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Community Cats 101

Utah Community Cats 101

A community cat is an outdoor, unowned, free-roaming cat living in a given community. Some of these cats may have grown up unowned and free-roaming with little human socialization (often referred to as a “feral” cat); others may have previously been owned but left on their own outside for a long period of time upon the death or relocation of a guardian. Regardless of their origin, if a cat in your community is thriving, we at the Humane Society of Utah ask you to, please, let them be.

Well-intentioned people bring stray animals to shelters in an effort to help them, but cats have different needs than dogs. If you find a healthy cat, leave them where they are. Data indicates that up to 75% of the time, an owned cat at large will find their way home when left in place versus the less than 2% of cats (without microchips) that will be reclaimed from a shelter. If the cat does not have a traditional home, but is healthy and appears well-fed, the cat is either finding their own abundant food source and shelter or is being fed and cared for by someone who will be missing them. Crowding them into a shelter promotes stress, disease, and lowers the likelihood of a positive outcome, even if the shelter has a return to field (RTF) program. 


Utah Community Cats 101

Return to field (RTF) (also referred to as trap-neuter-return “TNR”) is the current gold standard in dealing with unowned cats in a community. RTF is the process by which cats are humanely trapped, transported to a local care agency (such as a shelter or veterinary clinic), sterilized, vaccinated, ear-tipped, and returned to the area from which they came. Numerous studies indicate that RTF is effective in reducing the population of community cats without resorting to euthanasia or mass-culling (an outdated, ineffective method of population control still implemented by many animal services jurisdictions. RTF also helps control disease, such as rabies and panleukopenia, in outdoor cat populations, helping prevent owned cats in the community from being exposed. 

If you find an ill, injured, or endangered cat without a discernible owner, please take the cat to the municipal shelter in the jurisdiction in which the cat was found. The shelter will attempt to find the original owner while the cat is treated, then altered and released, or humanely euthanized, depending on the needs of the individual animal and the resources of the shelter. If you are unable to safely get the cat into your custody, report the cat’s location to your local municipal animal services. If you see large populations of unaltered, reproducing cats—characterized by adult cats without tipped ears (tipped ears indicate that they have been spayed or neutered) or litters of kittens present —call your local shelter and inquire about their RTF program and how you can help. 


Utah Community Cats 101

We appreciate all of the wonderful cat advocates in our community and the work they do to increase animal welfare. If you are currently a caretaker for community cats or are looking for resources to get started, please check out our Community Catnip program. If you are interested in learning more about RTF/TNR programs generally, please visit Maddie’s Fund’s Million Cat Challenge website. Alley Cat Allies, a national organization focused on outdoor cat welfare, has excellent resources on its website, as well.

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