Stray Cats

A reader sent me an email asking about stray and feral cats in our community. Stray cats are ones who live with humans that let them wander freely outdoors. Feral cats are wild cats that live independently. In Pennsylvania dogs get the most attention usually. There is dog licensing and there’s a dog ordinance in our township. It makes sense, dogs are more lethal to humans – especially young children – than any other animal. At least by some measures. Globally, dogs rank 3rd behind mosquitos and snakes. But cat bites can lead to serious infections and apparently both cats and dogs may be most routinely dangerous to their owners as tripping hazards.

There’s less in the way of ordinances that apply to cats in our township, only ones that apply to all animals. Technically stray cats are likely constantly in violation of this, but enforcing it would be difficult.

It shall be unlawful for an owner or custodian to permit his dog, cat or other domestic animal to trespass or commit a nuisance upon or otherwise harm private or public property or to interfere with the rights of the owners thereof…

It shall be unlawful for the owner or custodian of any domestic animal, including dog or cat, to permit, suffer or allow any such animal to soil, defecate on or deposit excrement on any public property or on any place where people congregate or walk, including any sidewalk, passageway, bypath, play area, common open space or park, or on any private property without the express permission and consent of the owner of such private property, without immediately picking up and carrying away the excrement or feces so deposited by the animal and otherwise cleaning up the area where the deposit was made by the animal.

This article by the Utah State Extension service provides a good summary of the harm cats do to the environment and what steps may be taken to reign them in. For their part, the press likes to run stories with big numbers about the carnage caused by cats among native animals (more data at Nature). The extension service article notes cats are not native to North America. Their activity kills local amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals and competes with native predators. The extension service notes that stray and feral cats also act a disease vector between wildlife and human populations.

Free-roaming cats are also a cause for concern because of their ability to transmit diseases. They can transmit several diseases such as rabies, toxoplasmosis, cat scratch fever, typhus and feline immunodeficiency virus.

As an example, Abington has a cat ordinance, which attempts to limit the harm stray and feral cats cause. They also have an ordinance about the keeping of animals, which provides a strangely specific list. Were hippopotamuses a problem at some point in Abington? They are the world’s 10th most lethal animals, so apparently I haven’t been concerned enough about hippo danger. If you’re planning to become an archvillain, do note that sharks are prohibited in Abington, which as far as I can tell contains no significant bodies of water. Probably better to start by dealing with just cats.

The extension service article notes that the question of what to do with stray and feral cats is a tricky one. It has some non-intuitive information like this,

Many scientific studies report that non-lethal programs do not reduce the number of feral cat in the environment.

Neutering feral cats doesn’t lead to less cats? Apparently not. But it does have some positives The advice from the extension service is:

When you decide to own a cat as a pet, keep the cat as an indoor cat. Do not let it wander outside. They do not have to wander any farther than your backyard to impact wildlife populations.
Once you’ve chosen a cat, or a neighborhood stray cat has chosen you, have the cat neutered. Especially if you don’t intend to keep it inside the house, or you find it impossible to keep it inside the house. Neutered pets tend to stay relatively close to the house, minimizing environmental impact and the chance that they may become strays.
Have a microchip put in your pet so that it can be quickly returned to you if it does stray and is found by animal control officers.
If you find a stray cat, please report it to your local animal control office so that it can be trapped and kept safe while providing its owners time to find it.

The reader sent me some research about who does TNR (Trap-Neuter-Release) for stray cats in the area. Forgotten cats is one, but has a months-long waiting list and costs $50/cat. The Spayed Club in Sharon Hill is another for $35/cat, but does not include trapping (you have to bring the cat presumably). ACCT Philly also provides services and has a page of instructions, but it looks to me they limit operations to cats in the city of Philadelphia.

Categories: Ramblings