Ask the Experts 

Common Ground 

January/February 2013 
By Lydia Peirce Linsmeier, Esq. 

Feral Cats

Q: Some of our association residents leave food and water out for feral cats. The cats are a nuisance, and we want them to leave. How can we keep residents from feeding them? —Phoenix

A: Feral and stray cat populations have been rising across Arizona. The housing crisis has created an increase in foreclosed and abandoned properties. Owners of foreclosed properties often move into smaller homes, apartments that do not permit pets or a relative's house, forcing some owners to abandon these so-called "foreclosure pets" in their former neighborhoods. If these cats aren't spayed or neutered, the stray cat population in your association can explode.

Associations can expect good Samaritan residents to attempt to care for stray animals. Most people don't want to see animals starving and suffering, which is why feeding bans aren't effective ways to control homeless cat populations. Associations don't have the tools to stop residents from feeding the strays either. We counsel clients to consider trap, neuter and return (TNR) programs to control nuisance homeless cats.

TNR is the gold standard for the humane management of stray and feral cat colonies. These programs stop the exponential colony growth. The association should notice a drop in the number of feline nuisance complaints from residents. Associations often tap into volunteer resources and community programs that support animal welfare to implement TNR. Most major cities have feral cat welfare organizations and animal control resources to assist planned communities. In Phoenix, Maricopa County Animal Care and Control has endorsed TNR as the preferred method of cat population control. The county agency has more than 20 years of documentation showing trap-and-kill population control programs do not work. According to the agency, "The trap, neuter and return of feral cats is a proven, humane method of feral cat population control."

The public does not like animal cruelty. Feeding bans are a hot-button issue in the animal welfare community. Associations perceived as having inhumane or cruel rules regarding homeless cats risk becoming the targets of community outrage and animal rights' groups. Associations also should be careful they don't violate any animal cruelty laws. In our experience, a successful TNR program will enhance community pride and contribute to the positive image of the association. Consider reaching out to your local animal control agency to discuss the feasibility of TNR in your community.

Lydia Peirce Linsmeier is an associate attorney for Brown Olcott in Phoenix.

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