Fremont, CA asked in Animal / Dog Law for California

Q: Is it illegal to feed or adopt feral cats in the tri-city area, California? Is it a crime to keep them as outdoor cats?

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2 Lawyer Answers
William John Light
William John Light
Answered
  • Animal & Dog Law Lawyer
  • Riverside, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: The act of feeding cats, specifically, is not a crime under state law. However, placing food outside makes it accessible to wildlife as well, which could be construed as "Harassment of Animals." Under Title 14 California Code of Regulations 251.1 , "harassment" is defined as:

An intentional act which disrupts an animal's normal behavior patterns, which includes, but is not limited to, breeding, feeding or sheltering.

Feeding stray cats could also violate local kennel ordinances. By providing food, water and/or shelter for the cats, you may be "keeping" them. You would have to research your local municipal and county ordinances to determine how many you are allowed to keep.

Also, feeding stray cats will, obviously, attract more stray cats and/or provide the strays with enough sustenance to breed beyond their current capacity, increasing the population of strays far beyond what it is now. Your neighbors may object and complain that your home has become a nuisance. You may be subject to Restraining Orders, filed by the neighbors and/or the City, requiring you to stop. The concentration of stray cats in your neighborhood will devastate local bird populations, and also the local rodent population.

Maurice Mandel II agrees with this answer

Maurice Mandel II
Maurice Mandel II
Answered
  • Newport Beach, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: My cat also complains that what I feed her is a "harassment" and a "nuisance" and she either won't eat it or pukes it into my shoes at night. Mr. Light is a very astute attorney and his answer is very complete as to your potential legal exposure from what you think is a philanthropic activity. I liked the way he analyzed the potential un-thought of impact on the Feral Cat Population, and a potential larger impact on the overall stray cat population. Here are two other thoughts: 1. When the stay animal population increases, the competition for food increases, and weaker individuals are more heavily impacted- so the weak female cat, that cannot keep the males from mating with her, has less food to create milk for her litter, meaning more newborn kittens die; and 2. You are going to be creating a "Cafe Central" for Coyotes and other predators of the cats, like feral dogs. In both instances, the philanthropic feeding actually causes more suffering and death.

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