Community & Feral Cats

Community Cats

ACC takes any owned, feral or lost pet into our Care Centers at any time. Our field services will pick up a free roaming cat only if he is sick or injured, involved in an animal cruelty situation or is part of a bite investigation. We do not pick up owned cats (see our Surrender prevention page).If you have a cat that meets the criterion for pick-up, please call 311.

A cat ran up into a tree and can't come down. What can I do to help it?
If cats can get up into a tree, they can usually get down. Cats can remain up a tree for up to seven days and, on occasion, longer. Do not call it or attempt to try to climb up the tree; you may frighten and cause the cat to go up higher. Leave the area for approximately one hour to see if the cat comes down on his or her own. If he or she does not, place food at the base of the tree and leave the area. If cat food does not work, try a can of tuna or other strong smelling, cat enticing food. Leave the area to give the cat time to smell the food and make his or her way down. If the cat doesn't seem like it can make its way down on its own, please call 311.

Community Cats

ACC recognizes that community cats are a challenge throughout the five boroughs and is committed to participating in effectively and humanely controlling their population. Community cats can include tame, owned cats, abandoned strays and feral cats – really, any cat living outside that has an established and sustained lifestyle can be considered a community cat. For many years, it was common practice across the US to purposefully trap outdoor cats and bring them to shelters. For cats acclimated to living outdoors, who sometimes have not been socialized with humans at all, euthanasia was the most likely outcome for many. Over time, as animal welfare tends changed and more became known about outdoor cats, their effect on the community, and the effects of simply removing them, it became clear that better options were and are available. AC&C has believes that the most effective solution is a comprehensive program that includes:

  • Community education about spay/neuter and keeping tame cats indoors. ACC encourages all cat owners to keep their cats indoors, especially if they have not been spayed or neutered yet. Allowing them to mingle with cats outdoors not only potentially exposes them to disease or injury; it provides the opportunity for them to mate with other intact cats, resulting in more homeless animals. Additionally, it is the law in NYC that if you are going to let your cat out, it must be spayed/neutered. Be part of the solution by getting your cat spayed/neutered.
  • Adoption of tame strays into new homes. For cats who are unaccustomed to living outdoors, such as newly abandoned pet cats, and who are social and friendly, ACC does believe that the best place for them is in a home environment. ACC does not pick up stray cats unless they are involved in an animal bite or cruelty situation, or if they're sick or injured, however, we do accept them at our Animal Care Centers.
  • Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) of community cats. Through TNR, cats are humanely trapped and sterilized, and then placed back into the environment in which they were living. Volunteer caretakers then provide food, water and clean, unobtrusive shelters for the cats.

Though it may seem against logic to allow cats to remain living outdoors, there are some real, data supported reasons to do so. National studies have shown that when cats are removed from an area, more cats move in. If you sterilize the population, you will stop the constant flow of kittens and the colony will actually keep other cats from moving into the area. Eventually, through natural attrition, the colony dies out. TNR also helps to stop many of the undesirable behaviors including loud mating, territorial fights and spraying. TNR:

  • Stabilizes the population
  • Is more effective and less expensive than attempts at extermination
  • Eliminates or reduces annoying behaviors like spraying, yowling and fighting
  • Is the humane thing to do. Anyone who suggests inhumane and/or illegal methods of cat population control may be prosecuted according to the law.

What is a feral cat?

Feral cats are not socialized to humans. They are afraid of people and cannot be touched. Time, love, and kindness will not tame an adult feral cat.
How is that different from a community cat?
It actually may not be (but it might!). Community cats are simply cats that have established themselves and who maintain a lifestyle outdoors. They may be feral. However, they may be friendly, they may be shy; as long as they live outside with relative success, they can be considered community cats.
How does TNR work?
Trap - the cats are humanely trapped.
Neuter - The cats are taken to a veterinarian where they are spayed/neutered. Cats will have their left ear "tipped" (has the point cut flat while it is under anesthesia, so the procedure is painless), so that people will recognize that the cat is sterilized.
Return - Cats are returned to their original caregivers who agree to provide them with food and water.
But who are these “caregivers”?
These caregivers may be experienced, active animal rescuers or cat advocates who volunteer to care for the cats. They may be your neighbor who has a fondness and an interest in the cats living in your neighborhood. Shelter may come in the form of a house superficially made for feral cats or a basement where someone leaves the window open so the cats have a place to go.
What are the alternatives?
Do nothing - Eventually, the problem will reach unmanageable levels and result in a never ending stream of cats and kittens in your neighborhood.
Trap & bring to the shelter – Aside from being ineffective, if these cats are not used to being handled by humans, the likelihood of adoption is slim; and the alternative to adoption is often euthanasia.
Relocation – Aside from simply freeing up resources for new cats to move in, relocating cats can be a devastating thing for the cats. In their own community, they know where to access food or where to go when it’s raining. In a new, strange place, they may not know where those essential resources are.
Isn’t it inhumane to let them stay outdoors though?
Not if there are resources supporting them and not if they are used to living there year round. Certainly, ACC would not advocate for a cat to live in an abandoned lot, for example, where there is no shelter and no one to provide food. If you’ve seen a cat in your neighborhood for a while though, and it doesn’t seem ill or injured, it stands to reason that the cat’s basic needs are being met. It makes sense that to survive outside, the cat must have developed strategies to keep safe and found places to stay dry, warm, and fed. And, if the cat seems to be ok – living, maybe even thriving – it does not make sense to remove it from that environment, to be placed into one where euthanasia is statistically the most common outcome in the US today.

Your next step:

If you are not the free-roaming cat caregiver, take the time to talk to your neighbors and learn about TNR by visiting the NYC Feral Cat Initiative site and