Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Feral Cat Update

My previous posts on the colony of feral cats that live on the Quivira Jetty have drawn a lot of traffic and commentary. I am very grateful for everyone who has stopped by and left their thoughts. It's all been quite civil. A couple of thoughts have occurred to me as I've watched the discussion unfold.

First, everyone involved has good hearts. While I am strongly against maintaining feral cat colonies and even come down firmly on the side of eradication, I can see that the feral supporters are motivated by kindheartedness. They don't want to see the little fuzzies hurt.

As wild and ecologically damaging as this kitty is, even I don't want to see it suffer. No one does.

I think that the feral supporters love cats, they've probably had to put down cats of their own and remember the pain of seeing their loved pet pass away. They can imagine what it would be like for the feral cat to be killed. In none of the comments, however, do they mention the pain and death of the local rodents that are killed by the ferals. Imagined or not, it does happen. Our own Maximum Leader is a well-fed, spayed tuxedo and despite having plenty to eat, she routinely brings in birds, lizards, insects and mice that she has killed. She can't help it; it's the way God made her. I let her out because I want her to live like a cat and I accept the death and destruction she dishes out to the locals. Call it hypocritical, but I've made that moral decision.

My wild brethren are fuzzy and cute, too. Their painful deaths at the hands of the ferals happen whether you imagine them or not.

One commenter left a link to the site, TNRrealitycheck, which discusses the drawbacks of the feral cat trap-neuter-release program.
The creators of this website are vehemently opposed to TNR for many reasons. In short, TNR does not reduce the feral cat population through natural attrition and comes at the expense of our native wildlife. TNR is inhumane for our companion animals and the existence of cat colonies contributes to the unending cycle of abandonment. TNR only appears to solve the problem of feral cat overpopulation, but in reality new problems are created.
Here's the part that really motivates my position.
Native wildlife has not developed the mechanisms to live alongside non-native predator species. This causes an imbalance and can decimate local wildlife populations. Native predator-prey fluctuations are normal and maintain an ecological balance and biodiversity. No balance can exist between domestic cats (an exotic species) and native wildlife in the environment.
It's worse that this. The feeding stations left by the feral cat supporters allow the alien predators, the ferals, to live in much higher concentrations than they would if left to their own devices. So not only are they a threat the locals have not adapted to, they are a massed threat. It's like having one crack house in your neighborhood and then finding that the government has subsidized three more right nearby. It's a disaster.

In the first post, I put up a poll to see which side my readers came down on. Due to some viral marketing of my post by the feral supporters, the vote has gone dramatically in one direction. I'll bet local city and county government meetings go this way, too, when feral eradication is discussed. Here's the poll again so you can vote if you'd like. Comments and discussion are very welcome.

Should the feral cats be exterminated?
Free polls from Pollhost.com


Anonymous said...

TNR reality check needs to check it's own reality . Socializing ferals is difficult and most rescue orgs will not mess with adult ferals that's why they are usually the first to end up being put down. They present no evidence that trap and remove works because there are simply no way to trap all the cats nor is their a way to totally remove every food source that these cats live on. Plus euthanizing animals doesn't reduce their populations nor does it reduce diseases such as rabies which will continue to exist whether or not cats are killed.There is no way to ultimately 100% remove the cats from the environment TNR atleast manages the existant populations.

Foxfier said...

Feral Lover-- I must disgaree. Killing the ferals will reduce the population. It won't reduce it to zero, but it *will* reduce the population.

Anonymous said...

"Plus euthanizing animals doesn't reduce their populations "

Well if you kill one, it reduces the population by one plus any offspring it might have produced. As for "populations", if you kill the whole lot of them, that would reduce it to zero.

K T Cat said...

Killing is also a lot easier than trapping. Humans are long range predators.

Anonymous said...

Socializing ferals is not as difficult as TNR advocates claim. These colonies consist of true ferals, but also semi-ferals, strays, skittish cats, and housepets permitted to roam.

There are citations on the References page of TNR Reality Check. For information about Trap and Remove that has worked, see the article by Linda Winter that appeared in the Nov. 2004 journal of JAVMA.

In both TNR and Trap and Remove, you may not be able to catch every cat. The difference is that in TNR those cats that remain are fed and then better able to breed.

No method is going to make a statistically significant dent in the population. Education is our best chance at changing the behavior of people.

Vaccinated cat colonies do not provide a buffer. See the position statement of the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians.

And KT Cat - your kitty really could live the full normal life of a cat indoors! Kitty can hunt toys and window hunt. So much better for wildlife and your cat's health if kitty is indoors. Did you ever consider a kitty enclosure or cat walk?

Anonymous said...

I saw so many false and/or half truths on that tnr reality check that I did not continue to read it.
And it is sad that a person (especially a hypocrite) has nothing better to do than try to cause trouble for innocent victims of society that are apparently being well cared for.

K T Cat said...


No, I haven't considered a kitty walk. I'm a self-avowed hypocrite. Our Maximum Leader goes outside and does what she pleases. I will admit that when she passes on, I may not get another cat and may instead begin feeding the local birds instead.

Anonymous said...

Is that a wild hamster?

Anonymous said...

Wow - it's hard to know where to begin here, although a good place might be stating that I'm a feral colony manager of 10 years experience, who lives in Northern Ireland. I did not become involved in colony management out of some sentimental desire to avoid seeing "cute, fuzzy little kitties" killed, but because of the well documented fact that the neutering, vaccination, feeding and monitoring of domestic cats living in the wild is the best way to stabilize their population growth, minimize their suffering, and turn them into an asset.

I'm partially sympathetic to your principle argument that domestic cats are not native to the San Diego area, and, when concentrated in large numbers, might pose a threat to native wildlife. However, a number of the assertions you make while backing this up are oversimplified and inaccurate to say the least. I'll be addressing the points you raised in your posts of July 07, 2007 and July 08, 2007 as well as in the present entry, and will link where appropriate. I'm warning you, though - this is a looooooong reply!

Part 1.

July 07, 2007
"It seems like people just don't want to come down on the side of eradication."

This is most probably because eradication is fraught with difficulty, and is far from the simple answer you appear to think it is. Firstly, domesticated cats have been around for quite a while - several thousand years in Europe, and roughly 400 in North America. They become part of a local eco-system, and exterminating them can result in a whole host of unforeseen and frequently unpleasant consequences. You might, for example, want to familiarise yourself with the aftermath of the Macquarie Island eradication programme. Secondly, neutering and vaccination schemes cost less than extermination. Environmental Health departments (is Pest Control the appropriate American synonym?) are already overstretched in dealing with the very real threats to both humans and wildlife posed by rattus rattus, rattus norvegicus and mus musculus. The unnecessary wholesale extermination of feral cats would exhaust their resources completely. Here in Belfast, well managed feral cat colonies are regarded by the local authorities as a beneficial contribution to vermin control. Thirdly, and most importantly, extermination does nothing to address the root cause of feral colonies - namely irresponsible pet owners who refuse to have their cats neutered. It can certainly be argued that TNR alone doesn't either, but more on that later.

K T Cat said...

Thanks for the very thoughtful replies. I don't know anything about the situation in Ireland, but I do know that in San Diego there is absolutely ZERO threat from rats or other pests. The city has totally wiped out the wild spaces through development. The remaining wild spaces are infested with feral cats.

If we killed all the feral cats, there would still be enough domestic cats to prevent pest animals like rats from making any kind of inroads into developed land at all.

Anonymous said...

Part 2.

July 10, 2007
"In none of the comments, however, do they mention the pain and death of the local rodents that are killed by the ferals."

Quite a few of those "local rodents", in fact all three examples I listed in the previous section - the Black Rat (Roof Rat), the Brown Rat and the Common Mouse, are invasive, non-native species in the United States. They aren't native to the UK or Ireland either. They breed prolifically - far in excess of the average cat, carry a variety of unpleasant diseases, and need to be controlled. As I said earlier, both domestic cats and well managed feral colonies contribute to this.

As for the photograph of the hamster, I'm honestly not certain what relevance it has. Hamsters aren't indigenous to North America either, so that wee fellah doesn't actually have any wild brethren in your locality for the feral cats to kill.

08 July, 2007
"These days, rodents are no more likely to be disease vectors than anything else, particularly because of the hyperinflated predator population that we all keep - cats and dogs."

That's why the County of San Diego Environment Health Department requires a Vector Control Programme. Be certain to refer to the mouse and rat pages.

Uncontrolled mouse and rat populations do pose a threat to human health, so I genuinely do not see how removing the predators which can help with this, i.e. feral cats, makes any sense at all.

Anonymous said...

KT - my apologies for posting Part 2 without referring to your reply to Part 1. We were presumably typing at roughly the same time.

I've just read over my remarks in Part 2, and they sound rather more aggressive than I'd intended - so apologies for that as well.

First of all, I'm very glad to hear that rats and other pests aren't exerting any further pressure on your local wildlife. Sadly, they do cause problems here in Ireland and elsewhere in the British Isles, hence the fact that properly monitored feral cat colonies are often regarded favourably.

Over-development is certainly a problem and it sounds like something all residents of San Diego who are concerned about their local fauna should be campaigning against.

As for your point about domestic cats providing sufficient vermin control in the city, I can see the logic behind that argument, but, unfortunately, those domestic cats and their frequently irresponsible owners are the source for feral cat colonies, so removal will not ultimately solve the problem.

Anyway - on to Part 3 of my reply.

One of the largest studies ever conducted into the demographics of urban feral populations took place in Rome, where a no-kill policy for cats was adopted in 1991. The effect of TNR was a general reduction in the city's existing feral cat community. However, the rate of immigration of stray or abandoned house animals into the established population was a staggering 21%.

The report concluded, in a fairly blunt manner, that TNR is effectively a waste of time unless is is accompanied by a widespread and concerted campaign aimed at promoting responsible cat ownership in the locality.

Am I uncomfortable with the idea of feral cats inhabiting a wildlife sanctuary - yes, and I would certainly support their removal to a less sensitive area. But the fact remains that feral cats are a problem created and perpetuated by humans, and this is what needs to be addressed.

Eradication programmes won't work as the rate at which cats are replaced by stray or abandoned animals is just too high. If the in-coming cats are un-neutered, the colonies will merely re-estabish themselves. TNR won't work in isolation for the same reason. But, when allied to a vigorous campaign of public education and incentives for pet owners to have their cats neutered, TNR does bear fruit.

In the years that I've been helping to manage feral cats, I've seen the average size of local colonies decline from 10-15 animals to 4-6. This is because my city council has backed our local animal welfare charity's TNR initiative, and has taken the necessary steps to encourage people to neuter their pets. For instance, they promote the financial assistance offered by charitable bodies for those on low incomes, run press, television and radio adverts, work closely with local feline welfare societies who organize talks at schools, youth groups, churches, residents' association meetings etc. The result is fewer cats breeding in the wild and and fewer un-neutered strays turning up at our feeding stations. Those who do appear are usually picked up for fostering until suitable homes can be found, so they don't have an opportunity to become integrated into the colony. Obviously this requires a fairly concerted effort on behalf of all concerned, but when steps are taken to really mobilize the local population, the results can be very pleasing indeed.

Anyway, I hope I've given you something to ponder, and thanks for taking the time to reply to my earlier post.

Anonymous said...

By the way, if anyone is interested, the report on the Rome survey can be downloaded here.

Anonymous said...

Feral cats are vermin and they need to be eradicated. I reserve the right to freely eradicate other vermin, so why can I not do the same for feral cats? Baby rodents are kinda fuzzy and cute, so why don't we capture neuter, and release them? These things avoid rodents, and are decimating my local song bird population. They keep knocking the vents out of my crawl space and the unhealthy odor from their excrement is now emanating into my home. Is the health and well being of a feral cat greater than that of a human being? They continue to claw my window screens apart. They claw their way into my garage and cause damage there and my garden as well. I should reserve the right to eradicate any form of vermin --including feral cats!

What about environmental damages the cats are imposing on our indigenous bird population? If you capture, spay/neuter, and release these unnatural predators, they will simply continue to feed on birds and other forms of indigenous wild life. If you eliminate the cat's miserable existence, it will spare the lives of countless song birds. I should reserve the legal right to destroy these unnatural pests at will!

krystal said...

Wow. To see somebody pervert the circle of life like this is disheartening to say the least. Animals survive off of other animals, such is the food chain. We, as humans, do it as well. It's nature. And we, as humans, are the cause of so many problems in the animal world. Our housing, development and pollution is negatively affecting the 'natives' as you call them far more than the also man-created problem of abandoned or 'ferals'. Do you know how many of those 'natives' are not indigenous to your area? Its staggering. I live in Westport and we thank Posiedon everyday that the jetty cats do what they do, keeping the docks wharf rat population down. If not for the jetty cats the rats would become problematic, as they have been before, overwhelming the waterfront retaraunts and motels. I beleive that you beleive you have concocted a sufficable justification to 'eradicate' a group of living beings whom have done absolutely nothing to deserve such spite. And beleive me it's not about cats being 'cute and fuzzy' I have mice, rats and hamsters but simply put they can't reciprocate affection the way cats can so stop trying to make the lonely old ladies that feed the 'ferals' feel like thy are committing a criminal act by caring for abandoned animals.