Street Cats Don’t Live Happily Ever After

by Stacy Conroy

I live on one of those blocks in Riverwest where there seem to be a few cats that roam around outside and hang around a particular house or two. What to do with the strays is a complex issue, especially for those who have a soft spot in their heart for the wandering furry creatures of the night. Outdoor cats love to hunt, breed, and sleep day and night. They hide from people, living under porches and in garages. They are very proficient at reproducing. The vast majority of stray cats are not social and have had no interaction with humans other than to be chased away by some and handed food at a distance by others. Wild cats don’t know humans as friends and try to escape restraint at any cost. They are the ones almost always euthanized when captured and brought to shelters. Some people feed strays and feel good that the cat isn’t starving and they’re saving it from sure death at the shelter. Others allow cats to live under the porch or maybe even let them in their home during the day or night to sleep somewhere safe and warm, only to give in to the cries at the door when it wants back out to roam, hunt, and breed. That’s even considered “the way a cat should live” by some. I myself am guilty of having lived with cats in college and letting them “have the good life” by allowing them to go out and bring back little “gifts” for me on the porch. I now see that the city is not the place for that lifestyle, for a cat. Female cats can be in heat often, having as many as 2-3 litters of kittens to fend for themselves each year. Millions of unwanted cats are killed in shelters each year. Diseases like feline leukemia, distemper and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) cause tragic suffering and death in the stray cat population. Strays proliferate these diseases, putting healthy house cats at risk. Parasites like worms, ticks, mites, and fleas also lead to slow painful illness and death for many street cats. Millions get run over by cars or killed in car engines. Cats contribute to auto accidents by crossing busy roads and highways each year. Animal shelters and veterinarians treat cats that have been run over, shot, stabbed, beaten, set on fire, used as bait in dog fights, and captured and sold to research laboratories. It’s a harsh reality. What should a person do during cold winter weather if they hear a cat crying at the door? Call Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC) at (414) 649-8640. The staff will try to find the cat if you call them with a description and location. They want Milwaukee’s homeless cats indoors and off the streets. They will evaluate the cat, make it available for anyone looking for it, and make the best choice for that particular cat’s future. If you do bring a known stray into your home, have it checked out and spayed or neutered by a veterinarian. Be prepared to live, both emotionally and financially, with any of its potential behavioral and health issues. Once making that commitment, don’t let the cat back outside. Street cats don’t live happily ever after.

The Campaign for Safer Birds and Cats

“Cats Indoors! The Campaign for Safer Birds and Cats” is a joint effort of the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), American Humane Association (AHA), and other groups, working together to educate and encourage people to protect cats and wildlife by keeping cats indoors. “The campaign is in its seventh year, we have thousands of organizations and individuals that support it now,” says Linda Winter, Director of Cats Indoors! for ABC. “Statewide we have campaigns in New Jersey, Minnesota, and Florida.” Part-time campaign coordinators purchase the organization’s materials and send them to vets, shelters and humane and wildlife organizations. “The National Park Service and the Department of Defense both adopted the campaign for wildlife in the parks and for cat owners on military installations in all armed services,” says Winter. The Frequently Asked Questions page on ABC’s web site,, has a guide to help people transition an outdoor cat into an indoor cat. According to the ABC’s literature, it is estimated by scientists that hundreds of millions of birds, and three times as many small mammals, are killed by free-roaming cats each year. The group also points out that an outdoor cat’s life span can average 2-5 years where indoor cats often live 17 or more years.

Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 4 – April 2003
by Stacy Conroy