Good intentions, Bad Outcomes - A Reminder Never to Feed or House Stray Cats

By Christopher Killough Natural Resources Specialist Date: Monday, May 15, 2023 Time: 11:15 EST
Over the past few years, the West Point Military Police and Natural Resources specialists have responded to several incidents involving stray cats. Residents, employees and cadets have been observed setting out food or shelters near buildings or even bringing cats into buildings and barracks. This behavior is not allowed. (Photo courtesy of USMA Natural Resources)

Over the past few years, the West Point Military Police and Natural Resources specialists have responded to several incidents involving stray cats. Residents, employees and cadets have been observed setting out food or shelters near buildings or even bringing cats into buildings and barracks. This behavior is not allowed. 

While individuals who feed and shelter these cats do so out of compassion for the animals, they overlook the harm that these actions can do to humans, pets, property, the broader local environment and, finally, to the stray cats themselves.

Harm To People, Pets and Property

Stray cats are poorly acclimated to human beings and other animals. When confined, cornered and approached, these animals may claw or bite in self-defense. They may end up attacking and harming the very people attempting to care for them.  

These cats may host a range of parasites such as ticks, fleas, worms and mites. They may also carry diseases like feline leukemia and both the feline immunodeficiency and distemper viruses (all transmittable to other cats) as well as toxoplasmosis and rabies, which is a neurological disease transmitted via contact with the saliva of an infected animal, typically from a bite or scratch. It is always fatal if untreated and has been detected previously at West Point when years ago one of our most serious rabies incidents stemmed from an illegal cat colony. 

Besides the associated human and animal health risks, the feeding and sheltering of stray cats can also cause damage to property. Cats that gather in and around buildings urinate, defecate and scent mark (or spray), creating unsanitary conditions and damaging structures, equipment and materials. 

The feeding of stray cats poses risks not just from cats but also from other local wildlife species such as raccoons, skunks, foxes and opossums that may be drawn to these feeding stations. Luring these animals into human areas, even unintentionally, poses the same risks to people, pets and property. 

Harm To Local Environment

Domestic cats are ferocious predators and can prey on wildlife including birds, bats, other small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. 

National Geographic reported that cats kill between one and four billion birds annually in the United States alone. Likewise, the Bat Conservation Trust estimates cats across the country kill more than 250,000 bats a year. 

Luring a stray cat near people puts people at greater risk of contact and physical harm from the cat which could, in turn, doom the cat. If an undocumented cat bites a person or pet, the cat must be caught and euthanized to test for rabies because rabies testing is only possible on deceased animals. 

Feeding or sheltering cats in neighborhoods or workplace settings also increases the likelihood of cats being struck by vehicles or locked into buildings, sheds or trash bins. Help prevent this by not feeding cats and by keeping trash bins closed and locked to deny wildlife and cats access to them.

Finally, feeding cats causes them to gather in large numbers. Cats often fight leading to injury, disease and the spread of parasites. Additionally, because homeless cats may not be spayed or neutered, breeding among these cats in turn leads to more cats, expanding and prolonging the nuisance issue.

  • Never feed wildlife. Nuisance animal issues often begin over food — either intentional, illegal feeding of wildlife or unintentional feeding from mismanagement of food and trash.

  • Keep your distance. Never deliberately approach or corner wildlife. Risks include disease or physical harm from biting and scratching. Keep pets fenced, leashed and away from wildlife.

  • Report dangerous encounters. Call a responder immediately if you see sick, injured, oddly-behaving, or human-fed wildlife or stray/feral cats, or if human or animal well-being is a concern. 

In the event it is necessary to report an animal emergency issue, call the Military Police Desk at 845-938-3333 or the Natural Resources Branch at 845-938-2314/7122. 

Do not leave a message. For emergency response, it is important that you speak to a person and can report on the details of the incident. If possible, to safely monitor the animal from afar, do so until responders arrive. For more West Point wildlife, visit the Natural Resources website at westpoint.isportsman.net.