Feral Cats: What to Do

Save feral cats. Kill feral cats. Recent legal protection efforts and strong opinion pieces have supported one side or the other. What's at the heart of the TNR debate, and what will happen to free-roaming cats if either side wins?

Cat and wildlife advocates agree: We must do something about the millions of free-roaming cats outdoors. But rounding them up and killing them, as some suggest, is no solution. Have we learned nothing from the Middle Ages? When cats are rounded up and killed, plague-carrying rodent populations flourish.

Click here for a story on successful feral cat population control in Salt Lake City >>

Anti-Cat Propaganda?
A Florida Community Cats Bill (SB 1320) that would have made trap-neuter-return (TNR) efforts easier in that state was scheduled for a vote in the Florida Senate on April 1. Companion bill (HB 1121) had already unanimously passed the House on March 20. During the interim, a barrage of reports against TNR blamed feral cats for decimating endangered bird and mammal populations. Press releases from TNR opponents called the bill one that would permit “public cat hoarding.” The bill was temporarily postponed after a barrage of emails and phone calls from concerned citizens who were undoubtedly misled by those releases and reports. Cats were portrayed as disease-carrying serial killers, who threaten the public and should be exterminated. Cat advocates were portrayed as irrational simpletons for reacting emotionally to these reports.

Click here to read about pro-TNR laws in Nevada >>

Excuse me, but in my humble opinion, proposing mass killings of one species to protect another should invoke an emotional reaction. It’s called having a conscience.

“As a cat lover and a bird lover, I am shocked at the irresponsible rhetoric and fear-mongering by groups opposed to the Florida Community Cats Bill,” says Alley Cat Allies President Becky Robinson. “Outdoor cats can live long, healthy lives and they do not pose a public health threat. Caregivers are Good Samaritans who are opposed to the senseless killing of these beautiful animals. Communities across the country have implemented TNR with extremely high success rates, including Brevard County and Jacksonville, proving this program not only saves cats’ lives but it also saves millions of taxpayer dollars. The Florida Community Cats Bill is a step in the right direction — it would replace failed animal control policies that have been around for a hundred years with a humane program that actually works.”

Click here for a free webinar on TNR >>

Stop Cat Overpopulation in Four Steps
My fellow animal advocates, let’s not be so emotional that we abandon reason, or so devoid of emotion that we erase our consciences. We can discuss this and work together toward real solutions. It only takes a few irresponsible people to perpetuate the problem and send us several steps back from the progress we’ve made so far. Here’s what we know works, but it requires vigilance from everyone.

Click here for instructions on how to carry out TNR in your area >>

First of all, keep your own cats indoors.

They’re safer, they live longer and, with an enriched environment that includes toys, trees and window perches, they’re happier. Unfortunately, not all cats can be brought indoors to become pets. A stray cat is one that was once someone’s pet and could transition back to a happy life indoors. A feral cat is one that was never socialized by humans during the critical first 12 weeks as a kitten and, therefore, likely cannot become someone’s pet. A feral kitten can be trained to be a happy indoor-only pet, but an adult feral cat typically fears and distrusts people and usually cannot transition to a life with humans.

Second, don’t delay to spay/neuter your cat.
Unaltered cats are unhappier indoors and will likely do everything they can to escape. One cat can produce 200 kittens in her lifetime and a male can impregnate countless females. If the cats escape, they’ll be adding to the problem. Spayed cats are healthier and easier to live with indoors. If cost is an issue, there are low-cost, even free spay/neuter services available.

Third, never abandon your cat.
If circumstances make it difficult to adequately care for your cat, ask for help. Resources are available for that, too. Start by inquiring at no-kill shelters, rescues and local veterinary clinics if foster parents are available to take your cat until a permanent home can be found.

Fourth, practice trap-neuter-return.
TNR is both humane and effective.  If you see stray or feral cats in your backyard or neighborhood, learn about TNR. Feral cat advocacy groups provide resources that can help. Alley Cat Allies, for example, provides these educational programs:
•    Changing Communities for Cats is a program in which the organization tours the country, meets with supporters and grassroots groups, and works to reform local shelter policies so cats’ lives can be saved.
•    On National Feral Cat Day, the organization educates people on the importance of TNR. In 2012 the group’s supporters held 450 total events across the country.
•    The Helping Cats in Your Community webinar is a 45-minute online demonstration where you can learn about feral cats and how to do TNR.

“Scientific studies and case studies across the country show that TNR helps stabilize — and then reduce — cat populations,” Robinson says. When feral cats are humanely trapped, they are taken to a veterinarian where they are neutered and vaccinated. Healthy, adult feral cats are returned to their colonies. You can recognize them by a notch on the tip of one of their ears. Volunteers provide continual care for the cats, while kittens are socialized at rescues and in foster care programs. “Because there are no more kittens, the cats’ lives and health are improved and the population stabilizes and declines over time,” Robinson says.

In fact, she says more than 330 local governments now incorporate TNR into their animal control policies. Hundreds of animal shelters and hundreds of thousands of individuals also practice TNR in their communities. “Some case studies show amazing results,” Robinson says, giving these examples:
•    In Jacksonville, Fla., a TNR program created in 2008 led to a significant drop in the feral cat population and it saved the city hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars used for an ineffective “catch and kill” program.
•    In Tampa Bay, two long-running, low-cost spay/neuter clinics have together neutered more than 95,000 cats since they were established in 2005. The program has resulted in 9,000 fewer cats entering animal pounds and shelters in Tampa Bay every year.  
•    In Newburyport, Mass., more than 300 stray and feral cats were living along the Merrimack River when the Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society started TNR efforts in 1992. In 2009, Zorro, the last feral cat from the colony, passed away.
•    The Adams Morgan colony in Washington, D.C., was instrumental in launching Alley Cat Allies, which started TNR in that neighborhood in 1990. The last cat died at age 19.

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