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How to Help Community Cats in Memphis

Wherever you live in the Memphis area, you’ve most likely spotted a cat or two (or more!) out and about in your neighborhood.

You may even worry about them and wonder if the shelter would be a better place for them. With a few exceptions, the answer is almost always “no!” 

Did you know that according to City of Memphis Ordinance, cats legally have the right to roam—unlike dogs? So that cat you’re seeing around most likely has a home. The cat’s home may be a single house with one owner or family, or they may operate as more of a “Community Cat.”

Community Cats have been known by many other names over the years, including but not limited to: feral, stray, street, barn, alley, tom, or outdoor cats. All the term “Community Cat” means is they live outdoors. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a home! The outdoors is their home.

Dani Rutherford MPA—Dani was a volunteer for Memphis Pets Alive! and was part of the volunteer team that trapped a large quantity of Community Cats for this high-volume spay/neuter day

Why shouldn’t you take them to the shelter?

“Traditionally, Community Cats were caught and killed, and that was the ‘solving of the problem,’” said Memphis Animal Services Cat Shelter Supervisor Dani Rutherford. “We now have national data from 30 years of the trap-and-kill method to know that it doesn’t reduce outdoor cat population.”

According to national cat advocacy group Alley Cat Allies, if you remove the Community Cats from an area, more will most likely show up in their place in a natural phenomenon known as the vacuum effect.

So what SHOULD be done?

“TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) has been shown time and time again to be the most effective solution for feral/community cats,” said Spay Memphis Executive Director Brittany Pace. “It not only helps with overpopulation but gives the cats a better quality of life.” 

TNR involves Community Cats being humanely trapped and brought to a veterinary clinic to be:

    • Spayed or neutered: surgery that sterilizes the cat, ensuring they won’t reproduce
    • Vaccinated: shots to prevent the cat from contracting and spreading rabies and other common illnesses
    • Eartipped: removal (while the cat is sedated for surgery) of the tip of the cat’s left ear. An eartip is the universally recognized symbol of a cat who has been spayed/neutered.
  • Returned to their outdoor home
PHOTO: Moira, a midtown Community Cat, was spayed, ear-tipped, and returned to her wild kingdom.

Who can help Community Cats by participating in TNR? Anyone! If you see cats in your neighborhood that don’t have an eartip, you can help prevent the future litters of kittens they’ll produce by taking them to be spayed/neutered.

PHOTO: Memphian Michael McCrarey has TNRd hundreds of cats

Memphian Michael McCrarey has TNRd hundreds of cats.

“I was working with a local shelter, setting up rescue events and getting homes for cats and dogs,” said Michael. “I realized these pets were being born at a far faster rate than I would ever manage to get them homes. The very next week, I started doing TNR out of my pocket.”

Retired FedEx executive Cindy Dewey started Memphis nonprofit Kitty City, Inc., in 2011, which has spayed and neutered over 10,000 pets, largely through TNR. Cindy’s advice for folks wanting to help cats in their community is to work with their local shelter.

“There are numerous resources available from TNR experts like Alley Cat Allies,” said Cindy. “But unless you’re aligned with an area animal shelter, you won’t get the results you otherwise could have.”

At Memphis Animal Services, we love to support the efforts of citizens working together to reduce cat overpopulation through TNR! We can help by:

  • Loaning you a humane trap for a $25 refundable deposit
  • Providing trapping supplies like stinky cat food to attract the cats, newspapers to line the traps, and sheets to cover the traps
  • Walking you through the trapping process
  • Taking in Community Cats from Memphis or unincorporated Shelby County that DO need to be removed from the outdoors, like cats that are injured or appear weak or disoriented and newborn kittens whom you’re 100% sure don’t have a mom around.

Spay Memphis, Memphis’ low-cost spay/neuter clinic, performed more than 8,000 spay/neuter surgeries in 2021. They have special rates and policies for feral/community cats brought to the clinic in humane traps.

Spay Memphis accepts up to five trapped Community Cats per vehicle Tuesday through Thursday from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m., no appointment required. The cost for each trapped cat is $35.

Spay Memphis also offers a promotion called Feral Fridays where the cost is just $10 per trapped cat. These special rates will apply the last Friday of each month from March to September.

HOTO: Spay Memphis staff during a typical surgery day

You can also help Spay Memphis continue their mission of fighting pet overpopulation in Shelby County by donating directly to them or by attending their upcoming fundraiser, SPAYtacular Gala, on March 5.

“Our Spaytacular Gala is not only a fun-filled night to fundraise for Spay Memphis,” said Brittany with Spay Memphis, “but a night to enjoy the company of other animal welfare advocates that feel just as passionately about pets as you do.”

Other local clinics that provide spay/neuter for TNR cats include:

We understand that some citizens consider Community Cats a nuisance. However, they do have a place in the natural environment, just as wildlife does. Besides TNR, there are a number of things you can do to live more harmoniously with them and/or keep them away from your property.

TNR has a huge impact on the lives of both citizens and the Community Cats themselves, something TNR volunteer Pamela Palacios has seen firsthand.

“It’s the biggest act of love one can do for these cats,” Pamela said. “We owe them that.”

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