February 21, 2006 > Feral cats- caught between two worlds
Feral cats- caught between two worlds
by Nancy Lyon
They are the "others." Victims of human negligence and irresponsibility, they generally hide by day and come out at night, living in the shadows, hiding behind dumpsters, in the bushes of apartment complexes, schools, and restaurants. They are unwanted, vilified and abandoned seen by many as not having the right to live. And they are also statistics comprising the greatest number of animals put to death in animal shelters.
The dictionary defines the word feral as an animal not domesticated, or cultivated and having escaped or been abandoned from domestication and become wild. Feral cats in our community fit this profile. They and their offspring are no longer companion animals in the accepted sense, yet they are not considered as wildlife. They exist in a world where they have little, if any place, and their plight goes unnoticed except by a few committed and caring individuals.
Their tragic circumstances have generated a rift between compassionate cat lovers known as feral caretakers, some members of the public who do not share their feelings, and animal services that must respond to complaints.
Accusations fly with caretakers often seen as "humaniacs or cat crazies" and animal services efforts to enforce the law seen as heavy-handed and uncaring. The unfortunate cats are caught in the middle of the controversy and too often end up the losers. So, is there a humane solution to what seems to be the unending problem of too many feral cats?
Alley Cat Allies (ACA), a national organization, states that getting ahead of the feral cat overpopulation problem through adoption is not possible. Feral cats breed much faster than they can ever be tamed; they die in shelters in far greater numbers than can be adopted, and adoption resources do not exist to socialize and adopt the tens of millions of feral cats in this country.
ACA promotes reduction of numbers by a method called TNR-Trap, Neuter and Release as the most humane and effective way to reduce and control feral populations. Permanent removal from an area simply creates a vacuum where other unsterilized ferals capable of reproducing move in to take advantage of the food supply - and the population grows and grows.
While feral cats do have an impact on wildlife, scientific study shows that the number one cause of wildlife decline is loss of habitat due to human activity. By effectively reducing the number of ferals, that impact is greatly lessened. Also, a vaccinated, sterilized colony of feral cats poses no rabies threat to humans or wildlife.
TNR is the cutting edge of feral cat control, an accepted method in large and small jurisdictions in every region of the U.S., more effective than trapping and killing and generally costing 50 percent less than the cost of euthanasia. Orange County, Florida is a prime example of not only of successfully reducing the number of feral cats by TNR, it saved money for animal services and local taxpayers.
Who are feral cat caretakers who make such a difference? They are not the collectors or feeders who in their misguided caring actually contribute to the problem if they do not spay or neuter. Real caretakers are devoted and compassionate TNR advocates who are committed to overseeing and caring for the long term well-being of their charges, caregivers in the truest sense.
Many local caretakers feel harassed by animal services staff who are obligated to do their job when complaints occur. A joint meeting where there can be a rational dialogue and find ways to work together seems past due. Fremont has just purchased a state-of-the-art mobile spay/neuter and adoption van from proceeds from the state. It would seem reasonable from both a budgetary and humane perspective to utilize the opportunity for reasonably priced or free surgery for ferals on a regular basis using the van - no questions asked.
Funding could be found by working with local nonprofit animal organizations such as OHS, Fix-Our-Ferals and Nike Animal Foundation. The Three C's - Cooperation, Creativity and Commitment are an important part of the solution to the feral cat tragedy. It's to everyone's benefit - let's talk!
For in-depth information on feral cats and the efforts of Alley Cat Allies to find reasonable and humane solutions for ferals go to www.alleycat.org.