WILD THINGS – Feral-cat management offers alternative to killing
By Gina Spadafori
The very reason our ancestors first decided they wanted cats around is used today to argue against allowing any cats to roam freely: They hunt, efficiently.
The predatory skill that cats brought to eliminating rodents in grain storage is now labeled a danger to endangered species and prized songbirds. That’s another good reason for keeping pet cats inside, but what to do with the ferals — pets gone wild and their unsocialized offspring?
Advocates of TNR — trap, neuter and release — say maintaining healthy, neutered feral cat colonies is the best way to reduce feline numbers and problems. And, they argue, it’s both a kinder and more effective way than trapping and killing untamable cats.
There have always been kind-hearted people who feed homeless cats, even if it’s just sharing a tuna sandwich from a park bench. There have also always been people who find colonies of feral cats to be annoying: The cats make noise, they mess and spray, and they multiply like, well, cats.
Cities, colleges and military bases — and other institutions with large pieces of land to manage — used to routinely handle feral cat colonies by trapping all the cats and killing those who could not be tamed for adoption.
However, TNR advocates argue that just feeding feral cats makes the problem worse (because the animals keep breeding), but that trapping and killing the cats doesn’t solve the problem in the long run, either.
Instead, TNR volunteers trap the cats, place the ones they can in caring homes, and return the truly untamable to their original territory after they’ve been neutered and vaccinated. These colonies can then be fed and cared for in a hands-off but humane way, while their numbers dwindle naturally because the reproductive taps have been turned off for good.
Trap, neuter and release programs for feral cats seem counterintuitive to many people. If you don’t want cats around, wouldn’t it make sense just to remove them permanently?
But when you remove cats, TNR advocates say, other animals take their place. That’s because the food sources that attracted the cats will still be there, which means more cats (or rats, coyotes or raccoons) will eventually show up. They point to studies showing that TNR policies really do reduce feral cat populations.
Neutering reduces the fighting, yowling and spraying behaviors, many of which are associated with fighting over mates. The neutered cats defend their territory, too, and prevent other animals from moving in — including unneutered cats who could breed. The colony caretakers are quick to remove and find homes for any abandoned pets who turn up, as well as any kittens.
While such programs aren’t perfect — and aren’t considered appropriate for ecologically sensitive locations or areas where the protection of small-prey species is necessary — trap, neuter and release is an option that must be considered where feral cats are a problem.
TNR is a strategy that’s both humane and sensible, and it should be allowed to become the new “common knowledge” when it comes to feral cats. Want more information? Visit the website of Alley Cat Allies (alleycat.org).