A Cat Is a Cat: Attachment to Community Cats Transcends Ownership Status
Keywords:attachment, community cats, free-roaming cats, human-animal bond, trap-neuter-return
Introduction: Despite the considerable recent interest in the human–animal bond, the relationship between community cat caregivers and the cats they care for has received relatively little attention. In addition, the instruments typically used to measure the human–animal bond contain questions specific to in-home interactions with pets or interactions representative of specific behavior traits of the animal (e.g. lap-sitting), effectively excluding community cat caregivers.
Methods: Using a slightly modified version of the Comfort from Companion Animals Scale, we surveyed community cat caregivers in Jefferson County, Kentucky, to measure the degree to which they are attached to the cats in their care. Participants for the online survey were recruited via email from a nonprofit organization that provides sterilization and wellness care for community cats in the area.
Results: Of the 329 individuals who participated in the survey, 295 (90.2%) indicated that they had provided food, water, or shelter to one or more community cats currently or within the recent past. These caregivers tend to identify as white, female, and middle-class. Levels of attachment to the cats in their care (mean: 39.6, standard deviation [SD]: 5.9) are nearly identical to those previously reported by cat owners (mean: 39.6, SD: 4.8). Monthly expenditures and other sacrifices made as part of their caregiving duties provide further evidence of the strong attachment these individuals feel for community cats.
Conclusion: The fact that community cats are unowned in no way diminishes the strength of the bond caregivers feel. Such findings have clear policy implications – validating, for example, the common practice of returning healthy cats lacking identification (i.e. collar or microchip), regardless of perceived level of sociability, to where they were found, following sterilization and vaccination.
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