Emeritus Professor Jacquie Rand1,2, BVSc, DVSc, Diplomate ACVIM (Int. Med), MANZCVS

1Executive Director & Chief Scientist, Australian Pet Welfare Foundation

2School of Veterinary Science, University of Queensland

Executive Summary

  • In an Australian city of 100,000 residents, it is estimated there are around 6,000 stray cats. On average, one in 15-20 people in Australia feed daily a stray cat they do not perceive they own; most of these are not desexed. The urban stray cat population is steadily increasing as the human population increases.
  • Of cats impounded by municipal councils, approximately 80% of adults and 90% of kittens are urban strays.
  • Approximately 3-5% of the urban stray cat population is killed every year in shelters and pounds. Such low-level culling leads to the cats being rapidly replaced due to greater juvenile survival and immigration into the area (Lazenby 2014).
  • To effectively reduce the urban stray cat population, the rate of culling must exceed the breeding rate (Miller 2014). It is estimated that 30 to 50% of the population must be trapped and killed every 6 months for at least 10 years, to control urban stray cats (Miller 2014). For a city of 100,000 residents, this is approximately 4,000 cats culled in the first year, at a cost of approximately $2.4 million in the first year. Clearly, this rate of culling is cost prohibitive and logistically challenging for councils.
  • Culling such large numbers of cats each year is unlikely to be supported by most residents.
  • Simply replacing culling by adopting is not feasible. There are already not enough new homes available annually in the cities to cope with the number of kittens being produced. In addition, some adult urban stray cats are not well socialised to people, and are not candidates for adoption.
  • Published reports from North America and Europe clearly demonstrate that desexing and returning urban stray cats to their original location markedly reduces cat-related complaints and euthanasia rates in shelters and pounds (Levy 2014). An adult cat desexing target of about 54% gives effective change. These programs are called Community Cat Programs or CCPs.
  • Under this non-lethal management paradigm, healthy and treatable stray cats are desexed. Kittens and friendly cats are adopted when possible, and otherwise are returned to their original location to stabilise the colony.
  • Cats in managed colonies are no less healthy than pet cats (Dale 2015).
  • Over time, natural attrition of cats in the colony leads to a gradual decrease in cat numbers (Miller 2014).
  • This non-lethal method to reduce urban stray cat numbers is generally well supported by communities – Australian research shows that 82% of people would support a trial in their area (Rand 2015).
  • These programs are often funded by welfare agencies and community groups, substantially reducing costs to governments.
  • In Australia, recent studies (Tan 2017; Swarbrick 2013) indicate that desexing and adoption or return of stray cats can be an effective and humane method of reducing urban stray cat populations, cat-related complaints, and pound and shelter intake. For example, median colony size decreased from 11.5 to 6.5 cats in just 2 years in 44 colonies (Tan 2017), and by 75% in one large colony over 8 years (Swarbrick 2013).
  • Decreasing urban stray cat numbers will decrease wildlife predation.
  • Resources:
    • Video describing first-hand experience of council pound staff in USA of Community Cat Programs https://youtu.be/NyE4XwUFZaY This video produced by Million Cat Challenge, HSUS, Best Friends & Target Zero describes the powerful positive impact of Community Cat programs, where urban stray cats are captured, desexed and rehomed to their original locations. County Animal Control staff speak about the dramatic effect in saving cats’ lives, and the benefit to staff and dogs in their care.
    • First Australian study on trap, neuter and return (desex and adopt or return). “Trap-Neuter-Return Activities in Urban Stray Cat Colonies in Australia” is available online: http://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/7/6/46/pdf


A. Magnitude of urban stray cat problem

Numbers of urban cats

In a city of 100,000 residents, there will be at least 15,000 owned domestic cats (Roy Morgan Research 2014, Animal Health Alliance 2013), and approximately 5,000-6,500 stray cats (based on Australian and US statistics of 1 stray cat per 15-20 residents) (Zito 2015, Levy 2014, Kortis 2013). In some locations, the number of urban stray cats may be double this number (Zito 2015, Levy 2014). Of the approximately 20,000 suburban cats (stray and owned), 700 cats (7 cats/1000 residents) enter shelters and pounds annually, and half are killed (Chua & Rand unpublished). Of these 700 cats, approximately 560 will be from the stray population of 5000-6500 cats (10%) (Alberthson 2014) and 140 from the owned cat population of 15,000 (1%). Approximately, 4-5% of the stray cat population is killed annually in shelters and pounds.

Stray versus owned cats in shelters and pounds

Based on data from 191,000 cats entering RSPCA shelters over a 4 year period (including those entering through municipal contracts), approximately 50% of adults and 60% of kittens are stray (Alberthson et al, 2013, Alberthson 2014).  Based on council pound data for cat admissions, approximately 80% of adult cats and 90% of kittens are stray.

Urban stray cats

Urban stray cats are a heterogeneous population, and adult stray cats have the worst live-release statistics in shelters and pounds (Alberthson et al, 2013, Alberthson 2014).  Stray cats comprise of lost or wandering owned cats, cats abandoned when tenants move on, and semi-owned cats which are receiving some care, typically food, from people who do not perceive they own them. Semi-owned cats have a spectrum of sociability ranging from very social to cats with feral behaviour, especially when captured. Semi-owned cats appear to be the largest source of urban stray cats. Approximately 1 in 15-20 people daily fed a cat they do not own (Zito 2015, Levy 2014, Kortis 2013)

Semi-owned cats

A substantial proportion (59%) of the general public bringing stray cats to the RSPCA, and presumably to municipal council pounds, have been providing some care, mostly food for the cat, with many (33%) providing long-term care (Zito, 2016, Zito 2015b). This phenomenon of semi-ownership is common in Australia, and in Victoria, 22% of phone respondents admitted to providing some care for a cat that they did not perceive as their own, and 33% of respondents owned a cat (Toukhsati 2007). In an Australian internet survey, 9% of respondents fed a cat daily they did not perceive they owned (Zito 2015a). Similar statistics were found in Italy and USA where 10% and 12-22% of respondents respectively, feed a cat they do not perceive they own (Slater, 2008, Levy 2003). In Ireland, the practice was equally as common as owning a cat (10% of population) (Downes 2008). However, in contrast to owned cats, only 20% of these semi-owned cats are desexed (Toukhsati 2007, Zito 2015a).  Many more have had kittens (30%) compared to owned cats (7%) (Zito 2015a, Zito, 2015b). Therefore, cats fed by people who do not perceive they own them are a very significant source of stray kittens and cats being admitted to shelters and pounds.

Feral cats

Few truly feral cats are admitted to shelters and pounds – feral cats are defined as cats which do not obtain any food or shelter from humans (Toukhsati et al 2007). Only 10% of all cats entering RSPCA shelters in Australia between 2006 and 2010 were recorded as feral based on markedly unsocial behaviour, and 92% were euthanased.  (Alberthson et al, 2013, Alberthson 2014). Of cats admitted based on council contracts, 19% adults and 9% of kittens admitted to the RSPCA were feral classed on behaviour (Alberthson et al, 2013, Alberthson 2014). Therefore, 80-90% of incoming stray cats and kittens are socialised to people.

Microchips and stray cats

Of stray cats entering RSPCA Qld, 9% had a microchip, of which 37% had inaccurate data (Lancaster et al 2015). Of those with data problems, 47% were registered to previous owner or organization, 29% had all phone numbers incorrect or disconnected, and 14% were not registered to a data base, although it is compulsory for the implanter to do so within 7 days. Of cats without a microchip, only 5% were reclaimed by the owner.

Community Cat Programs

In Community Cat programs, unidentified urban stray cats caught by the public or trapped by animal control officers are desexed, and then returned to their outdoor homes. If homes are available for kittens and friendly adults, they are rehomed.

Legislation and Community Cat Programs

Currently in Australia, it is illegal to release “feral” cats.  The labelling of urban stray cats as “feral” prevents their effective management. For example, under state biosecurity legislation relating to feral cats, even removing urban strays for adoption in some states such as Queensland is illegal. Similarly, “feral” cats must not be released, and therefore returning a healthy desexed cat to its original location is illegal in most states of Australia.

Other legislation relating to abandonment of pets means that Community Cat programs are also at the edge of this law. The primary reason is that this legislation prohibits an owner of a pet from abandoning that animal.   This relates to protecting the welfare of dogs and cats, and concerns regarding the welfare of free-living cats.

Reducing intake of cats into shelters and pounds

Reducing intake has a greater impact on reducing euthanasia and costs than strategies aimed at increasing adoptions. In USA, a strong correlation was observed between the numbers of cats admitted and euthanased. Reduced admissions accounted almost entirely for the decrease in cats euthanased in US shelters and municipal facilities between 1970 and 1995 (Marsh 2010).

There are also substantial costs to municipalities and welfare agencies for admission and care of cats until they are rehomed or euthanized. For example, the AWL in South Australia estimated the cost of shelter care to be $245/cat/per week, and when additional costs of preventive and veterinary care were included, the average cost to rehome a cat after one week of care was $750 (AWL SA). Given that strategies aimed at decreasing admissions are more effective at reducing costs and euthanasia than strategies that focus on rehoming animals, increasing resourcing of these is recommended. 

B. Management options for reducing urban stray cat populations

The options for managing cats in suburban areas are:

  1. Continue with the same management methods
  2. Capture and remove (kill)
  3. Legislate to ban feeding
  4. Magic wand and make them disappear
  5. Desex and adopt or return – Community Cat programs

1. Continue with the same management methods.

The numbers of stray cats entering municipal shelters in Australia is slowly increasing as the human population increases, based on data from NSW councils (Chua, 2017). The annual cost is significant to councils, including dealing with cat-related complaints, so clearly continuing with the same management methods is not effectively managing the problem. Aside from the cost to municipalities for ad hoc trapping and killing cats, this method of control is ineffective, and is potentially increasing cat numbers, not decreasing them (Lazenby, 2014). For example, a Tasmanian study found that low level culling increased the number of free-living cats by two to three times, and numbers subsided to pre-trapping levels on cessation of trapping and killing (Lazenby, 2014). This is because food resources are increased for the remaining cats, and a vacuum effect is created by removing dominant cats. This results in repopulation from surrounding areas, increased survival of juveniles and increased reproduction. The data from Tasmania of low level culling of cats are consistent with findings of attempts at controlling a wide range of other species predating wildlife, where it was also found that low-level killing increased, not decreased, numbers of the target predator (Sinclair, 2006, Bodey 2011).

This ad hoc low level killing in council pounds and shelters is essentially equivalent to sustainably farming cats, and harvesting cats and kittens, and stimulates reproduction in the remaining cats. Reproducing cats have higher energy requirements for gestation and lactation, and require more food to maintain body condition (Mitsuhashi, 2011).

Continuing the same thing does not address the government’s interests in animal control, public health, wildlife predation and animal welfare. Einstein simply stated that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result”.

  1. Trap and kill to reduce the urban stray cat population

For effective population control, the number of cats killed annually would need to exceed the annual reproductive capacity of the remaining population. For management of free-roaming cats in open demographic environments, it is estimated to require killing 30% to 50% of the resident population every 6 months on a sustained basis (> 10 years) (Miller 2014).   In a city of 100,000 residents, with 5000 to 6500 urban strays, approximately 4000 would need to be killed in the first 12 months, representing expenditure of approximately $2.4 million in the first year. Substantial ongoing costs would be required.

This killing is substantially greater than the number of stray cats being killed annually in a typical city of 100,000 residents (245 cats). The community is unlikely to support widespread trapping and killing of cats, and the cost to government would be enormous, given that it takes on average 2-6 nights for a cat to be trapped (Nutter 2004, Tan 2017). For welfare reasons, the traps need to be checked at least once daily, and to be most effective, they need to be checked and cleaned each morning, and rebaited and set in the evening.  Based on Brisbane City Council data, it costs on average $250/cat to trap and kill cats on entry to the facility, and with the minimal holding period, approximately $500/cat. If culling is to be used to control cats, animal holding facilities would need to be built to hold approximately 100 cats for a city of 100,000.

Human cost of killing cats

There is also an unestimated human cost, with 50% of workers directly involved with euthanasia developing post-traumatic stress, which is associated with depression, substance abuse, high blood pressure, sleeplessness and suicide (Reeve et al, 2005, Baran et al, 2009, Frommer et al, 1999, Rohlf et al, 2005). In USA, the animal rescue sector now has a suicide rate equal to the most traumatising professions – firefighters and police. Staff turnover rate is proportional to euthanasia rate in shelters. (Rogelberg et al., 2007). The cost of retraining municipal staff and the cost of sick leave should also be considered in the cost to municipalities for lethal cat management.

  1. Legislation to ban feeding of urban stray cats

Banning people from feeding cats they do not perceive they own is unenforceable because you cannot ban compassion. In addition, cats are territorial and will remain and find new food sources if necessary, and continue to reproduce.

Legislation intended to regulate owners of pet cats is ineffective, because caretakers do not consider themselves owners, even if they fit the legal definition, and enforcement is difficult. Even if effective enforcement was possible, it will not prevent free-roaming cats existing or reproducing.

  1. Magic wand to make them disappear

Clearly the inventor would be very wealthy. To date, no magic poison or infectious disease that is only effective against stray and feral cats, and no other native wildlife or pet cats has been developed.

In Australia, the choice is not cats or no cats, but how to best manage cats in a sustainable and humane way that protects wildlife and minimizes the negative effects on humans involved in cat control.

  1. Community Cat Programs

Community Cat Programs engage the community in managing urban stray cats. This program is the most humane and effective method known for managing free-living cats in urban areas. In CCPs, urban stray cats are captured, desexed, vaccinated, microchipped and treated for parasite and then returned to their outdoor homes. Caretakers provide food and shelter and monitor the cats. When foster or permanent homes are available, young kittens and friendly adults are removed and placed for adoption.

In many municipal pounds and shelters, healthy stray cats that are poorly socialised to people are euthanased, and others are euthanased because there are simply insufficient available homes for cats.  Cat diversion programs, also known as return to field (RTF) or shelter-neuter and return (SNR) are where healthy stray cats that are brought to shelters, but are unlikely to be adopted, are desexed and returned to their home location where they were found. These cats are healthy, and are getting food and shelter from people who may, or may not, consider themselves owners.

Community Cat Programs save cat lives. They also save human lives, because there is a significant human cost to killing with many shelter workers developing post-traumatic stress. Dog admissions decrease and live release rates increase associated with Community Cat Programs, in part because there are more resources for dogs (Levy 2014).

Community Cat programs have been implemented in many western countries including USA, UK, France, Italy (Levy 2014, Kortis 2017, Tan 2017).  There are three main factors, that when considered collectively, support implementation of Community Cat programs in Australia. These are its demonstrated effectiveness in reducing municipal cat intake, euthanasia and associated cat management costs, improved welfare of free-living cats, and decreased predation of native wildlife.

i) Effectiveness of Community Cat Programs – desex and return.

In North America one of the most important gains in the last decade in reducing intake and euthanasia of stray cats in shelters and municipal pounds has been from implementation of Community Cat Programs involving desex and return.

Results of CCPs

In a postcode overrepresented by cat intake to the shelter in Florida, 60 cats/1000 residents (2366 cats) were desexed representing 54% of unowned cat population. Social cats and kittens were adopted. In the control area, ad hoc CCP was occurring at the rate of 8 cats/1000 residents. After 2 years in the target area, cat intake was reduced by 66%, and in the control area was 3.5 times higher.  Euthanasia was 17.5 times higher in the control area (Levy 2014)

Similarly, after implementation of CCP in Montana, there was a 36% decline in cat intake into shelters and pounds, an 87% decline in euthanasia, and a 84% decline in cat-related complaint calls. In Texas, there was a 90% decline in cat-related complaint calls, and in Kentucky, a 51% decline in cat intake in shelters and pounds in targeted area compared with only a 20% decline in the entire service area (The Humane Society of USA, 2014).  In Sanders County, MT, after two years of CCP in the county’s five towns, complaint calls to the shelter dropped 84%, from 1,032 in 2009, to 166 in 2011.

A recent Australian study of community groups and individuals performing CCP found that of the 44 colonies managed by respondents, colony size decreased by 31% over a median of 2.2 years (Tan 2017).

Results of comprehensive Community Cat Programs involving CCP and Return to field

Over 7 years in Jacksonville Florida, introduction of desex and return of stray cats that would otherwise have been impounded, decreased euthanasia from just under 12,000 cats annually to 2000 cats (75% decrease), and decreased cat intake by 30% when implemented together with other programs designed to reduce municipal pound intake, including subsidized desexing. Other benefits of decreased cat intake and euthanasia included improved employee morale, increased productivity, reduced worker compensation claims and reduction in shelter disease (Million Cat Challenge).

In Albuquerque, NM, after 3 years of an intensive Community Cat Program involving CCP, and Return to Field, intake to the municipal shelter dropped 39% and euthanasia 85%. In the municipal pound in San Jose, California, over the 4 years after CCP and then RTF were implemented, kitten and cat intake decreased 29% and euthanasia decreased from 70% to 23%, with 97% of healthy stray and feral cats saved (10,080 cats). Euthanasia in the shelter from upper respiratory disease declined 99%, and dead cat pick up off streets declined 20%. During the same period, there was no change in dog intake or euthanasia statistics (Johnson & Cicirelli, 2014.).

II) Welfare of cats.

Prohibition of desex and return in favour of trapping and killing of stray cats based on cat welfare arguments is not evidence-based. Free-living cats are no less healthy than pet cats, and most have ideal body condition (not obese) (Scott et al., 2002). Less than 1% of 100,000 free-living stray and feral cats trapped in Community Cat Programs were deemed too unhealthy to be returned to the field, and were euthanased as a result of debilitating conditions, trauma or infectious disease (Wallace et al, 2006, Million Cat Challenge).  Other studies have shown the incidence of infectious disease in free-living is similar or less than in pet cats (Luria et al 2004, Levy et al 2014) .

The notion that it is more humane to euthanase free-living cats, because in the future they may get sick and not have access to veterinary care, or they may not be able to find food or shelter, is clearly illogical, as seen when this argument is extended to other free-living animals such as native wildlife. For example, there are no calls for native wildlife, particularly those sometimes kept as pets such as cockatoos, to be trapped, and if not adopted, killed using the same supposedly humane-based arguments used for cats.

Other concerns raised are that desexing may reduce cats’ success and welfare in the wild, because desexed animals are further down the feline hierarchy than entire animals (Jessup 2004, RSPCA 2011). However, the majority of desexed free-living cats in managed or unmanaged colonies are healthy, with cats in managed colonies not significantly less healthy than owned companion cats (Dale 2015). Cats in unmanaged colonies were leaner than pet cats or managed colony cats, but only 4% were regarded as emaciated compared to approximately 2% of companion cats. (Dale 2015). Desexing and return to site is associated with an improvement in health, body condition and longevity, or at least no deterioration (RSPCA 2001, Robertson, 2008, Jessup 2004). In one study of 105 adult cats in a CCP program in Florida, one year after desexing, body weight increased by 40% and body condition score increased by 1 unit on a scale of 1 to 9 (Scott et al., 2002). CCPs are also associated with increased longevity of cats, with 83% remaining on site after six years compared to 42% of pet cats still in their home after five years (Levy and Crawford, 2004)

Supporting desex and return is the finding that cats are 13 times more likely to return home via non-shelter means than a call or visit to a shelter (Lord 2007, Weiss 2012). Approximately 75% of lost cats that were recovered were found within 500 meters of their home (Huang 2017). In fact, 50% of lost cats were found within 2 houses (50 meters) of where they were lost. Desexing and returning stray cats to their site of capture will likely result in many owned and semi-owned cats returning to their carers. That many stray cats are currently owned, previously owned, or semi-owned is evidenced by the finding that of adult stray cats entering RSPCA shelters of known desex status, 35% of stray admissions from the general public and 45% of admissions via council contracts were desexed (Alberthson et al, 2013, Alberthson 2014).

iii. Effect of cats on native wildlife

Community Cat Programs decrease the number of cats. They also increase the proportion of desexed cats compared to entire cats. Desexed cats have lower energy requirements than entire reproducing cats. The overall effect of Community Cat programs is to decrease predation of native wildlife.

Federal government legislation via the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) provides for the identification and listing of key threatening processes. In 1999, with the commencement of the Act, predation by feral cats was listed as a key threatening process and a threat abatement plan developed (Threat Abatement Plan). As part of the Endangered and Threatened species program, government funds are being used to convince the Australian public of the need to kill cats. This has effectively demonized cats in the eyes of the public.

However, there are no published studies which demonstrate that cats in Australian suburban environments have a negative effect on native wildlife.  The preliminary findings from a recent UQ study show that pet cats overwhelmingly catch mice followed by rats and small lizards, and only infrequently native birds, which are common species such as Noisy Mynahs (Franklin & Rand unpublished data). These findings are consistent with data from many studies which report the main component of feral cats’ diet consists of mice, rats and rabbits (Dickman 2009). This is also consistent with the findings from Macquarie Island where cats had a positive effect on wildlife because of their predation of introduced rabbits (Bergstrom 2009).

In remnants of bushland in metropolitan Sydney, cats had a positive effect on tree-nesting birds because of their predation of nest predators such as introduced black rats (Dickson 2013). Two Perth studies found no link between cat density and native mammal or passerine bird species richness or density (Lilith 2010, Grayson 2007), but habitat destruction and degradation were important factors reducing native birds (Grayson, 2007).

One of these Perth studies investigated native mammal diversity across 3 bushland sites, which for more than 10 years had either banned cats, required cats to be kept inside overnight and to wear a bell, and one site had no regulations regarding cats. Numbers of the most abundant medium-sized mammals (brushtail possums and southern brown bandicoots) were similar across all sites. A smaller mardo Antechinus flavipes, which is highly susceptible to cat predation, was most abundant at the unregulated cat site. The conclusions from this study were that owned cats adjacent to bushland were not having a negative effect on native mammals, and that density of vegetation was likely positive factor in determining mammal density (Lilith 2010).

A study of 57 sites across metropolitan Perth investigated factors effecting passerine bird community composition (eg. magpies) and found no link between cat density and passerine bird species densitity or diversity.  Importantly, decreasing bird population was found with increasing housing density, and with increasing distance from bushland, leading the authors to conclude that habitat destruction and degradation were the critical factors in decreasing density and diversity of passerine birds, and not cats (Grayson, 2007 ).

The average lifespan of Australian native birds is less than 5 years (commonly 2-4 years) based from banding data from the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme (ABBBS) (Dept. of Environment, Aust Gov). For example, the average lifespans are: Grey Fantail 1 year,  New Holland Honeyeater 2 years, Superb Fairy-wren 2 years, Silvereye 2 years, Pied Currawong 4 years, Australian Magpie 4 years, and Little Penguin 5 years. Premature death occurs from diseases such as parasitic, viral, bacterial, and protozoal infections, neoplasia, congenital deformities, as well as trauma and predation by other native and introduced species. This information is important because with an average life span of 5 years (longer than most of the species listed), approximately 20% of native birds that are old enough to band will die every year.  This process of “selection of the fittest” ensures that those individuals that go on to reproduce are the fittest of the species, ensuring that genes best suited to the environment are those that are passed on.  This is important when put in the context of the two studies from Europe (UK and France) which found birds killed by cats were less healthy than birds killed by cars or flying into windows. In both studies the authors concluded that cats are opportunist hunters and tend to remove sick, old, and birds which have fallen out of the nest, rather than healthy birds (Baker et al., 2008 and Møller & Erritzøe, 2000). It is also consistent with the statement from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (UK) that “despite the large numbers of birds killed, there is no scientific evidence that predation by cats in gardens is having any impact on bird populations U.K-wide. It is likely that most of the birds killed by cats would have died anyway from other causes before the next breeding season, so cats are unlikely to have a major impact on populations.”(Vox Felina, 2012). This reinforces that many of the Australian native birds killed by cats would have died anyway.

The preliminary findings from a recent UQ study found that of 3500 respondents, although nearly 70% strongly agreed or agreed that cats had a negative effect on wildlife in their area, 82% of respondents supported desexing and returning to location of stray cats when given the following information:  “Overseas, programs exist where stray suburban cats are captured, desexed (spayed/neutered), then returned to where they were captured. These programs have been shown to reduce the number of complaints about these cats and to reduce the numbers of stray cats and kittens put to sleep in shelters.  Would you support a trial project like this in a specified area near you?” (Franklin & Rand, unpublished data).

Community Cat Programs where cats are captured, desexed, vaccinated, microchipped and returned to their home location reduce municipal cat intake, euthanasia and associated cat management costs. Many studies have found these programs do not pose a welfare issue associated with “abandonment”, because the majority of free-living cats are healthy, and many cats are vaccinated and given parasite control. Therefore, a change in legislation in Australia to allow Community Cat programs would result in a more cost-effective way to control stray cats, and has the potential to save many cats’ lives each year. They will also decrease wildlife predation, and represent savings to municipalities from reduced cat management costs, reduced complaints and reduced mental health impacts on staff. This would represent the most important change in cat management laws in Australia in our life time, and provide an opportunity to scientifically manage cats. This would address the government’s interest in animal control, public health, wildlife predation and animal welfare, and over time, will decrease the cost of managing cats in suburban environments.

Key References

  1. Levy et al 2014 describes a successful community model of Community Cat Program. This intensive model is suited to urban areas contributing to high cat-related complaints and cat intake and euthanasia in the shelter/pound. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1090023314001841?via%3Dihub
  2. Tan et al 2017 which describes desexing stray cats in Australia, and found that of the colonies managed by respondents, colony size decreased by 31% over a median of 2.2 years.


  1. Lazenby et al, 2014 which found that killing 30% of the cat population in Tasmanian forested areas increased cat numbers by 2 to 3 times. Numbers subsided to original levels once the culling stopped. http://www.publish.csiro.au/wr/WR14030
  2. Miller et al 2014 describes modelling of trap and kill or desexing – it didn’t include modelling of capture, desexing and adopt or return to outdoor homes, which we are proposing, and which was used in the Levy study. In this paper, it predicts 30-50% of the cat population would need to be killed every 6 months for at least 10 years to steadily reduce numbers of cats. For Melbourne, that represents 200,000 cats and $100 million in the first year alone. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0113553

Reference List

Alberthsen C. The Australian Excess Cat Population: An Exploration of Cat Admissions and Outcomes to RSPCA Shelters. PhD Thesis University of Queensland, 2014

Alberthsen, C., J. S. Rand, P. C. Bennett, J. Morton, M. Patersen and M. Lawrie (2013). “Cat admissions to RSPCA animal shelters in Queensland, Australia and the risk factors for euthanasia after entry.” Australian Veterinary Journal 91(1-2): 35-42.

Animal Health Alliance (2013). Pet Ownership in Australia 2013. Canberra, ACT.

Australia, A.W.L.S.A Why is there a cost for pet adoptions. https://animalwelfare.com.au/aboutawl/faqs (1 November)

Baker PJ, Molony SE, Stone E, Cuthill IC, Harris S. Cats about town: is predation by free-ranging pet cats Felis catus likely to affect urban bird populations? Ibis 2008;150:86-99.

Bannasch, M. J. and J. E. Foley (2005). “Epidemiologic evaluation of multiple respiratory

pathogens in cats in animal shelters.” Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 7: 109-119.

Baran BE, Allen JA, Rogelberg SG et al. Euthanasia-related strain and coping strategies in animal shelter employees. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 2009;235:83-88.

Bergstrom, D. M., Lucieer, A., Kiefer, K., Wasley, J., Belbin, L., Pedersen, T. K. and Chown, S. L. (2009), Indirect effects of invasive species removal devastate World Heritage Island. Journal of Applied Ecology, 46: 73–81. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2008.01601.x

Bodey TW, L Bearhop S, ,  McDonaldAffiliated withFood and Environment Research Agency RA Localised control of an introduced predator: creating problems for the future? Biological Invasions 2011,2817-2828

Campbell K. J. Harper G,.  Algar D, et al. Review of feral cat eradications on islands.  Pages 37-46 In: Veitch, C. R.; Clout, M. N. and Towns, D. R. (eds.). 2011. Island invasives: eradication and management. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

Cicirelli J Getting Animals Back Home, 6th National G2Z Summit and Workshops, Gold Coast 2015

Dale A, The comparative welfare status of owned, managed stray and unmanaged strays cats. 6th National Getting to Zero Summit and Workshops, Gold Coast 2015

Department of Environment, Australian Government https://www.environment.gov.au/topics/science-and-research/bird-and-bat-banding/banding-data/search-abbbs-database

Denny EA, Dickman CR., Review of cat ecology and management strategies in Australia. Invasive Animals Cooperative Research, 2010, pestsmart.org.au (http://www.pestsmart.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/CatReport_web.pdf)

Dickman, C.R. (1996). Overview of the Impacts of Feral Cats on Australian Native Fauna.

Australian Nature Conservation Agency, Canberra.

Dickman, C.R. (2007). The complex pest: interaction webs between introduced pests and

native species. Pp. 208-215, in D. Lunney, P. Eby, P. Hutchings and S. Burgin (eds.)

Pest or Guest: the Zoology of Overabundance. Royal Zoological Society of New South

Wales, Sydney.

Dickman, C.R. (2009). House cats as predators in the Australian environment: impacts and

management. Human-Wildlife Conflicts 3: 41-48.

Dinnage, J. D., J. M. Scarlett and J. R. Richards (2009). “Descriptive epidemiology of feline

upper respiratory tract disease in an animal shelter.” Journal of Feline Medicine & Surgery

11(10): 816-825.

Downes, M., Canty, M. J. and More, S. J. (2009). Demography of the pet dog and cat population on the island of Ireland and human factors influencing pet ownership. Preventive Veterinary Medicine 92, 140-149.

Frommer SS, Arluke A. Loving Them to Death: Blame-Displacing Strategies of Animal Shelter Workers and Surrenderers. Society & animals 1999;7:1-1

Grayson J, Calver M, Lymbery A. Species richness and community composition of passerine birds in suburban Perth: is predation by pet cats the most important factor? In: Lunney D, Eby P, Hutchings P, Burgin S, editors. Pest or Guest: The Zoology of Overabundance. Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, Mosman, NSW, Australia, 2007:195-207.

Gotsis T, Feral cats: Do Trap-Neuter-Return programs work? NSW Parliamentary Research Service 2014

e-brief Issue 18/2014

Jessup, D. (2004) The welfare of feral cats and wildlife Journal of the American Veterinary Medical

Association, 225:1377-1383

Johnson KL, Cicirelli J. Study of the effect on shelter cat intakes and euthanasia from a shelter neuter return project of 10,080 cats from March 2010 to June 2014. Peerj. 2: e646. (846470) PMID: 25374785 DOI: 10.7717/peerj.646

Kays RW, DeWan AA. Ecological impact of inside/outside house cats around a suburban nature preserve. Animal Conservation 2004;7:273-283.

Kortis, B Calculating Number of Unaltered Cats and/or Dogs in a Target Area Updated February 20, 2013 http://www.neighborhoodcats.org/resources/books-videos-more

Kortis, B. Trap-neuter-release. Available online: http://www.neighborhoodcats.org/resources/case-studies

(accessed on 25 April 2017).

Lancaster E, Rand JS, Collecott S, Paterson M. Problems Associated with the Microchip Data of Stray Dogs and Cats Entering RSPCA Queensland Shelters Animals 2015, 5(2), 332-348; doi:10.3390/ani5020332

Lazenby, B.T.; Mooney, N.J.; Dickman, C.R. Effects of low-level culling of feral cats in open populations: A case study from the forests of southern Tasmania. Wildlife Research 2015, 41, 407-420.

Levy, J. K., Gale, D. W. and Gale, L. A. (2003). Evaluation of the effect of a long-term trap-neuter-return and adoption program on a free-roaming cat population. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 222, 42-46.

Levy J.K, Isaza N.M., Scott K.C Effect of high-impact targeted trap-neuter-return and adoption of

community cats on cat intake to a shelter. The Veterinary Journal 201 (2014) 269–274.

Lilith, M., Calver, M.C. and Garkaklis, M. (2010) Do cat restrictions lead to increased species diversity or abundance of small and medium sized mammals in remnant urban bushland? Pacific Conservation Biology, 16 (3). pp. 162-172.

Lord L. K. Wittum T. E,. Ferketich A. K et al, “ Search and identification methods that owners use find a lost cat,” Journal of the American Veterinary Association 230 (2), (2007): 217-220.

Luke, C. Animal shelter issues. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (USA) 1996

Luria BJ, Levy JK, Lappin MR, Breitschwerdt EB,  Legendre AM,  Hernandez JA, Gorman SP, Lee IT Prevalence of infectious diseases in feral cats in Northern Florida. Journal of Feline Medicine & Surgery 2004

Marsh P. Replacing myth with math: using evidence-based programs to eradicate shelter overpopulation. Concord, Newhampshire, 2010.

Mitsuhashi Y1, Chamberlin AJ, Bigley KE, Bauer JE. Maintenance energy requirement determination of cats after spaying. Br J Nutr. 2011 Oct;106 Suppl 1:S135-8. doi: 10.1017/S0007114511001899.

Miller PS,  Boone JD,  Briggs JR,  Lawler DF,  Levy JK,  et al.  (2014) Simulating Free-Roaming Cat Population Management Options in Open Demographic Environments. PLoS ONE 9(11): e113553.  doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0113553

Million Cat Challenge; http://www.millioncatchallenge.org

Missing Pet Partnership www.missingpetpartnership.org

Møller AP, Erritzøe J. Predation against birds with low immunocompetence. Oecologia 2000;122:500-504.

Nutter FB1, Stoskopf MK, Levine JF. Time and financial costs of programs for live trapping feral cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2004 Nov 1;225(9):1403-5.

Patronek GJ1 Mapping and measuring disparities in welfare for cats across neighborhoods in a large US city. Am J Vet Res. 2010 Feb;71(2):161-8. doi: 10.2460/ajvr.71.2.161.

Pedersen, N. C., R. Sato, J. E. Foley and A. M. Poland (2004). “Common virus infections in

cats, before and after being placed in shelters, with emphasis on feline enteric coronavirus.”

Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 6: 83-88.

Rayner MJ, Hauber ME, Imber MJ, Stamp RK, Clout MN. Spatial heterogeneity of mesopredator release within an oceanic island system. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2007;104:20862-20865.

Reeve CL, Reeve CL, Rogelberg SG, Spitzmüller C, Digiacomo N. The Caring‐Killing Paradox: Euthanasia‐Related Strain Among Animal‐Shelter Workers. Journal of applied social psychology 2005;35:119-143.

Robertson, S.A. (2008) A review of feral cat control, Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 10:366-375

Rogelberg SG, Reeve CL, Spitzmuller C, et al. Impact of euthanasia rates, euthanasia practices, and human resource practices on employee turnover in animal shelters. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association 2007;230:713-719.

Rohlf V, Bennett PC. Perpetration-induced Traumatic Stress in Persons Who Euthanize Nonhuman Animals in Surgeries, Animal Shelters, and Laboratories. Society & Animals 2005;13:201 – 219.

Rowan, A.N.; Williams, J. The success of companion animal management programs: A review. Anthrozoös 1987, 1, 110-122.

Roy Morgan Research 2014 – http://roymorgan.com.au/findings/6272-pet-ownership-inaustralia-201506032349

RSPCA Australia, Research Report – A review of TNR for the Management of Unowned Cats  March 2011

Scarlett JM. Interface of Epidemiology, Pet Population Issues and Policy. Preventative Veterinary Medicine 2008;86:188 – 197.

Scarlett, J.; Johnston, N. Impact of a subsidized spay neuter clinic on impoundments and euthanasia in a community shelter and on service and complaint calls to animal control. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 2012, 15, 53-69

Slater, M. R., Di Nardo, A., Pediconi, O., Villa, P. D., Candeloro, L., Alessandrini, B. and Del Papa, S. (2008). Free-roaming dogs and cats in central Italy: public perceptions of the problem. Preventive Veterinary Medicine 84, 27-47.

Steneroden, K. K., A. E. Hill and M. D. Salman (2011). “A needs-assessment and

demographic survey of infection-control and disease awareness in western US animal

shelters.” Preventative Veterinary Medicine 98(1): 52-57.

The Humane Society of the United States. ‘Managing community cats – a guide to municipal leaders.’

Threat Abatement Plan https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/tap/threat-abatement-plan-feral-cats

Toukhsati, S. R., P. C. Bennett and G. J. Coleman (2007). “Behaviours and attitudes towards

semi-owned cats.” Anthrozoos 20(2): 131-142.

Turner, P.; Berry, J.; MacDonald, S. Animal shelters and animal welfare: Raising the bar. The Canadian Veterinary Journal 2012, 53, 893.

Vox Felina, ‘ TNR Fact Sheet No. 2’


Wallace JL, Levy JK Population characteristics of feral cats admitted to seven trap-neuter-return programs in the United States .J Feline Med Surg. 2006 Aug;8(4):279-84.

  1. Weiss, M. Slater and L. Lord, “Frequency of Lost Dogs and Cats in the United States and Methods Used to Locate Them,” Animals 2 (2), (2012), 301-315.

Zito S, Vankan D, Bennett P, Paterson M, Phillips CJC (2015a) Cat Ownership Perception and Caretaking Explored in an Internet Survey of People Associated with Cats. PLoS ONE 2015, 10(7): e0133293. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0133293.

Zito S Understanding human factors involved in the unwanted cat problem PhD Thesis (2015b) The University of Queensland

Zito, S.; Morton, J.; Vanka, N.D.; Paterson, M.; Bennett, P.C.; Rand, J.; Phillips, C.J. Reasons people surrender

unowned and owned cats to Australian animal shelters and barriers to assuming ownership of unowned

cats. J. Appl. Anim. Welf. Sci. 2016, 9, 303–319.