Relocation: A Last Resort

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IMPORTANT: Even in the best case scenarios relocation can be very dangerous for cats and ineffective. Relocation is stressful for cats and since community cats are not socialized to people they can be unpredictable. Community cats bond to their outdoor homes and will try to go back—in some cases cats have died in the process, when people misguidedly believe that their life will be better someplace else.

Relocating community cats, or permanently moving them from their outdoor homes, is not the quick and easy fix that some people might believe. In fact, relocation is rarely ever smooth or successful for cats—or in their best interest. Relocation should only be used as a last resort, such as when cats’ lives are in imminent danger. Similarly, relocation is not a substitute for humane and effective approaches to community cats, including Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR).

If you know community cats, you know they’re very attached to their outdoor homes and to the other cats in their colonies. They take comfort in knowing which paths to walk, the coziest places to sleep, and where they can fill their bellies. Relocation rips them from their homes and places them somewhere unfamiliar, often leaving them stressed and disoriented. Successful relocation requires a careful procedure. Without it, cats can wander off to try and return to their original homes, making relocation pointless.

If cats are not in danger in their current environment, it’s best to work to keep them where they are.

Here are some common situations where relocation is wrongly considered, and approaches you might consider instead:

  • Animal control wants to clear an area of cats.
    • Suggested approach: Explain to animal control officers that relocation doesn’t work and produces a Vacuum Effect. This is a well-documented phenomenon in which cats from neighboring areas move into the empty space to take advantage of resources (food and shelter) and breed back to capacity. Explain that TNR is the only humane and effective approach to community cats. Our materials can help guide you! Find them at alleycat.org/CommunityChange.
  • Construction or demolition is taking place where cats live.
    • Suggested approach: Developers are often responsive to a community’s needs during construction projects. Speak with those in charge and ask if they’re willing to cooperate on a plan to keep community cats in the area. Coordinate with project leaders so you know the safest and least active parts of the construction site at any given time. Move the cats’ feeding stations and shelters to those areas—the cats will adapt.
  • A neighbor is frustrated that cats in your yard wander over to his.
    • Suggested approach: An open dialogue is the best way to keep the peace between skeptical neighbors and community cats. Talk with your neighbors about the benefits of TNR. Offer to set up humane deterrents to safely discourage cats from areas where they are not wanted. You can find a list of deterrents at alleycat.org/Deterrent. For tips on how to talk to frustrated neighbors, check out these resources.
  • You are a community cat colony caregiver and you are moving out of the area.
    • Suggested approach: We know you love the cats you care for. However, it’s in their best interest to stay where they are. Don’t try to relocate the cats to your new neighborhood. Instead, talk with your neighbors or local friends about taking over your duties as a caregiver. Give them instructions on your feeding and care routine and check in every now and then to see how they’re doing. Alley Cat Allies’ resources can help.

In rare instances, relocation may be the only option to protect cats’ lives. Among those scenarios:

  • Developers refuse to work with you during construction or demolition.
  • Animal control officers or decision makers refuse to cooperate with you on a plan and demand that the cats be removed by any means necessary. Usually, this means catching and killing the cats.
  • A community does not allow shelters to legally return cats to their outdoor homes.

Relocation Requires Careful Planning

If you have no choice but to relocate cats to protect them, plan carefully to make the process safe and effective. First, make sure the new location is suitable, with caregivers who will provide food and shelter for the remainder of the cats’ lives. When it’s time to move, humanely trap the cats to safely transport them. Have the new caregivers confine the cats in an outdoor enclosure for the first six to eight weeks. This way, the cats can get used to their new environment and won’t wander away to try and return to their former homes. For a full guide to successful relocation, read our Safe Relocation guide.

It’s important to remember that relocation is never simple.  Since community cats live and thrive in their outdoor homes, it is in their best interest to work to keep them there. If the community has concerns, partner with individuals and groups to humanely and effectively address them. The answer is almost always TNR: the most effective approach to help cats and people coexist peacefully.

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