Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Feral Cats

Audubon magazine has a superb article about the feral cat "Trap, Neuter, Release" programs that are subsidizing feral cats, making them last longer as bird killers without reducing their numbers ANYWHERE. It's a great article which I strongly recommend.

My personal cat, Kasey, came from one of those ridiculous TNR programs--I took her in because I couldn't bear to watch her killing birds. She's very happy indoors. Those cats that cannot adapt to indoor life should be caged or humanely euthanized. Period.


  1. I usually agree with you on everything, Laura, but this is outright incorrect. I do a LOT of cat rescue, and feral cats are typically not "tamable", nor should they be. It's like trapping and taming a raccoon who knows nothing other than living in the wild (we are not talking about former stray/owned cats). TNR is THE only humane way to control populations, and when it is done CORRECTLY, the numbers decrease dramatically until they are gone. If you TNR in a piecemeal fashion, of course it is not going to work. Feral cats kill what they need to eat, just like any other predator. This article and the information is wrong. If you want the truth, check out Alley Cat Allies, Animal Ark in Minnesota, or Best Friends Sanctuary in Utah. But please do not post this nonsense.

  2. This article is most assuredly not nonsense. The only feral cat I've ever dealt with is the one I now live with, though I agree with you that most feral cats aren't tamable and in many cases cannot be happy indoors at all. Based on all the information I've read in juried articles in scientific journals written by scientists, feral and outdoor cats take a huge number of native birds, hurting both individual birds and populations. If feral cat proponent groups cannot restrain these cats from killing birds, the feral cat proponents responsible for protecting these cats should be fined for taking protected birds and the cats should be removed as humanely as possible, by shooting if other means are impossible.

    There is no place on earth where these feral cat colonies have dwindled, or even declined, over time. This is holding up a false promise at the expense of too many other living creatures.

  3. I have followed this conflict between cat people and wildlife advocates for some time. And I did read the recent Audubon article.

    The data published over the past several years does strongly indicate that cats, an exotic species in North America, are causing great damage to native animal populations in the same way exotic species have wreaked havoc for centuries when allowed to roam free and "do what comes naturally."

    This should come as no surprise to anyone, as the principle is well understood and well documented. The "cat people" cannot accept it because they have a sentimental attachment to cats.

    I do not normally eschew emotions when evaluating a course of action, but this is a case when ethics require that we allow reason to temper the warm fuzzy feelings that we feel for household pets.

    If you are willing to sacrifice millions of birds every year so that an exotic species can exist, then your ethics need examining. When I find feral cats around my bird feeder, I live trap them and take them to the pound, where they are humanely euthanized. It saddens me, as I like many individual cats, but I will not enable them to use my birding area as their personal snack bar.

    I agree with Laura--keep your cats inside, and lets re-evaluate support of TNR, which most certainly does not work.

  4. As Ruthy says, this is not in the least to say we don't want cats treated in a humane way. I absolutely love my cat Kasey, and also Kitty, the cat who lives at my house in Minnesota with my husband. Kasey was a TNR feral cat, Kitty a stray. I love cats both individually and collectively, and want them properly cared for. But when that is impossible because there are more cats than caring humans, it's unfair to make American birds, which are not adapted to this exotic species, pay the price. Just on a death-by-death basis, each feral cat that is humanely euthanized prevents the deaths of multiple birds.

  5. Cats,whether neutered,de-clawed,well-fed,bell-wearing etc kill over 1 billion birds and small animals yearly in the USA and that is solid ,factual info.Any cat left to run on its own outside should be killed.up until the 1990s and political correctness and litigation many state game and fish depts. encouraged hunters to end any cat found more than 1/2 mi. from a farmstead because of the wanton destruction they do to the fauna.north american birds and small animals did not evolve with house cats and have no natural defences against them and the instinct to hunt in cats can not be extinguished.when it comes down to it they are "house' cats and like any pet owned by any responsible pet owner that is where they should dwell.

  6. Laurie, this is very strongly worded. I agree, but in the past I have tried to soften my message so as not to repel those "on the other side."

    However, I am coming to believe that non-strongly-worded messages fall on deaf ears. Our language in this matter does need to become more forceful, whilst also remaining evidence-based and respectful. What you've written is a good example of that -- although I'm sure it will ruffle some feathers. But that's ok.

  7. Better to ruffle some feathers than allow feral cats to do way more than that.

  8. I am a birder and a cat owner and lover. People and government are the problem here, not the animals.

    To Laurie, if a cat accidentally escapes and lands in your yard, it deserves death? I don't think so. Maybe birders need to keep pressuring local governments to require that cats, like other pets, be kept indoors or face fines, a point made by Natalie Angier recently. Using the argument that cats are "exotic" as a reason to kill them will never appeal to cat lovers, including myself.

  9. Anonymous,

    I live in Duluth, MN, where there is a city ordinance which requires cat owners to confine their cats indoors, at risk of being fined. The problem is, no one obeys the law. The city does not have the personnel to enforce this law. Thus, it's a very nice idea, but it doesn't work.

    That is why I live trap the cats in my yard and bring them to the shelter. I assume that the unclaimed ones are adopted or humanely euthanized if no home can be found. This is sad, but it's really up to the owner to keep their cat safe indoors.

  10. Duluth is also a migration magnet, so there are a LOT of vulnerable birds during fall-outs. When I was walking my son Tommy to kindergarten one fall morning, we came upon SEVENTEEN dead warblers on a one-block stretch, and as far as I could tell, they'd all been killed by a single cat. I knew where that cat lived so I put all the dead birds on their porch with a signed note saying if I ever saw their cat loose again, I'd take it to the pound. They kept it indoors after that.

    If I don't know whose cat it is, it's to the pound! I was a rehabber too long, and too many birds died in my hands, to tolerate cats on the prowl. Of course I feel sorry for unwanted cats (and two of the ones prowling around my yard became my own indoor cat pets) and I feel sorry for pet cats and their owners. But I feel just as sorry for individual birds, and when you consider that one cat who killed 17 birds during an October migration fallout--well, you do the math.

  11. "Those cats that cannot adapt to indoor life should be caged or humanely euthanized. Period."

    Beware using "should be". Your "should be" is like saying "someone ought to do something" - and bluntly speaking, without a realistic plan to back it up, it is not helpful or constructive.

    So who is going to cage the cats? Who is going to kill them? Where will the money come from? The manpower? If the tens of thousands of people donating time and money towards spaying and neutering feral cats all went away tomorrow what would you have left to implement your "plan"? Underfunded Animal Control agencies that can not enforce the anti-abandonment and anti-feeding laws already on the books, overwhelmed shelters that mostly can't take in a cat without killing one to make room, and soft-hearted well-meaning cat lovers in the millions that will continue to feed the "poor kitties", thereby contributing to the problem unchecked by any efforts to prevent breeding.

    Caging cats is unrealistic, if you don't realize this, you need to look at the numbers involved, and killing cats doesn't work. It has been the default method for centuries and as you know, cats are still living outside in great numbers. Even when societies hated cats and tried to exterminate them, it didn't work, did it? Why would it be different now, in this society that mostly likes if not loves cats?

    It is time to try something else, and TNR is it until something better comes along. TNR has not worked yet on a large scale not because it doesn't work at all but because there are not enough people doing it. But, as the article notes, it is catching on. As more people accept it and begin doing it, it will help. There are many examples that show that focused, targeted TNR that is followed with good colony management does work. Once you get enough cats in a given population sterilized, the population stabilizes and slowly decreases. Biologists admit this and common sense makes it pretty self-evident. It is achievable and has been achieved in well managed colonies.

    So to reiterate, the problem is not that TNR does not work, it is just that not enough people are doing it yet. The theory behind TNR is sound: prevent breeding = less cats. When enough people are preventing the breeding of cats, it biologically has to work. Yes, TNR advocates are many, vocal, and organized. We also have a plan and are actually doing something towards our common goal of decreasing the number of outdoor cats. Thanks for reading. - Chris

  12. Chris wrote "Beware using "should be". Your "should be" is like saying "someone ought to do something" - and bluntly speaking, without a realistic plan to back it up, it is not helpful or constructive."

    OK, so here's the plan. People keep their cats indoors, or be fined. Cats not indoors get live-trapped and taken to shelter, where they are either re-homed or euthanized. Hunting season (or other extermination plan) on feral cats initiated.

    They are doing something similar in Sweden with feral rabbits, which have become an environmental problem from the breeding of discarded pets. They hunt and kill them, and use the bodies to fuel power plants.

    I personally love rabbits -- I have free-ranging house rabbits and and derive great pleasure from their company. However, the Swedes are doing what they need to do to protect their ecosystem, and I think it's appropriate.

    We cannot sacrifice the health of entire ecosystems out of sentimental feelings for animals on to whom we project our emotional complexes.

  13. >There are many examples that show that focused, targeted TNR that is followed with good colony management does work.

    Show me just ONE scientific study that shows that these colonies have EVER reduced bird kills. Just one.

  14. Anyone who is ok with a cat being euthanized and takes a cat to the pound, knowing that they maybe euthanized is very cruel, PERIOD. People harm more birds and animals than any cat ever does. I'm assuming you all aren't vegetarians, so it's ok for you to kill animals and eat meat? But it's not ok for a hungry cat? Give me a break. Birds are more precious than cats, cows, turkeys, etc? I don't know how you can pick and choose what species is worthy of life. For the record, I love both birds and cats, I am also a vegetarian. I do not like seeing cats killing birds. But cats are out on the streets as a result of PEOPLE. Cats aren't killing birds to be evil, they're neglected and hungry. Would you kill your child for killing a bird? Instead, I advocate that feral cats should have a safe sanctuary, somewhere they can live out their lives without killing birds, without being caged or killed. Until that day comes, it's extremely cruel and evil to take them to the pound where they will be served a death sentence. What about cats who are lost, who might not be microchipped, who are scared of people and might appear to be feral? Cats who are scared/appear feral are almost always euthanized. Sick, sick, sick.

  15. There is a neighborhood I came across in CA, where a sign is posted saying something like, "Please stop shooting birds, you are damaging our vehicles." Yes, that's right, people are shooting and killing all species of birds in that neighborhood, and it's a rather expensive one too. I also came across two kittens, who are not feral, but were abandoned somehow. They are now with a rescue group. However, they have BB bullets in them. Yes, they were shot with a BB gun by some sick person. There are alot of good people. But overall the bad people do more harm to wildlife than any feral cat colony ever does. How about rounding them up and focusing your hate on them, after all they are the ones who let cats out and neglect them. They're the ones who kill birds for fun.

  16. I'm confused about the inability of people commenting here to read what has been written. No one here hates cats. My own dear Kasey was filled with worms and ratty looking when I took her in--she was part of those TNR programs but none too healthy or happy until she had a home. I love cats. But they are domesticated and have no place in the wild.

    I'm still waiting for ONE study to show that these TNR programs have ever, ever reduced bird deaths.

    I have my name attached to everything I write. I take responsibility for my words. I believe it's cowardly to post anonymously.

  17. I stand by my former comment, and it doesn't bother me if "anonymous" thinks I am cruel. No, I don't think some animals deserve more protection than others, but what we are talking about here are entire ecosystems -- that is networks of millions of living things--not just birds but also other species that interact with them.
    To try to protect one species, especially an exotic species, at the expense of a webwork of living things, is irrational. Moreover, some might call that "evil." Does it really help your sense of justice to throw words like that around?

  18. I'm so glad to see someone speaking rationally on this issue.

    I live next door to a so-called managed feral cat colony that is continually growing and includes many non-neutered cats. We're talking dozens of cats, in a residential neighborhood.

    They kill birds and small rodents regularly -- I've seen the results -- not to eat, but because they are predators by nature. I'm deeply concerned about the birds and other wildlife around here.

    TNR may sound nice in theory ... and certainly gives a feel-good buzz to its proponents ... but it doesn't work on the ground and is based on false assumptions.

    For the record, I'm an animal (and plant, and planet) lover who's dedicated my life to conservation. No one who knows me would ever call me cruel.

    And I'm convinced that treating cats as if they're somehow part of the ecosystem, entitled to roam freely, is wrong for cats, wrong for the ecosystem, and wrong for us. And it's doing great damage to everything I care most about.

    Thank you for posting this.

  19. Maybe it would be a lot wiser and a much better use of time to try to focus on the human impact on bird populations. Realistically people are the biggest threat to birds. Ever heard of a cat contributing to mass deforestation? Me either.

  20. As usual, I'm expected to answer an anonymous feral cat defender. I spent several years of my life researching the MANY ways people affect birds in bad ways in order to write my book, 101 Ways to Help Birds. Getting domesticated cats, feral and otherwise, out of the natural world is one of them, but there are 100 more. Just sayin'.