Kids & Pets
July 12, 2020
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Free-roaming cats – is it safe

By: Mickey Zeldes
October 12, 2018

We post all found animals on our Facebook page and to give them exposure and a better chance to get back home.  Sharing our posts is a simple way for people to help animals from the comfort of their home.  Often a post will elicit quite a discussion – if the animal is in poor shape there is much criticism for the lack of care which makes sense, but recently there have been many opinions about whether healthy-looking cats should be brought to the shelter or just left in case they are just outdoor cats.

A recent post said “You do understand that cats operate in terms of hunting grounds and territories.  If it’s a neutered cat, why is it anybody’s concern that he’s “hanging out”… for a while”.  So why do people bring the animals in and should they?  There are so many considerations:  What are the laws about free-roaming cats?  Is it safe for cats to be outdoors on their own?  What are the risks in that area? What about the rights of other people, if the animals are coming on their property?  How do you know the animal is healthy?  Is the animal altered?  Or are you leaving an intact cat out there to reproduce and cause greater problems?  Is the pet someone’s lost pet?  How do you know there isn’t someone looking for this animal?  Is the animal thriving out there or struggling (but new enough that it’s not apparent yet)?  What effects is the animal having on the environment – and wildlife/bird population?  Is he competing unnecessarily with wildlife for food?  The list of questions goes on and on.

To protect everyone’s rights to enjoy their peace and property, animals are not allowed to roam free off their owner’s property.  I know, you are rolling your eyes and thinking about all the cats you see walking around your neighborhood.  True ferals are exempt from the law but for pet cats it’s really about being a good neighbor and caring for the environment.  Cats can be annoying; using gardens for their litterboxes and killing birds that others attract with bird-feeders to enjoy.

Outdoor cats get into fights with other animals including dogs, cats, raccoons and other wildlife.  Besides injuries, this also exposes them to diseases: rabies, distemper, FIV, ringworm and other parasites.  There are also a lot of toxins out there – the neighbor who changes his own antifreeze (only takes a few drops to kill a cat), rat and gopher poisons, fertilizers and weed sprays - to name just a few.  Additionally, they are at risk of getting hit by cars or causing accidents as drivers swerve to avoid hitting them.  Many people would feel guilty upon seeing a cat dead along the road that could have been saved if they had acted when they first saw him hanging around. 

Our position is that if an unknown cat shows up and you can safely catch him, call first, but by all means bring him in.  We always talk to the finder to see if the area is safe for the cat to go back in case he or she proves to be too feisty for our adoption program. We also work closely with Forgotten Felines for barn/working cat relocations for these under-socialized cats.  In the meantime, we can scan for a microchip, look through lost reports, post him on Facebook and Nextdoor and help many lost pets to get back home.  We’ll also make sure that he’s in good health, vaccinated and altered.  A healthy, altered feral is the only kind of cat that should be roaming around alone!

Upcoming Events:

Bark After Dark – dinner and auction for the animals!  Join us for this fun fundraiser on Sat., Nov. 3, 6:30-10 p.m. at the RP Community Center to support the lifesaving programs of the Animal Shelter League.  Get your holiday shopping done and give presents that give twice – something nice for the recipient while knowing you helped animals in need.  Tickets are just $25 per person or $40 a couple in advance and are available at the shelter or online at

Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at