Free-roaming cats, which include feral and stray contribute to the overpopulation of cats, stated the Humane Society of the US, the country’s most effective animal protection organization. There is a difference between stray and feral cats, despite the two being confused. Feral cays are born and live in the wild with little to no human contact while a stray is a domestic cat that has been ‘strayed’ from home and become lost or abandoned, said the Stray Cat Handbook, cited by Lynn Buzhardt, DVM, or VCA Hospitals, an operator of over 1,000 animal hospitals in the US and Canada.
Strays learn to live independently and may incorporate feral behaviors as they start to have less contact with humans. Stray cats may be afraid of people, but oftentimes, they can rekindle their trust in people and become “pets.” As time passes, many stray cats overcome their fears and happily go back to being a household pet. Feral cats, on the other hand, are fiercely independent and survive. However, they may be unable to thrive without human intervention. Feral cats avoid people and hide, back away, or run when they see humans. Feral cats may become defensive if you corner them, and they rarely become household pets.
Respondents’ Opinions On Strategies for Managing Stray Cats and Predictors of Opposition to TNR in Brisbane, Australia (2018)
305 respondents completed the surveys, with 43% saying they were aware of stray cats in their area and 57% being unaware, reported Jacquie Rand and colleagues of biomedical and life sciences journal PMC. Stray cats were commonly sighted in private residences (20.5%), commercial businesses (15.3%), alleyways (15.3%), suburban parks (12.6%), industrial areas (10.2%), vacant blocks (8.8%), schools (8.4%), train stations (5.6%), and government housing (3.3%).
Of those reporting feeding urban stray cats (15%), 18% fed strays on a daily basis (representing 3% of all respondents), 11% on a weekly basis, and 28% on a monthly basis. Only 43% fed the stray cats on a yearly basis. More participants agreed (those who answered agree or strongly agree) than disagreed (those who chose to disagree or strongly disagree) that stray cats caused a nuisance by urinating and defecating in people’s gardens, with the numbers at 45.3% and 28.1%, respectively.
Cat feeders were represented in every age bracket with the median and mode being 30 to 34 years and 18 to 24 years, respectively. This accounted for 29.5% of cat feeders. 38.6% of cat feeders did not own a cat but 61.4% were cat owners. Cat feeders represented 9.7% of all non-cat owners and 20.8% of all cat owners. 46.2% agreed that stray cats are annoying because they fight and make loud noises (versus 25.8%).
38.6% disagreed that stray cats spread diseases to humans (versus 17.9% who agreed. However, respondents agreed (48.2%) that stray cats spread diseases to owned pets (versus 17.4% of those who disagreed). 31.8% of respondents agreed that urban stray cats decreased the number of native birds in the suburb whereas 18.3% disagreed with the statement. Likewise, 32.9% agreed that the numbers of small native animals compared to 19% of those who disagreed.
51.5% disagreed that urban stray cats had a good life (versus 5.4% of those who agreed) while 43.1% neither agreeing nor disagreeing. 71.5% believed it was more humane to leave a healthy stray cat if they came across one in Brisbane, while others answered euthanasia (27.9%). When asked to choose the more humane option if they knew that the stray cat would die in two years’ time because it would be hit by a car, 61% said it would be more humane to leave the cat while 37.4% chose euthanasia. 68% preferred TNR (Trap-Neuter and Return) to manage stray urban cats while others liked culling (28%). Only 4% said the stray cats should be left alone.
Managing Both Stray and Feral Cats Remains to be A Subject of Debate
This subject is still debatable, at least in the US, said Dr. Nicki Frey of Extension Utah State University, a provider of research-based programs and resources to Utah citizens. The Wildlife Society, the national organization of wildlife management professionals, supports euthanizing unadoptable cats, referring to felines that are too feral to become pets.
Another method is a program called “Trap-Neuter-Release,” which involves releasing animals back where they were trapped after being neutered. The Animal Welfare Act in Utah supports “community cats”— referring to cats being released back into the community after undergoing the TNR process. However, the concern and opposition surrounding any program that does not involve euthanasia lies in the fact that free-roaming cats are native to any US environment.
Those who support non-lethal control note that it may difficult to determine if the cat has an owner, which might lead to euthanasia, including the animals’ right to life regardless if they are owned. We have helped create this situation and in Dr. Frey’s perspective, we must be responsible to treat the cats fairly.
Extending A Helping Paw (Hand) to Free-Roaming Cats
Try to find the cat’s owner if it is tame. Report it to a community agency that does animal care and control because an owner might be looking for it, and most likely, they might contact that agency. If you can’t find the owner or doesn’t want the cat back, you can keep it or find a permanent home for the feline.
If you see a feral cat, you have to get it spayed or neutered to stop it from reproducing, helping it improve its quality of life as well as those of birds, wildlife, and other people. TNR also enhances the quality of life for existing colonies and prevents cats from birthing more offspring. TNR gradually reduces the number of cats and reduces or eliminates annoying behaviors associated with unsterilized cats.
Many groups that offer resources for TNR have calculated the cost of this process, which is significantly less than those with euthanizing, removing, and holding feral cats in shelters. When you want to keep the cat as a pet, be sure to keep it as an indoor cat.
Don’t let it wander outdoors— ideally, your cat should not roam farther than your backyard so as not to affect wildlife populations. Microchip your cat to allow strangers to return it to you if it strays or found by animal control officers. Have your cat neutered if you don’t plan on keeping it indoors or you find it difficult to keep it inside. Neutered pets tend to stay close to the house to reduce their impact on the environment and minimize their likelihood of becoming strays.
Be careful when interacting with free-roaming cats, as some of them are feral. Feral cats are independent and may defend themselves if cornered. You can take a free-roaming cat home but have it neutered or spayed to improve its quality of life.