Don't Be a Cat Gardener...
Updated: Dec 29, 2022
Feeding cats is not a hobby. It is not something you do without making a huge commitment to all of this:
Trap for spay/neuter - EVERY CAT that eats
Regular mealtimes at discreet feeding locations
Medical care because injuries and illnesses WILL happen
Committing to fix any new cat that shows up
People who fix and care for colonies and control the population with a goal of no more cats born outside are to be commended for doing the huge amount of work that goes along with feeding cats!
You will not hear these people talking about "feeding a colony for 20+ years" because they fixed the entire colony and did not allow the population to reproduce.
They feed at regular times every day. If another cat shows up, they find out who else is feeding and set out to fix that cat as well. If a cat is injured, they re-trap and get the cat care or in some sad cases, euthanasia for injuries or illness that are not compatible with life outside.
It is an ongoing commitment to outdoor cats who cannot be brought inside the house, and they fully depend on their caretakers even if they don't cuddle with them.
Timmy suffered for a year outside with an infected paw with injuries down to the bone because no one considered him "their" cat until Whiskers Rescue stepped in. The vet recommended euthanasia if we could not provide an extreme amount of care and surgery.
True caretakers have to make these difficult choices and know when to involve vets.
However, there are far more people feeding cats who are the complete opposite. They do not consider the cats "theirs," and feel that any cat trapped is a bonus but not necessarily an obligation for them. They may talk about "eventually trapping the cats" or "hoping to get help with TNR" but do not want to make the arrangements needed or be a part of the process. When kittens are born, they are upset and surprised, and overload rescues every year. They may not have resources to care for the number of cats in their yard, but also make excuses for not controlling the population.
They may feel that they've done enough, because they took in one of the prettier long-haired ones or found homes for the kittens last year but didn't fix the parents.
They see injured unfixed cats and think "what a shame!" but they do not feel obligated to set a trap or provide medical care.. They will ask why the state does not do it, or why a rescue won't "step up" and do it for them. (Of course, we have the answer here to that question) Yet they also will not call animal control when they don't have or want to spend the resources on getting care for an injured or sick animal. This is a violation of New Jersey law and constitutes animal cruelty.
Simply put, a "cat gardener" is someone who feeds cats, regularly or irregularly, and does not prioritize fixing or medical care like a caregiver. They truly believe that the cats they feed are not their responsibility, and that whatever they feel like doing is enough. The cats are like plants, that can be replaced when they perish by the multitudes continuously breeding.
Good intentions or not, in the long run, cat gardeners or occasional feeders are causing harm by perpetuating breeding and allowing cats to suffer. They are putting the cats in harm's way by allowing the population to balloon so large that neighbors and property owners not so fond of cats become angry and direct their anger at the huge number of cats expanding territory to their yards, porches, workplaces and patios. Cats are predated and die miserable deaths. They will wander farther on days that the feeder does not bother to show up, and run into more predators and other cats to fight for territory.
Feeding cats without fixing actually increases the number of cats outside. Animals' ability to breed and populate is directly related to the amount of food available. It's why we don't see 500 squirrels in our backyards, or why a full dumpster can have 20 raccoons in it. Increasing food as more cats show up without fixing them increases numbers, breeding more cats to suffer illness and become seen as nuisances or pests by neighbors. In this situation, feeding cats is an act that in the short term seems kind but in the long term is cruel and puts the cats in danger.
Cat gardeners also make life very difficult for any TNR group or other person to trap the cats.
If you are not feeding every day, or take "weekends off," the cats are finding food elsewhere and therefore have multiple feeders that all need to be controlled in order to trap the cats. In the past, when Kathy and I arrived to TNR colonies for people, the person feeding would insist that they were the only feeder in the area. The cats would not be entering the traps, so Kathy and I would walk just a short distance to find that at least one other person had put food out, making our trapping efforts useless, and learn that the neighborhood was filled with cat gardeners, all doing less than was needed but providing enough food among them to breed huge colonies.
If you are not prepared to take on the huge responsibility, daily care (in all weather and holidays) and strong stomach required of a cat caretaker, the bag of Meow Mix has to go back on the shelf. The cats have a food source and need a true caretaker, not a person who just feels better by putting food out. If you cannot foster or rescue the stray cat on your own dime, you owe the cat a call to animal control instead of allowing a slow death outside without proper care.