Did you know that cats did not begin to reside indoors until the late 1940s? This was because Edward Lowe invented cat litter in 1947. Prior to this, cats spent most of their time outdoors. Now, most feline pets live happily inside the residences of their guardians, protecting them from the many dangers outside.
However, many homeless cats spend their entire lives outside in the open, and while some are friendly, most avoid contact with humans and seek their own food and lair. These cats are called "community cats" or "non-socialized cats," and they live in groups called colonies. These cats face a series of challenges that affect their quality of life, and that as a community we can help avoid.
One of the biggest challenges is the lack of knowledge about the benefits of having them around and about how to manage the colonies.
Although it is a crime, cases of poisoning of feline colonies are still reported. Also, many people understand that moving the colony or placing the cats in a shelter for adoption is a solution to the problem; but it's not like that. In reality, by moving the colony, you are simply opening the space for another colony to come to occupy that place. And bringing a community cat to try to put it up for adoption is not the best idea, since these cats are usually not socialized and will not tolerate life indoors.
A very effective way of managing and controlling a colony is by catching the cats to take them to sterilize and then release them in their place of origin. This method is commonly known by its acronym in English, TNRM (Trap, Neuter, Return and Monitor). At the time of sterilizing the animal, the basic vaccines are also given and a small cut is made in the ear, which identifies it as an operated and vaccinated cat. In this way, the cat population is controlled, they remain healthy and the community can benefit from their presence.
A common myth, which is totally incorrect, is that community cats spread disease. But zoonotic diseases, or animal diseases transmissible to humans, are rare in community cats. On the contrary, feline colonies help control vermin such as rats and cockroaches, which can make us sick.
Another mistake many people make is to abandon a cat that has lived all its life inside a residence in a colony. Let us remember that the abandonment of an animal is also a crime, and what it does is condemn the abandoned animal to a tragic end, since indoor cats have little chance of surviving on the street and it is not likely that they will be accepted by the colony.  Causing damage or removing feline colonies is not the solution. Many communities in Puerto Rico have areas in which there are successfully managed cat colonies. The best example of this is the feline community in the historic center in Old San Juan. There are caretakers committed to providing food and water to these cats, who are also spayed or neutered and with their vaccinations up to date. Likewise, there are places throughout the world that have controlled communities of community cats.
If you want to know how to control the population of homeless cats in your community in a humane and responsible way, you can contact the animal welfare organization of your preference and get guidance . If we come together, we can reduce the number of animals on our streets and build the just, caring and compassionate society we deserve.
The author is vice president of the San Francisco de Asís Animal Sanctuary, Inc. (Sasfapr).