The word “sanctuary” sounds like a wonderful, idyllic place for a cat to live. The reality of sanctuaries is anything but paradise. Holding cats in sanctuaries is an outdated concept that is no longer considered an ethical or viable option for feral cats. Cats were not meant to live in huge groups. They naturally live in small to mid-sized colonies in order to fend off hostile intruders, minimize the threat and spread of disease, and maintain their claimed share of food supplies and hiding places. Prides of lions, who domestic cats are descended from, live in family groups of on average about 15. Cat sanctuaries often contain hundreds of cats, leading to the spread of disease, rampant parasitic infestations, territorial insecurity, competition for food, and stress, which is known to significantly lower cats’ immune systems.

A group of cats behind a fence in a shelter

Image via icatcare.org

Sanctuaries are also known dumping grounds for unwanted cats. Keeping track of cats, especially new unsterilized cats over large acreage, is nearly impossible.  Sanctuary owners can start out with the best of intentions, but often run out of money as the sanctuary quickly fills up, and wind up neglecting cats. It is impossible to monitor the individual medical needs of a large number of free-roaming cats and extremely expensive to do so. The financial burden alone of maintaining these places makes for a precarious situation when donations cannot keep up with the amount of cats constantly arriving. The money that goes into sanctuaries is MUCH better spent towards spay/neuter and TNR (trap-neuter-return). The vast majority of situations where feral cats “can’t go back to” are solvable neighbor disputes. Please also see Alley Cat Allies’ Cat Sanctuaries – Not an Easy Fix and this study on cat sanctuaries from the National Institutes of Health.