Cats should be categorized based on how and where they live. All Australian jurisdictions should define all cats with some dependence on people (direct or indirect) living in the vicinity of where people live, as domestic cats. Cats that have no relationship with or dependence on humans, that live and reproduce in the wild (i.e. do not live where people live) should be defined as feral cats (in accordance with RSPCA Australia, Commonwealth government and Victoria state government definitions).
Domestic cats should be excluded from the legal definition of feral cats. Behaviour is an invalid test of whether a cat is feral or domestic and should never be used to label a cat feral. Cats should be categorized based on how and where they live This will enable the implementation of effective domestic cat management strategies, supported by the community.
Research shows that pet cats can react with more aggressive behaviours to humans than feral cats when highly stressed. Domestic cats require an average of five days to five weeks in a non-stressful environment before adoptability can be assessed (with a range from a minimum of 3 days to five weeks or longer to assess adoptability) (Rochlitz 1998, Kessler 1997, Ellis 2014, DiGangi 2022, Jacobsen 2022, Slater 2013 and Kerr 2018).
Cat management strategies should recognise three subcategories of domestic cats including:
- Owned cats – these cats are identified with and cared for by a specific person and are directly dependent on humans. They are usually sociable, although sociability varies. These cats are also called pet cats.
- Semi-owned cats – these cats are directly dependent on humans and are intentionally fed by people who do not consider they own them. These cats are of varying sociability and are sometimes called stray cats.
- Unowned cats – these cats are indirectly dependent on humans and receive food from people unintentionally, such as via food waste bins. These cats are of varying sociability and are sometimes called stray cats.
Feral cats have no relationship with or dependence on humans (neither direct nor indirect), survive by hunting or scavenging for food, and live and reproduce in the wild (e.g., forests, woodlands, grasslands, deserts). Feral cats do not live in the vicinity of where people live and they do not receive food from humans intentionally (direct feeding) or unintentionally (e.g. via food waste bins). Feral cats are completely unsocialised to humans and have none of their needs fulfilled by humans. Feral cats are not found or trapped in the vicinity of where people live, are not the subject of nuisance complaints and do not enter Australian council pounds or animal shelters.
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