Managing the Community Cat Population

Our Solutions
What’s the problem?

Quadra Island has a population of homeless cats. Some are lost, some strays, some abandoned, and some born into feral colonies (unsocialized outdoor cats). Any that haven’t been spayed or neutered can reproduce. Even with the high mortality rates in feral cats, if we leave things as they are, we’ll have more cats over time. Community cats are opportunistic feeders and tend to congregate where significant garbage collects or populations of rodents thrive.

Approximately 85 per cent of cats in a colony are not spayed or neutered, and at any given time, approximately 50 per cent of the females will be pregnant. Even with half the kittens dying before they’re eight weeks old and young mothers often dying from pregnancy complications and poor nutrition, cat colonies will continue to grow. And without adequate care, inbred cats become an increasingly unhealthy population.

What are the top reasons why cats are not spayed/neutered?

(New et al 2004, a study of 7399 cat and dog owning households in the USA; respondents could state more than 1 reason)

  • Cost (36%) This can be addressed through subsidized low cost spay/neuter for low income individuals (Secovich 2003).
  • Thought she was too young/ didn’t know she was in heat (20%) (In another study 57% of people either didn’t know or thought that cats were better off if they had a litter before spaying (Kass et al 2001)). This can be addressed through education.
  • Inconvenient (16%)
  • Do not believe in altering animals (8%)
Why are cats abandoned and lost?

Top reasons why cats are surrendered to shelters (may reflect the reasons cats are abandoned) (Kass et al 2001):

  1. too many in house (often from a litter)
  2. allergies
  3. moving
  4. cost
  5. landlord issues

Cats are regarded by many as second class pets compared to dogs (Perrin 2009) :

  • 66% of Canadian cats were obtained for free (compared to the average cost of $286 to buy a dog) (Perrin 2009). People may be less inclined to search for lost cats and more likely to abandon them if they are free and easily replaceable.
  • Return-to-owner rate of cats compared to dogs at animal shelters is very low
  • 50% of Canadian cats have not been to a veterinarian in the last year (compared to 22% for dogs) (Perrin 2009)
  • 3 times more cats disappear/wander off each year compared to dogs (New et al 2004)

Companion animal statistics:

  • the number of feral cats rivals that of owned cats: for every pet cat there is 0.5 to 1 feral cat (Levy et al 2003a)
  • euthanasia due to homelesssness if the largest cause of death in cats (Levy 2003)
  • approximately 75% of cats arriving at animal shelters in the USA are euthanized (AAFP 2004)
  • 79% of Canadian cats are spayed/neutered and 12% are microchipped (Perrin 2009)
  • 35.5% of Canadian households have at least one cat (Perrin 2009)
  • 9.2% of cat owning households had at least one litter in the previous year (New et al 2004)
  • 68% of cat litters are unplanned (New et al 2004)
What happens to the kittens of unplanned litters?

 (New et al 2004)

  1. given away (42%)
  2. died/killed (24%)
  3. kept/still have (22%)
  4. taken to shelter (5%)
  5. euthanized (2%)

How cats enter a household (New et al 2004)

  1. offspring of cats already in household (34% of cats added)
  2. “just showed up” as stray (24%)
  3. friends (13%)
  4. shelters (9.5%)
  5. strangers (6.4%)

Most cats/kittens (77%) are going to a new home where the owners have not been educated about the importance of spaying/neutering by 6 months of age. This may be a significant factor in the feline overpopulation crisis (Perrin 2009).

Many definitions for feral cats including a very broad one: ” any unconfined, unowned cat regardless of its socialization” (Levy & Crawford 2004) which encompasses socialized strays (abandoned and lost pet cats) as well as unsocialized “wild” cats.

9 to 22% of households feed outdoor cats that do not belong to them (Levy et al 2003). Many of these people do not own pets.

What's the solution?

Using a proven and humane method to manage and reduce the homeless cat population, we are working hard to improve the situation through our spay/neuter/adoption program.

We have a group of approximately 12 committed volunteers and have gathered information from other groups that manage and reduce homeless cat populations in Courtenay, Gibsons and Duncan.


We follow this step-by-step program:
  1. Conduct an inventory of cat colonies (locations, number, gender and age of cats).
  2. Set up feeding stations (and shelter where appropriate) in each colony’s territory to ready for trapping and spay/neutering.
  3. Train volunteers safe and effective methods for trapping and transporting cats.
  4. Apply for funding to assist with purchase of traps, transport and vet bills – and public education (advertising, pamphlets, etc.)
  5. Arrange with local veterinarians to coordinate spays and neuters.
  6. We train volunteers to tame kittens in foster homes so they can be adopted as family pets.
  7. We maintain a communications program to educate people in our community about our efforts – emphasizing the importance of spaying and neutering pets and NOT dumping cats and kittens.
Why a trap/neuter/return program?

Where cats are spayed/neutered and managed (fed and sheltered), then decreases over time due to natural attrition. And in a managed colony, any new cats that move in are easier to spot at monitored feeding stations and appropriate steps can be taken.

Most lethal cat diseases are passed through close contact, such as during fighting and mating, and this behaviour is eliminated by spaying and neutering. (Toms, particularly with fighting, can develop abscesses and die truly horribly, long, slow deaths. Females can have up to three litters a year and often suffer and die from pregnancy complications and poor nutrition.)

Is Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR) Effective?

Scientific studies show that TNR is an effective long term strategy to
stabilize or modestly reduce the size of feral cat colonies as well as improve the health of these cats (Levy 2003a).

The average decrease in colony size after 1-3 years of TNR is about
16 – 32% (Natoli 2006):

  • Italy (urban streets): 22% decrease: from 1655 cats (in 103
    colonies) down to 1293 cats after 2 to 6 years of TNR (Natoli 2006)
  • Florida: 26% decrease: from 920 cats (132 colonies) down to
    681 after 1 year of TNR (Centonze 2002)
  • Britain: 30% decrease: from 254 cats down to 178 cats after 5 years ofTNR (Remfry 1996)
  • London (empty garages): 15% decrease: from 20 cats down to 17
    cats after 5 years of TNR (Neville 1989)
  • Florida (University campus): 85% decrease: from 155 cats
    initially down to 23 cats after 11 years of TNR (Levy et al 2003a)

In a Florida study, TNR was more cost-effective than trap and euthanasia and resulted in fewer feline admissions to the local animal shelter as well as fewer “nuisance” calls about cats (Hughes et al 2002). Cost effectiveness is due to costs of impounding and holding feral cats prior to euthanasia (required in many regions) as well as the fact that volunteers can usually be found to trap for sterilization, but not for euthanasia (Griffin 2008).

TNR has been practiced for at least 20 years in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Denmark. It is now also well established in the USA, Canada and the Netherlands (Robertson 2008).

TNR is supported by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

TNR alone is insufficient to reduce the number of urban feral cats by much more than 16-32% (Natoli 2006)

  • the Florida University campus that saw an 85% decrease in feral cat population (Levy et al 2003a) was partly surrounded by forest and may not have been as susceptible to as much new cat immigration as fully urban environments
  • combining TNR with an educational campaign and subsidized neutering for owned pet cats would more effectively reduce the homeless cat population (Natoli 2006). In New Hampshire, a statewide subsidized spay/neuter program for low income individuals has decreased the shelter euthanasia rate by 75% over 6 years (Secovich 2003).
  • every year about 20% more cats enter feral colonies (abandoned and lost pet cats as well as offspring of current feral cats) (Natoli 2006)
How does TNR benefit a community?

TNR helps the community by stabilizing the population of the feral colony and, over time, reducing it. At the same time, nuisance behaviours such as spraying, loud noise and fighting are largely eliminated and no more kittens are born. Yet, the benefit of natural rodent control is continued.

Why feed the cats?

Cats are fed so we can monitor the population for kittens and newcomers – who’ll be trapped and transported to the vet as a member of the colony.

Cats in fed colonies that are providing useful rodent management, will continue to hunt.

What's involved in trapping?

Live traps are set at dusk, at the feeding station and monitored by a volunteer. Food is withheld at the feeding station 24 hours prior to trapping. A small amount of bait (rich-smelling food like sardines or wet cat food) and water are placed at the end of the trap farthest from the door. Fasting overnight is best for a cat going into surgery, thus the small amount of bait used. Newspaper is placed over the bottom of the trap. The trap door is placed in the open position. When the cat enters the trap to reach the food, its feet trigger the door release and the trap closes.

The closing trap can startle the cat, which will typically jump in the trap and try to escape. A volunteer places a blanket or sheet over the trap to calm the cat. The trap is moved to a warm, dry, quiet place, and the cat is left in peace (the blanket is not lifted or removed and the cat is NEVER touched) to await transport to the vet first thing the next morning.

For the safety or cats and volunteers, and the success of the program, trap doors are NEVER to be opened before the cat is at the vet’s. A cat that escapes a trap will typically not venture into one again.
Volunteers also monitor for new kittens to trap, tame and spay-neuter prior to adoption.

Why return the cats to their colonies?

Foster homes host stray cats that were once house pets or young kittens that can be tamed and eventually adopted.

Once they’re older than eight weeks, unsocialized outdoor cats usually cannot be successfully tamed. In some cases, these cats will adapt to being barn cats.

Cats are very territorial, and fixed cats that cannot be placed elsewhere are returned to their colony area, where there’s a space for them. In this location, they will prevent unfixed strays from moving in until a space is opened up through the death of a resident cat in the colony.

Are 'stray' cats and 'feral' cats the same?

No, stray and feral cats are not the same, and the terms “stray cat” and “feral cat” are not interchangeable. A stray cat is a domestic cat who was abandoned or strayed from home and became lost. Because a stray was once a companion animal, he can usually be re-socialized and adopted. Adult feral cats usually cannot be tamed and are not suited to living indoors with people. They are most content living in their established territory. Feral kittens up to about 8 to 10 weeks, however, can often be tamed and adopted.

What is a feral cat?

A feral cat is either a cat who has lived his or her whole life with little or no human contact and is not socialized, or a stray cat who was lost or abandoned and has lived away from human contact long enough to revert to a wild state. Feral cats avoid human contact and cannot be touched by strangers. While some feral cats tolerate a bit of human contact, most are too fearful and wild to be handled. Ferals often live in groups, called colonies, and take refuge wherever they can find food—rodents and other small animals and garbage. They will also try to seek out abandoned buildings, deserted cars, even dig holes in the ground to keep warm in winter months and cool during the summer heat.

Why not trap and euthanize?

If cats are trapped and euthanized, others will move in to fill the vacant spot in the colony. A management program and public education is the only humane and proven method for reducing homeless cat populations over time.

Are feral cats dangerous?

These cats are not tame, and even kittens will scratch if scared or cornered. And cat scratches, even from a house cat, are something to avoid. People should use gloves and caution when approaching an area where a feral cat might be hiding or cornered. Trapped cats should be removed from the trap only by the veterinarian.

What is the average lifespan of a feral cat?

If a feral cat survives kittenhood, his average lifespan is less than two years if living on his own. If a cat is lucky enough to be in a colony that has a caretaker, he may reach five years.

What is life like for a feral cat?

If a feral cat survives kittenhood, his average lifespan is less than two years if living on his own. If a cat is lucky enough to be in a colony that has a caretaker, he may reach five years.

Why are there so many feral cats?

Feral females spend most of their lives pregnant or nursing. In 7 years, one female cat and her offspring can yield 420,000 cats.

Is it possible to find homes for feral cats?

Generally, no. Adult feral cats usually cannot be socialized and will not adjust to living indoors. A great deal of time and effort can go into attempting to tame an adult feral cat, with no assurance of success. This time and effort is far better spent sterilizing feral cats to break the cycle of reproduction. See Alley Cat Allies’ Fact sheet, “Why Trap-Neuter-Return is the Solution to Feral Cat Overpopulation and Trap Neuter Adopt is Not.” Stray cats and kittens up to 8 or 10 weeks of age can usually be socialized and placed in homes.

Is it possible to move feral cats to a new location or to a barn?

It is very difficult to relocate feral cats. Feral cats are extremely bonded to their territories and will often try to find their way back home, and in the process, get killed by traffic, predators, or die from starvation, injuries, and the elements in their attempt to make their journey home.

Fortunately, there is a solution. Feral cat colonies can be managed with a non-lethal method called Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) in which cats are humanely (painlessly) trapped, spayed or neutered, and returned to their colony site where volunteer caregivers provide them with food, water, and if needed, shelter. Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is the only chance feral cats have of living safe, healthy lives without reproducing.

What are the requirements for foster homes?

Foster homes must offer a dry, warm, quiet, safe, indoor space for kittens/strays. The foster home will have a full understanding of sanitation requirements and a proven ability to socialize kittens and rehabilitate fearful strays. Fostered animals must remain indoors at all times. The cats and kittens will not be handled by children. They will not come into contact with other household pets until they have passed a health screening by a veterinarian – and then introduced only in cases where hosting pets welcome newcomers. We need some foster homes with experience in bottle feeding and caring for very young kittens. Foster homes will communicate any change in the status of their kittens and strays with the foster home coordinator.

How do we track our success?

We maintain a record of cat colony numbers, gender, approximate age, successful trapping, trips to the vet, kittens tamed and numbers adopted. We also keep a record of all kinds of community assistance, and monitor expenses and fundraising success. And, we communicate our progress with the community.

What's the value of a public education program?

We have colonies of homeless cats because people abandon or dump unwanted cats and kittens. Colony management and an education program to encourage spaying, neutering and humanely surrendering unwanted cats is the most humane and effective long-term solution.

How can You help?
  • Contact Quadra Cat Rescue to arrange to have your pet spayed or neutered.
  • Volunteer to become a neighbourhood monitor or to temporarily foster.
  • Adopt an already-fixed adult cat from Quadra Cat Rescue to free up foster space.
  • Sponsor a kitten’s healthy start with $400 for basic vet care (vaccination and neutering).
  • Donate Tru Value Foods Spirit Board points, and contact the group to purchase a $100 gift card to the Heriot Bay store that you can use to buy groceries over time.
  • Donate to the Quadra Cat Rescue (Please provide your mailing address to receive a tax receipt!):