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Dichotomy in the emotional approaches of caretakers of free-roaming cats in urban feeding groups: findings from in-depth interviews

By H. Finkler, J. Terkel

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Although the occurrence of cat-caretaking of free-roaming cats is widespread, particularly so in countries with a climate suitable for cats to reproduce year-round, our knowledge of this relationship is still incomplete. People who engage in daily activities of feeding and caring for groups of free-roaming cats (cat caretakers) are known to be devoted to their cats and invest considerable resources in their care, including neutering and veterinary care. These caretakers often encounter difficulties, such as resentment by neighbors and lack of cooperation or financing by the municipal veterinary services. Despite the fundamental understanding of these caretakers' high daily commitment, and sometimes strong bond with the cats, detailed knowledge is still lacking regarding the nature of this bond, the difficulties that ensue from this daily occupation, and the relationship between the two. The purpose of this study was thus to acquire a deeper understanding, by means of an in-depth interview with cat caretakers. The study has identified, for the first time, two distinct emotional approaches that accompany extensive caretaking for free-roaming cats: emotional attachment and emotional detachment. We show how these two different responses affect both social and financial aspects in the caretakers' lives, and report on the ways in which these individuals experience cat caretaking. Our findings provide a first systematic understanding of the relationship between the level of technical caretaking (feeding, medical care, etc.) and the level of emotional involvement, and reveal the ambivalence often inherent in human-animal relations in general and the caretaker-cat bond in particular. The understanding acquired here can be put into practice to reduce the emotional and technical difficulties experienced by cat caretakers, as well as to improve free-roaming cat management efforts and cat welfare. By increasing public and municipal awareness of the possible contribution of cat caretakers to cat management, and of the emotional and technical difficulties they experience, both the caretakers and other community members can benefit.

Date 2011
Publication Title Anthrozoos
Volume 24
Issue 2
Pages 203-218
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
DOI 10.2752/175303711X12998632257413
Author Address Zoology Department, George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv 69978,
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal nutrition
  2. Animals
  3. Carnivores
  4. Cats
  5. Climate
  6. Emotions
  7. Employees
  8. Feeding
  9. Health
  10. Health services
  11. interviews
  12. Mammals
  13. Medical care
  14. Occupations and Professions
  15. peer-reviewed
  16. Pets and companion animals
  17. urban areas
  18. vertebrates
  19. Veterinary economics
  20. Veterinary services
  1. peer-reviewed