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What are community cats?
They are unowned, free-roaming cats (aka stray or feral cats) who live and thrive outdoors, rather than living indoors as pets. Best Friends Animal Society and other organizations use the term “community cat” because these animals are part of the community in which they live and are valued and often cared for by community residents.
Often misunderstood and unnecessarily maligned, community cats comprise a significant percentage of the animals being killed in America’s shelters.
Trap/neuter/return: What it is and why it works
Evidence collected over the last two decades has confirmed that the archaic practice of rounding up outdoor cats and taking them to the shelter to be killed is not only inhumane, it’s ineffective in controlling community cat populations.
A community cat program is a comprehensive set of programming and services designed to humanely and effectively reduce the number of cats entering animal shelters over time. These programs are customized to meet the specific needs of individual communities and are always anchored by a method called trap-neuter-return (TNR).
With TNR, community cats are humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated and then returned to the outdoor location where they were living.
Best Friends in Utah runs successful community cat program partnerships with six of Utah’s largest shelters: Salt Lake County Animal Services, West Valley City Animal Services, Murray City Animal Shelter, West Jordan Animal Shelter, Davis County Animal Services and Weber County Animal Services.
The many benefits of these programs include:
- Fewer cats entering and burdening shelters
- A sustainable reduction in the outdoor cat population
- Public health protection through cat vaccinations
- Taxpayer savings (taxpayer money no longer used to round up and kill cats)
- Safe, humane communities for people and animals
Community cat services offered for Utah residents
Best Friends in Utah provides a variety of services for community members in Salt Lake City and throughout the rest of the state, such as:
- Spay/neuter vouchers to support counties most in need (program currently paused, stay tuned for updates)
- Trap loans and training for humanely trapping community cats
- Resources for resolving cat-related issues in neighborhoods
- Winter cat shelters for keeping cats safe during colder months
- A pet food pantry for qualifying residents
Want to help Utah’s community cats?
Become an expert on all things community cats by checking out Best Friends’ community cat resource page and the Best Friends Community Cat Program Handbook. You can also donate lifesaving supplies for cats in our state by visiting our Amazon Charity Wish List.
Community Cat Resources
Easy-To-Make Cat Shelters
Large Styrofoam coolers make great community cat shelters. Many people will ask their veterinarian to save the large coolers they get their vaccines shipped in because they are extra thick and are perfect for kitty shelters. Hospitals, fish markets, and even grocery stores may be glad to donate large coolers. Some farm stores sell extra large coolers manufactured for deer meat storage. If the coolers are less than 1 ½ inches thick, you can cover them with layers of bubble wrap or insulation. When using insulation be certain that it is the kind that has paper on both sides, and make sure none of the fibers are exposed when your shelter is completed (you can gorilla tape over any exposed areas near the door hole).
To begin, turn cooler on its side and cut a circular entrance (or possibly two) with 6” diameter. Place entrance hole 1-2 inches below the line where the lid meets the cooler body and place it at one end of the longer side of the cooler. The lid can be sealed with liquid nails. Two entrance holes are recommended if the shelter is in an area where predators may pose a threat to the cats.
Next, wrap the shelter (think Christmas present!) with a 6 mil weight black plastic. You can purchase this at any home improvement or garden store. Tape all seams with tape such as gorilla tape that withstands cold temps and water.
After wrapping, locate your door hole and cut a hole in the plastic like a pie, then tape all around the entrance.
Best Friends in Utah may be able to provide pre-made winter cat shelters ($10 suggested donation) or caregivers may make their own shelter with Styrofoam coolers or Rubbermaid storage bins. For availability call 801-574-2413 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Making The Most of Your Winter Shelter - Important information
You can make a curtain over the door holes by using bubble wrap or excess plastic. Use two layers. Cut the wrap to make fringes (leave the top few inches solid, and cut vertically to make the fringe). Then tape your curtain over the door holes.
If your winter shelter is exposed to the elements it is best to put a piece of plywood over the top of the shelter as well as another piece of wood (or similar material) put at a slant over the doorway. You may also prop the shelter above ground on a pallet. Another option is to make an igloo-type tunnel over the doorway using a smaller cooler or other material. You can also create an awning out of plastic, cardboard and gorilla tape to further keep rain/snow out. It is very important to do what you can to keep moisture OUT.
If placing shelters near a building or on a porch, it is best to face the entrances near the structure wall with enough space for the cats to enter and exit as opposed to facing outward toward the elements. If you have multiple shelters, you may face them toward each other with a board on top.
If the shelter is placed outside, straw makes great stuffing inside the shelter as it absorbs moisture better than fabric. Cotton fabrics such as towels and sheets can get wet and freeze, making the shelter cold. If the shelter is in a garage or other very dry area, towels, fleece or kitty beds work well. You can buy fleece or fake sheepskin at fabric stores and cut to fit. Check your shelter frequently to ensure it is staying dry. You may also try Mylar emergency blankets layered in between fleece.
When you first put the shelter out, put some catnip inside and if you have a bubble wrap fringe, it’s best to tack part of it up at first so the cat can easily see the entrance. Placing the shelter on a pallet works nicely to keep it a bit up off the ground, but is not always necessary. The shelters should be weighed down with bricks or boards as they are lightweight and can easily shift in the wind. It is important to make them secure so they do not tip forward or possibly trap cats inside.
You may consider making a little laminated sign that says something like: “This shelter is part of a humane Trap, Neuter, Return program for community cats, please do not remove. If you have questions, please call…” Always get permission from property owner before placing a shelter on property other than your own.
Electric heated pads
Low watt heated pet beds are available in several sizes through many suppliers such as Amazon. Models are Lectro and K&H pet pads. You may also consider heated water dishes to prevent water/food from freezing and to ensure they stay hydrated during the winter. See “Alley Cat Allies Winter Weather Tips” for more information.
Remember, no matter how “wild” a cat may seem, they are still a domestic animal that needs your help. They need warmth just as much as we do. Thank you for caring!
Find more resources on caring for community cats at http://bestfriends.org/
We have outdoor working cats available! Since these cats are not eligible for indoor placement, we are looking for outdoor homes. Working cats are ideal residents for stables, barns, backyards, breweries and warehouses. These cats, available in groups of three or more, are FREE to those who have a safe, suitable place for these community cats to reside. All cats are healthy, vaccinated and sterilized. Caretaker responsibilities include providing daily food and water, shelter and veterinary care. If you are interested in having community cats placed on your property, or if you or someone you know would like to help a group of cats, please contact us at email@example.com, call 801-574-2413 or complete the online application at http://bit.ly/appforworkingcats.
Make community cats count!
If you care for community cats, let us know about the colony with Cat Stats -- the free, easy-to-use online system from Best Friends for tracking cat colonies.
When you use Cat Stats, you can improve our trap-neuter-return programs, help cats live healthier, happier lives and more. Plus, you could win free cat products!
Get started at catstats.org/SLC and click on "create an account".