Published on:  
Dec 30, 2015

Isn’t it irresponsible to return cats to neighborhoods with no known caregiver?

Dear Million Cat Challenge,

What can my staff say when they are being accused of being cruel or irresponsible for returning a cat to the neighborhood when it doesn’t have a known caregiver? – Not Cruella

Dear Not,

This is a concern we all share, of course. But there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that these cats have “figured it out.” Of the 2,366 cats admitted to a two-year, high-impact TNVR program in one Alachua County, Florida, zip code, for example, we observed that only 16 (0.7 percent) were ineligible for the program due to health issues. [1] In San Jose, California, where more than 10,000 community cats were sterilized and returned over a four-year period as part of a shelter-based community cat program, it was observed that “impounded feral cats are surprisingly healthy and have good bodyweight.” [2] What’s more, dead cat pick up off the streets declined 20% percent following implementation of the program.

It helps to reassure people that there is a screening program and that if any cat that comes in does not look like he or she is healthy and thriving, that cat is not released. But if the cat looks good and healthy, she or he is getting food and shelter from somewhere, maybe even from multiple families. Most people can understand that. It’s helpful to have a written policy like these so it’s clear when cats can be returned to their environment and when they should stay in the shelter.

1. Levy, J.K., N.M. Isaza, and K.C. Scott, Effect of high-impact targeted trap-neuter-return and adoption of community cats on cat intake to a shelter. The Veterinary Journal, 2014. 201(3): p. 269–274.
2. Johnson, K.L. and J. Cicirelli, 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, 2014. 2: p. e646.

Dr. Julie Levy