It's a seemingly harmless term coined by nationwide cat feeder advocates, intended to keep outdoor cats safe from impoundment and seizure by authorities.
Countless times a day we see or hear about "community cats" and see ordinances introduced that define community cats...but no one has defined responsibilities for the community.
100% fixed colonies with one dedicated caretaker providing regular meals, shelter, and veterinary care do exist. We don't hear about them because TNR has worked and the colonies die out as intended by the humane population control method.
On the other hand, towns with rampant outdoor cat populations often introduce ordinances that define "community cats" and "community cat caretakers" as part of TNR programs that allow but don't mandate sterilization of outdoor cats. Community cats are defined as unowned cats that may or may not receive care; community cat caretakers are defined as people who may provide such care but have no obligation. In fact, Alley Cat Allies' suggested language exempts caretakers from any responsibility at all:
"Community cat caregivers neither create nor maintain the outdoor cat population. Thus it is unfair to impose on them fines, fees, and other costs of ownership that the law imposes on owners. Community cat caregivers are volunteer good Samaritans."
Of course, we have questions!
Who is the community?
According to the statement above, it's anyone who feels like feeding or volunteering, and who does so free of any consequence or obligation. It means in densely populated areas, there is an unlimited number of people feeding cats immune from any obligation to fix them or provide veterinary care.
Who is responsible for fixing the cat?
According to advocates of the term "community cat caregiver," no one. It's all voluntary, if you feel like it.
Who provides shelter to the cat?
We have no idea! Maybe the cat will get lucky and somebody will stick a cat shelter somewhere. Or maybe it's just whomever doesn't complain when the cat is sleeping under their shed. Nobody is required to do so.
Who provides veterinary care when the cat gets sick or injured?
No one is obligated to provide any veterinary care or help to the cats. According to the definition above, because everything a community cat caregiver does is voluntary and labeled "good Samaritan," feeders are not expected to address injuries, breeding, or illness in the cats they feed and allow to breed quickly outside.
It would be acceptable for a caregiver to dump Friskies for a cat suffering from sepsis after an untreated dental infection or abscess and not be held responsible for letting the cat suffer.
Who is responsible when community cat caretakers allow cats to breed litter after litter outside because they do not have to fix them?
It doesn't look like anyone.
What about when someone who feeds community cats just moves away and leaves outdoor cats behind? Isn't that abandonment?
Normally, it would be. But community cat caregivers (i.e. anyone who dumps food or builds a shelter at some point) are not held responsible for community cats starving and suffering.
Who gets the violation when cats are destroying property and interfering with peoples' ability to enjoy property?
No one. But people are not going to sit by and let their yards become litter boxes and cat colonies. "Protecting" cats by calling them "community cats" only puts them at risk of being treated as pests as populations remain unchecked and no one is held responsible. It opens the door to violence and cruelty as people resent being forced to live with cats they do not want.
It doesn't seem like a community cat benefits by being part of such a "community," does it?