Community Cat Program FAQ
A Community Cat Program (CCP) has several elements. Foremost is desexing of urban stray cats. Stray cats in a targeted area are captured, desexed and provided with other veterinary care, such as vaccinations and microchipping. Following treatment, if they are healthy and have been thriving outdoors, the cats are returned to where they live in their home territories. A CCP will also desex pet cats if their owners cannot afford to do so themselves. Other parts of the program include adopting friendly cats and kittens found outdoors, increasing responsible pet cat ownership, decreasing abandonment and mediating resident conflicts involving outdoor cats
When a high percentage of urban stray cats in a target area are desexed and can no longer reproduce, their numbers can begin to decline through natural attrition. If friendly cats and kittens are removed from outdoors and adopted, and abandonment of new undesexed cats is eliminated or reduced, population decline becomes more likely. Fewer cats living outdoors means less predation on wildlife, lower intake and euthanasia at pounds and shelters, and less cost for effective cat management. Less killing can also result in improved mental health for pound and shelter staff. With respect to nuisance complaints, desexing has an immediate positive impact. No more mating means much less roaming, yowling and fighting. Desexed male cats no longer mark territory with a noxious odor. And, of course, there are no more litters of kittens.
The welfare and management of urban stray cats is a concern in most Australian communities. On average, approximately 50% of cats entering pounds and shelters are euthanased or killed. This comes at huge cost to communities across Australia – both financially and, for those performing the killing, psychologically. However, this constant trapping and killing of urban stray cats has little to show for all the harm and costs incurred. Despite many years of killing and the millions of dollars spent, our cities and towns still face an overpopulation of urban stray cats. It is time for an approach that is more humane and more effective.
Desexing and leaving cats where they live has resulted in significant reductions in stray cat intake and euthanasia in pounds and shelters overseas. In Australia, a reduction in urban stray cat numbers through desexing has been demonstrated on a small scale. Recent research of existing cat colonies showed that colony sizes decreased by a median of 31% over 2 years, and by 50% over 5 years.
The project is being led by the Australian Pet Welfare Foundation. Collaborative partners include five major Australian universities (Queensland, New South Wales, Sydney, Adelaide and La Trobe), four local governments (Melbourne, Banyule, Greater Shepparton, Ipswich), ten Australian welfare and rescue groups (RSPCA Qld, RSPCA NSW, RSPCA SA, RSPCA Vic, AWL Australia, AWL Queensland, Maneki Neko Cat Rescue, Cheltenham Cat Rescue, PetRescue, Sydney Dogs’ and Cats’ Home, Cat Protection Society NSW, Australian Pet Welfare Foundation), two veterinary care and pharmaceutical companies, (Greencross, MSD Animal Health) and two international partners, Neighborhood Cats (USA) and Dr John Boone (Great Basin Bird Observatory, USA).
Community Cat Programs will occur in selected communities in four states – Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales.
The first Community Cat Program (CCP) is expected to begin in late 2019 and will roll out in the remaining states soon thereafter. Each CCP will continue for four to five years
Community cat programs have been implemented in many countries, including the USA, UK, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Singapore, Israel, New Zealand and South Africa. They have significantly reduced the intake and euthanasia of stray cats in shelters and pounds.
Based on overseas research, we expect the following outcomes:
· 30% decrease in cat intake into pounds and shelters from target areas within 3 years
· 50% decrease in cat euthanasia from target areas after Year 1
· 30% decrease in stray cats in target areas by Year 3
· Continuing improvements in subsequent years of all metrics
· Less damage to the mental health of pound and shelter staff tasked with killing healthy and treatable cats and kittens
· Greater proportion of cats admitted to pounds and shelters adopted
· Reduced costs to councils for cat management
Urban stray cats are unowned or semi-owned cats living in urban and peri-urban areas of Australia, or may be wandering or lost owned cats. Semi-owned and unowned cats live either on their own or in groups (known as “colonies”). They rely indirectly on humans for food and shelter to survive. Unowned or semi-owned cats may, for example, live on the grounds of a shopping center, community housing complex, university or private property. Semi-owned cats are directly fed and often provided with other care by specific people, but those individuals do not perceive themselves as official “owners” of the cats, but rather as caregivers. These cats often provide companionship for their carers, who are very attached to them, and do not want them killed. Owned cats may be wandering due to lack of suitable cat safe fencing or confinement in the owner’s home.
No. Feral cats are very different from urban stray cats. Unlike urban strays, feral cats have no reliance on humans directly or indirectly for food or shelter, but rather hunt and survive on their own. They are typically found in the wild at least two to three kilometers from the nearest human habitation or building.
Recent Australian research found that approximately 80% of people would support a Community Cat Program in their area to manage stray cats. If someone does not want cats to come onto their property, we will work with them to develop a mutually acceptable resolution. This may include providing humane deterrents to stop cats entering the property. These can be very effective when used properly. We will also provide information and encouragement to owners of wandering cats to help them keep their cats safely and happily at home, including desexing support.
Our research project is much more extensive than simply evaluating trap, neuter and return. To have the greatest impact on decreasing unnecessarily killing of healthy cats and kittens in shelters and pounds, we are including urban stray cats captured by local government and those surrendered by the general public to local pounds and shelters. These will be desexed and remain in their home territories, we will also desex owned cats whose owners cannot afford the surgery. In addition to desexing, we are also looking to increase responsible pet cat ownership, decrease abandonment, resolve disputes involving outdoor cats and generally address most of the community’s cat issues.
In some states, desexing urban strays and then placing them back where they live may be considered abandonment or release of “restricted matter”, both of which are illegal under various government legislation. However, we will have obtained all the necessary exemptions and permits from relevant state governments to conduct the research and determine if this approach to cat management works.
If this trial is successful, state governments may be persuaded to change existing legislation so that all councils around Australia can use Community Cat Programs to reduce urban stray cat numbers and their associated concerns. This would represent the most important change in domestic cat management laws in Australia in our lifetime.
The number of cats being euthanased in pounds and shelters is much greater than the number of dogs. For example, the proportion of animals euthanased in shelters and pounds in Australia is estimated to be 52% for cats, while for dogs it is 12%. However, there is a big range in outcomes for cats, with some councils euthanasing only 7% of cats and others 98%. The goal is to only be euthanasing animals on humane grounds – those animals where treatment would not be expected to restore them to a reasonable quality of life. This is approximately 0.5% or less of intake. Depending on the community, stray cats make up 60 to 90% of the intake of pound and shelter animals. Reducing cat intake will reduce costs for animal welfare organisations and councils, reduce the number of healthy and treatable animals killed, and mean there are more resources available to help dogs.
Some may feel it’s a luxury to devote resources to desexing stray cats when other pressing human, animal welfare and environmental concerns exist. Desexing cats in a smart and strategic way can help prevent nuisance issues for people, reduce native wildlife predation, and the death and suffering of cats who are killed or become stressed and sick in pounds and shelters. For example, most kittens entering shelters and pounds are born to stray cats, both unowned and semi-owned. If kittens are a major source of overcrowding in your local shelter, desexing your community’s stray cats could be the most effective way to resolve this. As another example, if enough stray cats were desexed, nuisance complaints would go down and animal management officers might be able to focus on more positive support roles. In the end, desexing urban stray cats is what will make the problems associated with their unchecked reproduction go away.
Reducing predation by reducing the urban stray cat population is one of the goals of the Community Cat Program. Fewer cats will mean less predation. This will be achieved by desexing stray and pet cats, encouraging cat owners to keep their pets confined indoors or in outdoor enclosures, preventing abandonment and otherwise promoting responsible cat stewardship. Although there are community concerns about cats remaining in their outdoor homes with a carer, research shows that cats’ main prey in urban areas are mice, rats and small lizards like skinks. Except for some individual cats, birds comprise a small proportion of prey animals, and most are common birds such as noisy miners. Providing sufficient food to meet each cat’s nutritional needs is an important way to minimize predation.
For decades, we have tried to eliminate urban stray cats by trapping and killing them, currently at the rate of approximately 100,000 per year. The fact we are still facing cat overpopulation today, after all the resources spent on lethal control, speaks loudly to the failure of that approach.
There are many reasons why trap-and-kill does not work to reduce cat numbers on anything more than a very short-term basis. Cats are prolific breeders – when they are captured and removed from their environment, they are soon replaced by new cats, a phenomenon known as the vacuum effect. Removing enough cats fast enough to prevent this would require a vast amount of resources far beyond the means of our councils. Citizens who care for the cats are also unlikely to cooperate with authorities when the likely outcome will be the death of the animals. There is also the constant flow into the free-roaming cat population of abandoned and often unaltered pet cats. All these factors combined point to the futility of trying to permanently lower the number of cats by simply removing and killing them.
Desexing cats, when done in a targeted manner which alters a high percentage of strays in a given area, can lead to lower populations in the long-term. This will protect wildlife much more effectively than continuing with a method that has failed over and over again.
This research project on the Community Cat Program shares a common goal with conservationists – fewer cats on the landscape. Where we disagree is on how to get there. Many wildlife advocates seek the complete removal of all outdoor cats from our communities. We believe this is highly impractical and unlikely ever to be attempted, let alone succeed. Eradication of cats on a large scale has only been achieved at great expense on remote, uninhabited islands using a variety of techniques that are not safe or acceptable in urban settings. This has included the introduction of feline disease, wide-spread poisoning and hunting. Based on published calculations for removal of cats from islands, it would cost more than 2-3% of our GDP every year for 10 years to substantially reduce the numbers of feral and urban stray cats across Australia.
By contrast, research has found that in cities and towns, desexing stray cats and leaving them in their home territories is less costly than trying to kill them and much more effective at lowering cat numbers. It is also more aligned with public opinion. NSW’s Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service (WIRES) has lent its support to our research because it knows what we are doing now is not reducing wildlife predation.
We have been trying to remove stray cats from our cities and towns for decades. It hasn’t worked because the amount of resources needed to successfully reduce the stray cat population is staggering. For cat numbers to go down using lethal control, we would need to trap and kill 30 to 50% of all stray cats and kittens every six months for ten years. For example, in Sydney or Melbourne, 200,000 cats would need to be killed in the first year at a cost of $100 million. The community will not support this, and councils cannot afford it.
Trapping and killing urban stray cats does not work even when all the cats in a colony (a group of cats that share a common territory) are removed. Soon after their removal, cats from surrounding colonies usually move in to take advantage of the vacated habitat and its newly available food and shelter. They breed and before long, there are just as many cats present as before. A similar dynamic occurs when not all the cats in a colony are able to be removed, and one or more entire females remain. Kittens born to the ones left behind now have less competition for resources, making them more likely to survive. Again, it is not long before the same number of cats occupies the area. Abandonment of undesexed cats can also lead to rapid repopulation of vacant territory.
To our knowledge, no research studies have shown any sustained community-wide reduction in urban stray cat numbers from trap and kill programs.
Many urban stray cats are not well socialised to people. When kittens reach a certain age, typically around 8 weeks old, it can take an intensive amount of time, effort and resources to tame them to the point where they can become pets. Shelters and rescue organisations, stretched thin with the work they are already doing with tens of thousands of cats, cannot realistically be expected to socialise and find homes for most urban stray cats.
Some may believe if feeding strays is banned and no food is purposely made available, stray cats will go away. This is not true. Cats are highly territorial and will not merely pick up and move away if deprived of food. Instead, they are more likely to locate new food sources within their territory or encroach closer into human habitations as they grow hungrier and more desperate. When sufficient food is not provided by humans to meet the cat’s nutritional needs, the cat will hunt to prevent death from starvation. If they do not find adequate replacements and become malnourished, they become more susceptible to parasites like fleas which they then spread as they explore homes, workplaces, garages, etc. This process can last for weeks. They continue to reproduce as well. As a result, feeding bans (if enforced) tend to make the situation worse, not better.
A second reason why feeding bans are rarely effective is because they are almost impossible to enforce. People who care about the cats are bonded to them as strongly as owners are to their pets. They will go to great lengths to feed their cats rather than let them starve, risking their homes, jobs and even their liberty. Moreover, unless colony sites are kept under constant surveillance, someone determined to feed the cats will usually succeed without being detected.
Many overseas studies have found that urban stray cats enjoy good health and welfare similar to pet cats. Their health will be further improved through desexing, vaccination and any needed parasite treatment. In our study, cats will also be microchipped to their caregiver or to an animal welfare organisation. That way, if a cat should become ill or injured, we will know who to contact.
Based on overseas studies, we expect approximately 0.5% of cats (5 in every 1,000 cats) may be euthanased due to poor health conditions that are untreatable and will cause irredeemable suffering. This will be a last resort and will only be done if a medical management plan is not an option.
We will make every effort to avoid trapping mother cats if her kittens are too young to survive the separation. Much will depend on whether it is known a mum has newborns. If it is, then trapping of the mother will be delayed until the kittens can eat on their own and survive without her while she is being desexed.
It may not be discovered until after a cat has been trapped that she is lactating and may be nursing young kittens. In that case, she will be prioritised for desexing and returned ASAP. A spayed female can continue to nurse.
If resources allow and it is possible to do, both the mum and her kittens will be captured at the same time so they can be kept together until the kittens are weaned. We advise waiting until the kittens are 5 weeks old before they are captured with their mum.
Pregnant cats will typically be desexed if, in the opinion of the attending veterinarian, the procedure can be done safely.
All cats participating in the Community Cat Program will be microchipped to their owner, caregiver, or participating animal welfare or local government organisation. Unowned cats will also be ear-tipped to indicate they are desexed. In most cases, unless there is good cause to do otherwise, when a healthy ear-tipped and microchipped cat arrives at a pound or shelter, it will be returned to its home.
Ear-tipping is the universal sign of a desexed stray cat. One centimeter is removed from the tip of the left ear in a straight line cut while the cat is under anaesthesia. There is little to no bleeding and healing is rapid.
For the protection of the cats and the efficiency of a cat management program, it must be possible to identify quickly and at a distance which unowned cats are desexed. This avoids unnecessary trapping and surgical procedures, and allows caregivers and program staff to focus on capturing stray cats who are not yet desexed. No better or safer alternative has been developed. It is not done for cosmetic reasons, as ear-cropping is with dogs.
Ear tipping protects the cats when combined with community education, so that the community knows that an ear tipped cat is not lost, and does not need to be
rescued if it appears healthy. However, if it appears sick or injured, the cat should be taken to the nearest veterinarian or shelter because it has a microchip which will allow the responsible organisation to be contacted to provide care. If it cannot be caught, notify the nearest shelter or municipal pound with exact location and a description of the cat.
Ear-tipping of stray cats is recommended by:
· Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
Cats are prolific breeders. A female cat can produce three litters of kittens a year, usually of three to five kittens each. These kittens can then get pregnant as young as four months old.
Without desexing, the cats’ numbers quickly increase. When there are too many cats in an area, their own welfare may suffer from disease, predation and malnourishment. They can also become a burden and nuisance to local residents, leading to complaints, acts of cruelty and impoundment.
On average, close to 50% of cats entering pounds and shelters are killed. Some currently kill as many as 98% of cats. It is more humane to desex the cats and
prevent their overpopulation than allow them to breed unchecked and let them die or be killed when their numbers get too high. Desexing is also more compassionate for shelter and pound staff currently tasked with killing a constant stream of cats and kittens, which harms their mental health and increases their suicide risk.
Yes, it is helpful for both the cats and those trying to manage them. A caregiver can make trapping for the purpose of desexing easier and faster by establishing a feeding pattern and identifying each colony member. After the cats are desexed, a caregiver provides regular food and makes sure they have adequate shelter, both essential for the cats’ well-being. In addition, the caregiver can monitor the colony for any cats who become ill or injured and need further treatment, and for new cats who enter the colony. The new arrivals can then quickly be trapped and either desexed or adopted. Finally, the caregiver provides local residents with someone to contact and work with should any problems arise.
All cats participating in the program will be desexed, microchipped, vaccinated, treated for fleas, worms and other parasites, and provided care for any other health issues.
Cats who will be desexed and then continue to live in their outdoor homes will be tested only if they are ill and showing symptoms consistent with an active case of Feline Immuno-deficiency Virus (FIV). As recommended by the American Association of Feline Practitioners, healthy cats will not be tested for FIV. Reasons for this protocol include:
(a) False positive test results are substantially higher in healthy cats who demonstrate no clinical signs consistent with infection.
(b) Culling healthy cats who test positive for FIV will not meaningfully lower the prevalence of the disease among outdoor cats, including pets with outdoor access. In other words, the risk of infection to non-FIV cats would remain virtually the same with or without removing FIV positive cats. Because it is so frequent in outdoor cats in Australia, and cats are prolific breeders, the number of healthy FIV positive cats that would need to be killed to lower the prevalence, would not be acceptable to the community or affordable.
(c) FIV is transmitted primarily through pregnancies and deep bite wounds associated with mating behaviors. Desexing, by eliminating these modes of transmission, will reduce the spread of the disease.
(d) FIV prevalence decreases in areas where community cat programs are implemented because there is less fighting.
(e) The strain of FIV found in Australia is relatively mild and many FIV-positive cats remain healthy, do not show symptoms for years and may die of other causes.
(f) Cat carers will not participate in the program once it becomes known that up to 30% of their healthy cats will be killed because they test positive. This will rapidly lead to failure of the program.
When they are confined, cats who are unsocialized and fearful of humans feel safest in small, covered spaces where they can “hide.” They do not like to be in large, open spaces. For example, if an unsocialized cat is placed in a large cage with a small carrier inside, it will spend almost all the time in the carrier. Because of this, unsocialized cats (those who will remain in their outdoor homes after desexing) will be confined in their traps, which will be kept covered with a sheet or towel. The traps are big enough to allow adequate movement for the cat to eat and eliminate and be comfortable.
Desexing is, of course, the key to a Community Cat Program. Many veterinarians are already participating in desexing programs by working with Councils, animal welfare groups, the National Desexing Network and other desexing organisations. Some contribute by reducing their prices as a community service. In the specific locations where this project is being conducted, many veterinary organisations and clinics are offering their support. If there is a Community Cat Program in your area
and you are interested in learning how you can help, please contact us, your local council, or the animal welfare agency leading the work locally.
A Community Cat Program is a way of managing urban stray cats in order to reduce their numbers and impacts, and improve their well-being. Participating organisations work directly with the community to desex, microchip and vaccinate stray cats. Friendly adults and young kittens are adopted out whenever possible, and healthy, unsocialized cats are desexed and returned to their home location.
If enough cats in any area are desexed, the size of their population goes down over time as attrition outpaces new births. Fewer cats means less wildlife predation, lower cat intake and euthanasia at pounds and shelters, less debilitating stress on pound and shelter workers from killing healthy animals, and less cost to councils. Desexing also virtually eliminates behaviour considered a nuisance like yowling at night, fighting over mates, spraying to mark territory and roaming.
History has repeatedly shown that euthanasing stray cats that cannot be adopted (the usual approach) fails to achieve these results. Cats who are removed, are soon replaced by new cats and the problems continue unabated. A Community Cat Program offers a better, more humane way of solving our feline issues.
There are many benefits Councils can gain from implementing a Community Cat Program. Calls reporting stray cats and nuisance behaviours decrease rapidly. This means animal management officers spend less time responding to complaints and trapping cats, and fewer cats are impounded. All this translates to significant cost savings to Councils.
For Councils which operate their own pounds, there are very real human benefits as well. Community Cat Programs markedly reduce the number of kittens that are
killed at these facilities. This reduces staff exposure to the traumatizing effects of killing perfectly healthy animals. Research shows that the experience of killing healthy animals can cause serious psychological harm, even causing increased suicide rates.
Community Cat Programs are also advantageous to Councils because they are more aligned with community preferences for managing cats. Surveys show residents greatly prefer live outcomes for the cats, rather than capturing and killing them.
Councils have identified the parts of their community where stray cat overpopulation is greatest, what we call “cat hotspots.” Data analyzed has included the addresses cats surrendered to local pounds and shelters originate from, and areas where residents have expressed concerns about stray cats. Some Councils have used GIS mapping to help identify hotspots and others have examined complaints logged into their customer request management systems.
The Community Cat Program will likely bring many benefits to participating councils, including:
· Significantly reduced numbers of cats surrendered to pounds and shelters
· Far less euthanasia of healthy cats and kittens and, as a result, less debilitating stress on pound and shelter staff
· Fewer complaint calls about cats requiring council action and resources, reducing costs to ratepayers
· Fewer urban stray cats in the community and their associated nuisance behaviours; and
· Less wildlife predation.
By subsidizing a well-managed desexing program, a council can reduce its costs. It is cheaper for councils to pay for desexing stray cats and prevent more births than to collect, hold and kill or rehome cats and kittens after they are born. Some councils will have a contracted veterinary service which will perform the desexing, while others will assist with trapping the cats.
The Community Cat Program will help you to get these cats desexed, microchipped and vaccinated free of charge. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
If you live or work in one of the research areas and are seeing cats, we can help! First, we’ll try to determine if they are strays or owned pets. If they’re strays, we will arrange for them to be desexed, microchipped and vaccinated. If they’re owned, we will attempt to contact the owner and see if any assistance is needed. To report cats and for more information, please contact email@example.com.
If you live outside a research site and are aware of unowned cats breeding in public areas, we urge you to assist your local shelter or rescue group to get these cats desexed.
If you reside in a research area, free or subsidised desexing will be available for pet cats whose owners cannot afford the full rate. To determine if you are eligible, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you live outside the trial area and need financial help to get your cat desexed, please contact the National Desexing Network or your Council.
If you have any concerns about cats on your property, we will work with you to resolve any issue. There are often simple ways to keep cats away, such as additions to the top of fences, motion-activated sprinklers and more. We will also try to determine if any particular cats that you’re seeing are owned and if they are, we’ll try to reach the owner and persuade him to not let his pets roam. If the cats are strays, we’ll get them desexed and, if they are friendly, possibly rehomed. For help or more information, please contact email@example.com.
If you live in a trial area, we can use your help! Volunteers are needed to collect information about stray cats from households before the trial starts. We can also use assistance during the project with trapping and transporting cats to and from veterinary clinics. If you would like to volunteer, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
You will need permission from your council and they will need state government permits, although this may not be the case if it is solely on private property, and the desexed cats are microchipped to an owner, and registered if required by council. It may be best to wait for the preliminary results of the research before exploring this. In the meantime, let your council know about our research and the expected benefits it will bring – reduced cat intake, reduced killing at their pound, fewer cat-related calls, less wildlife predation and reduced costs, freeing up resources for other programs like increasing dog adoptions. Ask them to contact the Australian Pet Welfare Foundation (email@example.com) to see if a trial could be arranged in your area.