Last year, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) published a report entitled Feral Cats and Their Management. No big deal, right? Most of us can agree that a situation where cats have to fend for themselves without adequate veterinary care, nutrition, protection from the elements, etc. is far from ideal.
Feral cats also kill wildlife, leave feces where it can transmit diseases to other animals or people, and some folks simply see the animals as a nuisance. A paper that talks about options for managing feral cats should be a welcome addition to the conversation, but this one has rightfully generated quite a backlash.
The majority of the paper is rather ho-hum. It starts by defining a feral cat as a domestic cat that has "gone wild," differentiating these animals from owned pets that are allowed access to the outdoors. The authors then move on to talk about problems associated with feral cat colonies and their management, albeit with a definite tilt toward the problems that the cats potentially cause versus the difficulties that the cats experience themselves.
We then get into the management options. Some of the information presented here is actually helpful, especially the section on habitat modification. An environment that provides food, water and shelter will attract any of a number of species of animals, not just feral cats. Limiting the availability of these necessities can go a long way toward dispersing unwanted animals and reducing populations in problem areas. So far, so good.
But then things just get weird. The authors move on to talk about trapping as a way to control feral cat populations. The section on the use of cage traps ends by saying, "When a cat is captured … transport it to a local veterinarian for spaying, neutering, vaccination, adoption, or euthanasia. Be aware that these options may cost over $100 per cat."
Excuse me? What about the animal shelter? This is the exact type of situation that they are set up to deal with, and they won’t charge you a dime for bringing in a feral cat.
Things just get worse from here. In talking about proper euthanasia techniques, a gunshot placed "between the eyes" or "a shot through the heart/lung area” are both deemed acceptable. No, no, no! The American Veterinary Medical Association lists barbiturates, inhalant anesthetics, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and potassium chloride in conjunction with general anesthesia as the only acceptable methods of euthanasia for cats.
The paper then goes on to talk about the benefits of using cruel foothold traps and body-gripping traps and snares before stating that "shooting is an efficient method to reduce populations of cats in specific areas." The authors recommend the use of shot guns, .22-caliber rifles and air rifles, saying that people should "aim shots between the eyes or in the heart/lung area to ensure a humane death."
Humane, eh? I’d consider people taking potshots at cats as anything but humane. Interestingly, the authors mention earlier how microchips are one "solution" to overcoming the concerns that feral cat management could "risk harming someone’s pet by mistake." Yet, I don’t see the authors recommending that cat hunters scan their prey for microchips before taking them out with a .22.
What seems to be lost here is the understanding that people have caused the feral cat problem by letting sexually intact animals roam free. We and not the cats themselves are to blame. The only acceptable methods of dealing with feral cats are those that treat the animals with the compassion that they are due.
Dr. Jennifer Coates