Caring for Community Cats

Crystal Creek Rescue > Caring for Community Cats

As you go about your day, leaving or returning to your home for work or errands, you keep seeing a cat in your neighborhood. It’s kind of always there, hanging around, lounging in the sun, or hiding behind the front lawn bushes of your house. You’re puzzled: whose cat is this? It seems to be in good shape at first glance, and your initial impulse is to leave it alone as you come and go.

Many people believe cats are completely self-sufficient animals who will be just fine when left to their own devices. We think they can hunt and instinctively find safe places to be whenever needed. Some people also firmly believe cats are not attached to humans in any meaningful way, thinking that these animals are more bonded to their surroundings rather than the people in it. 

The fact is that cats are animals that humans have spent thousands of years domesticating. They have since evolved to depend on us and develop long-lasting bonds with the people who care for them. Cats rely on us to be safe and healthy. A community cat may face daunting odds of survival if left to fend for itself.

What is a Community Cat?

The term “community cat” is used to refer to cats who are unowned and roam a neighborhood. They may be a stray cat that was abandoned by its owner or lost, and therefore friendly and accepting of humans, or a feral cat, i.e. not socialized to accept humans as a kitten and now fearful and skittish around people. 

Stray cats can always be rehomed and live as pets, and a few feral cats may be tamed over a long period of time and be socialized enough to live around humans, but most of them cannot ever hope to be someone’s pet. Community cats can be by themselves or live in colonies, as cats are social animals who live in groups organized by hierarchy and cultivate complex relationships among themselves. 

Contrary to common belief, a community cat will not live a happy or healthy life if left to its own devices. Research done with feral cats shows they live up to 2 or 3 years, facing diseases and parasites, food and shelter insecurity, inclement weather, human cruelty, constant traffic on busy streets, and fights over food and territory with other animals. About half of kittens born in these conditions are projected to die before they reach the age of 1.

With such challenging prospects in store for them, it is our duty to help community cats in a way that will be conducive to both population control and a colony of healthy cats.

Helping Community Cats

  • Offer food and water: food is the greatest tool for socializing. Try to feed the cats you see twice a day at fixed times so as to create a routine and the beginnings of a relationship with them. Try to talk to them while you’re in their presence, so they will know your voice and in the future respond to your calling them. This helps with socializing and will get them used to you. At this time, you may try to pet them if they are open to it. Cats are animals who like to do things on their own terms. Go for the side or top of their torsos, never try to pet their heads first while staring at them – cats find that intimidating and threatening. Offer water at all times in the same spot, so they will know it’s there when they’re thirsty.
  • Talk to your neighbors: ask around whether more people are caring for this cat or these cats. Try and find out if they belong to someone. In case the answer is yes, inquire if they are spayed or neutered and up to date with their shots. Intact cats are not only a surefire way to have plenty of feral kittens roaming around in the future, but they may also be disruptive to the neighborhood, as they spray urine to mark territory, fight over females, and vocalize at all hours of the day and night.
  • Educate yourself about TNR (Trap-Neuter-Release) and TNRM (Trap-Neuter-Release-Monitor): in order to stabilize population numbers and protect cats from different kinds of cancer, spaying the females and neutering the males is an indispensable step in caring for your local colony. You can always reach out to us or another organization that can assist you with colony assessment and management (you can find this info on Resources). Even if you only see one cat roaming around, getting them spayed or neutered is one of the most beneficial things you can do for their health. 
  • Be a community caregiver and get more people to do the same: community cats need continual care and monitoring. You can offer food and water, as well as provide them with safe shelter from the elements (more on that here). You can monitor their overall health by making sure they’re eating well, and work with organizations such as ours to assess the colony in a more experienced way. Over time, you’ll be a pro at spotting and dealing with any issues that may arise.
  • Donate to organizations that advocate for and assist colonies through assessment, management, and TNR: show your care with your dollars: Organizations like ours and many others often do as much as they can with very limited resources and no public funds whatsoever. One-time or recurring donations of money or goods go a long way towards helping us help community cats. Donate to Crystal Creek Rescue here!

When dealing with community cats, compassion and constant monitoring is key. Cats need us and we can substantially improve their lives by intervening in a respectful and evidence-based manner. Offering food and water is great, but it should be just the start of a routine of management that looks at their overall state and offers them a better chance at a long, healthy life, whether as someone’s pet or the pride of their neighborhood!

For more information, please read up on some great resources:

This website uses cookies and asks your personal data to enhance your browsing experience.