February 20, 2015
How Individuals Can Help Community Cats
See our FAQ page to find answers to many of your questions about, and advice about caring for, community cats.
Educate your local officials
Understand outdoor cats
Resolve conflicts with neighbors
Work with local groups
Be a cat champion
If you've encountered a cat outdoors, you've probably wondered whom the cat belonged to, or if he or she even had an owner. Outdoor cats are sometimes owned cats whose owner lets them out. Often, however, they are community cats—ferals or strays. You can help these cats in different ways.
One sign that a cat is a spayed or neutered feral is a tipped or notched ear.
Stray cats may be friendly and approach you for food or attention or they may be too scared to let you get close. But they will usually eat immediately if you put food down for them. Use caution, since you don't know how these cats will react.
There are many ways you can help these cats.
- If the cat has identification, try to contact the owner.
- If you can get the cat into a carrier, take him to a veterinarian or animal shelter to be scanned for a microchip.
- Contact animal shelters, veterinary offices, and rescue groups to let them know about the cat you've found. Someone may have filed a lost-cat report that is a match.
- Ask neighbors and mail carriers if they're familiar with the cat.
- Post signs and place free ads in local newspapers.
- Create a "found pet" profile at The Center for Lost Pets.
It's helpful if you can provide shelter for the cat while you search for her owner. If no owner is found, you can try to find a good home for her, or adopt the cat yourself. If you take the cat home with you, have her examined by a veterinarian before introducing her to your other cats.
The cat you're helping may be feral if he approaches you when extremely hungry but will only eat the food you've provided once you've walked away. A cat is probably feral if he's still unapproachable and cannot be touched after several days of feeding. Don't try to handle a feral cat. Most feral cats can't be adopted because they are too frightened of people.
One sign that a cat is a spayed or neutered feral is a tipped or notched ear (if the tip or section of an ear has been surgically removed). A stray cat who is spayed or neutered may also have an ear tip or notched ear.
Food and water are important parts of caring for community cats. But some people who are new to looking after these cats often don't realize that if they don't find a way to have the cats spayed or neutered, the number of hungry cats may soon become unmanageable as more and more kittens are born. Doing TNR will keep this from happening to you and the cats.
How to do TNR
If you're already feeding community cats, you may soon find yourself overwhelmed by kittens, kittens, and more kittens—unless you take quick action to get them spayed and neutered. Use our community cat resources to get these cats spayed and neutered while their numbers are still manageable.
- Learn the basics about TNR by taking our Community Cats Webinar series and reading our information on TNR
- Study in depth how to do TNR.
- Watch our Trap/Neuter/Vaccinate/Return video.
- Get help from an organization, agency or spay/neuter clinic that helps community cats
Outdoor cats can often be the cause of complaints—from a cat who stalks birds at a neighbor's birdfeeder to a group of community cats (known as a colony) on a neighbor's property. If you are helping people keep cats off their property or resolve nuisance complaints, we suggest the following resources:
- Peaceable Backyard Kingdom: Protecting Pets and Wildlife
- Protecting Cats and Wildlife [PDF]
- Neighborhood Cats: Keeping Cats Out of Gardens & Yards
If you're really lucky, there is an organization or agency in your area that can help you TNR the feral cats you're feeding. They may also be able to help find homes for friendly strays and kittens. If this help isn't available in your community, you may still be able to find veterinarians who are willing to provide low-cost services for community cats.
Organizations and agencies that care for community cats need all the assistance they can get. Even if you've never seen a feral or stray cat, it's likely that they are in your community. You can make a big difference by doing the following:
- Spay or neuter your own cats before they can reproduce at 4 to 5 months of age.
- Get involved with or help to support organizations or agencies that help community cats.
- Become a community cat caretaker.
- Volunteer to socialize feral kittens.
- Volunteer to help at a spay/neuter event for community cats.
- Build shelters for community cats.
- Fundraise or write grant applications for an organization or agency helping cats.
- Educate your neighbors and community about outdoor cats.
- Donate to The HSUS's Community Cat Program Fund.
Start your own group
If there's no local group helping community cats, you may decide to start one. Talk with others in your community and find some like-minded individuals to help share the work load. Don't reinvent the wheel; visit our Where to Find Help for Community Cats page to see if there are groups who will give you advice.
After surveying what resources are available in your community, you may find that cats need your voice in some way. Perhaps you feel called to start your own TNR project, or maybe you want to convince your local shelter to adopt community cat-friendly policies. Perhaps your local ordinances don't allow TNR or they contain language that makes it difficult for individuals to help cats.
Check out these resources to help you get started as a community cat advocate:
- Managing Community Cats: A Guide for Municipal Leaders
- Working effectively with municipalities and animal control
- Lobby 101 training for grassroots advocates [PDF]
- The Challenge of Helping Community Cats in a Rural Community
- Feral Cats Meet Their Waterloo [PDF]
- Beyond the Dumpster [PDF]