Community Cats & The Law

Community cats occupy a unique niche in our society because they belong to a domesticated species and are often fed by humans, yet they have no owners and many are feral and therefore not good candidates for adoption. Local laws regarding community cats and Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) vary from place to place. For example, New York City’s Local Law 59 endorses TNR and includes vaccination against rabies and identification (eartipping) in its definition of TNR.

This section gives information on aspects of the law that community cat caretakers should know about — particularly in New York City — tips on how to work with law enforcement and community leaders, and links to important community resources to help ensure the safety and well-being of community cat colonies.

Community cats are considered companion animals, not wildlife, under New York State law. They are protected by the same anti-cruelty statutes that protect our pets from unjustified harm, pain, or suffering at the hands of a human. Below you will find the information and resources you need to manage and protect your community cats.

How to Report an Animal Cruelty Crime

In New York City, animal cruelty cases are handled by the New York Police Department (NYPD). If you have observed the ongoing neglect or abuse of an animal, call 311. However, if you are witnessing an animal cruelty emergency in progress, call 911, or go to your local NYPD precinct.

To give NYPD information about an animal cruelty crime and remain anonymous, contact NYPD’s Crime Stoppers program by calling 1-800-577-TIPS. You can also submit a tip to Crime Stoppers online, by SMS/text, or via a mobile app. Your identity will be protected no matter which method you use to give a tip to Crime Stoppers, and you may earn a reward for helping to convict an animal abuser.

NYPD Precinct Community Councils

The New York Police Department (NYPD) holds monthly community precinct meetings throughout the five boroughs of New York City. These meetings are open to the public and are a great place to find out what’s happening in the neighborhood. They also give cat caretakers a forum to become known in their precinct as a trusted source of facts about community cats and responsible colony care.

Find your NYPD precinct

If you aren’t sure which precinct you live in, check out the NYPD’s Precinct Finder.

Find your Community Board

Monthly community board meetings provide community cat caretakers with a forum to find out about what’s happening in their neighborhoods, and, importantly, to become known and respected by their local authorities. Caretakers will be particularly interested in the Public Safety Committee (the focus is on law enforcement, including animal cruelty) and the Health and Human Services Committee (the NYC Department of Health, which manages issues affecting community cats, can be influenced through this committee).


Community Cats & the Law FAQ

Are feral cats considered wildlife in New York State?

No, feral cats are not considered wildlife in New York. All cats, whether domesticated or feral, are considered companion animals under Section 350 of New York’s Agriculture and Markets Law and are protected by the animal cruelty provisions set out in Sections 353 and 353-a.

I think someone poisoned a feral cat. What should I do?

Call 311 (or 911 if it is an emergency). It is a crime under section 360 of New York’s Agriculture and Markets Law to poison or attempt to poison a cat, whether domesticated or feral. Depending on the circumstances, poisoning a cat could also potentially constitute cruelty or aggravated cruelty. It is also a crime under section 362 to willfully throw, drop, or place substances that are injurious to cats (or any other animals) in public places such as roads, highways, or streets. These substances include glass, nails, pieces of metal, or other substances that might wound, disable, or injure a cat.

Can exterminators, nuisance wildlife control operators, or other pest control trap and kill feral cats in New York City?

The short answer is no. Under New York law certified pesticide applicators must use pesticides in a way that protects both pets and wildlife from harm. In addition, as mentioned, under New York law, feral cats are considered companion animals and therefore cannot be treated as wildlife or wild animals, nuisance or otherwise.

New York law does, however, permit the taking and humane destruction of cats under specific, narrow circumstances. For example, licensed hunters, environmental conservation officers, and police officers have the authority to humanely destroy cats found at large hunting or killing any protected wild bird or with a dead bird of any protected species in its possession. Where a rabies alert is in effect, animal control officers, police officers, or health officers can seize any cat found at large.

Also, nothing in the law prohibits someone from trapping (or hiring someone else to trap) cats that appear to be unowned and that are at large in a public place, and bring those cats to Animal Care Centers of NYC (ACC).

Of course, going onto private property to trap cats or other animals can constitute trespass and taking animals known to belong to someone else could be larceny. So, each of these situations really needs to be assessed based on its own particular circumstances.

My neighbor is removing my TNR traps from my property. What can I do?

Call 311 if someone is stealing your traps from your property. A person may be convicted of petit larceny if he/she steals property valued at less than $1000. They may also be guilty of civil or criminal trespass.

Overview of Cat Ordinances

Learn how federal, state, and local laws affect community cats.

Ordinances & State Laws

Understand how existing local laws in your area affect community cats.