Most cities have a wide array of helpful animal control and animal welfare policies to protect animals and people. But sometimes well-intended ordinances can conflict with having a successful community cat program.
Here are a few examples to keep in mind:
- Licensing ordinances: Requiring all pets in a city to be licensed and wear a tag can be confusing when it comes to community cats. Since they wouldn’t be licensed/tagged, they’re at risk of being impounded, overburdening shelters and leading to euthanasia. Licensing ordinances should take community cats into consideration and be clearly written to ensure they don’t include outdoor cat colonies or inhibit their support.
- Feeding bans: Feeding bans periodically come up as a potential “solution” to community cat overpopulation. However, this overlooks the fact that the cats will not leave simply because feeding them is illegal. Instead, as they starve, they will seek out other sources of food like garbage and other animals, and will be more susceptible to disease in their malnourished state. Community cat programs that include TNR are a much more effective and humane solution.
- Leash ordinances: Laws that require pets to be leashed when not under the control of their owner may inadvertently encompass unowned cats. Similar to overly broad licensing ordinances, this could lead to community cats being impounded, resulting in wasted city resources and euthanasia. Leash ordinances should be explicit in excluding community cats.
- Ownership definitions: In some communities, “ownership” of an animal is defined broadly and could be misinterpreted to include community cat caregivers. These volunteers are generously giving their time and funds to help cats and their community. City language should be clear about the difference between cat caregiving and ownership.
- Over-regulation of community cat programs: While community cat caregivers are generally happy to be part of a network with local animal welfare organizations, requiring registration with the city can be burdensome or a deterrent. Successful programs tend to welcome caregivers without excessive demands for registration or personal information. (That said, programs that give caregivers a badge or other ID to prove they are participating in a city-sanctioned program may see more community acceptance of their work.)
The best way to enable community cat programs and TNR is to pass ordinances explicitly supporting them, with language that clarifies where these programs are exempt from other animal-related ordinances in the community.
Want to know more? Check out our Community Cat Toolkit for an overview of community cat care, case studies, tools for citizens and more.