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5) Helping cats and people to co-exist – what you can do.

As the colony caregiver, you become the cats’ public relations firm. These steps will help maintain their good image and their good neighbor status in your community. Go to our Community Relations Resource Center for more indepth instructions, tips, and samples. If neighbors do not know who “speaks for the cats,” they have no one but animal control to contact with complaints or problems. Being open about caregiving can protect the cats. One way to maintain good relations is to establish and maintain a friendly dialogue with residents living in the cats’ neighborhood and readily address all neighbor concerns. When talking with neighbors, it can help to have science behind you. Read Alley Cat Allies' summary of scientific evidence supporting Trap-Neuter-Return. Make yourself available and provide them with a way to contact you.

To address concerns:

  • Establish a friendly, ongoing discussion and know your facts. Explain to residents living in the cats’ neighborhood what Trap-Neuter-Return and colony care entails—explain that the cats are cared for and pose no health risk. Additionally, providing written information from Alley Cat Allies will lend credibility to your effort and help answer specific questions and concerns. You may find that other neighbors are feeding the cats as well and you can combine your efforts and set up a schedule. It may be a good idea to deliver copies of How to Live With Cats in Your Neighborhood to each of your neighbors with your contact information written on the back. This way neighbors know you are being proactive and understand their concerns.

    Explain that the cats have lived at the site for a long time, that they have been (or will be) neutered, which will virtually eliminate behaviors such as roaming, fighting, yowling, and spraying, and that a managed colony will be stable and healthy. Also explain that if the present colony is removed, new, unsterilized cats are certain to move in. This is a phenomenon known as the vacuum effect. See more on the vacuum effect.

  • Remain calm and constructive in all of your dealings. Present information and interact with others in a reasonable, professional manner. You will give neighbors confidence that you know what you are doing and care about their interests. Should you get to the point where you feel you can no longer control your temper, put the brakes on the discussion and ask someone else—perhaps a fellow caregiver or neighbor, or a local Feral Friend—to help mediate.

  • When dealing with a neighbor that has concerns about the cats, determine the specific problem and do your best to resolve it. Address individual complaints by listening patiently and asking questions that uncover the specific problem. Problems that may seem on the surface to be about feral cats may instead be about you or a neighbor’s cat. Instead of arguing or pointing the blame elsewhere, do your best to find a solution to any problems that arise. In most cases, the problems are very easily resolved, when dealt with quickly and in a calm and helpful manner.

There are some steps you can take preemptively that may help you avoid potential questions or concerns altogether.

  1. Trap-Neuter-Return. Neighbors are often bothered by behaviors associated with breeding, such as roaming, fighting, yowling, spraying, and the birth of litters of kittens. Your Trap-Neuter-Return program will virtually eliminate these behaviors.
  2. Clean feeding areas and follow feeding protocols: Keep the cats’ feeding stations or areas clean and trash free. Building attractive, but inconspicuous shelters and feeding stations can help maintain cleanliness. Do not put out more food than the cats will finish in one meal. Remove what they do not eat after 30 minutes and clean up the area. Never leave food out overnight as this can attract unwanted wildlife.
  3. Keep the location of feeding stations and shelters discreet. Cats can be discouraged from climbing on cars or other private property by gradually moving their shelters and feeding stations away from these areas. The cats will follow the food and shelter.
  4. Provide litter box areas. To keep cats from using neighborhood gardens as litter boxes, build one or more litter boxes or place sand or peat moss in strategic areas for the cats to use as litter (do not use conventional litter, as it will be ruined by weather). Be sure that the litter area is in a quiet, sheltered space. Scoop regularly to alleviate odors and keep flies away. Be prepared to scoop more often in hot weather.
  5. Use humane deterrents to keep cats away from places they are not wanted. There are many safe, low-tech methods to discourage feral cats from hanging out where they are not wanted, like neighbors’ gardens, yards, porches, or vehicles. Read more about humane deterrent techniques. Always offer to provide and apply these methods for neighbors at your own expense. Consider pooling resources with other caregivers, if possible, to cover the cost of such items.
  6. Address poisoning threats. While you are assessing a feral cat colony, you may encounter poisoning threats to the cats by uninformed people. There are steps you can take to put a stop to these threats and ensure the ongoing safety of the colony. Learn more about how to deal with poison threats.
  7. Maintain colony records. Though you should take every step to prevent neighbors from calling animal control, you should always be prepared for the possibility. This is why you should always maintain current, accurate health records, including vaccination data and photographs, for all of the cats in your colony.
  8. Protect yourself and the cats. Draw up an agreement with the neighbor who has concerns describing them and what it is you plan to do to address them. Make a note of who is responsible for the costs and the deadline for every action. Each party should receive a copy of the agreement. You should each sign the document to indicate that everyone agrees to the proposed solution. Then each party should sign the agreement again upon completion of the plan. This document will be written proof that you addressed your neighbor’s concern and she/he agrees that the situation has been resolved.

Next Step: Planning for substitute colony care. Who will care for your cats when you cannot?