Free-roaming and feral cats (or community cats, as we like to call them) live in our communities and make their homes wherever they can find food and shelter. When neighborhood disputes escalate, both the caregiver and the complainant become angry and refuse to listen. It’s important to talk to one another in person, listen closely to all sides of the argument and then find solutions that work best for everyone.
Community cats problem
There are ways to protect both the cats’ lives and people’s personal property without resorting to killing the cats or taking legal measures. The solutions don’t happen overnight, though, so each party needs to be patient, compromise and work toward the end goal of reducing the number of cats.
Let’s look at both sides of the issue:
Cat caregiver: Most of the time, the cat caregiver did not create the community cat problem. Compassion is what prompts caregivers to feed community cats. These cats’ lives are valued by the caregiver. But many caregivers do not realize that there are resources out there to help them care for the cats and resolve any cat-related issues.
Complainant: People who complain about community cats legitimately feel that the cats are a nuisance because they eliminate in their gardens, yowl at night and spray smelly urine. Complainants often are unaware that removing the cats will not solve the problem. They are also unaware of the humane deterrents available to help keep community cats off their property.
The value of TNVR
Whether you love or loathe community cats, trap-neuter-vaccinate-return (TNVR) is the most effective and humane way to effectively reduce the number of community cats and also reduce nuisance behaviors. In a TNVR program, cats are humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated and then returned to their communities to live out their lives.
Because they have been fixed and can no longer breed, the number of cats is reduced over time.
Being spayed or neutered also stops nuisance behaviors. Male cats are no longer competing or fighting with each other, spraying urine or roaming blocks away from their neighborhood. Females no longer yowl to seek a mate and no longer have kittens, of course. These behaviors are typically reduced immediately and eliminated completely only a month after the surgery. Additionally, TNVR provides vaccines, so the cats are healthier and do not pose a threat to public health.
Motion-activated sprinklers: Motion-activated sprinklers have an infrared sensor that releases a short blast of water. The sprinklers can “fire” up to 1,000 times on one nine-volt battery and typically cover an area 35 by 45 feet. These devices can be purchased through online retailers.
Ultrasonic deterrents: This type of deterrent uses a motion sensor and emits a high-pitched, ultrasonic alarm that can’t be heard by humans but will frighten most cats and (in some cases) small dogs. You place the unit facing the area you want to protect. Some versions use nine-volt batteries, while others are solar-powered. These devices also can be purchased through online retailers.
Scat mats: These harmless mats or carpet runners are made of flexible plastic spikes. Place on the ground with spike side up to discourage cats from digging.
Other digging deterrents: Push chopsticks into small potted plants. Use pinecones, lava rocks, concrete pavers or stones as mulch to prevent cats from digging. Place large river rocks throughout the garden or use poultry fencing or landscape wrap around plants.
Smells that repel cats: To keep cats out of yards or gardens, plant the herb rue or sprinkle dried rue. Citrus or lemon scents, garlic, ammonia, vinegar, coffee grinds, pipe tobacco, mustard, citronella, or eucalyptus all deter cats as well. The scents diminish over time, so re-applying is necessary.
Neutralizing urine smell: OdoBan, Nature’s Miracle, Fizzion and Simple Solution are effective natural enzyme products that are available at pet supply stores or online.
Blocking off access: Cats seek out dry, warm shelter away from the elements. Block off access to the places in which you don’t want cats (making sure no cats are inside before doing so). To guide cats away from those areas, provide another shelter. There are many inexpensive options for community cat shelters.
Additional tips for caregivers
Help community cats be good neighbors:
- Keep the feeding station neat and tidy. Remove all trash and leftover food promptly.
- Feed the cats at a regular place and time during daylight hours and only feed enough to last one feeding. This practice will not only help the cats get on a schedule, it will eliminate attracting other wildlife.
- Establish a litter box. Creating a sandy area that you clean regularly will help keep the cats from eliminating in areas where you don’t want them to eliminate.
- Plant a bed of catnip in an area where you don’t mind the cats hanging out. They’ll be drawn to the catnip instead of the flowerbeds.
- Provide a shelter so the cats are not nesting in places where they are not wanted. There are many options available; search online for feral cat shelters, including DIY options.
- Know your local laws and ordinances. Protect yourself and the cats by knowing your legal rights.
- Educate your neighbors and keep an ongoing dialog with them. Make sure the deterrents or solutions are implemented and are working for them.
- Ensure that the cats you are caring for have been through TNVR, including any new cats who show up. Keep accurate records on how many cats you care for.