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M. Rupert Cutler
Sunday, March 17, 2013
No question, the human-animal bond is a force to be respected. But what’s the best way to show respect for the animals we love? Not through trap-neuter-return programs, but by keeping cats indoors.
Cats make great companions. Cats followed me home when I delivered papers as a kid in Detroit and were welcomed by my family. But my bond with birds is stronger. It began as a member of the Audubon Youth of Detroit and became my vocation. My degree in wildlife biology led to career employment by wildlife conservation agencies. Today, my human-animal bond is reinforced when I look for birds along the Lick Run Greenway. Often, I am accompanied by a cat whose bird-stalking ability exceeds mine. Seeing those stealthy cats reminds me of the feathers we found under our bird feeders when we lived in South Roanoke. Birds and cats do not mix.
Wildlife biologists and many veterinarians agree on the severity of this problem and on the solution. The answer of The Wildlife Society, the organization of professional wildlife managers, to today’s question is an emphatic no. Feral cats, offspring of abandoned household pets, revert to a wild state and form colonies wherever food and shelter are available. They reduce bird populations and threaten public health.
Cats in the U.S. kill a million birds and many small mammals such as rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks every day. Wildlife professionals believe pet cats should be kept indoors, and feral cats should be removed from the environment to protect wildlife from cat predation.
How do veterinarians feel about this question? I asked a vet friend who has participated in the TNR program at the Angels of Assisi clinic here. She says the wildlife vet in her was always at odds with returning the neutered cats to the out-of-doors. She has worked with wildlife rehabilitators over many years and has seen the impact outdoor cats have on songbirds and native mammals. Her conclusion: “Cats should be kept indoors. The feral cat problem is man-made. It is up to each community to handle this problem through education and euthanasia when necessary. Letting cats fend for themselves is not humane. It is more humane to put them down than to have them hit by cars or starving and freezing to death.”
Some communities have extended responsible pet requirements to cover cats as well as dogs. Licensing, control and restraint ordinances help ensure that cats receive the care and protection they deserve. While it may be easier for communities to pretend the feral cat problem doesn’t exist, the responsible course is to make the decision to trap and euthanize them, to end the cats’ suffering as well as save our wildlife.
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