Community Cat Program

What is a community cat?

Also known as: Outdoor Cat, Stray Cat, Alley Cat, Feral Cat, Street Cat, Barn Cat, and Tomcat. 

A community cat is an outdoor, unowned, free-roaming cat. It can be social, semi-social, or unsocial (not accustomed to human touch or interaction). These cats exist in most communities around our State and in every country in the world, regardless of climate.  

Check the cat's ear for a missing tip or notch! This means they are a community cat and have been spayed/neutered. 

What is a Community Cat Program (CCP)? 

Community Cat Programs assess the unique needs of every community cat entering care and provide the most beneficial pathway. Studies show that the best approach for healthy community cats is to spay/neuter and vaccinate them, and then quickly return them to their outdoor homes. 

Community Cat Programs are the most humane and effective way to manage free-roaming cat populations while reducing their impact on wildlife populations and public health. If an adult community cat is sick or injured, he/she is assessed to determine potential treatment and returned to community if it is safe for the cat. When sick or injured cats require more extensive medical care and are not eligible for return outdoors, they are admitted to the Shelter and appropriately cared for. Kittens less than six months of age are individually assessed to determine the best live outcome for each one. 

Cats that are micro-chipped (or otherwise identified as having an “owner”) are taken into the Shelter and attempts for reunification with their family are made. Likewise, when a person brings a cat to the Shelter or calls about a cat that has been found, Shelter staff check to see if any “lost pet” reports have been filed and family reunification is attempted. 

Following the recommendations of leading national organizations such as the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program (KSMP), National Animal Care & Control Association (NACA), ASPCA, American Association of Feline Practitioners, and Million Cat Challenge, we do not admit healthy free-roaming cats to the shelter. 

If the cat looks healthy, please put it back where you found it/leave it where it is. Refer to this I Found a Cat flowchart for more guidance. If you believe the cat is truly lost, here’s how you can help: 

  • Wait a day or two to offer food, as extra feeding can discourage cats from going back home on their own.
  • Play detective; ask around your neighborhood to see if anyone recognizes them. If the cat is friendly, use this paper collar template to help determine if the cat is owned.
  • Post a photo and description of the animal on social media. Some options include: NextDoor, Craigslist, Petco Love Lost, PawBoost, and surrounding neighborhood Facebook groups and local “Lost & Found Pets of [CITY NAME]” Facebook pages (for example Missing Pets of Napa Valley or Napa Valley lost pets).
  • Create a Found Pet flyer and post it in the neighborhood or distribute it to doorsteps of homes nearest where the cat was found. Don’t think in terms of street travel — cats don’t! — think distance, or “as the crow flies,” and post flyers on all the major streets that transverse your neighborhood.
  • Check for ID tags or bring the cat to a vet to have it scanned for a microchip and, if needed, visit to enter the microchip number and find the owner.

Millions of pet cats are indoor/outdoor; we might not know where that cat lives, but good body condition tells us the cat knows where home is and will make its way back on its own. Even cats who are actually lost are 10–50 times more likely to be reunited with their owners if they stay in the neighborhood where they are found (instead of being removed from the area and taken to an animal shelter). 

What is TNR?

Community cats are the most significant source of cat overpopulation.  Napa County Animal Shelter and Adoption Center supports a non-lethal strategy known as Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) as a solution to reduce community cat overpopulation. TNR is the most humane and effective way of reducing community cat populations. The overabundance of outdoor cats is a community issue with a community-based solution and we are implementing a program to help bridge the gap between concerned citizens, animal advocates, and people caring for outdoor cats. Returning community cats outdoors is the best live outcome for individual cats and for the community. Community cats are not suited to live as indoor pets or be confined in a shelter, even for a short period of time, and doing so can be extremely stressful and detrimental to their health and quality of life.

 Benefits of TNR:

  • It helps reduce nuisance cat behaviors associated with mating such as spraying, yowling, and fighting. 
  • It stabilizes the cat population by eliminating new litters.
  • Cats gain more weight and live healthier lives.
  • Spayed females are less likely to develop breast cancer and will not be at risk for ovarian or uterine cancer. Spaying also means the female cat will not go into heat, which attracts fewer male cats to the area.
  • Neutered males will not develop testicular cancer and neutering reduces the risk of injury and infection for the cat, since intact males have a natural instinct to fight with other cats.
  • It reduces the number of cats at animal shelters. As a result, animal shelters have more resources for other lifesaving and community outreach programs. 

How can I be sure my cat isn't mistaken for a community cat?

The best protection is to keep your cat(s) inside as best you can and to use proper identification in the form of a microchip and/or a collar with an identification tag. Make sure you keep your pet's identification current to the address where you currently reside and a current telephone number(s) as well as adding alternate contact(s). Should you rehome your pet, transfer the microchip into the new owner's information. A microchip can be implanted during our regular business hours. Please call the shelter at 707-253-4382 to set up an appointment. If your pet cat is missing, call the Animal Shelter and file a “lost pet” report.

What if a community cat(s) is a nuisance in my neighborhood?

Cats are considered free roaming. Animal Control will not assist with picking up cats in the community unless they are sick or injured.  

Click on the following links for suggested humane cat deterrent information:

Are friendly community cats returned outdoors?

Yes. There are multiple reasons to return healthy, friendly cats to the neighborhood they came from.  In addition to helping to stabilize and reduce community cat colonies, this approach allows friendly cats to avoid the stresses associated with the shelter. Even friendly community cats that are confined in a shelter or home environment, even for a short period of time, can experience extreme stress, which can lead to significant health and welfare problems, including increased rates of death.

Additionally, many friendly community cats are social because they interact frequently with humans in their neighborhoods, including people who may act as their caregivers. Caregivers may provide these cats with food and water, access to their yard, and human interaction and affection. In many cases, these caregivers are significantly invested in the cats' wellbeing. Friendliness in a community cat indicates that they have an outdoor or neighborhood home in which they are thriving. Therefore, regardless of their behavior, the best outcome for healthy community cats is to spay/neuter and vaccinate them and return them to their outdoor/neighborhood homes.

Can't community cats just be removed or relocated?

No. Removal or relocation efforts for community cats are ineffective, dangerous for the cats and impractical.  Community cats live in an area because of the resources -- food, water, shelter -- are there to support them. These resources may or may not be provided by humans. Data shows that rounding up cats and bringing them to shelters, rescues, or sanctuaries does not solve the issue of cat overpopulation, because new cats will continue to fill the spaces in communities created by removed cats, as long as there are resource(s) available. Because of the powerful “vacuum effect,” removing a cat from its environment without also removing the food source has been linked to an increase in cat populations by as much as 200%. Relocation is also not a viable option. It is important that cats know their environment and are aware of any threats and resources in the area for their own protection.

What to do when you find kittens?

When we find baby animals outside, our first instinct is to help. Thankfully, with kittens, it’s usually not necessary to intervene and “kit-nap” the litter. In fact, mom’s care is critical for their survival! If you’re worried about the kittens’ safety, simply observe from a safe distance and note if mom returns from her search for food.

If you’re certain mom won’t return, and you’ve spotted no trace of her for at least eight hours, the kittens may be orphans. Here’s what do next:

If you are unable to care for the kittens, call the Napa County Animal Shelter at 707-253-4382.

Consider being a foster parent! Set them up in your bathroom or other enclosed space, and we’ll provide you with a foster care kit including food, bedding, supplies, and more. We’ll be with you every step of the way, providing advice and encouragement! Bringing the kittens to the shelter may seem like an obvious choice, but their chance of survival is much higher in a home, where they’re protected from stress and disease.

Once eight weeks old or weigh two pounds, they can be spayed/neutered and rehomed. We’re here to help! Contact the Napa County Animal Shelter and Adoption Center at 707-253-4382. 

Questions about caring for young kittens? 

We recommend the following resources: