Skip to main content

Cat got your tongue? The misnomer of ‘community cats’ and its relevance to conservation

Abstract

The choice of words we use often conveys specific meanings and tone to a topic. Hence, the words that we use in conservation science often have important ramifications in scientific, legal, and social contexts. The management of free-ranging cats is an important example, because of the animal welfare, predation, and public health implications. In this context, one set of words that has recently arisen outside of conservation but has particular relevance for it and many other fields is ‘community cat.’ As we note, through an evaluation of the literature, ‘community cat’ is almost always used as a synonym for unowned, free-ranging cats. Such rebranding is significant for conservation, policy, and management because it implies community ownership of animals without, in many cases, explicit agreement from the community. As such, there is a need to understand the history of the term, what it really means, and its implications for the advancement of conservation biology, natural resource management, veterinary medicine, and animal welfare.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Data availability

All articles evaluated in the review are included in the literature cited.

Code availability

Not applicable.

Notes

  1. The search used the Murdoch University subscription, which covers 1900 onwards.

  2. The search used the Murdoch University subscription, which includes WoSCC 1900 on, BIOSIS Citation Index 1926 on, CABI: CAB Abstracts 1910 on, Current Contents Connect 1998 on, KCI-Korean Journal Database 1980 om, Medline 1950 on, Russian Science Citation Index 2005 on, and SciELO Citation Index 2002 on.

References

  • ACT Government (2021) ACT Cat Plan 2021–2031

  • Alley Cat Allies (2020) All about community cats. Available from https://www.alleycat.org/resources/get-informed-discover-the-truth-about-feral-cats/ (accessed 17th July 2020)

  • Aronson J, Murcia C, Balaguer L (2013) Leak plugging and clog removal: useful metaphors for conservation and restoration. Conserv Lett 6:456–461

    Google Scholar 

  • Baker PJ, Soulsbury CD, Iossa G, Harris S (2010) Domestic cat (Felis catus) and domestic dog (Canis familiaris). In: Gehrt SD, Riley SPD, Cypher BL (eds) Urban carnivores: ecology, conflict and conservation. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, pp 157–172

    Google Scholar 

  • Banerjee SB (2002) Corporate environmentalism: The construct and its measurement. J Bus Res 55:177–191

    Google Scholar 

  • Banerjee SB (2011) Embedding sustainability across the organization: a critical perspective. Acad Manage Learn Educ 10:719–731

    Google Scholar 

  • Blue B (2018) What’s wrong with healthy rivers? Promise and practice in the search for a guiding ideal for freshwater management. Prog Phys Geogr 42:462–477

    Google Scholar 

  • Bonnington C, Gaston KJ, Evans KL (2013) Fearing the feline: domestic cats reduce avian fecundity through trait-mediated indirect effects that increase nest predation by other species. J Appl Ecol 50:15–24

    Google Scholar 

  • Broad GM (2020) Making meat, better: the metaphors of plant-based and cell-based meat innovation. Environ Commun 14:919–932

    Google Scholar 

  • Brody PJ (2015) Reprotection for formerly generic trademarks. Univ Chicago Law Rev 82:475–516

    Google Scholar 

  • Calver MC, Goldman B, Hutchings PA, Kingsford RT (2017) Why discrepancies in searching the conservation biology literature matter. Biol Conserv 213:19–26

    Google Scholar 

  • Calver MC, Crawford HM, Fleming PA (2020) Response to Wolf et al.: furthering debate over the suitability of trap-neuter-return for stray cat management. Animals 10(2):362

    PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Carroll L (1876) The hunting of the snark: an agony, in eight fits. Macmillan Co., New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Castle T, Kristiansen L, Shifflett L (2020) White racial activism and paper terrorism: a case study in far-right propaganda. Deviant Behav 41:252–267

    Google Scholar 

  • Cho Y, Kim K, Kim MS, Lee I (2020) Application of a high-quality, high-volume trap-neuter-return model of community cats in Seoul. Korea Peerj 8:e8711. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.8711

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Corry RC (2018) Extending the string-of-lights metaphor to describe dynamism in agricultural landscapes. Landsc Ecol 33:1013–1022

    Google Scholar 

  • Cove MV, Gardner B, Simons TR, Kays R, O’Connell AF (2018) Free-ranging domestic cats (Felis catus) on public lands: estimating density, activity, and diet in the Florida Keys. Biol Invasions 20:333–344

    Google Scholar 

  • Crawford HM, Fontaine JB, Calver MC (2018) Ultrasonic deterrents reduce nuisance cat (Felis catus) activity on suburban properties. Global Ecol Conserv 15:e00444

    Google Scholar 

  • Crawford HM, Calver MC, Fleming PA (2019) A case of letting the cat out of the bag—why trap-neuter-return is not an ethical solution for stray cat (Felis catus) management. Animals 9(4):171

    PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Crawford HM, Calver MC, Fleming PA (2020) Subsidised by junk foods: factors influencing body condition in stray cats (Felis catus). J Urban Ecol 6:1–17

    Google Scholar 

  • Crowley SL, Cecchetti M, McDonald RA (2019) Hunting behaviour in domestic cats: an exploratory study of risk and responsibility among cat owners. People Nature 1:18–30

    Google Scholar 

  • Ding H, Gao YM, Deng Y, Lamberton PHL, Lu DB (2017) A systematic review and meta-analysis of the seroprevalence of Toxoplasma gondii in cats in mainland China. Parasit Vectors 10(1):27

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Doherty TS, Glen AS, Nimmo DG, Ritchie EG, Dickman CR (2016) Invasive predators and global biodiversity loss. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 113:11261–11265

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Domínguez M, González C, Pineda F (2014) More fuel to the fire: News coverage of wildfires. Cuadernos de Investigacion Geografica 40:429–447

    Google Scholar 

  • Escobedo FJ, Giannico V, Jim CY, Sanesi G, Lafortezza R (2019) Urban forests, ecosystem services, green infrastructure and nature-based solutions: Nexus or evolving metaphors? Urban For Urban Green 37:3–12

    Google Scholar 

  • Farnworth MJ, Dye NG, Keown N (2010) The legal status of cats in New Zealand: A perspective on the welfare of companion, stray, and feral domestic cats (Felis catus). J Appl Anim Welfare Sci 13:180–188

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Farnworth M, Campbell J, Adams NJ (2011) What’s in a name? Perceptions of stray and feral cat welfare and control in Aotearoa, New Zealand. J Appl Anim Welfare Sci 14:59–74

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Farnworth MJ, Muellner P, Benschop J (2013) A systematic review of the impacts of feral, stray and companion domestic cats (Felis catus) on wildlife in New Zealand and options for their management. Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand.

  • Fleming PJS, Allen BL, Ballard GA (2013) Cautionary considerations for positive dingo management: A response to the Johnson and Ritchie critique of Fleming et al. (2012). Austral Mammal 35:15–22

    Google Scholar 

  • Fraser G, Huang Y, Robinson K, Wilson MS, Bulbulia J, Sibley CG (2020) New Zealand pet owners’ demographic characteristics, personality, and health and wellbeing: more than just a fluff piece. Anthrozoos 33:561–578

    Google Scholar 

  • Greenwell CN, Calver MC, Loneragan NR (2019) Cat gets its tern: a case study of predation on a threatened coastal seabird. Animals 9(7):445

    PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Gyles C (2019) Outdoor cats—or community cats? Can Vet J 60:349–352

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Hamilton F (2019) Implementing solutions for free-roaming cat management in a county in the southeastern United States. Front Vet Sci. https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2019.00259

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Hellman L (1934) The Children’s Hour. Alfred A. Knopf, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Hwang SW (2018) Perceptions of rediscovering inconspicuous urban spaces and recycling embedded green resources: the case of a wholesale flower market in Seoul, south Korea. J Arch Planning Res 35:106–124

    Google Scholar 

  • Janovsky RM, Larson ER (2019) Does invasive species research use more militaristic language than other ecology and conservation biology literature? NeoBiota 44:27–38

    Google Scholar 

  • Karaffa PT, Draheim MM, Parsons ECM (2012) What’s in a name? Do species’ names impact student support for conservation? Hum Dimens Wildl 17:308–310

    Google Scholar 

  • Kohl PA, Collins SJ, Eichholz M (2020) Metaphor, trust and support for non-native species control. Environ Commun 14:672–685

    Google Scholar 

  • Kreplins TL, Gaynor A, Kennedy MS, Baudains CM, Adams P, Bateman PW, Fleming PA (2018) What to call a dog? A review of the common names for Australian free-ranging dogs. Pac Conserv Biol 25:124–134

    Google Scholar 

  • Krittanawong C, Kumar A, Wang Z, Jneid H, Virani SS, Levine GN (2020) Pet ownership and cardiovascular health in the US general population. Am J Cardiol 125:1158–1161

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Larson BMH (2005) The war of the roses: Demilitarizing invasion biology. Front Ecol Environ 3:495–500

    Google Scholar 

  • Legge S, Murphy BP, McGregor H, Woinarski JCZ, Augusteyn J, Ballard G, Baseler M, Buckmaster T, Dickman CR, Doherty T, Edwards G, Eyre, (2017) Enumerating a continental-scale threat: How many feral cats are in Australia? Biol Conserv 206:293–303

    Google Scholar 

  • Legge S, Woinarski JCZ, Dickman CR, Murphy BP, Woolley L-A, Calver MC (2020) We need to worry about Bella and Charlie: the impact of pets on Australian wildlife. Wildl Res 47:523–539

    Google Scholar 

  • Leong KM, Gramza AR, Lepczyk CA (2020) Understanding conflicting cultural models of outdoor cats to overcome conservation impasse. Conserv Biol 34:1190–1199

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Lepczyk CA, Lohr CA, Duffy DC (2015) A review of cat behavior in relation to disease risk and management options. Appl Anim Behav Sci 173:29–39

    Google Scholar 

  • Lohr CA, Lepczyk CA, Cox LJ (2014) Identifying people’s most preferred management technique for feral cats in Hawaii. Hum–Wildl Interact 8:56–66

    Google Scholar 

  • Loss SR, Will T, Marra PP (2013) The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States. Nat Commun 4:1396

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Mitsui K, Sato S, Kakuma Y (2020) Effects of the community cats program on population control, migration and welfare status of free-roaming cats in Tokyo. Japan Anims 10(3):461

    Google Scholar 

  • Must K, Lassen B, Jokelainen P (2015) Seroprevalence of and risk factors for toxoplasma gondii infection in cats in Estonia. Vector-Borne Zoonotic Dis 15:597–601

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • N A (2020) Ban the use of the word feral cat from animal laws and policies – it’s a lie, Available from https://www.change.org/p/us-congress-and-senate-ban-the-use-of-the-word-feral-cat-from-animal-laws-and-policies-it-s-a-lie

  • Orwell G (1968) Politics and the English language. In: Orwell S, Angos I (eds) The collected essays, journalism and letters of George Orwell. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, New York, pp 127–140

    Google Scholar 

  • Panagos P, Imeson A, Meusburger K, Borrelli P, Poesen J, Alewell C (2016) Soil conservation in Europe: wish or reality? Land Degrad Dev 27:1547–1551

    Google Scholar 

  • Paterson MBA, Jamieson P (2021) Sterilizing pregnant companion animals: ethics and law. J Appl Anim Ethics Res 3:153–175

    Google Scholar 

  • Patronek GJ (1998) Free-roaming and feral cats—their impact on wildlife and human beings. J Am Vet Med Assoc 212:218–226

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Peterson MN, Hartis B, Rodriguez S, Green M, Lepczyk CA (2012) Opinions from the front lines of cat colony management conflict. PLoS ONE 7(9):e44616

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Raymond CM, Frantzeskaki N, Kabisch N, Berry P, Breil M, Nita MR, Geneletti D, Calfapietra C (2017) A framework for assessing and implementing the co-benefits of nature-based solutions in urban areas. Environ Sci Policy 77:15–24

    Google Scholar 

  • Rochlitz I (2004) Clinical study of cats injured and killed in road traffic accidents in Cambridgeshire. J Small Anim Pract 45:390–394

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Rochlitz I (2014) Feline welfare issues. In: Turner DC, Bateson P (eds) The domestic cat: the biology of its behaviour. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 131–154

    Google Scholar 

  • Rozek RP (1982) Brand identification and advertising: The case of a generic trademark. Appl Econ 14:235–248

    Google Scholar 

  • Rutz-Mendicino MM, Snella EM, Jens JK, Gandolfi B, Carlson SA, Kuehn MH, McLellan GJ, Ellinwood NM (2011) Removal of potentially confounding phenotypes from a Siamese-derived feline glaucoma breeding colony. Comp Med 61:251–257

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Sandøe P, Corr S, Palmer C (2015) Companion animal ethics. Wiley-Blackwell, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Schaffner JE, Wandesforde-Smith G, Wolf PJ, Levy J, Riley S, Farnworth MJ (2019) Editorial: Sustaining innovation in compassionate free-roaming cat management across the globe: a decadal reappraisal of the practice and promise of trap-neuter-vaccinate-return (TNVR). Front Vet Sci 6:365

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Seo A, Ueda Y, Tanida H (2021) Health status of ‘community cats’ living in the tourist area of the old town in Onomichi City, Japan. J Appl Anim Welfare Sci. https://doi.org/10.1080/10888705.2021.1874952

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Seo A, Ueda Y, Tanida H (2021) Population dynamics of community cats living in a tourist area of Onomichi City, Japan, before and after the trap-test-vaccinate-alter-return-monitor event. J Appl Anim Welfare Sci. https://doi.org/10.1080/10888705.2021.1901226

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Smith TW (1987) That which we call welfare by any other name would smell sweeter an analysis of the impact of question wording on response patterns. Public Opin Q 51:75–83

    Google Scholar 

  • Spehar DD, Wolf PJ (2018a) A case study in citizen science: the effectiveness of a trap-neuter-return program in a Chicago neighborhood. Animals 8:14

    PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Spehar DD, Wolf PJ (2018b) The impact of an integrated program of return-to-field and targeted trap-neuter-return on feline intake and euthanasia at a municipal animal shelter. Animals 8:55

    PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Spehar DD, Wolf PJ (2019) Integrated return-to-field and targeted trap-neuter-vaccinate-return programs result in reductions of feline intake and euthanasia at six municipal animal shelters. Front Vet Sci 6:77

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Spehar DD, Wolf PJ (2020a) The impact of targeted trap–neuter–return efforts in the San Francisco bay area. Animals 10:1–12

    Google Scholar 

  • Spehar DD, Wolf PJ (2020b) The impact of return-to-field and targeted trap-neuter-return on feline intake and euthanasia at a municipal animal shelter in Jefferson County, Kentucky. Animals 10:1–18

    Google Scholar 

  • Suter GW (1993) A critique of ecosystem health concepts and indexes. Environ Toxicol Chem 12:1533–1539

    Google Scholar 

  • Taylor C, Dewsbury BM (2019) On the problem and promise of metaphor use in science and science communication. Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education 19:19.1.46.

  • Wald DM, Jacobson SK, Levy JK (2013) Outdoor cats: Identifying differences between stakeholder beliefs, perceived impacts, risk and management. Biol Conserv 167:414–424

    Google Scholar 

  • Welch J (2019) The Volkswagen recovery: leaving scandal in the dust. J Bus Strateg 40:3–13

    Google Scholar 

  • Wheeler AG, Hoebeke ER (2009) Adventive (non-native) insects: importance to science and society. In: Foottit RG, Adler PH (eds) Insect biodiversity: science and society. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Oxford, pp 475–521

    Google Scholar 

  • Wolf PJ (2016) What if everything you thought you knew about ‘feral’ cats was wrong? In: Timm RM, Baldwin RA (eds) Proceedings 27th Vertebrate Pest Conference. University of California, Davis, pp 44–51

    Google Scholar 

  • Wolf PJ, Hamilton F (2020) Managing free-roaming cats in U.S. cities: an object lesson in public policy and citizen action. J Urban Aff 44:221–242. https://doi.org/10.1080/07352166.2020.1742577

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wolf PJ, Schaffner JE (2019) The road to TNR: Examining trap-neuter-return through the lens of our evolving ethics. Front Vet Sci. https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2018.00341

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Wuerthner G (2006) Incendiary language: how words affect perception. In: Wuerthner G (ed) The wildfire reader: a century of failed forest policy. Island Press, Washington, p 54

    Google Scholar 

  • Zito S, Morton J, Paterson M, Vankan D, Bennett PC, Rand J, Phillips CJC (2016) Cross-sectional study of characteristics of owners and nonowners surrendering cats to four Australian animal shelters. J Appl Anim Welfare Sci 19:126–143

    CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Linda Cherkassky, Grant Sizemore, and an anonymous reviewer for comments on the draft manuscript that helped to improve it.

Funding

Not applicable.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christopher A. Lepczyk.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

Not applicable.

Consent to participate

Not applicable.

Consent for publication

We agree to publish our work.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Lepczyk, C.A., Calver, M.C. Cat got your tongue? The misnomer of ‘community cats’ and its relevance to conservation. Biol Invasions (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-022-02788-5

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-022-02788-5

Keywords

  • Felis catus
  • Feral cat
  • Free-ranging cat
  • Neologism