Proven Strategies

Cats sitting together on door mat

Found a free-roaming friendly cat? Put them back.

June 21, 2023

If you haven’t read “The dilemma of the friendly outdoor cat” program spotlight, it’s worth checking out—especially if your organization struggles with the idea of returning such kitties through your trap-neuter-vaccinate-return (TNVR) program. Published in October 2020, it remains one of our most popular spotlights. It’s also timely, because a community cat program can alleviate some of the strain you’re feeling at this time of year (Hello kitten season!). Since you’re flooded with cats and probably don’t have much time to read, here are some key points about the friendly cat issue:  

  • Someone made friendly cats friendly. Someone loves them and wants them back.  Man petting kitten on sidewalk
  • They might be pet cats. The 2019-2020 American Pet Products Association (APPA) National Pet Owners survey found that roughly one-third of people allow their cats some outdoor access.  
  • Few pet cats are reclaimed from shelters. Microchipping is on the rise, which facilitates returning cats but reclaim rates of 2% to 5% have persisted for decades.  
  • Cats are 13 times more likely to be reunited with their families by returning home on their own (some studies cite more than 60% fall into this category) or being found by owners searching the neighborhood.
  • Healthy cats have at least one feeding station. The APPA study found 14% of respondents care for free-roaming cats; 95% provide food and water, 43% provide shelter, 20% get the cats spayed or neutered, and 13% provide additional medical care.  
  • Cats get stressed and sick in shelters, and even the friendliest cat can appear terrified or aggressive. Such factors reduce the chance of adoption and increase the risk that they won’t make it out alive.  
  • Yes, outdoor cats face risks, but shelters aren’t 100% safe places for cats. Plus, research refutes the idea that outdoor cats die from a variety of illnesses.
  • Cats want their friends back. Felines can and do form close social bonds, and some have been known to offer protection and support to other cats.  

When our 2022 national dataset shows 569 cats dying every day, any cat who can stay in a good situation should. There are relinquished pets and sick cats who need your resources. Returning friendly cats is just common sense and should be a component of any TNVR program.  

More resources:  

Liz with cat

Liz Finch 
Senior Writer 
Best Friends Network

If you enjoyed this program spotlight, you can find our complete catalog of spotlights here.