Trap, Neuter, Return Or Trap and Shoot?
A recently released report from the University of Nebraska Extension, called “Feral Cats and Their Management,” (for a PDF of the document click here) actually endorses catching feral cats in barbaric traps, and also whipping out a gun to shoot unwanted cats.
I concede that feral cats are problem, and this is an issue I’ve written a great deal about this past year. We don’t know how many feral cats are out there, but we do know cats are America’s No. 1 pet, with nearly 90 million pet cats (according to American Pet Products Association). It’s estimated there may be up to 1 ½ times that number of un-owned cats, including both feral cats and strays.
These cats typically live in colonies in urban alleys, or roam from farm to farm. They live on empty urban properties, on grassy areas of college campuses and in city parks — pretty much everywhere.
This isn’t a new problem, or an issue unique to America. Many nations have been dealing with feral cats for centuries. (if you don’t see the entire story here, click continue reading for more)
It is a problem for people because feral cats can carry diseases we
might potentially get, including toxoplasmosis and rabies.
And it’s a
problem for the environment because the cats do kill songbirds (often
endangered species) and other wildlife. And feral cats can be annoying,
leaving their “calling cards” in our gardens or yowling at all hours.
Going back centuries, when feral cats became too much of a problem, they
might have been poisoned, shot at, or animal control officials would be
asked to catch and kill them.
If this approach worked, we wouldn’t still have a problem today. The
University of Nebraska wouldn’t have written that paper, and I wouldn’t
be offering comments.
Relatively recently, the idea of managed care for feral cat colonies,
called trap, neuter, return (TNR), was popularized as a solution. Feral
cats are individually trapped and ear-notched to identify them as colony
members. The cats are spayed or neutered, vaccinated for rabies (and in
some instances microchipped for further identification), then
re-released. Kittens are given to shelters to adopt out, and very sick
cats are humanely euthanized. Volunteer caretakers watch over the
colonies, processing any new arrivals and supplementing the colony’s
food. While cats will still instinctively kill some birds, with a full
tummy they’re not as driven. Unable to reproduce, colony members dwindle
Well, that’s the theory. TNR can take time and requires dedicated
volunteers, effort and resources. But given half a chance, it does work.
What’s more, the methods supported by the University of Nebraska paper
only duplicates obsolete approaches which have been tried for
generations and have failed.
The paper suggests that its recommendations are within the guidelines of
the American Veterinary Medical Association; however, I believe they
took the AVMA specific guidelines on the humane euthanization of animals
using a gun out of context. (As of press time, the AVMA had been unable
to weigh in.)
The American Animal Hospital Association offers this statement: “As a
veterinary association dedicated to the health and welfare of companion
animals, it is shocking that a university publication would advocate
shooting and the use of leg-hold traps as acceptable methods to
control/exterminate free-roaming cats. These methods are indiscriminate,
inhumane and are unacceptable for the purpose of cat population
Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of the American Humane Association,
chimes in: “It’s absolutely unconscionable to advocate shooting cats as
humane. How does the person pulling the trigger know if the cat is feral
or not? And advocating shooting at cats is potentially very dangerous
for the community. What if just one child is injured? We know there’s a
better way for the community and the cats, and it’s called trap, neuter,
return.” Ganzert isn’t alone. Many other organizations have issued
statements in opposition to the University of Nebraska report.
Aside from their inhumane recommendations, the report also further
accelerates the battle between “bird people” and “cat people.” This is
not productive to help songbirds, or to reduce feral cat numbers.
According to a story in the Washington Post, an American Bird
Conservancy official calls the University of Nebraska report “a must
read” for communities with a feral cat problem. Parrot poop! The truth
is, cat lovers don’t want to see birds further endangered, either. And
blaming all problems facing songbirds on cats is plain wrong.
concur that habitat destruction, and both light and air pollution are
also immediate threats to birds.
If we all want to see feral cats decline significantly, and if we all
want to protect birds, why can’t we find a solution by working together?
If the best “experts” in academia who helped write the University of
Nebraska paper can suggest is to set inhumane traps, and to shoot feral
cats, I think we need a new set of experts to review the problem.
(c) 2010 DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC., Steve Dale