Helping unowned cats

Sounds simple doesn’t it – we hate to see cats suffering on the streets and want to do something to help.  So all we need to do is pick up as many as we can, give them food and lots of love and find them a happy home with people. Job done. However, it is seldom that easy!

Many people get involved in trying to help cats because they love them and want to help. Unfortunately, they often find themselves tired, frustrated and not necessarily helping the cats in the way they believed they could. This is because the picture is so much bigger than just the cats on the street, the problems are complex, not everybody has the same ideas, it costs money, and because many street cats do not want or cannot adapt to a life in a human home. Previously abandoned or lost pet cats may appreciate a new home, but it also only works if there are people in the area prepared to take on a ‘second-hand’ cat. Finding homes does little to help deal with problems caused by over-population of cats, and so the hungry cats on the street just keep coming.

There are four main barriers to progress in implementing welfare improvements for unowned cats:  

  1. Working in isolation and not understanding the bigger picture.

Helping cats requires more than just individuals doing their best – they need to work within the law (or even try to change the law) and local conditions, and need the support of the veterinary profession (because neutering is required for population management) as well as understanding cat health, welfare and behaviour.

International Cat Care’s new International Declaration of Responsibilities to Cats is an important document defining best practice for governments, local authorities, vets, charities, breeders, cat owners and other individuals working with cats. It emphasises the need for all these groups of people to work together, and provides a tool to those trying to persuade the authorities that a coordinated approach will make a difference. International Cat Care is encouraging everyone to sign the Declaration and demonstrate their support for improving the lives of unowned cats, as well as the development of collaborations and shared responsibilities for all cats. You can sign the Declaration here.

  1. Understanding that there is a spectrum of cats with differing capacities to live alongside people.

Not all cats want to be pets: many would be highly stressed in a home environment, and also in a homing centre. Therefore, a loving home for every cat, even if it was available, is not the answer. International Cat Care has published its Guidelines on Population Management and Welfare of Unowned Domestic Cats which explain the spectrum of cats in relation to their ability to live alongside people – you might call this their ‘home-ability’. These can be read here.

  1. Understanding that dealing with feral or street cats requires a different approach

Some cats are better off living a free roaming lifestyle, but neutering them can prevent overpopulation and the nuisance problems which may follow. These problems are often the cause of inhumane population management solutions by local governments around the world looking for quick and easy solutions without necessarily considering welfare implications or long term success. 

International Cat Care provides information and training on the ethical and practical approaches to population management and a separate pathway for these cats via its freely available International Cat Care Feral Cat Manual and Trap, Neuter and Return Videos as well as providing training, often in collaboration with other charities.

  1. Understanding how to best care for cats which can be homed so that during their confinement their health and emotional wellbeing is not compromised.

Cats which are strays (previously pet cats now living without owners) or pet cats which are given up by their owners to homing centres, can be ideal animals to find new homes for because they have been used to living with people.  However, they can suffer stress and distress when confined in cages, and this experience can affect their physical and mental health and the success of finding them a new home. Recognising the cats’ emotional states and knowing how to help can make a huge difference.

International Cat Care is developing a new Cat Friendly Homing programme, which tackles the complex problems associated with finding homes for cats which are taken into what may be called rescue, sanctuary or adoption centres – we refer to these as ‘homing centres’, emphasising the necessity to think of them as places of transition for cats, not a final destination.

The Cat Friendly Homing programme aims to develop a set of free tools and training for the thousands of homing organisations around the world that work so hard to help cats – sometimes in the face of overwhelming odds – to home the greatest number of cats without compromising welfare, and to ensure that new owners get a cat which is able to live happily alongside them. In order to do that we need to help these organisations understand which cats can be homed and the causes of stress in confined cats, and provide simple solutions that their carers can implement. More information on this project will follow. 

Please support our 60th year projects to make a difference to unowned cats.

Interestingly, when International Cat Care was formed 60 years ago because cats were suffering as a consequence of a total lack of knowledge about cat diseases, its founder Joan Judd stated, ‘It is not only a stray and hungry cat that commands our sympathy and our efforts. The house cat is very much part of the family and entitled to every consideration. Suffering cannot be relieved and prevented without investigation by experts and their findings made available to those whose work it is to treat sick animals. We shall not tolerate suffering’. International Cat care has worked for 60 years to create a different world for cats, where knowledge of health issues has led to vaccines, treatments and a desire to improve the care of cats in ways unrecognisable all those years ago. Now it wishes to turn its considerable efforts to look at unowned cats, the welfare of which has not really changed a great deal in those 60 years. We believe the time is right to help unowned cats, and we have the expertise to help, treating the underlying causes and creating sustainable solutions rather than a sticking plaster on the problem.

However, as we rely entirely on donations, we cannot do any of this without your help. Please donate to our 60th year projects by clicking here. We are grateful for every donation we receive, and the more we receive, the more we can help make the world a better place for cats, owned and unowned alike.