Animal Welfare

Engaging with socio-economically disadvantaged communities and their cats

The overpopulation of free-roaming domestic cats is fuelled by uncontrolled breeding of both owned and unowned populations, and has been identified as a particular problem in socio-economically deprived areas. Consequently, for sustainable change, it is recommended that Trap-Neuter-Return activities are linked with community engagement to encourage positive behaviours towards cats, such as reporting unowned cats for neutering. This paper assesses the acceptability and impact of a community-partnership program called “Bulwell Cat Watch” (BCW), set-up to control cat numbers in Bulwell, UK.

A series of surveys were developed to assess the impact of the BCW on human behaviour within the community, specifically the reporting of unowned cats for neutering. A cross-sectional survey was administered to 478 people to evaluate whether any change in behaviour towards unowned cats in the community was linked to awareness of BCW. A pre-post survey was administered to 21 people who had been previously surveyed in 2016 to evaluate the effects of direct engagement efforts by BCW on the knowledge and behaviour of individuals over time. A third questionnaire was administered to 34 residents of Bulwell that were known to actively engage or volunteer with BCW to evaluate the individual benefits and outcomes of taking a more proactive role in BCW.

This study found significant associations between awareness of BCW and an increased likelihood of reporting unowned cats now when compared to previous years. Respondents reported increased self-efficacy and confidence to help cats. The pre-post study corroborated these findings with residents significantly more likely to report unowned cats compared to when surveyed pre-BCW. An indirect benefit to residents engaged with the program was the positive impact on confidence and self-esteem. Taken in combination these results show community partnerships can effectively engage often hard-to-reach populations and foster sustainable management by overcoming barriers to helping cats, alongside the potential for wider community benefits.

McDonald JL, Clements J (2019) Engaging with socio-economically disadvantaged communities and their cats: Human behaviour change for animal and human benefit. Animals 9:175.

Source: RSPCA Science Update