TNR Feral Cats: Illinois DNR Call: 'Vote No'
Feral cats and Illinois pets lose, as the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) somehow has the political pull to force a hold House Bill 4671. The DNR told legislator to note ‘NO’ on the bill, which supports continued dollars for spay/neuter, and support for community (feral) cat TNR (trap-neuter-return) programs.
I was able to get a copy of the DNR’s “expert” arguments and claims against TNR of community cats.
TNR programs are led by volunteer caretakers who trap the cats (who always live in colonies), they are then spay/neutered, vaccinated for rabies, and simply returned to the colony to live out their lives. Supplementing the cats with food isn’t only humane, but also limits their need or motivation to hunt. Fact is no other means of controlling feral cats has previously succeeded anywhere in the world, TNR does work to reduce or eliminate (over time) populations.
I answer the DNR’s arguments telling legislators “Vote NO”:
DNR: “Domestic cats are responsible for extinction of numerous mammals, reptiles and at least 33 bird species globally. A study, published in 2013, estimated between 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals are killed annually in the U.S. by feral and free-ranging cats.”
These sensational claims are from Smithsonian article that estimates that cats kill approximately 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds every year in the United States (Loss, Will, and Marra 2013). As researcher Anne E. Beall, Ph.D. is CEO of Beall Research, Inc. and the author of “Community Cats: A Journey into the World of Feral Cats.” points out in a guest blog, the first problem is that the total number of birds that cats are estimated to kill is implausible (Wolf 2013). The current number of birds who reside in the United States is 3.2 billion and in North America, 5.8 billion (Partners in Flight 2013). If cats were killing this many birds, they would be killing 43 to 100 percent of the U.S. birds each year. If that situation were an actuality, the bird population would be entirely wiped out within one to two years.”
Cats have not impacted any U.S. species (birds, mammals or reptiles) – with impact defined as moving a species to a “threatened” or “endangered” list as a result of predation.
Indeed feral cats living on islands may impact population numbers, according to various studies. However, these studies aren’t relevant to the contiguous U.S.
By far, the most significant threat to bird population numbers (and the same is true for mammals and reptiles) is habitat destruction. Light and air pollution are also significant factors. Researchers are still learning about the role of climate change, which is significant for many species. Cats are not even near the top of the list.
DNR: “Cats are considered a non-native, invasive, feral species when allowed outdoors to interact with native ecosystems. Domestic cats are highly skilled, instinctive predators. Even when well-fed, domestic cats continue to hunt; this innate ability and desire to hunt makes the domestic cat a threat to native wildlife species whenever cats are permitted to live or roam outdoors.”
As more cats are spay/neutered and kept indoors only (which has been happening for the past 20 years), fewer cats are outside to even potentially hunt wildlife in the first place.
As for being called invasive species, feral cats have lived alongside people in Europe for thousands of years and in America since a couple of cats literally came over on the Mayflower. So the assertion all depends on how you define invasive species. No matter, if you want to limit their number for feral cats, TNR is the only system (at least so far) that’s demonstrated success – nothing else tried over the eons has worked.
It’s true, cats are born with a prey drive, and may continue to hunt some no matter what – even if well fed. However, when when fed, they don’t work so hard. In fact, some studies suggests cats hardly hunt at all if well fed, some even become overweight and are unable to hunt.
Even when hungry, birds are typically not at the top of their dietary preference list. What cats eat most greatly depends on where they happen to be. In large cities (like the heart of Chicago or New York), they share their dinner choices with rats – that’s trash! Overall, rodents – by far – are the most common meal choice of feral cats.
Speaking of which, the Tree House Humane Society Cats at Work Project relocates TNR’d cats (based on requests from community leaders) where rats are thriving, and efforts to control them have failed. The cats move in, and rats pack their bags.
DNR: “Domestic cats can serve as a vector for a number of diseases, including zoonosis disease that can be transmitted to humans, such as rabies, toxoplasmosis, bartonellosis, and salmonellosis.”
This assertion makes no sense. If via TNR, there are fewer cats, the likelihood of any disease transmission is lower. The DNR just tossed any illness into the mix – and answers vary. I offer a brief factual explanation for each:
Cats that are TNR’d should be vaccinated for rabies, and I personally believe vaccination for rabies of TNR’d cats should be law (as it is in Cook County). Indeed, when not vaccinated, there is some risk.
As for toxoplasmosis, cats are indeed a vector. However, the Centers for Disease Control indicates uncooked meat is the most common means of transmission. Since contact with cat feces is how transmission occurs, toxoplasmosis transmission more likely may occur among indoor/outdoor cats, then owners scooping those boxes without washing hands after or wearing gloves. Exposure to feral cat feces may occur during gardening. If people wear gloves, that transmission is typically prevented. Many people who test positive for toxoplasmosis have never owned a cat.
About salmonella, it’s tossed into the mix by the DNR – but unless people are sharing food with their cats, this possibility irrelevant.
About bartonella (cat scratch fever), indeed feral cats do transmit (as do some owned cats not protected against fleas). However, people need direct interaction with feral cats (who generally don’t want to interact with people). Caretakers typically take appropriate precautions when handling feral cats, which as indicated they rarely do. More a threat (because they are more likely to be handled), kittens also transmit bartonella.
Again, through – via management. as populations are reduced, any disease risk (which is hardly significant in the first place) is overall reduced.
The DNR is supportive of animal control culling (killing) as many cats in a given colony as they can catch are euthanized. One problem with this method is a matter of practical resources, as communities don’t have animal control staff to seriously undertake the commitment this requires. When tried (and this system has been tried for hundreds of years), remaining conlony cats innately step up their reproduction, not only matching their previous population but generally exceeding it. So culling or killing as many as possible most often actually increases colony numbers.
There is no real science or, for that matter, logic to support the DNR claims. I’m unsure if they are emotionally or politically motivated, or both. . . or how the DNR can have absolute influence over legislators. If you disagree with the DNR, and live in Illinois, contact your legislator.