Public Opinions on Feral Cat Management

Trap neuter and return (TNR) is seen as the most humane option for feral cats, survey shows.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

What should be done about feral cats? A recent survey in Athens, Georgia, investigated people’s preferences for three different methods: catch and euthanize, trap neuter and release (TNR), and the establishment of a feral cat sanctuary. Opponents of catch and euthanize schemes argue that it is inhumane to kill cats, and simply creates a cat-free area into which new feral cats will move. Trap, neuter and release programmes involve catching the cats and neutering or spaying them before releasing them; the cats continue to live in the same place, but are unable to breed. The third option in the survey was to “capture and place feral cats in a sanctuary just for them”.

Athens was an interesting place for the study, since the issue of feral cats had been in the local news for some time. A new law was passed just prior to the survey, which effectively meant that TNR was the only option for dealing with feral cats. Previously, anyone who fed stray cats was deemed to be their owner.

Two ginger kittens curled up together on some straw outside a barn
Photo: Shutterstock

People were selected at random and mailed a card which asked them to take part in a survey on the internet. Questions were about knowledge of cats, experiences with feral and owned cats, beliefs about wildlife in the area, and opinions on different options for managing the feral cat population. There were 298 respondents which was a response rate of about 10%.

About 60% of people had seen a feral cat in the last year, and 28% reported seeing a feral cat almost every day. Half of people said that feral cats were “a nuisance”, and 65% felt that something needed to be done about them.  The idea of cat sanctuaries had the most support, with 56% of people agreeing this was an acceptable management strategy; in contrast, 49% said TNR is acceptable and 46% said euthanasia is acceptable.

This level of support for euthanasia reminds me of the American Humane Association's recent survey which found that cats have an image problem - 35% of non-cat owners said they just don't like cats. The survey in Athens found most people recognize that feral cats have a hard life; only 10% agreed that "feral cats live a healthy, happy life". On a more positive note, about a third of participants had adopted a feral cat at some point.

So how did the public rate different management strategies? When questions compared catch-and-euthanize to TNR, TNR was seen as less effective but the most humane, and also the method on which people would prefer tax dollars to be spent. The survey does not seem to have asked whether the cat sanctuary option was considered effective, humane, or a good use of tax dollars.

The study also looked at whether people’s attitudes to cats, knowledge about cats, and experiences of feral cats would predict their views on management practices. Attitudes were important, but knowledge and experience were not. People with positive attitudes about feral cats were more likely to support TNR. Beliefs that were important in predicting support for TNR were those about cat rights, preventing cat euthanasia, healthy ecosystems, and protecting wildlife. Those who felt protecting wildlife and having healthy ecosystems were important were less likely to support TNR, perhaps because they perceived cats as a threat to wildlife. Those who felt cat rights and preventing cat euthanasia were important were more likely to support TNR.

The researchers say that although cat sanctuaries were the preferred option, there are few examples of these in practice, and they would be more expensive than TNR. Given the recent passage of TNR legislation in Athens, they were surprised TNR was not the most supported option, and say that public support for policies cannot be assumed. 

The survey found widespread support for more education about feral cats. This suggests that public education should be part of any feral cat management strategy. 

Do you have stray/feral cats in your neighbourhood?

Loyd, K. A. T., & Hernandez, S. M. (2012). Public perceptions of domestic cats and preferences for feral cat management in the southeastern United States. Anthrozoƶs, 25(3), 337-351. 

Follow me!