There is a sad planet out there. A world of dark allies, constant diseases, and fighting exists. It is a survival of the fittest, but this place is not a jungle; it is anyone’s backyard. Although some people have heard that there is a feral cat problem, most underestimate the consequences of letting the problem go unsolved. Besides being a human health risk and a nuisance, billions of dollars go towards euthanizing these helpless animals. There are effective solutions and there are also programs being implemented to help both humans and cats. However, humans should identify the problem as well as give more attention and help to feral cats before cat population grows beyond control and hurts the human population.
First, one should know what a feral cat is. According to most sources, a feral cat by definition is a feline that has little, none, or negative human contact and is not domesticated. A stray cat, on similar lines, is a feline that has wondered from its domesticated origins. The difference between a stray and a feral cat is little. A stray cat is tamer and can stand to be around humans. A feral is usually skittish and wilder. Their physicality is a slender, yet strong body with hunting traits. A feral will frequently hunt for its food. Ferals usually come about through a stray’s offspring. Another few definitions are alter, spay, neuter, and domesticated. To alter an animal is to spay or neuter it. When veterinarians spay an animal, they surgically remove the ovaries of a female. Neutering is the removal of male’s genitalia. Domesticated means raised in and around human society so as to be used to them. (Barrett 5) (Interview, Schwerin).
There are statistics out there that may seem unbelievable, but are indeed very real. For example, it is estimated that forty-one percent of the cat population in the world consists of strays (alleycat.org). There are at least sixty million ferals in the United States alone (alleycat.org). Some think kittens are cute. Seventeen million animals are killed each year in the United States because someone decided not to spay or neuter their animal (Mewtopia.org). How cute is that? It costs taxpayers two billion dollars each year to catch, house, kill, and dispose of homeless, American animals (feralcats.com). Just how many cats are out there? Americans spend more annually on cat food than on baby food (Mewtopia.org). In 1987, cats overtook dogs as the number one pet in America (Mewtopia.org). Finally is perhaps the most shocking statistic. Assuming that a female has to litters per year and there is a survival rate of 2.8 kittens per litter with continued breeding, there are twelve cats in the first year, sixty-six in the second, 3,822 in the fourth, 422,000 in seven years, and a staggering 80,399,780 in the tenth year (svn.net). Clearly, a population problem is imminent.
Before some solutions are stated, the problem must be clearly identified. There is a sanitation risk involved when feral cats live in dumpsters and allies. They carry disease such as AIDS, Rabies, Feline Leukemia, and Toxic Plasmosis (Interview Candebat). Some of these diseases can be transferred to humans through a bite. In addition, there is a nuisance problem that occurs when cats are in heat. At night, especially in the summer, cats will moan and groan to attract partners. One may sometimes hear catfights and complain to city management. It also costs billions of dollars to capture the animals, shelter them, and put them to death. If the cat population continues to grow, then by twenty years, it will be to late to have a cheaper, effective solution. The cats are not a noticeable problem now, but they will be as soon as people do not do something about it.
The first of many to be discussed solutions is the one on education. The public should be made aware of the population problem as well as solutions. The population grows when people do not neuter or spay their animals. Also, many people use the ineffective solution of killing the animals. Education will make them aware of a better way of handling things. Lastly, early education gives people a chance to respond to the problem before it is too late. Perhaps the most educational and fun way of getting to people comes on October 16 each year when National Feral Cat Day comes around. NFCD was founded by Allie Cat Allies in 2001 and has three main goals: “to explain nonlethal control to segments of the public who do not know either the severity of feline over-population or the solution to it, but they know they don't want cats killed,” “to enlighten animal welfare professionals who do not yet know, or care, about Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR),” and “to proclaim to their communities that TNR works.” (alleycat.org) On NFCD, Allie Cat Allies and those who sponsor the day issue posters and packets to the media as well as veterinarians. Veterinarians have perhaps the most influence by the fact that they see animal owners everyday. They should encourage the owners to support others in altering their animals as well as giving animals up for adoption rather than putting them on the street. Ever so often, one may see an ad on television to support the repeal of laws against caring for ferals. This education gives the public a better awareness of the cat overpopulation problem and encourages the public to support the solutions behind it. Without education, there would be many people who just did not care. With education, the public can persuade legislation.
The second proposed solution is encouraging legislation or writing authorities to help. In some areas, it is illegal to care for or assist stray or feral animals. In September of 2003, for example, the Pennsylvania Game Commission threatened to fine those who took part in local trap-neuter-return programs (bestfriends.org). The fine would have been $100 per cat. However, because of the numerous e-mails that the Board received, the Game Commission backed off the controversial issue. A spokesperson even said that releasing a cat is already illegal under regulations. In Israel, the government continues to use ineffective, inhumane solutions to rid the Sharon Region of its cats (alleycat.org). The Israeli government continues to lace food baits placed in the middle of the street with a poisonous compound known as Alpha-Chloralose because there was one case of Rabies. The Cat Welfare Society of Israeli is leading the protest and encourages people to contact the Agricultural Minister and the Interior Minister and complain. They, along with Defense of Animals and Alley Cat Allies encourage the government to continue to issues Rabies vaccinations and not kill the animals. A final act of protesting is currently ongoing in Key Largo, Florida. It seems that the US Fish and Wildlife Service is trapping and killing cats as a solution to “protecting endangered species.” (alleycat.org) Once again, Allie Cat Allies is leading the letter writing to the Directors of the USFWS as well as the managers of some local parks. They encourage the Directors to trap, neuter, and relocate the cats. Writing letters and passing laws for feral cats for one reason or another is an additional solution to helping the cat population. The next solution is called by many to be the most effective solution.
The third and most effective solution is the TNR Method. The trap-neuter-release method is a non-lethal, population control method that is the most modern way of solving the cat population crisis. The TNR Method usually works by locating a colony, setting up humane box traps to capture that cat, brining it to a vet to be altered, tagged, and vaccinated, and finally releasing it back into its colony. There are many good things about TNR. Clearly, an altered cat cannot reproduce. No reproduction is the most direct to end population growth. Secondly, there is the reduced public risk when cats are checked for diseases such as Rabies, AIDS, Feline Leukemia, and Toxic Plasmosis. When a feral is found to have a disease or other extensive injuries such as abscesses from fights, they are put to sleep. Thirdly, when the population is reduced, there are fewer citizen’s complaints of free roaming cats. Although low, feral cats also tend to cause sanitation problems, which will increase with population. TNR also reduces male behavioral problems such as fighting and noise. Workers at the Portsmouth Naval Dockyard complained about the cats marking their territory and messing with materials around the yard (aol.com). According to Debbie Candebat, a TNR advocate, “Neutering a male generally stops aggression yet the male can still fight for its life.” (Interview Candebat). This lessening of aggression stops males from marking their spot and lessens the dangerous roaming in looking for a mate. In addition, it has been proven that an established, sterilized feral colony will hold off other ferals from moving into the area (Berkeley 82). Many sources also say that the TNR method is more effective when females are altered. In most cases as well, the cat’s life expectancy goes up many years. Lastly, TNR usually costs less than other solutions. On average, the price to trap, shelter, and kill an animal is $150. The price of the average TNR method is about $50 (alleycat.org). If the cats are young enough to be tamed or were once domesticated, some agencies put the cat up for adoption. The TNR method is very efficient and has many success stories.
There are many examples of the effectiveness of the TNR Method. For instance, The Stanford University Cat Network reduced its feral population from 1000-1500 cats to 300 over a ten-year period (Standford.edu). Through TNR and adoptions, The Southern Animal Foundation in Louisiana reduced one New Orleans population from 500 to 65 over three years (alleycat.org). Most veterinarians support the TNR method including Dr. Beth Schwerin of Memphis, TN, because “it is a good way to test those cats who are most likely to have the diseases.” (Interview Schwerin). Additionally, many women and sometimes men keep up feral colonies. They TNR the ferals as well as feed them until the colony dies naturally or disperses. Debbie Candebat first heard of the problem from a friend and commented that “usually more women take care of the colonies than men because of more compassion and time.” (Interview Candebat).
There are other proposed solutions that are perhaps little effective and possibly harmful. Killing the cats is not only inhumane but takes just as much time as TNR yet is much more costly. Poisoning the animals is also inhumane and dangerous. Although altering an animal is the for sure way of stopping the population growth, there are many reasons owners do not spay or neuter. Some think that their cat is purebred and that they should breed. Others think that the cat should reproduce at least once before it is altered. These theories are proven myths and only help the problem grow. To stop the problem, people must answer to the solutions; they can do this through organizations.
There are existing organizations that implement and run the resolve of ending the feral cat problem. The first level is national organizations. The largest of the groups is Allie Cat Allies. ACA started in 1990 to promote non-lethal ways of controlling cat population internationally. Since then, their largest goal has been to promote the TNR method. They distribute information and educational packets as well as work with “grassroots” advocates and state officials (alleycat.org). They have conceivably brought the biggest wave of support for feral cats. American Partnership for Pets is another national organization that tries to unite other organizations, veterinarians, and advocates into one voice. Their biggest accomplishment is promoting the sell of a commemorative stamp issued by the USPS. A percentage of the money from the stamps goes to a spay/neuter grant. The stamps have sold out, but plans are underway to produce more, possibly making it the best selling stamp in modern day USPS history (http://www.americanpartnershipforpets.org/). There are also statewide organizations as well as national ones.
The second level of organizations that are trying to end the exponentially of feral population is the state level. The first is the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon, which alters about 3,000 cats a year. FCCO’s biggest accomplishment is its24-foot mobile hospital, designed specifically for spaying/neutering feral cats. It has a surgery suite, a prep area, and an anesthesia room. Each cat receives FVRCP (distemper) and Rabies vaccines, is tested for diseases, flea combed and sprayed, treated for ear mites, etc. It is the first of its kind in America and is the only one that services exclusively feral cats (feralcats.com). Mewtopia of Tennessee is another state organization. Started in 2000, Mewtopia mainly shelters ferals and puts them up for adoption. Mewtopia had a total of 372 adoptions and 568 TNRs for the year of 2003 (Mewtopia.org). Closer to home are not the state level agencies, but the local ones.
The third organizational level and the closest are the local groups. The first is the Aggie Feral Cat Alliance of Texas. It is a group of University of Texas volunteers whose goal is to control the population on campus. They feel that they have been very successful in diminishing the population to an all time low (tamu.edu). There is a local Memphis group called the House of Mews. The House of Mews accepts feral cats, sets up adoptions, and retails (houseofmews.com). Other help comes from local veterinarians who give their time and talents to ferals and the like. For example, the Memphis Animal Shelter clinic had a day where it altered feral cats for free, gave kittens Rabies vaccinations, and rented out traps for a low cash deposit. With the help of the Animal Protection Association and local vets, they altered over 3,000 cats. Most veterinarians will off discounts on the altering of an animal if they are wild (Commercial Appeal). At the forefront of many colony rescues are the women and men who TNR the animals and feed them continuously. According the Debbie Candebat who does such things, “There is a coalition of individuals in Memphis who each take care of about five to twelve cats.” (Interview Candebat) Without any of these organizations, there would be no organized fashion in setting up the solutions and very little would be accomplished with regards to containing cat population within a healthy range.
There is clearly a cat overpopulation problem in the US and there are solutions such as TNR and education to help control the populace before it comes back to hurt humans. The statistics are out there, but so are the solutions. As long as feral organizations thrive, there will eventually be permanent solutions to the feral cat problem. There may even be a day where every cat is disease free, not nuisance, and has a place to call home.
Barrett, Jalma. Feral Cats. Woodbridge, CT: Blackbirch Press, 1999.
Berkeley, Ellen Perry. Maverick Cats: Encounters With Feral Cats. New York: Walker, 1982.
Candebat, Debbie. Personal interview. 12 Apr. 2004.
Schwerin, Dr. Beth. Personal interview. 12 Apr. 2004.
“Shelter Clinic Offers Free Spaying, Neutering of Cats.” Commercial Appeal [Memphis] 29 Feb. 2004.
Alley Cat Allies. 2004. Allie Cat Allies. 14 Apr. 2004 <http://www.alleycat.org/>
Dockyard Thesis. 24 May 2003. J.L. Dards. 15 Apr. 2004 <http://members.aol.com/catsferal/>
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House of Mew. 2002. The House of Mews. 15 Apr. 2004 <http://www.houseofmews.com/>
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Stanford Cat Network Homepage. 2002. SCT. 16 Apr. 2004. <http://www.stanford.edu/group/CATNET/>