to disease, and
2) the involvement of a caregiver increases the likelihood of success of the community cat population, by supporting the wellbeing and safety of the cats, and provides a point of contact for the community when issues or complaints arise.
Program Considerations: Return-to-Field (RTF)
RTF programs involve community cats who have been admitted to an animal shelter, brought in by animal control personnel or by members of the public. The ASPCA estimates that 3.4 million cats enter animal shelters each year, an event that may result in an opportunity for their owner to find them or new family to adopt them, but which also puts cats at risk of extreme stress, illness and euthanasia. Although a home for social cats and TNRM for unsocial community cats represent ideal results for those cats, it is important to consider the potential benefit of other programs like RTF given the millions of cats at risk in communities and in our nation’s shelters.
To be considered for an RTF program, the cat must be unowned, ineligible or unlikely to be successful in an adoption program (with very rare exceptions, social cats admitted to animal shelters should be routed into adoption programs that demonstrate a high placement rate rather than RTF programs), be able to be returned to the location where found, and appear to have been thriving in their previous environment without known threats to their safety. It is crucial that the exact “found” address be available and recorded as part of the intake process, and every effort should be made to identify whether or not the cat is owned, including scanning for the presence of a microchip, looking for other forms of pet identification such as a collar or identification tag and placing “found” flyers within a few blocks of where the cat was found. If a cat qualifies for an RTF program, the services provided to the cat are similar to those of a TNRM program, e.g., vaccination, sterilization, ear “tipping” and microchipping.
Unlike TNRM programs, RTF programs rarely require that a caregiver be available to monitor and provide care for the cat following release. For this reason, the ASPCA does not consider RTF programs ideal for social cats and/or preferable to TNRM programs, and the use of RTF programs should never supersede robust and aggressive adoption programs for social cats (ASPCA's Position Statement on Responsibilities of Animal Shelters). However, where permitted by law, RTF programs can represent an acceptable option for unsocial cats who would otherwise be at great risk of euthanasia in a shelter environment.
Resource for Minimum Guidelines: ASPCA’s Minimum Guidelines for RTF Programs (Addendum 2)
Program Considerations: Community Cat Relocation
Community cat relocation should only be considered as a last resort when the cats involved are at known risk, other community cat management strategies are unavailable, and relocation would be permitted under applicable law. Relocation is resource intensive and involves identifying a new location for the cat(s), trapping, scanning for the presence of a microchip, vaccination, sterilization, ear “tipping”), microchipping (when feasible), transportation and finally a carefully managed introduction to the new location. Cats being relocated are released in a new territory, introduced to an existing colony or released in a barn, warehouse or similar location. These locations can be rural or urban, are commonly on private property, and involve caregivers who own that building/property and who are willing to monitor and provide basic care for the cats. Generally, minimum guidelines for RTF programs apply also to community cat relocation programs.
Information regarding a variety of Community Cat Relocation programs can be found at http://www.alleycat.org/Relocation.
Wildlife and Environmental Considerations
In spite of rigorous debate between advocates of cats and advocates of wildlife, the desired outcome for each of these groups is the same – a reduction in the population of community cats. The ASPCA believes that TNRM, RTF and relocation programs are the most effective, humane and responsible ways to manage or lower the community cat population over time in conjunction with programs for owned cats including easy access to free/low cost sterilization services and free collars and identification tags with the owner’s phone number.
While the challenges faced by wildlife are significant and complex, community cats are, at times, erroneously singled out as a convenient target. Indeed, it is well accepted that human impacts like construction, roads, nest disturbance, light pollution, pesticides, destruction of habitat, etc. are the primary threats to wildlife, including threatened and endangered species, as well as changes in the environment. The existence of community cats is ultimately traceable to human activity, and communities bear responsibility for solving the problems they themselves have created. It is unscientific and irrational to choose a single factor, like the presence of cats, and assign blame for the challenges faced by wildlife. Furthermore, even if the presence of cats is shown to impact wildlife, community cat programs, which have as their goal a humane reduction in cat population, remain a desirable solution to minimizing any actual (rather than perceived) threats to other species.
Moreover, scientifically-based knowledge of the success of cat or other predator removal is incomplete. Some studies (Baker et al 2008, Doherty and Ritchie 2016) have specifically examined conditions before and after cat removal and have not shown an increase in breeding success or survival of the species of interest. Additionally, removing enough of any predator to decrease their population size is quite difficult. If the removal of an introduced species such as cats is considered, the ASPCA recommends a comprehensive assessment to determine the potential impact of such an intervention. Without such an assessment, it is quite possible to produce unintended and undesirable consequences for the remaining species and cause more harm than good.
While we continue our work to support robust adoption programs for cats, millions of cats who have no home remain at risk across the country. Community cats exist because of generations of human action and inaction, therefore humanely addressing the needs of these cats and implementing programs which help prevent their reproduction, are the responsibility of the communities in which they live. The ASPCA encourages cat advocates, animal shelters and rescues, local government officials and the public to work together, and believes that lawful TNRM, RTF, and, as a last resort, community cat relocation programs, are humane and effective approaches for managing and controlling community cat populations.
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Baker, P.J., Molony, S.E., Stone, E. et al. (2008) Cats about town: is predation by free-ranging pet cats Felis catus likely to affect urban bird populations? Ibis, 150 (Suppl. 1), 86-99.
Budke, C.M. & Slater, M.R. (2009) Utilization of Matrix Population Models to Assess a 3-Year Single Treatment Nonsurgical Contraception Program Versus Surgical Sterilization in Feral Cat Populations. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 12:4, 277—292
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Chu,K. & Anderson,W.M. (2007) U.S. public opinion on humane treatment of stray cats. Law and Policy Brief, Alley Cat Allies, Bethesda, MD.
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Doherty, T.S & Ritchie, E.G. (2016) Stop jumping the gun: a call for evidence based invasive predator management. Conservation Letters, DOI: 10.1111/conl.12251.
Gerdin, J.A., Slater, M.R., Makolinski, K. et al. (2011) Post-mortem findings in 54 cases of anesthetic associated death in cats from two spay-neuter programs in New York State. Journal of Feline Medicine & Surgery, 13 (12), 959-966.
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Levy, J.K., & Crawford, P.C. (2004) Humane strategies for controlling feral cat populations. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 225(9), 1354-1360.
Levy, J.K., Gale, D.W. & Gale, L.A. (2003) Evaluation of the effect of a long-term trap-neuter-return and adoption program on a free roaming cat population. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, 222 (1), 42-46.
Meckstroth, A.M. & Miles, A.K. (2005) Predator removal and nesting waterbird success at San Francisco Bay, California. Waterbirds, 28, 2, 250-255.
Mendes-de-Almeida, F., Faria, M.C.F., Branco, A.S. et al. (2004) Sanitary conditions of a colony of urban feral cats in a zoological garden of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rev.Inst.Med.trop.S.Paulo, 46 (5), 269-274.
Miller PS, Boone JD, Briggs JR, Lawler DF, Levy JK, et al. (2014) Simulating Free-Roaming Cat Population Management Options in Open Demographic Environments. PLoSONE, 9(11): e113553. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0113553.
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Nutter, F.B. Evaluation of a trap-neuter-return management program for feral cat colonies: population dynamics home ranges, and potentially zoonotic diseases. PhD Thesis 2005, North Carolina State University.
Robertson, S. (2008) A review of feral cat control. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 10, 366-375.
Schmidt, P.M., Lopez, R.R. & Collier, B.A. (2007) Survival, fecundity, and movements of free-roaming cats. Journal of Wildlife Management, 71 (3), 915-919.
Scott, K.C., Levy, J.K. & Crawford, P.C. (2002a) Characteristics of free-roaming cats evaluated in a trap-neuter-return program. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, 221 (8), 1136-1138.
Scott, K.C., Levy, J.K. & Gorman, S.P. (2002b) Body condition of feral cats and the effect of neutering. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 5 (3), 203-213.
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Return to Field/Shelter Neuter Return
Million Cat Challenge
The Million Cat Challenge is a program lead by Drs. Hurley and Levy and others as an alternative to euthanasia of healthy adult cats coming in to shelters who have no known owner. There are five key initiatives for this program; alternatives to intake, managed admission, capacity for care, removing barriers to adoption and return to field.
A specific public-private collaborative community cat program implemented in Jacksonville, FL, in 2008 by First Coast No More Homeless Pets, Jacksonville Animal Care and Protective Services, and First Coast Humane Society. The program is a combination of TNR and RTF/SNR programs in which cats are trapped, neutered, vaccinated, micro-chipped and returned to the field. Visit http://www.fcnmhp.org/feral-freedom/ for more information
Trap/Neuter/Return and Monitor
For best practices on TNRM/TNR programs, visit: Guide to Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) and Colony Care from Alley Cat Allies, the ASPCA and the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals.
Additional TNR/TNRM resources:
For reference, the ASPCA defines RTF (Return-to-Field) / SNR (Shelter-Neuter-Return) as a shelter program for community cats who have been admitted to the shelter which involves returning apparently healthy, mature (generally 16 weeks or older, no less than 4 pounds in weight) free-roaming cats back to the location where they were found after the cats are altered, vaccinated and sometimes microchipped. These cats may or may not have a known caregiver.
RTF programs differ from TNRM (Trap-Neuter-Return-Monitor) and TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) programs in that the cats involved have been admitted to a shelter, providing a potential life-saving option for cats who are not suitable candidates for the shelter’s already strong adoption program. TNRM or TNR programs provide services for community cats, but don’t admit or shelter the cats.
When considering the implementation of Return-to-Field programs, the ASPCA recommends these basic guidelines and offers several additional considerations.
- Determine and state the specific goal(s) of the RTF program, for example; a reduction of cat euthanasias in the community, or reduction in the number of nuisance cat calls, or a decrease in overall shelter population of cats or shortening the length of stay for cats in the shelter.
- Establish a description of what the RTF program is, how it will work and how program success will be assessed. Program guidelines and policies should be established in writing. Program guidelines, policies, and logistics such as messaging and communication with local residents may be driven by the type of RTF model being considered. There are a variety of RTF program models in use across the country, including;
- proactively targeting specific neighborhoods of high stray intake,
- offering RTF as an alternative live outcome to citizens who bring in stray cats or are requesting assistance with a stray cat,
- or some combination of those two models.
- Ensure compliance with local ordinances and state law. When the law doesn’t accommodate an RTF program, it can be helpful to seek official permission to conduct a pilot project to demonstrate impact and effectiveness.
- A consistent communications and outreach program must be in place and be specific to the program model(s) being implemented.
- General program information – share information with the public regarding the program; including where the program is operating, how citizens can get more information and what other programs are available to increase lives saved and decrease shelter intake.
- Targeted (location specific) programs – share information in the neighborhood where RTF will be implemented about how the program works, where residents can get more information or request services (like trap-neuter-return-management training and spay/neuter services). Share this information in a manner that’s most likely to reach neighborhood residents including media outreach, door hangers, community bulletins, etc.
- Alternative Live Release programs - if the program is being offered as an alternative live outcome for stray cats, be prepared to discuss this option, including details regarding how the program works, when residents call with concerns about community cats.
- Humane deterrents – for any RTF program, staff should be available to respond to nuisance cat complaints, including discussing and troubleshooting humane deterrents with citizens contacting the organization with complaints or concerns about free-roaming cats. Talking points, scripts and FAQs developed for internal use by staff will help ensure consistency in messaging and direction to the public. Handout materials for the public will also be helpful.
- Time specific – for both targeted and alternative live outcome program models, it is crucial that local residents be notified when a cat is returned to the field. Notification should occur at the time of return and include information on the program and the services provided to the cat. Notification should be provided in a manner most likely to be received by neighborhood residents. Contact information must also be available so residents can ask questions or request services.
- Make best efforts to agree on the location of critical habitat areas in your community, so that the protection of those areas can be taken into account when establishing appropriate locations for RTF programs.
- Define a process by which cats are determined to be eligible for RTF or not. This requires accurate intake data be collected at the time of admission so that a thoughtful decision can be made regarding program options for the cat. For example:
- Was the cat owner surrendered or stray?
- If stray, what is the reason for shelter intake, i.e., complaint-based, general concern for well-being, or other?
- What information is available about potential caregivers or owners?
- How long has the cat been seen in the neighborhood?
- What evidence is there, if any, that someone has been providing care/food/shelter for the cat?
- Has anyone complained about the cat, or cats being a nuisance or unwanted in the area?
- Has anyone in the neighborhood threatened the well-being of the cat, or other free-roaming cats in the neighborhood?
- Very specific information (from the intake process) about where the cat was found or trapped must be gathered. A street address or cross streets with a description of the exact location is most vital (trapped at the corner of 1st and University, in the SW corner, by the dead tree). This information is critical for those transporting RTF cats back to their home.
- Return the cat to where it was found, using reasonable precautions. If the exact location is no longer accessible, a release location must be very nearby, with no major barriers or dangers in the pathway to the original location. Watch for busy roads, fencing, or territory that is no longer safe for the cats to inhabit, etc.
- Follow TNR Best Practices regarding trapping, ear-tipping, housing, transporting and release.
- Ensure the RTF program is complemented by a rigorous adoption program for friendly pet cats, as adoption is the preferred outcome for such cats. See “additional considerations” for more information.
- The minimum age for cats eligible for a return to field program is generally 16 weeks of age. Cats of this age are more likely to be able to fare well on their own and are old enough to be rabies vaccinated. There are “additional considerations” below regarding younger kittens and queens with their litter.
- If the RTF program includes the intake and care of cats appearing to be feral or extremely fearful, as mentioned previously, TNRM/TNR best practices should be followed for the housing, care and handling of those cats, including segregated housing, shortened length of stay and minimal handling.
- Only RTF cats that, upon physical exam, appear to be thriving and healthy.
- Don’t RTF specific cats if it’s not safe to do so (prohibitive weather events, threats from neighborhood residents, destruction of their territory, etc.).
- All cats in an RTF program must be vaccinated for rabies (at a minimum) and be spayed or neutered with an ear tip.
- Cats should NOT be considered for RTF who are:
- not thriving outdoors,
- declawed or blind,
- previously indoor-only, or primarily indoor-only based on intake information,
- unable to live on their own (for example, neonate kittens without a mother, a cat with a chronic condition that requires medication or other ongoing treatment, etc.)
- suffering from an acute or chronic condition (eye infections, abscesses, amputations)
Additional Considerations and Guiding Questions
- Friendly Pet Cats. If RTF is considered for friendly, healthy cats that would be suitable for adoption as a pet, it should be considered a last resort option. When determining whether to include friendly pet cats in an RTF program, consider the following:
- What haven’t you tried yet to expand your adoption program? See ASPCAPro.org for some new ideas.
- What is your adoption rate for friendly, healthy cats? If your adoption rate is low, consider new ideas for adoption first before RTF.
- What is your overall Live Release Rate for cats?
- What is your average Length of Stay for friendly, healthy cats? If your LOS is long, see http://www.aspcapro.org/stay for ideas on how to fast track and shorten LOS.
- What percentage of your feline intake are strays?
- What percentage of your feline intake are friendly?
- What percentage of your feline intake are healthy?
- How are you determining “healthy”, “thriving”, and “friendly”?
- Collaboration. A collaborative approach is key to the success of community wide programs for animals at risk. All local shelters and animal control agencies should be involved when possible. When local cooperation is sought but not achieved, it’s still important to address and resolve potential active opposition to such programs. Often, seeking permission to conduct a pilot RTF project to demonstrate potential impact is a good first step when local resistance exists. Consider these guiding questions to help determine your program approach:
- What is your relationship/reputation in the community?
- What is your relationship with other animal protection organizations and community cat stakeholders in your community?
- What other community cat stakeholders can you work with to determine if there is a caregiver or feeder for a cat when he or she is RTF’d? Other community cat organizations often have vital connections into the community and can identify feeders or caregivers. In addition, they may have access to have low cost options for spay/neuter of other cats in colonies when only one is returned.
- What is the general level of acceptance of free-roaming/community cats in your community? Who will handle complaints from residents about cats being to their territories? What resources will be available to those residents?
- What is the incidence of cruelty to cats in specific neighborhoods where RTF is being considered? Neighborhoods with recent reports of animal cruelty or long term cat related conflicts are unlikely to be safe for the cats in an RTF program.
- Community Cat Programs. RTF programs should be considered as one component of a multi-pronged approach to community cat issues. If implemented in isolation – fewer resources will be available overall to support cats in the community and ultimately the goal of reducing the community cat population and related nuisance issues is unlikely to be achieved. A comprehensive approach requires that RTF programs engage community cat stakeholder groups and be implemented in partnership with TNRM programs and low/no cost spay/neuter services for the public who own cats. In addition to the items to consider above:
- What complimentary services are offered in your community? Is TNR already in place? What is the availability and cost of spay/neuter services?
- What other support programs do you have in place, ie foster, socialization, etc.?
- Is transportation for spay/neuter a limitation for owner or community cats and how could that be provided?
- How might a cat food bank support retention of pet cats and encourage new feeders or caregivers? Is one available?
- Are there groups that can provide cat shelters (http://aspcapro.org/node/62317) for feeders or caregivers? This is particularly an issue if there are few existing shelter options and bad weather is common.
- What other community cat stakeholders can you work with to determine if a cat has an owner, caregiver or feeder?
- What efforts can you and other collaborators make to offer humane deterrents?
- Age. Although releasing cats at or older than 16 weeks of age is a minimum guideline, there are other considerations regarding age that can be taken into account. Kittens younger than 16 weeks of age can be returned if a known caregiver is available and has agreed to the time and location of return. Also, sometimes the best potential outcome for a queen and her young litter may be an RTF if the weather, location and a caregiver are all conducive to success. Questions to take into consideration:
- What other support programs do you have in place, i.e. foster, socialization, etc.?
- What other community cat stakeholders can you work with to determine if there is a caregiver or feeder?
- At what age can your spay/neuter resources provide services for the kittens?
- Weather. Cold weather is not necessarily unsafe weather, though it’s important to consider available shelter and food sources, and whether or not the weather is extreme or normal for that location. If the cat has just been altered – consider a lengthened surgery recovery period.
- If you know where the cats shelter, consider whether weather makes access to food and shelter difficult (e.g. snow high enough to block shelter entrances and exits; ability of feeder to make it to feeding location)
- What other community cat stakeholders can you work with to determine if there is a caregiver or feeder?
- Can spay/neuter protocols be altered to only shave the cats minimally where absolutely necessary to cut down on body heat loss?
The terminology used to describe community cats and community cat programs is quite varied. The ASPCA uses the following definitions in our work.
Community Cats = a term used to describe outdoor unowned free-roaming cats. These cats could be friendly, feral, adults, kittens, healthy, sick, altered and/or unaltered. They may or may not have a caregiver but do not have an owner. By this definition, the only outdoor free-roaming cats who are NOT community cats are those that are owned; ownership being a legal concept governed by state and local law.
Feral = although “feral” is a well-defined term in biology and behavioral ecology (see below), in animal sheltering it is a term used to describe a cat exhibiting certain behaviors. “Feral cat” is a commonly used phrase; generally referring to a cat who appears unaccustomed to close contact with people and, if taken to an animal shelter, is typically not a candidate for adoption into a home as a pet.
- Feral cats are a subset of community cats.
- Feral, in biology and behavioral ecology, refers to a domesticated animal who is now living wild or free and is not socialized to humans. Cats commonly referred to as feral or behaving in a feral manner may or may not actually fit this definition.
- The kittens of feral-presenting cats can typically be acclimated to humans particularly but not exclusively if behavior modification is done before 8 weeks of age.
- Feral behavior can mask the social history of the cat. For example, a frightened cat may demonstrate feral behavior one day, but with time to acclimate will no longer demonstrate such behavior.
Free-roaming = a term used to describe any cat who is not confined to an owner’s property. Free-roaming cats can be owned or un-owned, and friendly or unfriendly.
TNRM (Trap-Neuter-Return-Monitor) and TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) = community programs for community cats involving actively trapping, sterilizing (spaying or neutering), and sometimes vaccinating and microchipping, community cats and returning them to their original location. If the location is monitored by a caregiver, the program is TNRM. If there is no known caregiver, the program is TNR.
Both of these programs are most often associated with feral cats.
- Friendly cats should ideally be diverted to traditional adoption programs if there is a high likelihood of adoption or alternative placement program.
- This type of program has gained acceptance as an alternative to TE (Trap-Euthanize).
The ASPCA prefers the term TNRM as the monitoring component is strongly encouraged.
TE (Trap-Euthanize) = a program involving trapping and euthanizing community cats. This program may be implemented in response to complaints from local residents or conducted by wildlife officials or others in an effort to reduce or eliminate the community cat population. These programs are often opposed by the public, and are often seen as posing a significant risk for at-large pet cats.
- TE is sometimes advocated for as a means of population control but data does not support its long term efficacy as the percent of cat population actually trapped and euthanized each year is typically too low.
RTF (Return-to-Field) and SNR (Shelter-Neuter-Return) = both terms are used to describe a shelter program for community cats who have been admitted to the shelter. This program involves returning apparently healthy, mature (over 16 weeks of age/at least 4 pounds in weight), community cats back to the location where they were found after the cats are sterilized, vaccinated and sometimes microchipped. These cats may or may not have a known caregiver. The ASPCA uses the term Return-to-Field (RTF).
Community Cat Program = any non-lethal intervention program aimed at improving the health and well-being of community cats, particularly those who are not candidates for adoption as a pet, while also stabilizing or reducing their population size.
Community Cat Relocation = a program or action of last resort that results in the release of community cats (after sterilization, vaccination, ear-tipping and sometimes microchipping) to a location other than their original trapping location or normal home range. Cats being relocated are released in a new territory, introduced to an existing colony or released in a barn, warehouse or similar location. These locations can be rural or urban, are commonly on private property, and involve caregivers who own that building/property and who are willing to monitor and provide basic care for the cats. Cats are generally confined at their new location for 2-3 weeks to allow them to acclimate to their shelter and caregiver, and to help them accept the new location as home.
- Community cat relocation programs are used by some animal shelters to provide positive outcomes for cats who are healthy but aren’t candidates for traditional adoption as a pet and by colony caregivers in rare cases where it is no longer safe for the cats to remain. These programs are often referred to as barn cat programs or alternative placement programs.
Owner, caregiver and feeder are all terms that describe the relationship between cats and people along a continuum.
Owner = a term used to describe a person who self-identifies as being the sole or primary caregiver and decision-maker regarding a cat’s care and wellbeing.
Caregiver = a term used to describe someone who provides food, water, sterilization , monitoring and sometimes shelter and other care for community cats on an ongoing basis (regularly or sporadically).
Feeder = a term used to describe someone who provides food, and perhaps water and/or shelter; but doesn’t not provide for sterilization or other care or monitoring to community cats.
Note: Although being a self-identified owner or caretaker is not synonymous with the legal definition of “owner” which varies by jurisdiction, such self-identification and conduct may nevertheless be sufficient for the caregiver to be deemed the legal owner under applicable law.
“Community Cats” is a term used to describe outdoor, unowned, free-roaming cats. These cats could be friendly, feral, adults, kittens, healthy, sick, altered and/or unaltered. They may or may not have a caregiver. By this definition, the only outdoor free-roaming cats who are not community cats are those that have an owner.
 Although “feral” is a well-defined term in biology and behavioral ecology (see below), in animal sheltering it is a term used to describe a cat exhibiting certain behaviors. “Feral cats,” as a subset of community cats, is a commonly used phrase generally referring to a cat who appears unaccustomed to close contact with people and, if taken to an animal shelter, is typically not a candidate for adoption into a home as a pet. In biology and behavioral ecology, feral refers to a domesticated animal who is now living wild or free and is not socialized to humans. Cats commonly referred to as feral or behaving in a feral manner may or may not actually fit this definition. Feral behavior can mask the social history of the cat. For example, a frightened cat may demonstrate feral behavior one day, but with time to acclimate will no longer demonstrate such behavior. The kittens of feral-presenting cats can typically be acclimated to humans particularly but not exclusively if behavior modification is done before 8 weeks of age.
 Testing for feline immunodeficiency virus and feline leukemia, while not always practical for community cats in general, is recommended for any kittens or adult cats who are to be placed for adoption or who are showing signs of illness; a positive test result should be confirmed by subsequent testing in order to rule out false positive findings.
“Trap-Euthanize” (TE) is a program involving trapping and euthanizing community cats. This program may be implemented in response to complaints from local residents or conducted by wildlife officials or others in an effort to reduce or eliminate the community cat population. These programs are often opposed by the general public, and are often seen as posing a significant risk for at-large pet cats. TE is sometimes advocated for as a means of population control but data does not support its long term efficacy as the percent of cat population actually trapped and euthanized each year is typically too low. The ASPCA does not consider TE programs to be humane or effective options for addressing community cat issues.