Cat Fight: Animal Welfare Groups Disagree Over Management of Feral Cat Population

Trap–neuter–return (TNR) is an approach to feral cat management in which cats are humanely trapped, surgically sterilized, tested and vaccinated for diseases, and returned to the environment where they were captured. Volunteers feed cat colonies daily and monitor the colony for health problems and newcomers[1].
TNR programs humanely trap feral cats, then neuter and vaccinate before returning them to their outdoor homes

TNR programs humanely trap feral cats, then neuter and vaccinate before returning them to their outdoor homes.
©2013 LyannValadez

According to Alley Cat Allies, the theory behind TNR is that the population of a colony will decline as neutered felines die off without replacing themselves. Opponents of TNR, including the animal welfare community and conservation biologists, argue that the practice is “essentially cat hoarding without walls”[ii]. Many conservation biologists claim that the predatory activity of feral cats has caused a dramatic reduction in the populations of birds, small mammals, and reptiles. Research in the U.S. and abroad has implicated cats in the deaths of tens of millions or even hundreds of millions of birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians each year[iii].
  Some jurisdictions have adopted programs to manage feral cats by trap–neuter–return (TNR), while other jurisdictions have no formal policy regarding feral cats. In May 2012, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, approved an ordinance that allows staff at the Central Oklahoma Humane Society to sterilize and vaccinate feral cats and return them to their neighborhood of origin. “This is about reducing the birth rate of cats through sterilization.  If we can humanely stop the breeding of homeless or loosely owned cats, we can better control their population in the future and hopefully reduce shelter intake over time,” says Central Oklahoma Humane Society Shelter Superintendent Catherine English. Just a few miles south of Oklahoma City, in the city of Norman, “there is no ordinance…regarding feral cats,” according to a Norman Animal Welfare officer who asked not to be named. Instead, “we have people who come in and get a trap to put on their property.” The cats are brought to the animal shelter where a determination is made whether they are adoptable or not. Cats that are not adoptable are euthanized. One caregiver for a colony of feral cats at a convenience store in rural Norman, Tiffany Stuck, says she calls Hands Helping Paws whenever new cats join the group. “Sometimes, we can find people with barns who will take the cats” after they have been neutered, vaccinated and returned.
Feral cats often become attached to their caregiver. ©2013LyannValadez

Although they will never be fully socialized, feral cats may become attached to their caregiver.
©2013 LyannValadez

When asked whether people complain about the cats, Ms. Stuck states, “a lot of people ask why we don’t get rid of the cats. They say the cats carry diseases and should be killed. Other people are very nice and donate bags of cat food to help out.” Ms. Stuck says kittens are usually not returned to the store. “If they’re young enough, they can usually be adopted out. It’s the older cats we have to take care of.” Kim Fairbanks of Hands Helping Paws routinely checks on colonies of feral cats in the Norman area, including the store where Ms. Stuck works. Ms. Fairbanks states, “up until about 12 weeks of age, kittens can usually be socialized and adopted.” According to Ms. Fairbanks the goal of the TNR program is to stabilize the population of any given colony with the expectation that the number of feral cats will decline. If there is any common ground in the feral cat debate, it centers on the idea that humans started this whole mess by abandoning their unwanted pets.
A colony of feral cats is known as a "clowder" ©2013 LyannValadez

A colony of feral cats is known as a "clowder"
©2013 LyannValadez

An estimated 48 million of the nation's 73 million pet cats are allowed outdoors, and an estimated 40 to 100 million more are stray or feral[iv]. All those cats have a devastating effect on wildlife, especially species already imperiled by habitat loss and other, more direct human causes. The American Bird Conservancy, through a program called Cats Indoors! urges people to keep their cats inside where they can't pose a threat to birds and other animals.

[i] Longcore, T., Rich, C., & Sullivan, L. (2009). Critical Assessment Of Claims Regarding Management Of Feral Cats By Trap–Neuter–Return. Conservation Biology, 23(4), 887-894.
[ii] Lepczyk, C., Dauphin, N., Bird, D., Conant, S., Cooper, R., Duffy, D., & ... Temple, S. (2010). What Conservation Biologists Can Do to Counter Trap-Neuter-Return: Response to Longcore et al. Conservation Biology, 24(2), 627-629.
[iii] The Feline's Feast. (1997). Environment, 3921-22.
[iv] Kitty the Killer? The Raging Debate Over Feral Cats. By: Hall, Phoebe, E: The Environmental Magazine, 10468021, September/October 2003, Vol. 14, Issue 5

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