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Community Cat Program & TNR

“Community cats” is the catch-all term the animal welfare community uses for feral and stray cats living and thriving outdoors in the community.

These cats are generally considered unowned or to have a loose affiliation with one or more people who care for them.

For questions email or call Dispatch 801-840-4000.

Working Cat Program

The working cat adoption program aims to find adopters who are looking for natural rodent deterrents for enclosed properties such as barns, warehouses, churches, factories or other facilities. This program is for specific cats from Salt Lake County Animal Services who are not eligible for indoor placement

If you would like to adopt working cats, please fill our application form and email it back to

A cat sitting on a branch. A cat sitting on a branch.

Community Cat Program

Community cats are unowned cats who live outdoors in virtually every landscape on every continent where people reside. Like pet cats, they belong to the domestic cat species (Felis catus). Community cats can be friendly or feral cats. Friendly community cats may be cats that have grown up living outside but have learned to trust certain humans. Feral cats are generally not socialized—or friendly—to people. They live full, healthy lives with their feline families (called colonies) in outdoor homes. Community cat sterilization and return programs (TNR) are a humane, effective approach to community cats - it helps keep them healthy and manages the population levels in the communities where they live.

Cats living outdoors is nothing new. For most of their natural history, cats have lived outside alongside people. Evidence shows cats began living near people over 10,000 years ago (before the pyramids were built). It is only recently, with the invention of kitty litter in the 1940s, that cats began living as indoor only pampered pets. Community cats are at home outdoors, just as countless cats have been for thousands of years.

Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR) is a humane and non-lethal approach to long term community and feral cat population control.

Community cats thrive in their outdoor homes. They are used to living outdoors and are naturally skilled at finding shelter and food all on their own. Studies show community cats are just as healthy as pet cats, with equally low disease rates. Properly managed community cats can also live just as long as pet cats.

Community cats are not a threat to public health. Since community cats generally aren’t friendly to people and avoid contact, it is almost impossible for them to transmit diseases. Science shows community cats don’t spread diseases like rabies and toxoplasmosis, and cats rarely carry germs that make people sick.

Cats have coexisted outdoors with wildlife for thousands of years. Reliable science shows that cats are part of our natural ecosystem and do not significantly impact wildlife populations.

Most community cats are generally not socialized, or friendly, to people. That means they are unable to live indoors with people, and are therefore unadoptable. Feral community cats should not be taken to shelters unless they are sick, injured, or not thriving.

What is Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR)

Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR) is a humane and non-lethal approach to long term community and feral cat population control.

  • Evidence shows that previous practices involving trapping and euthanasia are not effective population control methods for community cats. The remaining few cats will breed, and in some cases over-breed to replace the missing cats.
  • Since cats are territorial, simply removing the cats will only open up the area for a new colony to move in.
  • TNR has proven to be the most effective method of reducing the number of community cats in a specific area over the long-term. It stops the problem because it stops the breeding.
  • Community cat caregivers provide day-to-day care & monitoring of the colony so that any newcomers can be quickly trapped and sterilized.
  • The negative impact of the cats is greatly reduced simply by spaying/neutering and is further reduced as the number of cats decrease. Neutered cats make less noise and fight less. i.e. No late-night howling, fighting, smelly male urine, or unwanted kittens.
  • The cats did not choose to be wild but were simply born in to this environment. Once feral cats arrive at shelters there are few options for them as they are not friendly cuddly companions. The TNR program provides these cats a chance to live out their natural lives in a healthy manner.

Ear Tipping

Ear-tipping is an effective and universally accepted method to identify a spayed or neutered and vaccinated community cat. This is done while the cat is anesthetized for their spay/neuter, and healing is rapid.

The ear tip, usually on the left ear, helps the community to quickly identify that the cat is sterilized (cannot reproduce) as it is difficult to get close to feral cats, and therefore the identification must be visible from a distance. Community cats may interact with a variety of caregivers, veterinarians, and animal control personnel during their lives and so immediate visual identification is necessary to prevent an unnecessary second trapping and surgery.

Cat Deterrents

There are community cats everywhere, and you may not always see them. But if you or someone you know are having issues with them, Salt Lake County Animal Services can help.

Here are some tips and tricks to help you keep cats out of unwanted areas and keep them safe and happy in your community.

Reason: Cats are looking for food.

  • Secure trash cans with a tight lid or bungee cords. This will protect your trash from wildlife as well.
  • Find out if neighbors are feeding the cats. If they are, make sure they are following best practices.
  • Consider feeding the cats yourself if you find no regular caregiver. Feeding cats using best practices will help ensure they don’t get hungry enough to get into trash. Designated and raised feeding stations are recommended. Please see the above link for more details.

Reason: It is a cat’s natural instinct to dig in soft or loose soil, moss, mulch, or sand.

  • Put out fragrances that keep cats away. Scatter fresh orange or lemon peels. Wet coffee grounds—which you may be able to get for free from coffee houses and fast food chains—and metal pans filled with vinegar also deter cats.
  • Make an outdoor litter box away from your garden by tilling the soil or placing sand in an out-of-the-way spot in your yard. Clean the area frequently.
  • Use plastic carpet runners, spike-side up, covered lightly in soil. They can be found at hardware or office supply stores. You can also set chicken wire firmly into the dirt (roll sharp edges under), arrange branches or sticks in a lattice pattern, or put wooden or plastic fencing over soil.
  • Get motion-activated sprinklers.
  • Cover exposed ground in flower beds with large river rocks to prevent cats from digging. Rocks have the added benefit of deterring weeds.

Reason: Cats tend to remain close to their food source.

  • Shift the cats’ food source to a less central location, where you won’t mind if they hang out.
  • Apply fragrances that deter cats around the edges of your yard, the tops of fences, and on any favorite digging areas or plants.
  • Install an ultrasonic deterrent or a motion-activated sprinkler. Humane deterrent products can be found at garden supply stores.
  • Use a car cover or place carpet runners on top of your car to avoid paw prints.

Reason: The cats are looking for a dry, warm shelter away from the elements.

  • Block or seal the area where the cats enter with chicken wire or lattice, but only once you are absolutely certain no cats or kittens are inside.
  • Provide covered shelter. Or, if the cats have a caregiver, ask the caregiver to provide covered shelter. Shelters should be placed in quiet areas away from traffic. 

Reason: Leaving food out for too long can attract other animals.

  • Feed the cats at the same time and location each day. They should be given only enough food to finish in one sitting. If another person is caring for the cats, ask them to follow these guidelines. For more colony care guidelines, visit the caregiver best practices link above.
  • Keep the feeding area neat and free of leftover food and trash.

Reason: These are mating behaviors. Once the cats are spayed/neutered, these behaviors will stop.

  • Conduct Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) for the cats. TNR stops mating behaviors and ensures no new kittens are born.

If you are still having trouble or you have questions, please email our Community Cat Team.


Community Cat Team