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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Mattfield

"Thriving Outside" - The Million Dollar Lie that Advocacy Groups Sell

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

Thriving outdoors? We think not.

"Community Cats Thrive Outside," proclaimed Alley Cat Allies in its October 3, 2017 press release, claiming that "community cats" do not need to be taken indoors, and require only food and to be "part of a TNR program." Sounds ok so far. We agree that TNR is a humane alternative to round ups and that feral cats almost always die in shelters. And many others agree, to the tune of millions of dollars donated per year to Alley Cat Allies by cat lovers. But not so fast. The press release also states:

Community cats thrive outside with their families (groups of cats called colonies), and live full, healthy lives just as pet cats do. They are resourceful, independent, comfortable, and capable in their natural environment.

Alley Cat Allies press release, 10/3/17

In the case of healthy outdoor fixed cats, there are some good days, and in some very rare instances, luxurious cat houses and regular meals provided in private yards. This does not change the fact that cats living outside have difficult, dangerous lives. We find it downright irresponsible that a nationwide group with the clout and funding of Alley Cat Allies would make a statement that outdoor cats "live full healthy lives just as pet cats do."

The result of this proclamation is a ready-made excuse for feeders not to fix. If there was any doubt in a feeder's mind that it's ok for generations to keep being born outside, claims like this are the excuse they've been waiting for. They have just been told by a multimillion dollar nonprofit that the cats will thrive as long as they feed. TNR and veterinary care are mere options offered, but not as an obligation of the feeder. According to Alley Cat Allies website, " cats are not homeless. They have a home: the outdoors." This problematic statement excuses anyone from being the provider of adequate feeding and veterinary care, including sterilization.

Sadly, at Whiskers and virtually every other rescue, we are not allowed to just ignore cats needing immediate medical attention. We see horrific cases of disease, predation, injury and abuse on a daily basis that are the direct result of people feeding without fixing.

Lately, most of our calls are from people who are feeding but unwilling to trap or participate in the work TNR requires. They say they'll "get around to it" or stall for weeks while they watch an injured cat suffer. This is acceptable to social media and groups like Alley Cat Allies that would rather leave the cat outside than allow involvement of animal control.

This is both unacceptable and illegal. Every new litter is a failure to stop the cycle of short lives and cruel, often slow brutal deaths following injury, illness or cruelty.

Yet feeders' failures to prevent litters are repeatedly excused by statements that "cats thrive outside." Let's investigate this irresponsible claim.


Warning: Graphic images of injuries follow

Are Outdoor Cats in New Jersey Thriving? You be the judge.

These are all cats encountered and vetted by Whiskers and represent only a small portion of what we see during an average season.

This cat sought warmth in a remote start car engine in a freezing cold snap two years ago. He did not survive his injuries and suffered for over a week before a resident called us. The feeder just said "winter is hard on them."

All of these kittens were dead when they were expelled from a mother cat who suffered through an outdoor pregnancy with a painful broken spine.

This cat was not attacked, but suffered for so long with cancer that he could not breathe or eat due to most of his nose and mouth missing. Would an indoor pet cat have to suffer like that before a trip to the vet was made?

This male cat was attacked by an animal and had a painful, infected hole that went from one side of his face through the other.

One of many cats we've hospitalized for severe puncture wounds, complete with infection thanks to the outdoor life and the unfortunate title of "community cat" in a place where every "community" member tosses some food outside, but no one in the community feels compelled to fix him.

This cat had an open wound on his leg in a town with a "TNR program" but also many feeders who feed cats on private property without permission. They dump food and leave quickly to avoid being caught, but they also avoid both the surgery and vaccines that would prevent fights. Most of all, they avoid their legal responsibility to provide the cat veterinary care for his wound. Is it considered thriving if you have to suffer outside without medical care?

This poor pregnant female was obviously not spayed, and thanks to no TNR by her feeders, was experiencing symptoms of full blown FeLV by the time we were involved. Part of her suffering included swelling that kept her from swallowing as well as painful aborting of her own kittens. I don't think any of us agree that her life was pleasant or that she had an opportunity to thrive.

Imagine being forced to fight for food, mates and safety while trying to hobble around a city with most of your front paw missing thanks to infection. Would an indoor pet cat experience this misery?

So many outdoor cats have upper respiratory infections and injuries that result in the painful conditions here. The eyes are lost after a painful infection, and deep infections that were allowed to reach the bone in the third pic resulted in the cat losing his leg. Imagine a pet cat roaming outside with any of these conditions. What chance would they stand?

Feeders cannot continue to pretend that outdoor cats are thriving and do not suffer exponentially more than owned cats indoors.
  • It is time to stop with the myths of community cats not needing human intervention. Their lives are hard and like any animal, when injured or sick, they need care.

  • They need to be fixed to prevent another generation of cats born to endure the same cruel ends.

We do not support removal of healthy, fixed feral cats with competent caretakers who are willing to provide prompt medical care and TNR. However, in cases like those above where cats were truly suffering outside, it cannot be argued that anything - including impound - would be better than leaving them to suffer unspeakable pain on the streets. It is unfathomably cruel to hide behind an inaccurate myth that "Community Cats Thrive Outside." Let's stop the excuses and agree that "No Cats Born Outside" is a humane goal to stop the suffering.


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