MY TURN: Feral Cat Plan Is Only Humane Option
Recently proposed revisions to the Moore County Animal Control Ordinance have ignited some controversy over how to control the large feral cat population in our county.
One of the objectives of the committee that worked on these revisions is to reduce the euthanasia rate in our county. The intent of including "trap, neuter, return," commonly referred to as TNR, is to promote a humane way to reduce the feral cat population and to help meet this objective. The language proposed does not mandate TNR; it simply defines it as "a feral cat program that is viewed as a viable alternative to euthanasia."
TNR is an effective, internationally recognized program to reduce, and eventually eliminate, feral cats. Cats are trapped, vaccinated, spayed or neutered and returned to their original location, where a caregiver feeds them and monitors their health. It is the only method proven to be humane and effective at controlling feral cat population growth.
Feral cats are either born outside and have never lived with humans or are house cats that have strayed and over time have become unsocialized to humans. They are primarily the result of pet owners' abandonment or failure to spay and neuter their animals.
Strong passions emerge from both sides concerning feral cats. Misunderstandings and controversies can obstruct progress and interfere with the humane care of these cats.
Supporters of feral cats have the exact same goal as those against them. That is to have no more feral cats. We differ on the way to achieve this goal. Trap-and-kill has been in place for decades and has failed. It's time to give TNR a chance.
One of the primary misconceptions about feral cat caregivers is that they "establish" cat colonies. In fact, the opposite is true. They are helping cats that are already there and through TNR are actively working to reduce their numbers over time. Feeding the cats reduces wandering and other behaviors that may lead to conflicts.
TNR has many advantages. It stabilizes the size of the colony by eliminating new litters. The nuisance behavior often associated with feral cats is dramatically reduced, including the yowling and fighting that come with mating activity and the odor of unneutered males spraying to mark their territory.
The returned colony also guards its territory, preventing unneutered cats from moving in and beginning the cycle of overpopulation and problem behavior anew. Also, the cats continue to provide natural rodent control.
Many towns and large municipalities across the country have adopted humane management for ferals. Baltimore, Md., has made TNR an officially recognized method of helping stray and feral cats. Riverside, Mo., has a city-funded TNR program. Cape May, N.J., has had a TNR program for more than 10 years. Tomkins County in Ithaca, N.Y., began a program to "kill no feral cats" in 2001. Its animal control budget went from a deficit of $150,000 to a surplus of $23,000.
TNR does work. In New York City, for example, as of February 2008 there were 465 registered colonies of feral cats. When TNR began in these colonies, 6,047 cats were present. Today there are 4,523 cats in the same colonies, a decline of about 25 percent. If it can work in America's largest city, it can work in Moore County.
The fact is, feral cats exist. There are three choices. Leave them alone, try to exterminate them or humanely control them. Doing nothing and trying to exterminate them have resulted in the current crisis. Trying to "rescue" the cats and find them all homes is unattainable, given their numbers and the futility of trying to socialize most of them.
Trap-and-kill is simply ineffective. If all the cats are not caught, the ones left behind overbreed until the former population level is reached. Even if all the cats are removed, new unneutered cats tend to move in to take advantage of whatever food source there was. The cycle starts again, and the killing continues indefinitely.
TNR is an idea whose time has come. Cats have been a part of our society for thousands of years and have recently replaced dogs as the No. 1 pet in the U.S. We need to manage feral cats with enlightened techniques that allow them to live out their lives while minimizing any possible negative impact.
Sherry Mortenson lives in Southern Pines with "10 cats, one dog, two horses and one husband." She is a cofounder of Feral Friends of the Sandhills and participated in the Animal Control Ordinance update as it pertains to feral cats.ꆱ
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