Relocation: A Last Resort

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IMPORTANT: Even if done with proper protocol, relocation can be ineffective and even dangerous for cats. Community cats bond to their outdoor homes and, if relocated, may try to find their way back. In some cases, cats have died in the process. Keep this firmly in mind before deciding that a cat’s life will be better somewhere else.

Relocation of community cats is an absolute last resort and should only be considered if a cat is in imminent danger.

If you know community cats, you know how attached they are to their outdoor homes and to the other cats in their colonies. They take comfort in knowing which paths are safe to walk, the coziest places to sleep, and where they can fill their bellies. Relocation rips cats from these homes and places them somewhere unfamiliar. Naturally, the process is extremely stressful and disorienting for them.

If someone is concerned about cats on their property, Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) and proper colony care are the only humane and effective approaches. Relocation is not a solution and is almost never in a cat’s best interest.

Unless a community cat’s environment is irreversibly dangerous for her, work to keep her right where she is. On the rare occasions relocation may be necessary, a careful procedure must be followed. Otherwise, cats can wander off and become lost trying to return to their original outdoor homes. This renders relocation pointless and endangers the cats’ lives.

Here are some common situations where relocation is often (and wrongly) considered and how to better approach them:

  • Animal control wants to clear an area of cats.
    • Suggested approach: Ask animal control officers to leave the cats where they are and explain that relocation doesn’t work. Tell them that removing cats from an area only creates a population vacuum that new cats will inevitably fill. Provide them with Alley Cat Allies’ information on this well-documented natural phenomenon known as the Vacuum Effect. Inform the officers that TNR is the only humane and effective approach to community cats, and that you will work to ensure each cat is spayed and neutered through a TNR program.
    • We have talking points and tips to help you speak with animal control at alleycat.org/CommunityChange and alleycat.org/Educate. To get started doing TNR yourself, visit alleycat.org/TNRGuide.
    • If you feel you may face legal consequences for defending the cats, learn how to protect yourself at alleycat.org/KnowYourRights.
  • Construction or demolition is taking place where cats live.
    • Suggested approach: Community cats will naturally avoid the dangerous machinery and loud noises of construction, but you can make sure they remain as comfortable and safe as possible in their outdoor home. Developers are often responsive to a community’s needs during construction projects, so ask them to cooperate on a plan to keep community cats in the area. This plan should involve coordinating regularly with project leaders so you know where the construction site will be least active at a given time.
    • Move the cats’ feeding stations and shelters to those safe zones as needed for the duration of the construction—the cats will adapt.
    • If there is a safe and relatively quiet area that is very close by but also out of the construction zone entirely, you can move cats’ food and shelter there as well.
  • 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.
    • For tips straight from Alley Cat Allies President and Founder Becky Robinson, view our Helping Cats and People Coexist video on youtube.com/AlleyCatAllies.
  • You are a community cat caregiver and you are moving out of the area.
    • Suggested approach: We know you love the cats you care for, but understand that their home is right where they are. Please do what is right and 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.
    • A member of our Feral Friends Network may be able to help, too. They might be interested in taking over your caregiver duties or know somebody else who is. Find a list of Feral Friends near you at alleycat.org/FindFeralFriends.

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

  • Developers refuse to work with you during a large construction or demolition project that will force cats out of the area.
  • Animal control officers or decisionmakers refuse to cooperate with you and demand that cats be removed by any means necessary. Usually, this means catching the cats and bringing them to an animal shelter, where they will likely be killed.
  • A natural or manmade disaster has left the area too damaged to support the cats.

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. For a full guide to successful relocation, read our Safe Relocation guide.

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 Trap-Neuter-Return and following best practices for community cat care.

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