Cat sanctuaries are not a sound viable option for feral—also called unsolialized or community—cats or owned cats. When you think of a sanctuary, you might imagine happy, healthy felines frolicking in grassy meadows or curling up together beneath shady trees. The reality can be quite different.
What Are Cat Sanctuaries?
Most sanctuaries lack the resources to provide adequate long-term care for the cats they take in. This often results in overcrowding, subjecting cats to stress and health risks. When space is limited, sick cats are not separated from healthy cats. Crowded conditions can cause respiratory distress and other medical issues. Cats may also become fearful of people or other cats in this situation. Furthermore, there are often no regulations, standards of care, or official body to oversee sanctuaries.
Cat sanctuaries are not a good option for community cats, who do best when they’re allowed to live and thrive with their colonies, or feline families, in their original outdoor homes. Similarly, sanctuaries are usually not a good option for socialized cats who have lived with people indoors. They may be frightened in a sanctuary environment where they have limited one-on-one attention from a human and have no alternative but to be around unfamiliar cats.
The challenges with sanctuaries
Among the challenges with cat sanctuaries for community cats:
- In most cases, sanctuaries are expensive to build and maintain. These funds would be better spent by supporting low-cost spay and neuter services including Trap-Neuter-Return, particularly in low- and moderate-income areas, which would help more cats.
- The sanctuary may not have the resources or staff to meet cats’ needs.
- When large numbers of cats are confined in small rooms or areas, they become extremely stressed and can be exposed to contagious diseases.
- Community cats are not socialized to people and cannot live indoors. They are stressed in a sanctuary environment, especially in ones without ample outdoor space or inside.
- Relocation, which is required to bring cats to a sanctuary, is stressful and potentially dangerous for community cats. Cats have wandered away from their new place to try and return to their original home. Because they’re in unfamiliar territory, they face more risks in order to get home, which puts them in danger.
Among the challenges with cat sanctuaries for socialized cats (cats who are friendly toward people):
- Being around other unfamiliar cats is stressful for any cat.
- Cats who are accustomed to the attention of an owner or caregiver may become lonely in a sanctuary environment without frequent human contact.
- If the sanctuary is crowded, the environment may prove stressful even for socialized cats who have lived with other cats.
- If sick cats are not separated from healthy cats and treated, disease can spread quickly.
Cat sanctuaries are not a long-term solution
Some people point to cat sanctuaries as long-term solution for community cats—rounding them up and placing them in a sanctuary. Here’s why that doesn’t work for the community or for cats:
- Removing community cats from their outdoor homes creates a well-known phenomenon called the Vacuum Effect. That’s when new cats move into an area that was previously occupied to take advantage of the available food and shelter. These cats will reproduce, and the community cat population will grow.
- Many sanctuaries have been forced to close their doors due to insufficient funds or an inability to properly care for the cats in the existing confined space.
Trap-Neuter-Return is the humane, effective approach to community cats
Community cats do not belong in sanctuaries or in shelters. You probably already know that bringing a cat to an animal shelter is likely to result in her death. But here’s what you might not know: Up to 70 percent of all cats are killed in shelters in the United States, and for community cats, that number increases to virtually 100 percent.
Community cats belong in their own homes—outdoors—where they live with their cat families. Even under the best conditions, sanctuaries are not ideal. They are costly to build and maintain, and there are often no regulations, standards of care, or official body to monitor them. Well-meaning administrators may become overwhelmed or burned out—to the detriment of cats in their care.
The money raised to fund a sanctuary is far better spent funding Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) and low-cost spay and neuter programs. TNR is the only humane and effective approach to managing community cat populations. It allows community cats to live long, healthy lives in their outdoor homes, and helps people and cats co-exist peacefully. For indoor cats, private adoption, where the cat’s owner works with local rescue groups to find an appropriate forever home, is the best approach.
As cat advocates, all of us, together, must use our energy, passion, and resources to expand TNR, adoptions, and low-cost spay and neuter programs in communities across the United States.