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The Green Life: Ask Mr. Green: What to Do About Feral Cats

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March 18, 2014

Ask Mr. Green: What to Do About Feral Cats

Mr. Green is Bob Schildgen

Hey Mr. Green, 

What are the preferred method(s) of reducing feral cats populations if not eliminating them altogether? —Donald in Burtonsville, Maryland

The feral cat is an invasive, non-native species that kills amphibians, reptiles, and 1.5 billion birds and 11 billion mammals a year, according to a study by the Smithsonian Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The 50 million wild felines that the Humane Society estimates roam the landscape also deprive native predators of food. Extermination is obviously out of the question, because millions of cat lovers and animal rights advocates simply wouldn’t stand for it. We favor warm, fuzzy, flattering creatures to birds or lizards that usually get the hell out when humans show up.

Trap-neuter-and-return (TNR) programs are advocated by most major animal-protection organizations but opposed by wildlife biologists and bird-protection groups such as the American Bird Conservancy. Even some animal rights groups, like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, oppose TNR: PETA says the programs “are not usually in cats’ best interests,” because the “altered” cat still must struggle to survive. The feral life span averages two years, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal—one-ninth a life instead of the proverbial nine. There is some evidence that feral populations can be reduced if the cats get diligent, long-term management: For more on this point, visit the ASPCA or Alley Cat Allies.

So, there’s no simple solution, but one policy all parties agree on is this: Cats should be kept indoors and never allowed outside unless they’re under strict supervision. Domestic cats do kill, and when let outside become vulnerable to diseases, brawls, and fatal encounters with wildlife. Indoor cats live longer—and arguably are happier. Gazing out the window at prey might actually be TV for tabby, and not an oppressive form of house arrest. —Bob Schildgen

--illustation by Little Friends of Printmaking

 

Got a question? Ask Mr. Green!


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