It’s estimated there are tens of millions of community cats living in the United States, and each year they give birth to millions of kittens. This causes problems including disruption of local ecosystems, endangerment of native wildlife, spread of disease, and litter after litter of kittens entering overburdened animal shelters each year. The main reason many people take issue with these cats is simply because they cause a nuisance. It’s clear the current situation is not ideal for people, the environment, or the cats themselves. 
But what exactly is a community cat? A community cat is a domestic cat who was born in the wild or was once owned and has been abandoned or lost and has become wild out of
necessity.  Community cats are not owned pets. Some are more comfortable around people than others, but generally these cats aren’t able to be touched or handled and they live exclusively outdoors. Though it’s inadvisable to bring these cats into our homes, we can still provide care, treat them humanely, and help to reduce their population over time.
There are two other main ways we categorize cats. Indoor cats are owned pets who are kept inside at all times and are cared for and kept safe. Free-ranging cats are owned pets who are cared for, but are sometimes allowed to roam outside. Just like community cats, free-ranging cats also endanger native wildlife, spread disease, and contribute to overpopulation if unaltered. The SPCA Albrecht Center encourages adopters and community members to keep owned cats indoors to prevent these problems as well as to reduce the chance of their pet being attacked by wildlife, hit by a car, or exposed to disease.
How can we reduce the population of community cats?
In the past, community cats were trapped by the millions and killed. Sadly, these “catch and kill” methods continue today in some parts of the country. Ultimately, removing or killing cats in one area creates a vacuum effect. Cats in neighboring areas see that the area has resources and no longer has competition so they quickly move in and the problem is not solved. The catch and kill method is not only inhumane, it fails at reducing community cat populations and is a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Many localities have chosen to stop the endless cycle of catch and kill and have embraced a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program. Through a TNR program, community cats are trapped, spayed and neutered, vaccinated, ear-tipped (so everyone can see that they’ve already been through the program), and released back to where they were found. Because the cats are put back where they were found, new cats are unable to move in, and thanks to spay and neuter, the cats stop reproducing. Over time, the population of cats in the area decreases. While TNR has been more successful in some communities than others, it is currently the most effective, humane, and financially responsible option for population control.
The success of a TNR program depends on community involvement. If you see a community cat in your neighborhood, you can help! If you are a City of Aiken resident you can rent a trap from the SPCA Veterinary Care Center and bring the trapped cat to our facility at 199 Willow Run Road in Aiken Tuesday-Friday between 7:30 and 8:30am. The total cost for TNR per cat is $40. You’ll be notified of a time to pick up the cat later the same day and you’re asked to return the cat to where you found it. If you are having difficulty trapping the cat, you can call City of Aiken Animal Control at (803) 642-7620 to TNR the cat. Visit our website at spcavetcare.org for more information.
If you live in Aiken County, you can participate in their free TNR program by checking out a trap and bringing the trapped cat to their facility Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. The cat will need to be picked up the following day and released where it was found. Due to the success of this program, it is best to call the Aiken County Animal Shelter at (803) 642-1537 to inquire about the availability of traps, and they will notify you when one is available.
Once cats have been TNR'd, community members can help them live with a good quality of life
by managing cat colonies. Good colony management includes providing food, water, shelter, and veterinary care as needed as well as TNRing any new colony members. While most community cats live less than 2 years on average, cats who live as part of managed colonies live 10 years on average.  Best Friends Animal Society has a colony management guide, Colony Management and Caretaker Resources, available on their website. 
What about the kittens? During the first 8 weeks of their lives, kittens have the best chance of survival if they are with their mother. If you happen upon young kittens who seem to have been abandoned, it’s usually best to wait to see if their mother returns. If you do not see the mother of the kittens return after eight-hours, you believe she has abandoned her young or the kittens are in danger, you can take them to your local shelter to be fostered until they are old enough for adoption. If the kittens are 6 weeks or older and your local shelter doesn’t have the space or resources to care for them, they can be TNR’d. The Baby Kittens guide provided by Charleston Animal Society will help you determine the age of the kittens as well as the best course of action to maximize their chance of survival. 
With community involvement in TNR programs and colony management we can reduce the number of homeless cats in a humane way which ultimately benefits people, the environment, and the cats.
Jessica Gladkowski is the Director of Community Relations at the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. Jessica received her Bachelor of Arts in Japanese from The University of Vermont. Jessica is inspired to combine her passion for helping animals, teaching, and serving a diverse community through a career in animal welfare. Jessica lives in Aiken with her husband David and their rescue dogs Django and Ollie.