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

Hilit Finkler*, Joseph Terkel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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 theseindividuals 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-218
Number of pages16
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2011


  • Caretakers
  • Emotional attachment/detachment
  • Free-roaming cats
  • Technical caretaking level
  • Urban feeding groups


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