When I lived in Washington, DC, my street was overrun with cats. It was my first experience with a “community” cat population, and I couldn’t believe the number of cats and kittens that roamed the street and our alley. Several were clearly ill or injured. Many were hit by cars. Others froze to death. One night my husband had to stop a young man from beating a stray he had apparently caught. The situation was out of control.
One day, while I was out walking my dogs, I noticed that one house in the middle of the block was particularly crowded with cats. As I got closer, I realized that the homeowner had placed a perpetual feeder in his front yard. The cats swarmed his yard to eat free cat food. For the next few weeks, I kept an eye on the feeder and realized that the guy kept refilling it. The number of cats increased as kittens started to appear.
I sympathize with his attempt to help the cats. While it’s tempting to want to help stray and feral animals, putting food out isn’t the most humane option. Here are a few facts about feral cats:
- According to the ASPCA, there are tens of millions of feral cats in the U.S.
- Stray cats are lost or unwanted pets, whereas feral cats are the offspring of those stray cats. Feral cats are unused to human contact and may not be able to assimilate into a home. Therefore, feral cats at shelters are usually deemed unadoptable and are euthanized.
- According to Best Friends Animal Society, 72% of cats turned into shelters are euthanized, and of those 80% were stray or feral cats.
- Feral cats can die of starvation, freezing, being hit by a car, and disease.
- Many communities have “lethal elimination” programs that poison the cats, regardless of health or temperament.
- While many communities have feeding bans, those bans are ineffective because the cats can survive weeks without food and are clever enough to find alternate sources, like rodents or dumpsters.
Providing food for cats that aren’t spayed or neutered encourages population growth. A bigger population ultimately means more cats losing their lives. Instead, consider taking action to help the big picture:
- Encourage your town to investigate Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) programs, like the one recently instituted in Bayonne, NJ.
- TNR programs are not only a humane alternative to trap-and-kill or relocation programs, they’re more effective. Studies have shown that remaining cats continue to breed, quickly replacing the cats that were killed.
- Many TNR programs have a colony caretaker, a person who feeds and monitors the cats that have been neutered.
- Volunteer for a rescue like Alley Cat Allies.
- If you want to take immediate action, consider setting a humane trap to collect a stray cat. Many vets and shelters offer low-cost or free vaccination and spay/neuter clinics.
- Spay and neuter your own cats.
- Find a feral cat organization in your state, and learn how you can help socialize feral cats.