For community cat caretakers, practicing good neighbor relations is often as easy as following responsible colony care protocols. You can take preemptive steps to help you avoid potential questions or concerns altogether – and if you do hear concerns or complaints from neighbors, there is a wide variety of simple solutions available.
The Beauty of TNR
Completing Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) and vaccination of your entire cat colony, including occasional visitors and newcomers, is the best thing you can do for community relations – and for the cats as well.
Once cats are spayed and neutered, some major nuisance behaviors will cease: spraying, fighting, yowling, and the seemingly endless supply of new kittens. Vaccinating all the cats will head off concerns that your cats might become a rabies threat. And you and the other cat lovers in the neighborhood will be glad to know that the cats will be healthier after TNR, free from the stresses of mating and childbirth.
Healthy Feeding Stations
Responsible feeding practices and keeping feeding stations neat and clean go a long way for keeping the peace among human and feline neighbors.
You'll want to give the cats enough food but not more than they'll consume within about half an hour. Leftover food may draw pests and complaints, so remove whatever the cats don't eat.
Be careful when using disposable plates; once they're empty they can easily blow around as garbage. Reusable bowls need to be cleaned, but they're less likely to cause resentment over trash among the neighbors. Such resentment may be directed at the cats or it may result in the caretaker getting ticketed by the health or sanitation department and discouraged from feeding.
Even the tidiest feeding station may attract flies, especially in hot weather and around wet food. You can head off or solve complaints by feeding at sundown, when flies are less active, and removing the empty dishes before the flies start buzzing around the next morning. Cleaning dirty dishes is essential to avoid letting fly eggs and larvae develop at your feeding station. The Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals has more tips for keeping bugs and slugs at bay.
Wildlife pests are another common cause for complaint around feeding stations, especially in urban areas where many people expect their neighborhoods to be free of wildlife. Overfeeding of cats may attract rodents, raccoons, skunks, opossums, or other wildlife. Because some of these animals come out at night, you may need to remove all uneaten food after dark. Adjust your feeding routine to address the specific wildlife at your feeding site.
Trespassing is one unwanted behavior that TNR does not solve in cats. But there are many safe, humane ways to discourage feral cats from hanging out where they're not wanted.
Cats using the garden or lawn as a litter box may be the No. 1 complaint of property owners. Examples of cheap, low-tech humane deterrents include:
Deer netting over raised garden beds
Plastic forks or bamboo chopsticks staked in soil
Plastic carpet runners (spiked side up) or Cat Scat™ mats placed on soil
Chicken wire under mulch
Scented organic material such as citrus peels, eucalyptus, or filter-brewed coffee grounds (brewing the coffee removes most of the caffeine, which is toxic to cats)
Depending on the cats you're dealing with, you may have more or less success with any of these methods, so be prepared to try more than one.
High-tech, motion-activated deterrents may be your best solution if a neighbor feels the above methods are too much trouble or look unattractive. Two popular models are CatStopTM, which uses ultrasonic noise to discourage cats, and ScareCrow®, which is a powerful sprinkler. (Note that ScareCrow should not be used in cold weather, both for cat safety and to prevent the unit from freezing.)
Another way to keep cats from using neighborhood gardens as litter boxes is to provide one or more outdoor litter boxes on property that you control or where you have permission to place them.
Put regular litter boxes in a shelter such as a large plastic bin with a large door cut in one side to prevent the litter from being ruined by weather. You could also place sand or peat moss in strategic outdoor areas for the cats to use as litter.
Be sure that the litter area is in a quiet, sheltered space, scoop regularly to alleviate odors and keep flies away, and be prepared to scoop more often in hot weather.
Providing a shelter for cats not only keeps them safe from the elements – it also means they will not have to go looking in neighbors' crawl spaces, porches, or sheds for a warm, dry place to rest.
Cats will follow their shelter, and can be discouraged from climbing on cars or other private property by gradually moving their shelters away from problem areas.
Many different designs for effective winter cat shelters are available. Some can be made with very little skill and free or cheap materials, and others require basic carpentry skills, tools, and more elaborate materials. Ready-made shelters are also available for purchase.