Monday, January 25, 2016

Cats Are Cuter Than People

Here is a story from the PBS News Hour about a group of people trying to help with the problem of stray cats.  They endorse neutering the cats instead of euthanizing them as being more humane, a better solution.  The program is called “trap, neuter and return” (TNR).  They are backed by animal rights activists and are working to spread the practice nationwide.  On the surface it seems like a nice cause to be involved with, however, as the story progresses, several flaws become apparent.

It starts with the story of Antioch, California where there are an estimated 17,000 strays, one cat for every 6 citizens.  This is a microcosm of the 80-million feral-cat problem across the US.  Most are wild animals, not appropriate for adoption, leaving euthanasia as the traditional solution.

Cat lovers rally to the rescue organizing “a network of a quarter million advocates who fight for feral cats.”  They boast of changing cat care forever.  The objective of TNR is to stop the breeding of wild cats so there are no more litters of kittens.  They trap the cats in bated cages, neuter them, mark them and return them to the wild (streets, alleys and woods in neighborhoods).  More than 400 cities and counties have adopted this practice raising “tens of millions of dollars” in donations.

But there are problems.  Wild cats are considered invasive predators by the American bird conservancy and others.  “[A] study from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute...estimates cats kill around 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals every year – not only rats and mice, but frogs, reptiles, amphibians and other small mammals.  Studies show that even well fed cats in TNR programs continue to hunt, from instinct rather than hunger.  The food used to attract the cats to traps also draws in raccoons, skunks, and possums, all of which may carry disease. 

To address this, Antioch tried to ban the feeding of cats in public, but had to back down due to the public outcry in favor of the cats.

Yet another problem is that experts don’t believe it will work.  “Dr. Patrick Foley teaches at California State University in Sacramento. He says there’s no proof TNR reduces large populations of cats. They just reproduce too quickly.”  He estimates they must neuter 10 times more cats than they do today to be effective.  The advocates’ solution is to pour more money and resources into the program, which “continues to gain political clout.”  By disregarding the evidence, the conclusion is clear.  “When it comes to controlling cats, it’s not only about science. It’s about our emotions.”

Finally, what struck me as the scariest part, but was not emphasized at all, was the mention of groups "wanting to end homelessness – cat homelessness."  Cat homelessness?  Have we run out of homeless people?  I don’t think so.  Yet we have hundreds of thousands of people and tens of thousands of donated dollars dedicated to the problem of cat homelessness. 

These cat advocates are hard working and dedicated.  They have such devotion to the cause that they use their energy and precious spare time to raise money, to feed the cats, to trap them for neutering so as to avoid euthanasia, and to build a nationwide network with similar goals and growing political clout, all the while ignoring expert opinion about the inadequacy of their solution and the damage and potential disease caused by the feral cat population and the program itself.

At the same time, statistics remind us that on any given night we have “643,067 people experiencing homelessness in America” with about 17% of those (just over 100,000) considered as chronically homeless.  Maybe what we need are a few more people lovers instead of cat lovers.  Maybe what we need is a little more perspective in America.

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