The Stray Cat Debate

This is another post, a shortish one, based on the research carried out by the lady who managed the Kitty Cam project. Some interesting information came out of this project on risks taken by free roaming cats and the hunting behavior of well cared for domestic cats.

As part of the project, the people of Athens, Georgia, were asked some questions to assess their attitude to feral cats, trap-neuter-return, wildlife conservation and stray cat management. By “stray cats” in this post, I mean cats that roam freely  – “straying cats” and it should include feral cats.

It could almost be boiled down to the balance between (a) respecting and conserving native wildlife plus (b) respecting people who don’t keep or like cats versus (c) respecting the needs of our domestic cats (good cat welfare).

I have referred to this as a battle between bird conservationists and domestic cat lovers in the past but it goes wider than that, really.

Stray Cat Debate
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Stray Cat Debate

Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important

By “The Stray Cat Debate” I mean what is the place of the domestic in our lives? A lot of cats are stray cats. The general attitude over most of the world is to let cats behave naturally. This must be correct. But…is a proper balance struck between respecting the domestic cat, the environment and people who don’t like cats or don’t want to keep a cat?

Also respecting a cat’s natural drives and desires can lead to injury and health issues for the cat. The problem is that we have created a world in parallel with the growth of popularity of the domestic cat that clashes with what is good for the cat.

The domestic cat population is growing and we like to give our cats space to roam but we are building more cars and roads at the same time. That is the sort of thing I mean by a clash. The dynamics are evolving. There are competing forces. The question is really about managing stray cats.

My feeling is that in the USA people are torn between competing objectives if they consider them at all.Obviously a lot of people think everything is just fine the way it is. But it can’t be alright in the USA and in some other countries because cats are being killed at shelters in large numbers on a routine basis.

The questionnaire produced these results:

  • People are fond of both cats and wildlife but can’t find a way of resolving the issues. This is not surprising because cats are only behaving naturally when hunting wildlife.
  • 40% had a positive experience in relation to stray and feral cats – adopting or feeding them for example.
  • 34% had a negative experience with stray and feral cats, meaning that they didn’t like them killing wildlife or seeing then in their yard (garden).
  • 65% agreed more effective stray cat management is needed in Athens
  • 58% are aware of TNR programs in Athens
  • 43% supported TNR. Almost a 50/50 split between those who believe in TNR and those who don’t. People are not sure what the answer is.
  • 57% did not support TNR
  • 82% felt protecting wildlife was important and…
  • 50% thought pet cats should be allowed to roam free. These figures also present a confused state of affairs.
  • Many felt that feral cats deserved a better life.
  • 31% felt preventing shelter euthanasia is important.
  • More people preferred TNR than Trap and then euthanise (what happens at shelters) as it is more humane for the cats.
  • However, trap & euthanise was more humane for wildlife some believed.
  • There is a disagreement between birdwatchers and cat owners about cats harming wildlife. This is something I have written about a lot.
  • A person’s knowledge of cats did not affect their ideas about cat management.
  • TNR supporters don’t think wildlife predation is an issue. This is the bird -v- cat debate.


The questionnaires were completed by decent cat caretakers.  What can we take from the answers to the project’s questionnaire? For me, we can take a confused picture of people being concerned about their cat’s welfare and how to manage stray cats and their impact on (a) wildlife and (b) people who don’t keep a cat. About one third of people felt preventing shelter euthanasia is important. For me that is too small a percentage. Shelter euthanasia is the biggest cat problem in the USA by far. But at least 31% of people don’t like it. This indicates a need to better manage stray cats.

The only real answer for me is to make sure that every cat lover and owner manages their cat as responsibly as possible. We all agree that means sterilizing as an obligatory operation. Also there needs to be a gradual winding down of the number of domestic cats and a winding up of the standards of caretaking of domestic cats. When I say  “a winding down of the numbers..” I am really referring to an elimination of unwanted cats.

All cats must be wanted, loved and in a home.

The other aspects of cat caretaking are open to discussion. But some sort of management and supervision when let outside needs to be in place. These factors would significantly help to get rid of the stray cat debate and create a sustainable situation in the world of the domestic cat.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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1 Response

  1. marc says:

    I think this 30% of people worrying about euthanasia is frighteningly small. Even calling it that makes it sound somehow ok. They dont realize how terrible it is for the cats to be locked up in cages and then taken off to be killed. Its actually no different than the holocaust – and should be considered as such. I think its is one of the greatest horrors of our time actually. It is a totally superalative and awful thing which must be stopped at all cost. How we treat our animals is important. To sit in our comfy homes and think ‘euthanasia’ is something somehow gentle or ok is total misunderstanding and this must be corrected. If I had endles money I think running one nationwide advert on tv would do it. In the space of one minute you could pretty much include all the info that needed to be mentioned and really get even the people who care just slightly to crap themselves in shock at what its really like – and include declawing. Probably all those idiot money grabbing vets (not the nice ones – I think its ok to be black and white about it sometimes) would freak out and try to ban such an ad so they could uphold their nefarious actions. I think the average person would care if they were just given the information they needed to understand what’s really happening.
    Sorry to be freaking out a bit but I just find the 31% of people being fussed about the daily killing of animals to be far too low – especially if you consider that the people questioned have and care for cats. It’s simple. ‘Euthanasia’ is the wrong word and the whole process is clearly hidden or made to sound somehow ok when it just isn’t. Our entire culture works like this. All the terrible things that happened are usually managed by a few ‘experts’ meanwhile nobody else has to see what is really going on. Its a total failure of Modernity in my opinion. Modernity doesnt work because it doesnt take into account the destruction of life. We need a new system. This business of cat killing just falls under that greater context. It must fall apart – it has to, one way or another. It really makes us humans look so stupid.

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