Community Cats

Community cats sounds a lot a lot better than feral cats. Free roaming cat is better than feral cat too. Why don’t we start calling feral cats “community cats”? We don’t know, but community cats probably do serve the community in keeping rodent populations down. Which brings me to the slightly vexed question of how do you define what a feral cat is? People who don’t like community cats refer to them as feral cats, pests and disease spreaders that are wild and mangy. People who want to help cats that are free roaming and on the fringes of human society would prefer to call them community cats and see in them vulnerable animals of our making that need our help and do no harm.

Community Cats

Community Cats. Photo by donjd2

Another complication is that community cats can be barn cats which are useful. Or they can be genuine stray cats. A stray cat is not a feral cat.  A stray cat is probably between domestic and community cat. I am sure that stray cats are bundled in with feral cats in studies about feral cat behavior. There is a fine line sometimes between feral and stray cats, which makes it difficult to study feral cat behavior.

One scientist defined stray cats as cats that were taken from dumps and residential and industrial areas. The same scientist referred to feral cats as cats that were “remote” from these places.

Sometimes scientists refer to feral cats are non-reliant on humans. Whereas strays are reliant on humans for food and shelter. This is wrong too as feral cats do raid dumps or live near restaurants and hospitals. But as mentioned, it can be a fine dividing line between a stray and a feral cat.

M.R. Slater¹ has the best way to define a feral cat in my opinion. His definition also accommodates what can be a gradual change in some cats from domestic to stray to feral. Although most feral cats are probably born out of a feral cat mum.

Mr Slater says that a feral cat is a cat that cannot be handled by a person. That is, a cat that is no longer or never was socialised to people and is therefore no longer domesticated.

“Socialisation” is the process of a cat developing appropriate social behavior towards people and other companion animals. All cats need to go through the process.

Having defined what a feral cat is, the next difficulty is applying the test. Testing if a cat is socialised or not can be tricky because, for example, in a cat shelter environment a cat will be stressed and defensive. He may lash out giving the impression that he is wild and dangerous. A stray cat or even a domestic might give the impression that he is a feral cat and unsuitable for adoption. Even the character of the person doing the testing could affect the cat’s behavior considerably. In another post I wrote about how cats choose and companion. Cats do like and dislike people.

Finally there is the way a person handles a cat. Mishandling a cat can lead to misjudging the cat’s character.

I think we should start calling feral cats community cats and treat then accordingly. We may find lots of them are more friendly towards people than we imagined and no longer deserve to be classified as wild and dangerous feral cats.


Note: 1. Book: The Welfare of Cats. Photo on Flickr.

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Community Cats — 7 Comments

  1. I totally agree with all this. Language has a huge effect on our understanding of things and of course calling cats by a word that has a negative connotation is disabling to their welfare right from the start. I would say language has to be one of the most important factors that underlies and effects our awareness of things and judgements thereof. Firstly, by enforcing the use of different words for different stages of the domestic to feral process will make people aware of the process to begin with. It will make them think before labelling. If you see something on two wheels you decide whether its a bicycle or a motorcycle and that makes you aware of the difference. With feral cats its almost as if we don’t differentiate and just call them all cycles even though there are huge differences. In that sense it’s so important to use the right language around the progression of an issue of phenomena such as the cat overpopulation issue – not ‘the feral cat issue’ 🙂 – anyway, I totally agree with Michael and the definition from the author he draws from who divides by level of human socialisation. It’s the most obvious thing. And its also a complete and utter tragedy that frightened cats are deemed impossible to socialise and subsequently killed in shelters. There has to be a better universal system or set of tests that can be made to successfully determine whether or not a cat really is socialised and to what extent. Its possible I am sure. This test or process should be enforced at all shelters so cats are not killed when they can easily live with humans. Once the level of socialisation is determined on some sort of scale (just like they have with sociopaths or mental patients of various sorts) they can then be given names such as feral or stray or domestic. Really it would also be nice if there were more names to suit more in betweens since its never black or white. i.e.: what would you call a cat who was born in a house and then abandoned at 6 weeks …and then grew up to some years of age totally away from humans. Such a cat will have had human contact at a very early age and although initially untoucheable perhaps it can be brought around to the idea of life with humans. It’s not feral and it’s not really stray per se, it’s somewhere in between. Perhaps that’s a good candidate for a barn cat. We need more words and labels if we are really going to properly analyse the issue and create a constructive mechanism to deal with it and language is at the root of that.

    • Thanks for the support Marc. If you want me to write about something please tell me. I would like to engage the mainstream more too. But not sure how to do that. You know what I mean.

  2. I’m reminded of Monty at the vet by this article. I think the staff at the clinic is a little afraid of Monty. He can sound very aggressive. But he’s not really feral anymore. He’s just vocal about things he does not like. My friend Melanie nearly stepped on his foot today and Monty still was calm around her. He walks so close to you that he gets underfoot sometimes. That he was underfoot shows he was unconcerned about her presence. So he’s ok with people– even those who aren’t his usual people. But were he taken to a shelter and put in a cage, you’d get the aggressive, snarling, puffing and hissing behaviors that would cause him to be labeled unadoptsble in an instant. Even though it’s not true. I believe with patience and the right situation he could be rehomed were something to happen to Jeff and I, despite his being a former feral. Monty was once a community cat. I think he’d really enjoy being a barn cat, given the chance. I’m not sure how long he’d survive though. My theory is that God saw Monty and said, “This one is going to need a little help!” Monty’s a great cat, but he’s not all that bright sometimes and seems to have an internal compass that directs him right to anything dangerous all the time.

  3. “Community Cats” would be the right term to describe the owner-less cats of Mumbai Fish-markets.These cats help in keeping the market cleaner by feeding on fish waste, besides, most of these cats are cared by the fisherfolks of the market.In India owner-less street cats are never captured and euthanized but allowed to live their own lives in the city.I did post a video and an article about the feral cats of the Mumbai fish-market.The “Community Cats” of Worli fish market in my locality have a human benefactor who spends a fortune feeding them daily.Check this video:-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTpSvSU9FaU

    • I wish we took the same attitude toward community cats where I live. Milwaukee has a rat infestation problem which worsens over the winter months and into the spring, because the snow covers the garbage. Sometimes trash pickup is impossible because of deep snow. City workers do their best to keep the city clean, but in winter it just gets hard because you can’t see what’s under the snow. Out of sight, out of mind. The rats find all the garbage though, without any difficulty. If we would leave the feral cats alone, instead of using tax dollars to kill them, perhaps the rat problem would never have reached the proportions it has.

  4. Pingback: Number of Free-roaming and Feral Cats USA | Pictures of Cats

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