Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

cats, and overpopulation “problems”

On CNN this morning I ran across an article about a tiny little town that is having a cat overpopulation “problem”, and is dealing with it by offering a $5 bounty on ferals and strays brought in alive.

If they’re not claimed after an unspecified amount of time, they’ll be killed.

These cats have done things such as eaten cat food that wasn’t explicitly gifted to them, attacked dogs (and I’m sure the dogs were perfectly mannered, and didn’t go after the cats), and in general, existed. For such crimes: death.

Now, in the town’s favor, they probably haven’t a clue how to manage a feral colony. The mayor’s reaction to TNR and other solutions was essentially “you really think anyone in this town would donate money to cats?”

The mayor said several suggestions have been made, including neutering, trapping and asking for donations.

“You couldn’t get a donation to save a cat in this town for the life of them,” Trively said.

And that either says something about how out of touch he is with the thoughts and feelings of the people he is representing (I’m betting on that one) or how cold the people of that town, collectively, are. They also implied that the problem was sudden -either they’d been ignoring it for a long time, or someone recently started dumping cats in their backyard. I’m guessing on the former for this one as well.

The issue, when talking practicalities, is that removing and killing the ferals and the strays living as ferals is that the problem doesn’t go away. It is masked for a while, and then it comes back. It is one of the most basic aspects of population biology. Too bad few people bother to learn anything about this when they’re trying to make decisions that have to do with population biology!

HSUS managed to drop the ball as well.

John Snyder of the Humane Society of the United States said he doesn’t have a problem with humanely killing a stray cat, but said the money spent on the bounty and the vet expenses would be better spent hiring someone who knows what he or she is doing.

They don’t have a problem with needless killing, but I do. And since we all know that HSUS loves to claim victories, why didn’t they take this small localized opportunity to work with the people of that particular town to say “hey, here’s how you set up feral colonies, here’s why it works, and here’s a year’s worth of vouchers for spay/neuter clinics.”

But nope, they instead took the opportunity to assure all of us that they have no problem with killing ferals. Well, maybe someone from that town will win HSUS’s “pet portrait” contest, and get enough money to start up a TNR program themselves.

Ironically I’ve seen people up in arms about how cats are treated in China. I don’t know all the details about what’s going on in China, but I know damn well what’s going on here – 10 million+ homeless pets killed every single year, and 10 billion other land animals killed every year for food. How is it that we think we can point fingers?

tempest and her toy
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15 responses to “cats, and overpopulation “problems”

  1. Wendell March 12, 2008 at 10:30 pm

    great post, you nailed it on the head. you can’t effectively deal with a feral population by killing them, the plan that works is trap, neuter and release. if only the mayor of randolph, iowa looked to examples like knoxville TN, he would see that you can control a feral population very effectively if you use the trap, neuter and release philosophy. it’s absolutely amazing how ignorant some people are.

    i actually posted a comment on my blog talking about the same issue.

  2. Mary Martin March 13, 2008 at 8:51 am

    I can’t believe the HSUS person said that. Oh, wait, I can. Why on earth do people keep giving them money?

  3. Angie Bowen March 13, 2008 at 9:58 am

    I read this article recently as well and am amazed at people’s tendency to immediately jump to killing as their first solution. I’m sorry, but no one will convince me that any animal population problem is bad enough to have to kill them. There are better options, but they aren’t as easy as “just kill it so I won’t have to deal with it anymore”.

    And I think the big issue with China is that not only are they brutally killing feral cats, but they’re even scaring people into turning their pets over to be killed just so they can look good for the olympics. Both situations are horribly wrong.

  4. Billy March 13, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    I can’t believe someone in HSUS said that. What an idiot. I’m sick of these so-called animal rights activists who are in favor of euthanizing strays and pets (read: PETA).

    We’re supposed to be compassionate. Yes, outdoor cats do wreak havoc on the ecosystem, but they shouldn’t be euthanized. Let’s start with that asshole driving the hummer. 🙂

  5. Billy March 13, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    I blogged about this and linked to this post over on my blog.

    I agree with Angie: no one will convince me that euthanasia is the appropriate measure for an overpopulation problem.

  6. Deb March 13, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    @ Wendell – that’s great that Knoxville, TN has been doing work on TNR – sounds like they’re working towards being a no-kill city? I did some research about a year ago on various cities that are making progress (or achieving) that goal, and for all of them TNR is hugely important. NYC has made really big strides, as has Philly. Anyway, thanks for posting about it yourself!

    @ Mary – I know! I wonder myself. I think that if they’re like me, they don’t know of any better option at the crucial time. (I donated right after Katrina, and later realized that I could have done better, but at the time I couldn’t find information on other groups working down there.)

    @ Angie – it is true, killing seems to be the first reaction for most people whenever they deem another species to be a “problem”. Well, I don’t know if we can even say that they limit such behavior to other species! Mostly they’re only overt when it comes to other species, anyway.

    @ Billy – well, unfortunately this is a fairly common type of sentiment from HSUS, and they’ve never come out against any kind of animal exploitation or killing, as long as it is done nicely. Then again, HSUS has never claimed or attempted to be an animal rights organization, it is only the media that gets confused (and thus confuses the public) by calling them an AR organization.

    I don’t really agree that outdoor cats wreak havoc on the ecosystem. I mean, sure, any population that is out of balance is less than ideal, but cats in general aren’t the scourge of the earth (or birds) that many people claim. Birdfeeders, as nice and benign as they seem, are actually really bad for the health of birds – they foster the spread of disease and infection (birds wouldn’t normally be eating in such close areas, in such dense numbers) and it causes issues with various species that wouldn’t normally be in contact AND it makes the birds easy targets for predators. Of which cats are just one. Yet cat’s get the entire blame? Not logical.

    I don’t think that “pet” cats should be allowed outside for a wide variety of reasons, but I just don’t buy into the prejudice against feral cats that I hear from birders. Their complaints simply don’t hold up to science! We will never get back to the pure native populations that were here before humans interfered, but the ecosystems and populations adapt – that’s nature’s way, and we just can’t claim that starlings or cats (as two examples of introduced species) are not part of the ecosystems now. Indigenous-only is a human ideal. Equilibrium is nature’s ideal.

    Sorry for the mini biology lecture! Thanks for linking this post on your blog. 🙂

  7. kittyby March 15, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    Deb, I agree with your opinion. The so called ‘scientific arguments’ passionately used by bird and wildlife advocates who subscribe to nativism just don’t hold up to science. I have found other people who are neither pro-cats or anti cats, and one of their criticisms is that both opposing camps are too passionate on their own cause when the research studies out there are too limited.

    I am a strong supporter of TNR. I strongly supported it even more when I started going to the library (online and off line) and read and collected research articles/science news blogs on the impact of feral cats in the ecosytem both in islands and industrialized nations. I have also subscribe to e-mail alerts on ‘endangered birds’, ‘introduced species’, ‘invasive species’, and ‘feral cats’, and I learned that feral or stray or free roaming pet cats are not environmental enemy no.1 that these anti-TNR people made us to believe. For example, aquatic non native species like quagga mussels have recently gained attention for their responsiblity on spreading botulism that killed many species of sea birds. Just how many more non native introduced species out there that gone unnoticed because the attention is too focused on cats? Those birds and wildlife advocates lost all their scientific credibilities in my eyes. Yes, cats are invasive and introduced predators but there are a hosts of introduced, invasive predators that directly and/or indirectly impact native birds population and other wildlife. Unfortunately, cats are hugely blamed, and the socio-psychological attitudes of the society toward cats (particularly homeless cats) play a major role in influencing public mind. Thankfully, the feral cat movement in the United States is very strong, otherwise, we would have been another Australia whose compassion for both pet cats and homeless cats is endangered.

    Nativists subscriber or anti-TNR as they are generally known claimed to love their native animals, and yet they can’t think of creative non-lethal solutions to control overpopulation of their native animals. It is always about killing to them. They talk about humane euthanasia for all free roaming cats, but euthanasing all these cats is impossible because they would also end up using cruel methods like shooting, poisoning, leg trapping, and introduction of deadly feline disease in the end. At least with TNR advocates and volunteers, they are doing something positive and united in reducing the homeless cats population. However, more volunteers are greatly needed. Society’s general attitude towards all cats must be changed since pet cats are lagging behind dogs, and homeless cats are lagging behind pets cats. If we don’t, new cats will continue to migrate into the feral cat colonies. And, where these new cats come from? Of course, from irresponsible cat owners who failed to form bond with their cats and do not feel empathy for them. Eventhough TNR has limitations, it is never a failure. Cats are out there because of us. Without our humane intervention and empathy combined with science, their lives would become hopeless and miserable. People who complained that cats are living miserable lives and carrying disease are the same people who don’t lift a finger to help these animals in need to begin with. All opposing advocacy groups need to work together, after all, they share the same goals: phasing out feral cat colonies and educating about keeping pet cats indoor. All my 8 cats are former feral kittens and living strictly indoors. It is the feral cat grassroot organization that taught me the importance of keeping a pet cat indoor. Yet, the anti-TNR advocates would dare to create lies that TNR is advocating that all cats must live outdoors. When I fostered feral kittens and strays to two TNR rescue groups, they have a strict adoption policy in screening out adoptees. Homes are even visited, so that these cats won’t end up to animal hoarders or to people who would keep the cat outdoors. Cats are microchipped before they are adopted out, so that if they end up homeless again they would be returned to the rescue group if they are caught. Does these anti-TNR advocates know about this when they claimed that TNR encourages animal abandonment? It is lack of empathy and lack of human-animal bond that is the root cause of sudden homelessness of former pet cats. And, if they are not fixed, then, they would start their own feral cat colony. People only noticing the feral cat problem when they see kind hearted people feeding them.

    Anti-TNR advocates said it is unnatural for non-native species like the domestic cats to prey on native birds and other native wildlife animals. Then, how it is natural for humans, who is non-native and the most invasive species, to cull their native animals they claimed to protect when its population becomes out of control or when these native animals cause environmental or economic damage (i.e. wolves vs. ranchers)? So many of their so called “scientific arguments” are flawed. They created their own conservation problem when they cull larger native animals. Anti-TNR advocates also like to argue that cats are equally the same. All are equally wildlife killers. But, that is scientifically false. Cats are different from one another. Yes, genetics play a role, but it is environment that shapes the cat’s personality. There are cats that are notorious wildlife hunters but there are cats who have no interest in hunting or poor hunters. This is also one of the many reasons the bird and wildlife advocates also lost their credibility in my eyes. They focused so much on genetics or ‘nature’ that they failed or fully ignore the role of ‘nurture’ on the making of cat’s personality. Since we can’t tell whose cats are notorious hunters and who aren’t, it is easy to lump all these cats together to simplify the conservation problem. I could go on and on to point the weaknesses on the arguments of bird and wildlife advocates, but it is only going to take a lot of space here. I urge anyone who is passionate about helping ferals and stray cats to do your own research OUTSIDE the reference articles found on TNR organizations and anti-TNR advocacy groups. Once you did your own research and speak their language, you would be surprised that you would attack less when you are armed with knowledge. These people like to pretend that they are encylopedia and would dismiss your claims if you can’t show scientific reference. The truth is, research studies on both opposing camps are too limited and so many questions are still left unanswered. Cat’s predation of wildlife is too complex, especially when there are other existing introduced species out there that pose direct or indirect predation or contribute to the death of endangered birds and other small wildlife. I also have specific questions that neither camps could answer because the research out there is too limited. I apologize for my lengthy comment. I would like to remind everyone to please spay or neuter your cats. Keep your pet cat indoors and supervise when outside. Please be kind to homeless cats out there. TNR is just one method to help out homeless cats, but there are other ways to help them like fostering, adopting, donating money and/or supplies to rescue groups and feral cat grassroot organizations.

  8. kittyby March 15, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    I was hurrying when I was writing my comment above and submitted it without proof reading. I meant to say : “Once you did your own research and speak their language, you would be surprised that you would BE attackED less when you are armed with knowledge. (not “…you would attack less when you are armed with knowldge). Sorry.

  9. rich March 16, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    Well a consortium of three groups have stepped up and convinced the mayor that there is no reason to offer a bounty and then eventually kill the cats. Thanks to Alley Cat Allies, Best Friends Animal Society of Utah, and Feline Friendz of Nebraska are going to go to Randolph and set up to do a TNR program for the truly feral cats and adopt out the strays that can be socialized. This shows once again that “the little guys” in the game are there to make the lives better for the animals as the “big guys” are happy to line their pockets and do what it takes to get more publicity as opposed to finding humane solutions.

  10. Deb March 16, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    kittyby, thanks for your detailed comments! I don’t have anything to add, but I really do appreciate the time you spent to write it all out!

    Rich, thanks for the update. It is good to see that these groups have stepped in and offered to help! I’m glad someone did!

  11. Meghan March 17, 2008 at 9:24 am

    The HSUS’s comments were misrepresented in the article referenced above. HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle wrote on his blog Friday about the organization’s support of Trap-Neuter-Return programs to humanely manage feral cats; you can see that at http://hsus.typepad.com/wayne/2008/03/feral-cats.html.

  12. rich March 17, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    I guess I am very cynical of HSUS and from reading the post Wayne made it appears that they are taking credit for putting it together. I completely believe that the news misrepresents comments, but what was his and HSUS’s official comment and where can we read it?

  13. Deb March 17, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    Meghan, interesting. I’ll follow up on it!

    Rich – yeah, that was my impression. I’m going to see if I can track down the actual statement. I would not be surprised if there was some creative editing done, but at the same time Wayne’s post left a bad taste in my mouth.

  14. indiechouette March 19, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    Thank you for fueling the fire. I must admit, I’ve been behind on reading up lately. I’m glad you brought up the political aspect of things–sadly, loads of politicians don’t know their constituents well. And so they make unfounded assumptions like that–that people wouldn’t donate money to help cats. It just gives us more of a reason to write our representatives and senators and mayors and governors. I mean, as for members of Congress, for the most part, they’re not in the region they’re representing. They know what’s going on, but they need opinions. There’s the argument that they won’t listen, but they do listen, at least in the form of taking a tally for whatever stance you may take. And if you bring up a new issue, they’ll hear about it. Not enough people write. Of course, part of it is that the politicians don’t reach out and ask for the opinions of their constituents, I guess.

    Also, “humanely killing.” Isn’t that an oxymoron?

  15. Deb March 19, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    Indie – I’m glad the political part resonated with you! That’s an excellent reminder that we should bug our representatives in all levels of government with what we really think about issues. You are absolutely right – they don’t know what is important to us unless we tell them. As cynical as I am about them and the entire system, it takes very little time to leave them a message or write them an email! And thus I should.

    And yeah, I think that humanely killing is an oxymoron, aside from the obvious exceptions when someone is in such pain with no hope for recovery that euthanasia is the humane thing. But in the context it was used here, it would have been the killing of healthy animals, and there is nothing humane about that.

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