About Feral Cats – One More Time

You may have seen Janelle Retka’s piece from the Yakima (Washington) Herald-Republic inside the front cover of this rag on 7 January. The headline read “Struggle to keep up with feral cat population in Yakima County.” This is an ever increasing problem – in hundreds of communities across the US and the world. Yakima City Councilman Jason White was quoted as hoping that incoming City Council members would help “create systematic change” to how the problem has been handled. Sadly (in my science- and observation-based opinion), the majority of the article was devoted to local TNR (trap, neuter and release) programs and the need for more “heaven sent” volunteers to catch and release ever more neutered cats.

I have written about this “issue” (feral and free-roaming cats and their impacts on birds and wildlife) a time or two in the past. My Ellensburg Daily Record column of 3 October, 2003, triggered local emails and phone calls to cat fans scattered far and wide, suggesting that I (a college professor, of all things) was urging kids to shoot cats. That wildly erroneous information engendered several rather vitriolic letters to the editor of this rag from across the U.S. and as far away as Europe and Hawaii.

Be that as it may, there are literally hundreds of stories and studies regarding the damage done by unattached cats. One from 2008 had to do with a cat and dead bats in a neighborhood near Mill Creek, Washington. Seems that, as moths came in at night to feed on blooming yuccas, bats swept through to feed on the moths. The neighborhood free-roaming cat simply waited under the yuccas and nailed the bats. The neighbors, who all put out food for the cat, were skeptical of the findings of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists until they sat up and watched the cat kill a couple bats. As has been found in any number of studies, the cat was well fed – the killing was not for food; the dead bats were simply left on the ground. (The cat was then adopted by a family which promised to keep it inside.)

The American Bird Conservancy, as part of its mission to protect native birds and their habitat, launched Cats Indoors! a couple decades ago. This in response to what is, today, some 100 million feral or free-roaming cats in the U.S. killing as many as a billion birds per year. (A 2013 report based on the work of scientists at the Smithsonian and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said that free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals each year.) On the Conservancy’s website (www.abcbirds.org), are pretty comprehensive feral cat discussions under links to “Threats” and “Solutions.” The Conservancy posts this statement: “Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) is advertised as a tool to reduce feral cat numbers. Unfortunately, TNR programs have been shown to fail to reduce feral cat populations while simultaneously maintaining feral cats on the landscape, where they contribute to wildlife and public health risks.”

Some writers, including Audubon Magazine writer, and widely respected environmental journalist Ted Williams, have even described TNR as a “dangerous, cruel…practice.”

If you are truly interested in a larger – and well-documented – picture of the issue of feral cats, I recommend that you read a July 3, 2018, piece by Joan Meiners (Twitter at @beecycles). Joan was an Ecology PhD candidate at the University of Florida and a summer environmental reporter for NOLA.com. She was working under a fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Find her “15 reasons science says feral cats are a disaster” at www.nola.com/archive/article_eb5c5aae-d596-552f-995d-6dfbe87ce68f.html.

Documentation follows each of these “15 reasons:” 1. Feral cats are ecological serial killers (a 2013 study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute found free-ranging, domestic cats (mostly unowned) to be the single largest human-caused threat to wildlife); 2. Feral cats kill for fun, abandoning dead animals that become food for more rats (cats are “surplus killers” – they kill more prey than they eat); 3. Outdoor cats kill between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion songbirds every year; 4. Outdoor cats kill at least 6.9 billion mammals per year, most not rats; 5. So where does the idea of cats as rat killers come from? Ships in the 1800s; 6. Jack Russel Terriers might be better at killing rats anyway; 7. Feral cats decimate the primary consumers of mosquitos and other insect pests; 8. Cats are the top carriers of rabies among domestic animals in the US; 9. Cats spread toxolasmosis; 10. The parasite in cat poop stays in the soil for a long time; 11. Living with cats during childhood has been linked to increased risk of schizophrenia; 12. Exposure to feral cats could make you a bad driver, or a poor student; 13. Food left out for feral cats likely feeds city rats, too; 14. Outdoor cats are overwhelming not only wildlife, but animal shelters; and, 15. Studies suggest most trap-neuter-release programs don’t reduce cat populations

Whatever your perspective, consider the voices of thousands across the country asking that cats be kept inside, or confined or on a leash when outside. This is a time of year when birds, especially, are highly vulnerable while feeding and surviving.

Then, too, studies have shown that cats kept inside live longer.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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