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About Community Cats

You may have seen them gathered around dumpsters, in parking lots, trailer parks and apartment complexes – outdoor cats who flee from humans.

These are community cats.  They are the same species (Felis catus) as domestic cats, but they are unowned and live outdoors. They have ended up in this situation because of pet abandonment and the failure of members of the community to spay/neuter their animals, allowing them to breed uncontrolled. The majority of community cats are not suited to living indoors with people.  They don’t need to.  With our help, they can live full, healthy lives with their feline families (called colonies) in their outdoor homes.

Community cats can be feral,

semi-feral, stray or loosely-owned cats

community cat near some bushes

Feral Cats

Feral cats are the "wild" offspring of lost or abandoned domestic cats, or other feral cats. They grow up with little to no human contact so they tend to be fearful of people and do not allow themselves to be handled or touched by humans. 

While they live outside human homes and exhibit wild behavior, they are not wildlife.  The majority rely on some form of human-based food source for their sustenance. 

Adult feral cats usually cannot be tamed and are not suited to living indoors with people. Feral-born kittens, however, can be tamed easily if found young, and if a proper taming process is followed.

Semi-Feral Cats

Semi-feral cats are either lost/abandoned domestic cats that grew up with human contact but have reverted to a wild state after months or years of self-sufficiency, or feral cats that have developed a comfort level with humans due to being fed, receiving medical care, or similar contacts.

Stray Cats

Stray cats are cats who have been socialized to people at some point in their lives, but no longer have a domestic home because they got lost or someone abandoned them.  As a result, they lose their contact with and dependence on humans. 


Over time, stray cats can become feral as their contact with humans dwindles.  But, under the right circumstances and with an adjustment period, stray cats have the potential to become pet cats once again.

Loosely-owned Cats

Loosely-owned cats can be cats that concerned neighbors feed and allow to take shelter on their property, but no one identifies themselves as the owner.  Also in this category are cats that someone considers themselves the owner of but they neglect them to the point where it seems like the cats are unowned.

Alley Cat Allies logo
Feral and Stray Cats—An Important Difference

by Alley Cat Allies

Often the most important distinction is between feral and stray. 

This page by Alley Cat Allies is a valuable resource to help you tell if a cat you have found is feral or stray based on body language, vocalizations, its schedule, physical appearance, and more. 


Community cats live together in social groups, called colonies, in one territory, often near food sources and shelter. A colony is like a family, the cats are bonded to one another and to their territory.  They depend on one another for survival. 


In urban or suburban areas, colonies can be found in alleyways, vacant lots, parks and backyards; around abandoned buildings, warehouses, office buildings, schools, college campuses, apartment complexes and shopping centers . In rural settings, colonies are often found in barns as well as the back streets of small towns.

Because they share the community with us, problems arise when they are left to breed uncontrolled.  There start to be complaints about nuisance behaviors such as spraying, excessive noise making and fighting.  Cats end up turned into animal control to be killed.  

The first instinct in a community can be to just trap and remove the cats; but, this is ineffective.  Because colonies form where food and shelter are available, if cats are simply removed, others will move in to take their place. This is a well-documented occurrence known as the "vacuum-effect".


On top of that, removing the cats from their home would be like tearing a family apart, it would cause them stress, fear, loneliness and depression.  It is inhumane.

Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)
In a stable managed colony, TNR is a humane way to gradually reduce the population of a colony over time. 
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