The management of feral cat colonies is extremely controversial.
On one hand there are people and nonprofits who are vehemently protective of these colonies, feeding and caring for these homeless animals. On the other hand, there are concerns about the impact these colonies have on local wildlife and concerns about the diseases and parasites these animals can transmit to other animals and humans.
In Illinois, where legislators have identified these concern, a recently introduced bill SJR 53
would create the Feral Cat Task Force to examine the Animal Control Act, the Humane Care for Animals Act, the Animal Welfare Act, and any other relevant statutory provisions and make comprehensive written recommendations for change.
The 18-member task force will have quite a task sorting out this highly controversial issue.
As reported by the National Geographic News (from a 2004 report):
Some feline experts now estimate 70 million feral cats live in the United States, the consequence of little effort to control the population and of the cat’s ability to reproduce quickly.
The number concerns wildlife and ornithology organizations that believe these stealthy predators decimate bird populations and threaten public health. The organizations want the cats removed from the environment and taken to animal shelters, where they are often killed.
Feline predators are believed to prey on common species, such as cardinals, blue jays, and house wrens, as well as rare and endangered species, such as piping plovers and Florida scrub jays.
Cats, like other mammals can spread disease and parasites, facts that have been used in support of laws adopted by local jurisdictions to limit or eliminate feral cat colonies.
On its website, the CDC lists “[t]he most common diseases associated with cats that can cause human illness” including: Campylobacteriosis; Cat-scratch Disease (Bartonella henselae); Cheyletiellosis; Cryptosporidiosis; Echinococcosis; Giardia; hookworms; MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus); Pasteurellosis; Plague (Yersinia pestis); Rabies; Ringworm (Microsporum canis); Roundworm (Toxocara spp.); Salmonellosis (Salmonella spp.); Sporotrichosis (Sporothrix schenckii); Toxoplasmosis (Toxoplasma gondii).
The AVMA recently revised its policy on “free-roaming and abandoned feral cats,” a process it described as:
the culmination of more than two years’ work by the Animal Welfare Committee, which is comprised of veterinarians and others representing expertise and a wide range of perspectives regarding animal welfare. Although the Animal Welfare Committee includes among its members representatives from the feline, avian, and wildlife veterinary communities, it did not tackle this question alone, but instead asked the Committee on Environmental Issues and the Council on Public Health and Regulatory Veterinary Medicine to assist with its review. Recognizing that feral cat management is a highly controversial issue, the group revised the policy to reflect new information, help build consensus, and provide leadership per the management of free-roaming abandoned and feral cats.
In New Jersey, the Department of Health “does not endorse or oppose the concept of establishing properly managed cat colonies utilizing trap-neuter-return (TNR) techniques.”
However, if a municipality wishes to allow cat colonies, they should develop standards through ordinances for the proper and managed operation of such colonies, based on the guidelines below, that would provide accountability and oversight by the health officer and animal control officer.
There remains a large overpopulation of cats, unlike dogs, in New Jersey and other Northeastern States, who comprise the greatest percentage of animal shelter residents, contributing to increasing costs to care for these animals.