Feral cats, which are born in the wild and generally live outside the control of human caretakers, are cause for concern for several reasons. They may spread disease to other animals, including humans, and they prey on birds and other animals, some of which may be endangered species. While cat proponents have developed a method of trapping, altering, and managing feral cats in "colonies," bird advocates and others believe kill methods are necessary to protect other species from cat predation. This dilemma raises several legal questions, including issues of property ownership and the legal classification of cats.
While cats are considered to be personal property of their owners under the common law, some cities change this status by ordinance. However, a cat owner is usually liable for injuries caused by a cat only if the cat is known to be abnormally destructive. Under conservation laws, however, a person may be liable for "taking" a protected species simply by setting in motion a chain of events which causes a loss of the species' habitat. It has been suggested that feral cat colony managers might therefore be sued for violating the Endangered Species Act or the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
All agree that the feral cat problem is human-caused, and would not exist if not for the abandonment of unaltered cats into the wild. It is also true that feral cats live off of human-supplied food sources, often from dumpsters and local garbage dumps. Because cat populations grow with their food supply, the problem can be addressed by implementing measures on the control of edible garbage. Furthermore, the problem is local in character, so that the best approach to population control varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. By confronting and holding accountable irresponsible cat owners, and by closely monitoring sources of food for cats, a sustainable solution to cat overpopulation can be reached.
For a brief biological overview of the cat, click here.
For a more detailed summary, click here.
See the Detailed Discussion for an in-depth legal analysis of feral cats.