Atascadero City Manager, Rachelle Rickard

by Atascadero City Manager, Rachelle Rickard

Community Cats –
They’re Everyone’s Responsibility

Many communities across the country have a large population of free-roaming, ownerless and/or, feral cats, and Atascadero is unfortunately no exception. An unrestrained community cat population presents the City with a significant financial burden. In a recent three-year period, over 1,000 community cats in Atascadero were taken to the County’s animal shelter, at a cost to us of $350 per cat or roughly $350,000 to shelter these cats. Once the County’s new animal shelter opens, that fee will likely increase to about $600 per cat, which equates to an even more substantial draw from the City’s general fund and drains resources away from other, much needed City-provided services.  Humanely reducing or eliminating these community cat populations is a goal the City shares with our local non-profit animal-sheltering organizations and rescue groups, veterinary professionals and animal protection experts.

Community cats gather and live in a particular location because there is a food source (intended or not) and some sort of shelter, often in close proximity to humans. Scientific research has shown that abruptly removing cats from this type of location creates a well-documented “vacuum effect”, which then causes the remaining colony cats to breed rapidly to fill in the gap and for new cats, sensing the vacancy, to quickly move into the colony in order to take advantage of the food and shelter sources.

Trap-Neuter-Return, or TNR for short, is the humane approach to controlling cat overpopulation. TNR is a community-based program that involves a collaboration between concerned and responsible residents, local government and non-profit animal organizations. TNR helps to ensure that free roaming cats are trapped, taken to a clinic to be spayed or neutered, and then returned to the location where they were trapped to live out the rest of their natural lives. In this manner, their numbers are gradually reduced.  The goal of a community cat program is to humanely reduce and eventually eliminate the population of community cats, through attrition and without creating a vacuum effect situation.

We are now calling on every Atascadero resident to act responsibly to help ensure that all community cats are spayed or neutered. Anyone providing food, water and/or shelter, either purposefully or unintended, has an obligation to their neighbors and to the entire community to make certain that all cats gathering within range of their generous care are spayed or neutered. This responsibility extends to and includes any “at-large”, free roaming cats that visit the property. By participating in the TNR program, Atascadero’s caring and responsible citizens will help to ensure that these very active and frequently overpopulated cat colonies do not continue to have a detrimental effect on our community.

The City is currently developing a Community Cat Program and is working to form partnerships with local organizations such as North County Paws Cause and Woods Humane Society. This program would enable residents and volunteers to contact these organizations to learn about procedures for humane trapping, including the use and/or rental of humane traps; scheduling of an appointment for spaying/neutering, vaccination and identification via painless ear notches; and the eventual return or better yet, the adoption of the cat(s), whenever possible. In addition, where community cat colonies have been identified on public property, the City will work with registered and permitted volunteers, non-profit organizations or rescue groups to establish an authorized feeding location where daily food, water and observation of the activity, in compliance with a new Community Cat Program, can be maintained.

If you have any questions regarding this or any other topic concerning the City, please feel free to contact me at

Featured Image by Clay Banks on Unsplash.