OPINION: Real Facts Provide Real Hope for Feral Cats
By: Phil Pass
While Jim Wright’s “Grim reality for feral cats: Shelters euthanize
March 2, 2007)
is certainly a grim story, it certainly does not portray the real facts
of abandoned pets and feral cats.
If the great state of New Jersey is to address this challenging
situation effectively, it must first address real facts and not
unfounded fears. New Jersey has a great opportunity, and demonstrated
need, to join other states (New York, Florida, California and others)
leading the way to effectively manage strays and ferals populations. Not
only will effective management provide a humane solution for the pets
and their offspring that we humans have wronged, but it will also save
New Jersey taxpayers money in the process—a real win-win for all.
In states where the old polity of adoption or euthanasia is the only
offered solution, few strays are deemed adoptable and the remaining
strays and feral cats are euthanized—a significant cost annually to
maintain. In contrast, states that have operating programs that offer
TNR (trap, neuter, return) and ongoing monitoring stray/feral colonies
operate at one quarter to one third the expense of traditional
euthanasia programs (Alley Cat Allies, ©2005) and reduces or removes the
problems associated with unneutered feline behavior.
To clarify the difference between strays and feral cats, used
interchangeably in Mr. Wright’s article at time, stray cats are
abandoned pets and feral cats are born in the wild and have had no human
socialization. Strays can be resocialized; feral cats in most cases
cannot be socialized. Strays and feral cats live in social groups and do
not tend to roam from their established territories.
While fining people $2k may be a mild revenue generator for the city of
Passaic, it will not do anything to change the populations of strays or
ferals. Studies have shown that when one group of stray/feral cats is
eliminated, another usually moves into the unoccupied territory, versus
elimination of the so-called “problem”. A real solution requires a
multipronged approach to addressing feline overpopulation and
First, humans do need greater education on the needs and care of cats
prior to adoption. Misperceptions of cats have persisted over the
centuries and still do today. This is especially true of feline behavior
in the wild. Even most professionals in animal control are unaware of
actual behavior and health statistics of cats in the wild. As a result,
incorrect assumptions are made and false statements are made out of fear
instead of based upon facts. This is evident in the comments from Ms.
Tyler and Mr. Comery. The reality is there are no recorded cases
of a cat biting or a cat vectored rabies case in the state of New
Jersey. Further, feral cats are not socialized with humans and do not
“play” with children or adults. Cities that employ management of
undomesticated cats know that their strays/ferals are easily
recognizable due to the practice of ear tipping after TNR. In fact,
feral cats are generally in good health and have no greater incidence of
disease of that of owned cats
of free-roaming cats evaluated in a trap-neuter-return program,” Karen
C. Scott, PhD; Julie K. Levy, DVM, PhD, DACVIM; P. Cynda Crawford, DVM,
PhD. JAVMA, Vol 221, No. 8, October 15, 2002).
Second, cats should stay indoors as this greatly enhances their quality
of life and longevity. The average feral cat lives two to three years.
The average indoor/outdoor domesticate cat lives seven years. The
average indoor-only domesticated cat lives an average of 15 years.
Further, keeping cats indoors and spaying/neutering pets greatly reduces
unintended pregnancies and hence increasing the unowned cat population.
Third, both domesticated and feral cats need to be either spayed or
neutered. This would eliminate the greatest contributor the increase in
population of unowned cats. To show the dramatic effects, a good example
follows: In San Diego county,
the Feral Cat Coalition trapped and neutered more than 3,100 cats in a
two-year period. Prior to that time, San Diego County Animal Management
Information System was reporting an increase of 10 percent per year in
the number of cats handled (more than 19,000 cats in 1992). After two
years of the TNR program, however, the number' dropped 35 percent
(12,446cats)—and euthanasia figures dropped 40 percent (as reported by
Moira Allen, Cats Magazine;
Mar1999, Vol. 55 Issue 3, p30, 5p, 5c, 1bw).
For those cats that we humans have abandoned, we must do the right thing
and employ humane programs that provide quality of life and
reduce/eliminate feral colonies. The proven program for success is TNR
programs with ongoing monitoring of cat colonies. Although Mr. Wright
gives mention of TNR programs, he failed to mention that kittens of TNR
cats are removed from the colonies and placed in adoption facilitates as
they are easily socialized and highly adoptable. This practice greatly
reduces overall numbers of feral cats.
In an eleven-year TNR study involving 155 cats in eleven discrete
colonies ranging in size from three to twenty-five cats each, EVERY
colony was reduced in number. The study concluded in April 2002 with
final populations ranging from one to five cats per colony. Three
colonies disbanded altogether and were not reestablished by new cats,
despite the continued existence of a food source. Sterilization,
attrition, and an aggressive adoption program as well as ongoing
monitoring contributed to the study’s success.
(“Evaluation of the effect of
a long-term trap-neuter-return and adoption program on a free-roaming
cat population,” Julie K. Levy, DVM, PhD, DACVIM; David W. Gale; Leslie
A. Gale, BS. JAVMA, Vol 222, No. 1, January 1, 2003).
The bottom line is a bit more complex than just neutering our pets, but with a bit of effort it is clear that there is real hope for all cats if we simply engage ourselves in a real, humane solution based upon real facts.