Veterinarian Dr Gary Patroneck writes: “Complete reconciliation between cat advocates, wildlife protectors, and public health authorities may not be possible, but conflicts could be minimized if risks were portrayed without exaggeration or minimization.”
At Alley Cat Rescue we have always acknowledged that cats are predators. They catch small rodents like rats and mice. And yes, some cats catch birds.
This is what I have been saying for almost 20 years:
- Cats are rodent specialists ----they are built to sit- and -wait for small animals to come out of holes and burrows. I have personally witnessed this many times in a colony I was caring for in Langley Park, Maryland. Many mornings one cat in particular would be sitting patiently outside a hole in the cement paving where I had seen mice and even rats go down.
- Some cats do become bird specialists.
- Feral cats are “opportunistic feeders”---they will eat what is most easily available, without having to expend too much energy on obtaining their food
- Feral cats become scavengers, eating from human trash and garbage. This is how they became “domesticated” 9,000 years ago. The African Wildcat (ancestor of our modern housecat) found rodents eating stored grain in the Middle East and North Africa, and they preyed upon the easily-available rodents, then as the villages made friends with the cats, probably because of their hunting prowess—they were fed table scraps, and probably found bits of meat thrown out in human trash.
- Much of the so-called devastation cats have on biodiversity comes from island studies, where many birds are ground-nesting and have not evolved with mammals. Therefore the cats that were taken on ships to islands to control the introduced rodents, do prey on native birds, but they also keep the rodent population in check, and if the cats are poisoned or trapped and killed, the rodents simply multiply rapidly and then eat the birds’ eggs or even prey on the baby birds. Which defeats the whole concept of killing the cats to protect the birds.
Feral cats are simply filling the niches left open by natural predators that have been driven to extinction by humans. Cats have filled niches left by native predators killed by our own government and by farmers and hunters…animals such as foxes, grey wolves, coyotes and wildcats (bobcats, mountain lions, jaguars, ocelots). These animals were killed in their millions by the US government’s Animal Damage Control program to protect farm animals from predators. Native predators also lost their prey animals due to humans overdeveloping the land.
Mesopredator release is a fairly new concept that is gaining approval. When larger predators are removed or killed, and are taken out of an ecosystem, the number of mesopredators (defined as medium-sized predators, such as raccoons, skunks, snakes, cats, and foxes) increase in abundance. In other words they fill the niches left open by the removal of larger predators.
A Columbia University study found that “reducing cats’ effect on the ecosystem may actually have a negative impact upon some native species due to the possibility of ‘mesopredator release effect’. The study also recommended that we confront the cat population problem with a combination of methods: “enlist the “trap-neuter-return” style of feral management and combine it with incentives for owners to sterilize their pet cats.”
So what is everyone doing?
Well some of us rolled up our sleeves and started trapping and sterilizing to reduce and control cat populations. This started seriously in 1990 as several large TNR groups formed in Florida, North Carolina, San Diego, Portland, and here in Maryland, Alley Cat Rescue’s headquarters. Each group has spayed and neutered tens of thousands of feral cats. Not only has ACR actually trapped and neutered thousands of feral cats here in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia, we have also helped countless people all across the country through our National Cat Actions Teams. Smaller groups in nearly every city and town in the U.S. also have started TNR programs. Ordinary individuals have trapped the “backyard or porch strays” and had them fixed.
Other folks are still afraid of us, and complaining about “too many cats” and yet doing nothing about it. Sadly some animal shelters are still trapping and killing—despite the evidence that this does not help; and in fact can be counter-productive, as new cats from the surrounding areas quickly take advantage of the available niches and move in to repopulate the areas.
Dr Julie Levy, Founder of Operation Catnip, says: “Eradication of feral cats has only been accomplished on small uninhabited islands in which a combination of poisoning, shooting, trapping, and a deliberate release of infectious diseases was used over decades at a cost of millions of dollars.”
The TNR movement is growing and gathering converts every day. We do hope the attacks will stop, as it uses up resources that could be used to help the cats. We need to have more low-cost clinics helping people with TNR. We also need to use these clinics to help those who can either cannot afford to fix their own housecats, or who for some other reason will not fix their cats.
If we do not PREVENT new cats from entering colonies or from forming new colonies, we will just be spinning our wheels. ACR runs a weekly low-cost spay-neuter clinic to do just this.
But please, do support those people helping these community cats. Compassion and being humane and ethical should be rewarded, not penalized, and certainly not belittled.