AFF 2023: A battle over feral cats in ‘Cat City’

AFF 2023: A battle over feral cats in ‘Cat City’
Community members help in the trap, neuter and release program for feral cats. (Courtesy photo)

By Wafir Salih |

“Cat City” is a fascinating documentary directed by Ben Kolak that explores Chicago and its struggle with a large feral cat population, estimated at 200,000 felines. The film begins by showing how, in the early 2000s, a group in Wisconsin advocated for cat hunt laws. The law was eventually voted in but the governor vetoed the measure. An ordinance was established soon after in Chicago in 2007 to “Trap, Neuter and Release” cats back in the population. The strategy was appropriately dubbed TNR.

The documentary features an ensemble of activists, ranging from TNR activists, to birders, to members of the Washington, D.C. Cat Count. TNR activists Autumn Cirrus and Ruben steal the show as they work together during key moments to identify, take care of and even chase cats in the city – which provide some humorous moments.

“Cat City” extends beyond just felines and their neighborhood catertakers. The film briefly examines how the city has a rat infestation and the feral cat population surge happened in part to take care of this issue. The documentary also delves into the birder community’s opposition to the TNR ordinance, which takes up most of the second half of the film.

“Trap, Neuter and Release is a joke,” as one birder put it. The birder emphasized how cats are invasive and non-native to the environment – while birds are native – and cats are endangering the bird population. Shots of cats eating birds are immediately shown, providing a visceral glimpse at what a feral cat is capable of.

“I am all for eliminating feral cats, by any means,” the birder emphasized gravely. The documentary ends with a trip to D.C., where members of the organization D.C. Cat Count are shown installing cameras throughout the city to survey the cat population. Consulting scientist John D. Boone says that TNR doesn’t work and intervention should be “planned and targeted” by using objective methods like street cameras to measure population size and trends.

“Cat City” offers a fair, balanced and critical look into the world of feral cat population control, engaging with all sides of the argument while also centering around a scientific approach and allowing viewers to make up their own minds about the issue.