Just as cats may be reunited with their owners by non-shelter means, so might cats be rehomed without the intervention of a sheltering organization.
Don’t Community Cats Need a Home?
A 2003 survey by the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association indicated that only 16% of pet cats were obtained from shelters while 30% were obtained as strays (APPMA). This suggests that cats might have a better chance of finding new homes by wandering their neighborhoods than by going to a shelter, especially in shelters with low adoption rates or for cats unlikely to adapt well to a shelter setting.
“Home” for a community cat may not be a traditionally defined pet home, yet the cat may be in good body condition with access to food and shelter. This is little different than the condition in which many wild animals live without requiring human intervention. Although for many cats it would be preferable to re-home them into a more traditional domestic setting with an owner to meet their physical, medical and behavioral needs, in most communities this option is simply not available for all cats.
If the alternatives are euthanasia at a shelter or dire conditions at an overcrowded “sanctuary”, before admitting a cat the case needs to be made that remaining in place would be even more detrimental to its welfare. There is growing evidence that this is not always the case. Many community cats are not entirely without a caregiver – feeding these cats is a common activity, with studies finding up to a quarter of American households feeding one or more cats they do not own (Levy 2003, Lord 2008).
What Should be Done For Community Cats?
Debate about the quality of life of community cats and their true impact on society is ongoing, often emotional, and fueled largely by a lack of sound scientific data on which to form credible conclusions. Separating the impacts of owned cats from those of unowned ones is also difficult. What is not disputed is that cats have been living in loose association with human societies for 10,000 years.
In most of the world, cats are viewed as enjoyable companions and important pest controllers, but also adaptable and independent. Although confinement offers certain benefits of companionship and safety from outdoor hazards, it is impractical and inhumane to suggest that all cats that cannot be confined should be destroyed.
While it may be discouraging to ponder the apparent limitations of “traditional” feline sheltering, the good news is it opens the door to consideration of dramatically different possibilities. There is less risk in straying from an imperfect system than in abandoning one that is functioning exactly as intended.
With this in mind, there are two basic options to explore: adding alternative outcomes for cats admitted to the shelter (generally in the form of neuter and release programs), or deferring or declining intake in the first place. For all these possibilities, we must bear in mind what real alternative options exist.
Even if there are concerns or problems associated with new approaches, the bar to measure them by is whether the outcome is preferable to the current situation, not whether they represent flawless solutions to all the many issues associated with free-roaming or abandoned cats in our communities.