Feeding of homeless community cats is a common activity practiced by both pet owners and by those without pets of their own.
Caretakers Are Not Always Pet Owners
In Operation Catnip’s suburban southern community of Alachua County, Florida, one in every eight households acknowledges feeding an average of 3.6 cats they did not own, or approximately 41,000 community cats (Levy 2003). Interestingly, a majority of the residents who fed community cats do not have cats of their own, indicating they had to go out of their way to get food for the cats.
Another study in Ohio indicated that even more (26%) households fed free-roaming cats (Lord 2008).
Compassion for Community Cats Is Widespread
A national telephone survey conducted in 2007 queried people about options for community cats living on the street. Given only two options from which to choose, 81% thought it was more humane to leave the cat where it was and only 14% opted to have the cat caught and killed (Chu 2007). Given a second scenario asking how they would feel if they thought the cat would die in two years after being hit by a car, 72% of respondents still chose to let the cat remain in its community rather than have it killed immediately.
In a survey of 101 community cat caregivers who participated in a Trap-Neuter-Return program, most were middle-aged, middle-class, female, married, and assisted by family members, friends, or neighbors in the care of the cats (Centonze 2002). A majority cared for a single colony of cats, usually at or near their own home.
Most began caring for the cats out of sympathy or ethical concerns and chose to have the cats spayed and neutered because they did not want them to be harmed. Although the caregivers were very attached, most reported they could not adopt the cats because there was no more room in the home or the cats were too wild.
Involve Cat Feeders in Control Strategy
Compassion for community cats is widespread, and most residents do not want the cats to be harmed. Since almost half of cat feeders do not own pets of any kind, attempts to involve cat feeders in control strategies should extend beyond the pet-owning public typically served by veterinarians, animal control agencies, and animal welfare organizations.