Percentage of Stray to Feral Cats

Do we know the percentage of stray to feral cats? I don’t think we do and we should. I have searched for the figures without success. I can tell when the internet cannot provide me with the information I am looking for and this is a case in point.

Stray cats are domestic cats that have gone walkabout. They are still domesticated and still have an ‘owner’. They can and should be returned to their owner if they have strayed far away. Sometimes stray cats roam their home range that includes the home of the owner – true outdoor/indoor cats that are bordering on becoming feral.

There are also degrees to which cats have become feral. It is a sliding scale and not black and white as is portrayed in the press. The online newspapers write of the ‘feral cat’ as if it has those words tattooed on his forehead. But what if 30% of cats roaming around the suburbs are still domesticated and should be classified as stray cats. That would put a different complexion on the feral cat problem and how to deal with it.

If there is a high percentage of stray cats out there that are being labelled feral, then these cats can and should be re-homed. They are adoptable and they should not be taken away and euthanised or shot or whatever. That is because someone owns them under the law. To deliberately kill, even humanely, a stray cat that belongs to someone must be a crime – criminal damage. If we treat cats as ‘chattels’ possessed by a person (as specified by law) then killing a cat is the same as deliberately damaging someone’s car or house etc.. How many times every day are cat shelters committing the crime of criminal damage and getting away with it?

I don’t see in the cat stories a proper demarcation being made between feral and stray cat. The demarcation is important because the way we treat and manage them should be completely different. A feral cat has, by definition, no ‘owner’. They are outside the laws that protect human property rights. They do fall under animal welfare laws but these are relatively weak compared to laws that are for the benefit of people.

The reason these thoughts came to mind is the forthcoming Olympics in London, UK. A strange connection. Before the Olympic village was built on derelict land in East London, the organisers had to clear the ground, knock down buildings and make the land safe (remove chemical pollutants etc.).

‘Feral cats’ had taken up residence in many abandoned buildings. The bulldozers where moving in to remove them. This endangered the feral cats. Celia Hammond, the former glamorous model famously photographed by David Bailey, saved these cats through her cat charity, C.H.A.T (Celia Hammond Animal Trust). She did a fine job and some of the cats were hard to trap.

The last cat to be trapped and saved was Blackjack. He was super independent and smart. What I find interesting and surprising is that CHAT found homes for many of these cats. They appear to have been socialised cats that had gone astray. True adult feral cats can be socialised but it takes a lot of effort. I am sure CHAT did not socialise these cats before finding them homes.

So we have independent cats that had no apparent ‘owner’, that were living rough and not in a person’s home and yet were stray cats and not true feral cats. These were cats that had all the appearance of being feral but were strays and adoptable.

Here are two examples, completely at home and thoroughly relaxed:

Olympic Village feral cats rehomed
Olympic Village stray cats rehomed. Photo by CHAT
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

The people who took in Blackjack say he is getting on fine.

“He’s a wonderful personality and lots of fun to have around..”

There you have it. Stray cats that looked like feral cats. How many feral cats in the USA are stray cats? We should know. And we should have a handle on that aspect of the ‘feral cat problem’, which brings me to microchipping or some other form of identification (a better way is tattooing the inside of the ear, I think). Microchipping carries some health issues and requires equipment to read them.

If all owned cats were identifiable, we could separate them out from feral cats if they became stray cats. That would allow them to be returned to their owner. It would improve the rights of the cats concerned. It would ease up space at shelters. And it would be the right thing to do. All we have to do is create some law! This would make it obligatory to identify one’s cat. I don’t think it would be that big a deal or a problem. The process is fast and easy and could be bundled together with vaccinations. It could simply be a routine stage in adopting a cat.

What is holding up this commonsense solution? Motivation. Or the other side of the coin to motivation: apathy. The cat is low priority with legislators. There may even be more sinister reasons. The whole cat shelter, animal control, humane society businesses are just that, they are businesses. There are a lot of jobs based on stray cats…

Note: I have published a picture from CHAT. I feel I can because I have donated to them.

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8 thoughts on “Percentage of Stray to Feral Cats”

  1. Unfortunately not many cats in the USA are allowed to live their lives peacefully outside as some people think they are a nuiscance and they don’t want them around, sometimes they are even shot.
    People here in the UK are more tolerant and our TNR works very well in that once neutered, feral cats can be returned to the gardens of people willing to feed them. Our local Animal Rescue Sanctuary has a feral unit for those with nowhere safe to go.
    The people of Turkey are obviously compassionate like most of the people in our country.

  2. ”The whole cat shelter, animal control, humane society businesses are just that, they are businesses. There are a lot of jobs based on stray cats…”

    Completely agree with you. Those cats which were pets of someone should be returned to their houses; so identification should be important. But why imprison those in shelters which don’t have any owners? Leave them alone. They would be far happier in the street. Many shelters simply will kill the cats which did not find a house. Yes, killing – is it a nice solution?

    There are aggressive neutering programs, actually propaganda, where activists push an idea ”have to neuter every cat”. They talk about animal rights, but cat can not say ”no”, you catch her and neuter against its will. If you try to do this on humans, they would say ”trying to control my reproduction is a crime”. Double standard.

  3. Well written, Michael!

    First of all ferals and strays definition is very problematic. As I understand feral cats had less or almost no socialization with humans, so they are ”wild” and strays are cats abandoned by people.
    How about cats which were never owned by someone but still appear very domesticated? Let me give you an example from my country, Turkey. Only recently people started to get pets, cats were on the streets from hundreds or even thousand years and living next to people gave them numerous advantages. Smart animals. Nobody owned them and still they don’t have owners. So are they feral? I suppose these are feral, because they don’t belong to someone, at the same time you can call it ”stray cat” because they are friendly to people.

    Why we need to find a house for every cat? Cat can sufficiently survive on its own, without humans it will turn to it’s natural wild state…

    Cats are not really domesticated like you believe.

    • Nice comment. Yes, in Turkey and the Mediterranean countries (warmer places) the domestic cat has a different status and life. They seems to share households and be street cats at the same time. It is a loose relationship. It is almost the way it was 9,000 years ago. Not much has changed. But these cats are semi-domestic and socialised to humans. But in America the domestic cat often lives indoors permanently and the relationship is different. Cats are owned not shared between different people. I think in Turkey your cats are not possessed by people as chattels such as a car or a house. They are not owned at all. And I like that. I would be pleased to hear what the law is in Turkey in respect of the domestic cat. I guess some people do consider that they own their cat and keep a cat in the same way as in Europe and America.

      • Yes, Michael, a responsible ownership of the cat is encouraged here. We have animal protection laws and some people have pets in the same way as in Europe or USA.

        Many cats still don’t have houses, but people feed and care them very well. It is like an old tradition, cats always had exceptional love compared to the dogs here. In many big cities, wherever we go there is left fresh water and lots of cat food untouched by cats – they don’t seem to starve and many look very healthy!
        I got some kittens from the streets before surprisingly they were free of illnesses, healthy and strong!

        However I agree, the situation of cats in America is a different matter.

  4. ps
    Some people also still believe old wives tales such as an old cat ‘goes away to die’
    A ‘friends’ old cat has gone missing and she had barely bothered to try to find her as someone told her that!
    Or that ‘cats find another home if they don’t like the one they have’ etc etc
    Lack of education and these old wives tales cause some people to add to the problem of homeless cats and overcrowded shelters by not bothering to try to get their pet back home.

  5. A very good article Michael, I’d only add that a percentage of cats living rough outdoors and classed as feral or strays, have probably been abandoned by their owners at some point. I say owners because people who do this are certainly not caretakers, they don’t care in the least! They move house and take the dog but leave the cat behind to fend for himself. Along come new people to live in the house and if the poor cat is still hanging around, they shoo him away.
    In my opinion most feral cats are descended from abandoned un-neutered cats generations back who have bred and their litters gradually become feral, born with thicker coats and the ability to survive outdoors in all weathers. Feral kittens can be tamed if caught young enough but it’s much harder and sometimes impossible to tame an adult feral cat, I think the ones who can be tamed haven’t been feral for many generations yet.
    What happens in this world is always down to the human race, animals are often the casualties.
    The people who ‘own’ cats wouldn’t bother to have them identified by a tattoo or whatever, they don’t bother with microchips, so they can just deny ownership if necessary.
    There is a long way to go yet before there are laws protecting all cats as not enough people care about them as they should be cared about!

    • Yes, Ruth, there is a long way to go before we get the relationship right. The domestic cat is just not respected enough by enough people. And I reluctantly believe that we have to regulate things a bit more because people need some regulating, sadly. I don’t like laws and regulations but humankind is badly behaved quite often and in relation to the cat it means the cat suffers. I believe that putting some rigor and management into keeping cats through regulations (at perhaps local authority level) will force people to think a bit more about the responsibilities of keeping a cat to the cat’s benefit.


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