A quick intro for what community cats are: They are basically stray cats who are welcomed to a certain community, allowed to roam free, and even fed by the members of the community. They’re like pets, but without the complete commitment that usually come with them (and I’m not saying that it’s a totally feasible way of having a pet, by the way).

The (missing) cats of BGC

One example of this concept that most people are familiar with is the Cats of BGC, who were in the spotlight for months from February to September.

A quick refresher for those who may not know or remember the nitty gritty details: The cats around the BGC residential areas were rounded up by a pest control company hired by the Shangri-La at the Fort management. The pest control company was clearly not trained for safe animal handling.

That was in February of 2018. Fast forward a few months to September and the cats of BGC were again under threat of being forcefully relocated. If it wasn’t for Care and Responsibility for Animals (CARA) Welfare Philippines, Cats of BGC, and cat people from around the metro, the cats’ disappearance would have gone unnoticed — and more cats would have been rounded up and disposed of.

The street cat: Friend or foe?

So, with all that happened in Taguig, should cats be allowed to roam free in communities?

Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Yes, but there are responsibilities that people should know about when it comes to the concept of community cats. That isn’t to deter anyone from potentially helping out the local stray cats in the community, however; it’s just a friendly reminder.

And helping out local strays isn’t a one-man job — it takes a village, so to speak. But of course, just like with CARA and the Cats of BGC, the people who help are volunteers from around the community. These people want to help these cats but for one reason or another can’t keep them for themselves.

It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, if you ask me. None of these animal organizations and community volunteers are forcing anyone else in the community to care for these cats (although anyone is of course free to adopt or foster them). If you don’t want to actually care for street cats (but why not?), they will — and all they really ask for is your cooperation.

Best practices in community cat care

As an example, Singapore actually has a program for community cats. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or SPCA in Singapore is an animal welfare charity that works to care for the stray animals in Singapore — not just cats, but also dogs.

Their whole ideal is that they want to be able to care for these animals that roam their streets. The group dedicates themselves to rescuing sick, injured, abandoned, and abused animals, while keeping the free roaming animals healthy and happy. They also believe that sterilization is the most effective and humane way of dealing with stray animals.

Street cats and the city

Speaking of sterilization, it didn’t surprise me when I found out most community cats were in a trap-neuter-return (TNR) program. What surprised me was that places like Greenbelt, Technohub, and the Ortigas business area had similar programs for their own cats in their areas. And it was all voluntary and donation-based. These are all incredibly busy areas and finding out that people who either work or live around there are going out of their way to help out the cats is really heartwarming.

Of course, it’s difficult if you’re part of a group who monitors cats in a wide area. That has its problems and hardships. Without maybe having a way to tag or identify cats, it becomes a problem when some strays come in and you have no clue if they’ve been spayed or neutered, or if they are new faces. [Most cats in a TNR program have the tips of their ears clipped off; that way, volunteers can easily tell them apart from those who have yet to be neutered. -Ed.]

Another thing: Just like other animals, cats are very territorial. If a community has a TNR program for cats, that means that no new strays come in. [Neutered cats pose fewer problems, behavior- and health-wise. -Ed.] Community cats don’t completely prevent the presence of other strays, but it could lessen their numbers in the surrounding area.

The netizen who initially posted about the cats around the BGC area being rounded up and forcefully relocated, specifically around Serendra, said in her Facebook post from September 19 that they “have no rodents. Cockroaches in the basements are also close to zero. And since cats are territorial, only the brave strays can attempt to take up space in the gardens and basements.” That has to count for something good, right?

I for one would love to house a cat of my own (or a dog, or even just a furry friend in general) but due to outside factors (like housing and people with allergies), I can’t really keep a kitty of my own. The most I can do is offer help when I can to community cats in need. This leaves me feeling even just a little bit happier knowing that I can help an animal friend.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s February 2019 issue.