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Open Mic: A Veterinarian’s Pespective on the Feral Cat Issue

At the Mic: Brian Monk

Brian Monk is a veterinarian, birder, photographer, and professional orchid grower and lecturer. He received his DVM from Virginia Tech in 1997 and currently resides in Ft. Lauderdale, Floirida, with his wife Mary-Margaret and his 5 rescued cats. 


    Let me make myself perfectly clear:  I love cats. I am a veterinarian, quite a few of my patients are cats, and I count five of them as my pets. I believe that cats have an inherent value to us, both as living things and as companions. I also love birds, and have been watching them before I was old enough to know what they were. Without question, birds also have inherent value, both to our planet and our hobby. My position as both a birder and a veterinarian lends me a unique perspective about the current controversy surrounding feral cats, and the various solutions offered up to address this issue.

660px-Domestic_cat_eating_bird_on_lawn-8A recent study has determined that 1.4-3.7 billion birds are killed by feral cats per year, and its publication has pitted wildlife conservation groups against feline advocacy groups. The controversy centers around the most important question, “What is the
solution to this problem of cat overpopulation?” The only thing that these two groups seem to agree on is that feral cat overpopulation exists.

Feral cats lead short and brutal lives. Kittens suffer a 50-75% mortality rate.  Disease is prevalent in feral cat populations, as expected.  They are plagued with parasitism by various worms, arthropods, and protozoa; viral diseases like Feline Leukemia, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, Herpes, Distemper, and Rabies; bacterial infections such as Toxoplasmosis, and Haemobartonellosis. Traumatic injury is common. Feral cats suffer
attacks from dogs, other cats, and other wildlife. And they suffer from the inexplicable cruelty of some humans. Personally, I have seen cats poisoned (both inadvertently and intentionally), caught and tortured, shot (with arrows and bullets), and set on fire. Many feral cats are chronically malnourished.  Regardless of the debilitation, feral cats for the most part receive no veterinary care for their illnesses, even in “managed”  colonies, and suffer needlessly. Feral cats rarely live more than 6 years, and rarely die peaceful deaths.

Rabies in feral cat colonies is a serious concern. Rabies is an untreatable and uniformly fatal disease. Prophylatic preventative therapy is long, painful, and expensive. Though cats are not a primary carrier of the disease (like raccoons or bats), they are easily infected due to their interactions with other wildlife. And because cats are generally accepted, humans are easily exposed. According to the Centers for Disease Control, cats are the only species with an increasing frequency of rabies infection.

Feline advocacy groups are in favor of continued tolerance of feral cats, citing the effectiveness of Trap-Neuter-Release programs (TNR) and
managed colonies in reducing feral populations. Trap-Neuter-Release programs are intended to reduce cat populations by surgically sterilizing as many feral cats as can be caught. These cats are then released back into the environment. In some instances, the groups attempt to “manage” these feral populations by feeding cats in a specific area, the intention being to keep them from preying on other animals.

This solution on its face has a certain moral palatability and logical origin. If all feral cats are prevented from reproducing, then eventually the population will be reduced to zero, and this can be accomplished without killing a cat. But the flaws in this thinking should be apparent. Not all cats can be captured, and these continue to reproduce.  New individuals can enter the TNR area at will, and they will reproduce. And surgical sterilization does nothing to prevent continued predation on native wildlife.  TNR can neither eliminate feral cats, nor reduce predation, and does not address illness or disease, facts supported by actual scientific study.

Proponents of TNR ignore these facts. They downplay or deny outright the problems with rabies and other diseases. They counter that feral  cats are a natural part of the ecosystem and play an important role in the biologic control of pest species, that the estimation of wildlife killed by cats is grossly exaggerated, and that conservation groups have more important things to worry about. They have provided no studies that refute the numbers of wildlife killed. The studies that they do refer to regarding the effectiveness of TNR are of limited scope, and often contradictory in their findings. All of these studies openly admit that TNR will not be effective at eliminating feral cat populations.

What is not in dispute is that domestic cats are an invasive species, with a population of 60-70 million in North America. Derived from the desert-dwelling wild felines of northern Africa, and brought to this continent by European settlers, cats are exceptionally well adapted to a  predatory lifestyle, having keen eyesight, acute hearing and sense of smell, incredible strength and speed, lethal weaponry, and an incredible rate of reproduction. Cats are beautiful, efficient, and almost-perfect predators. And they are an alien species, altering the landscape, and causing- environmental, agricultural, and economic harm. There is no other small cat native to North America similar to Felis sylvestris, and thus
they have a huge and disproportionately damaging effect on wildlife.

Cats have their own biology, ecology, and ethnology, and their behaviors directly impact the biome.  There are 60-70 million feral cats in the North America. Feral cats draw their sustenance almost entirely from wildlife that they catch and kill.  A cat will eat as often as possible, and  must eat several times a week (at least) to survive. These are facts, undisputed by both sides. One shouldn’t need to use statistics or  years-long  research to see how quickly the numbers of dead prey add up.

Clearly, given the stated facts, feral cats must be completely removed from the environment, and by that I mean active extermination. From an ethical perspective, this may sound like a difficult thing to do, and I understand the visceral response concerning the outright extermination of an individual life.   But only the complete elimination of feral cats will provide the solutions that both conservationists and feline advocates want. Disease, health problems, public safety, and environmental concerns are all addressed successfully by eliminating the feral feline population. I  have considered all other possible solutions from the perspective of both a veterinarian and a conservationist, and they are either impractical or impossible.

The removal and eradication of harmful invasive species has become an important part of most conservation plans, and is actually supported by federal, state, and local law. These laws mandate the protection of native wildlife, and as such require the active elimination or control of alien species. Laws currently exist that allow specifically for the control, prevention, and elimination of feral cat colonies, while protecting pet cats and their owners.

Feline advocacy groups like Alley Cat Allies approach this situation without compromise. They use vague moral reasoning and use this to generate guilt in their audience, tearfully pleading that no one needs to kill the poor, defenseless little kitty-cats. Questions about the
effectiveness of TNR and the health of feral cats are dismissed, or met with a furious, venomous, and illogical character assassination. They state  as loudly as possible that “cats re not a threat to wildlife” and scream that the science behind cat-predation studies is flawed, all without offering up any evidence to the contrary.  Fingers are pointed to habitat loss, cell-phone towers, and anything else that might play a role in population or biodiversity loss, and admonishments handed out to the guilty conservationists.  With these methods, they apply pressure the public to adopt TNR. Unfortunately, this has been effective at even the legislative level.  A bill is currently being explored in the Florida legislature that would make the creation of feral cat colonies much easier, regardless of their effect on wildlife, disease, or property rights, and it has gained some traction, already receiving unanimous passage by the Florida House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee. They are essentially being treated as a naturally occurring wild species.

This problem of feral cats is a difficult one. Although it is only a part of the greater question of avian conservation, it is obviously an important part. Further, it seems to be a part where real progress could be made, with benefits that are not so vague as biodiversity for biodiversity’s sake. Improving feline health in general, while keeping our precious wildlife safe, is a noble goal, that we can only approach ignobly. Feral cats exist because of man’s ego and carelessness. But TNR does not adequately address the issue. It does not ease feline suffering or eliminate feline predation on our wildlife to a point that is acceptable, to me as a veterinarian and a conservationist, or to anyone else who considers the facts.  As difficult as it may be, the elimination of feral cats via Trap and Euthanasia is the only truly viable solution.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We are aware that this subject prompts passionate responses and we welcome strong opinions about ideas, but we ask that commentors please stay courteous and refrain from personal attacks. Otherwise we will delete your comment and ask you to resubmit using more civil language. 


Loss, Will, & Marra; The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States. Nature Communications, Volume: 4:1396, Jan 2013 

Hildreth, Vantassel, Hyngstrom; Feral Cats and Their Management. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Service; Publication EC1781.

Levy, Gale, Gale; Evaluation of the effect of a long-term trap-neuter-return program on a free-roaming cat population. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2003:222, pp 42-46, Jan 2003.

Foley, Foley, Levy, Paik; Analysis of the impact of trap-neuter-return programs on populations of feral cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2005:227, pp 1775-1781, December 2005.

HB 1121 Passes Through First Committee Stop;

Nutter, Levine, Stoskopf; Reproductive capacity of free-roaming domestic cats and kitten survival rate. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2004:225, pp1399-1402, November 2004.

Horn, Mateus-Pinella, Warner, Heske; Home range, habitat use, and activity patterns of free-roaming domestic cats. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 75:5, pp1177-1185, July 2011.

Barrows, Jessup, Winter, Levy, Crawford, Stoskopf, Nutter; Animal Welfare Forum:Management of Abandoned and Feral Cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2004:225, pp1354-1383. November 2004. 

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The ABA Blog's Open Mics offer an opportunity for members of the birding community to share their voice with the ABA audience. We accept all and any submissions. If you have something you'd like to share, please contact blog editor Nate Swick at [email protected]
  • Anonymous

    And a well-fed cat still kills. I live in a new subdivision on the edge of a natural area in the foothills. I have witnessed the well-fed neighborhood cats take out entire families of Say’s Phoebes, and many Savannah & White-crowned Sparrows, quail and other species. Before they were exterminated (by the cats), I use to see freshly killed Yellow-belled Racers (snakes) and Long-tailed Weasels dragged around for cat play. The snakes and weasels are all gone now, and the Savannah Sparrows that use to migrate through my backyard are now extirpated. If you take the time to look and observe (and most people don’t), when cats are newly introduced to a natural area that didn’t previously have cats, it is actually quite easy to observe the cats wipe out the biodiversity of the area within just a few years.

  • Thank you for a wonderfully reasoned and well-supported post about this difficult issue.

    One additional point: Pet cats that are allowed outdoors, and feral and farm cats that are given supplemental food, are quite literally subsidized killers. Every native predator depends on robust prey populations to survive. In my neighborhood, when the cottontail rabbit population peaks, suddenly foxes are about. But the foxes disappear as soon as the rabbits do, and we don’t see more foxes until the rabbit population has fully rebounded. Some of the foxes moved on. Others, weakened by hunger, die from disease or starvation. But they completely disappear, not to return for years.

    Where cats are allowed outdoors or maintained in feral colonies, they can survive in numbers far in excess of what local prey populations could possibly support, because we provide additional sources of food for them. I took in a feral cat who’d been eating birds in my daughter’s Ohio backyard–the cat was part of a TNR program. Normally feral cats really aren’t easily tamed, but the program that released this cat had irresponsibly released her. She was infested with tapeworms and several species of roundworms, her coat was loose and ragged, and she was grossly underweight even though she’d been observed killing at least one bird every day and had access to the supplemental food provided to her “colony.” Her life was brutal and would have been short, but now she’s a happy indoor cat. I love her very much, but would rather have seen her humanely euthanized than left outdoors to continue killing birds.

  • Anonymouse

    I love cats. They are beautiful affectionate and an important part of human society. I love mice, they are an important part of the ecosystem. I don’t like mice in my home and the cats take care of that problem quite successfully.
    Over 20 years ago, when TNR was taking hold of the public as a viable solution to the cat abandonment problem, I actually helped a friend feed a small colony. By small I mean less than a dozen cats over a few hundred acres.
    I did not want to but I love cats. I stopped helping her because I realized that just a few cats were decimating prey species that were sustaining the very endangered kit fox.
    Over the past 20+ years, I have watched in horror as the park I love to watch birds and other wildlife has become a haven for hundreds if not thousands of cats. The supplemental feeding caused the skunk, opossum, and raccoon numbers to soar. The risk to humans is great with the interface between the wild and the domestic wreaking havoc. Then the crash happened, not to the cats but to the kit fox, raccoons, skunks, and opossums by what is assumed to be mostly distemper but may have been other diseases introduced to the population of wild mammals.
    The park used to be home to thriving numbers of nesting birds. Now the only perching birds that seem to be really successful in nesting are another exotic, European Starlings. As a person who won’t kill a fly literally unless there is no alternative, it hurts me and sickens me that irresponsible people have made a bad situation worse by creating the paradigm of TNR as a responsible solution.
    It is not and now not just a few cats need to be removed and euthanized but millions. This is sad and disgusting that those who insisted on creating the problem in the first place have made those of us who want to take the level of threat to wildlife and habitats down a notch in all impact areas are forced to take on the responsibility of removal.
    Keep your kitties at home, love them and make sure you will be responsible for their entire two decades of life. Enjoy the outdoors with all the birds and mammals and insects and plants that belong there.

  • Elle

    I’d love to see indoor/outdoor cat issues addressed as well: having a collar does not prevent wildlife encounters that injure or transmit disease to the pet cat, nor does the collar prevent the cat from eating/drinking from questionable sources. As well, bells do not prevent cats killing wildlife (though bibs are reportedly a bit better); only outdoor enclosures or a human at the other end of the leash can keep cats safe outside.

  • Birder37

    I remember the first time we saw our cat. He was lying beneath our picnic table. The animal shelter didn’t accept cats anymore so we decided to keep him, but he would have to be an outdoor cat. I knew that, at the time, it was normal for cats to catch birds. But then he caught four baby robins (including two completely naked) in one day, and he didn’t even eat them. He didn’t only catch birds but rabits, skinks, mice (ok, that was probably a good thing), squirrels, and probably more, too. We live in the suburbs and my goodness, I bet there are twenty cats in our neighborhood (and where we live is a heavy bird migration area).
    Now our cat lives at my grandpa’s farm and stays inside his house.
    I agree; I’d love to see less cats roaming the streets. But isn’t what’s happening the circle of life?

    • Mary

      To answer your question, simply: no. This isn’t the “circle of life” as that term is understood in a scientific sense.

      This is precisely the kind of thinking that has perpetuated the feral cat problem and points to one of the most important points, and most ignored points, in this entire discussion. Cats are not a natural part of the ecosystem. This is the main point. Cats are *upsetting* the circle of life.

      Every ecosystem has a natural balance, this is the miracle of life and the wonder of the natural world, the way every single ecosystem has it’s way of naturally sustaining itself, predators and prey balance each other out. Cats have been thrust into ecosystems where they never have existed before, and nothing like them has existed before. There has been no time for native species to adapt to this kind of predator in their environment. Cats are *domestic* creatures. No where in the world is there a naturally ocurring house cat. These have been changed from their natural ancestors by the hand of humans. Where similar creatures do exist in the wild, they are kept in balance by larger predators. Here cats have no larger predators, and they are protected by misguided humans. This is the exact opposite of the circle of life.

      • LeeAnn Isabel Falciani

        Hi Mary.

        Cats are a natural part of the ecosystem, they have been for over 10,000 years, until they eventually domesticated themselves. Please read this from, it’s really interesting. I’ve copied and pasted part of it below. The whole article is great if you want to read it!

        “It may come as a surprise to the tens of millions of cat lovers
        around the world that their feline pets actually domesticated
        themselves…more than 10,000 years ago in the Middle East’s Fertile Crescent around the time humans began to farm. In fact, scientists believe that cats are the only animals that domesticated themselves initially because they preferred to live near humans and feed on the mice, rats and other rodents that would infest the grain stored by farmers.

        The Near Eastern Wildcat is the sole ancestor of all domestic cats. It
        currently roams the deserts of the Middle East and Africa. (Photo:

        The natural habitat of cats is outdoors close to where humans live.
        This can be traced back to the sole ancestor of all domesticated cats
        (yes, ALL) – the Near Eastern Wildcat which still roams the
        deserts of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Middle Eastern countries.
        When humans started to farm, these cats would take residence near the
        farms and feast on the rodents thereby becoming quite welcomed by

        Naturally then, humans and cats forged a close working partnership
        where cats controlled the invading rodents and humans would look after
        them. True to history, this is how cats became domesticated. But the
        wild has always been the natural and preferred habitat for cats. It was
        not until the 1940s that humans began to make cats indoor pets. Oddly
        enough, this was the same time humans invented kitty litter to help cats
        adapt to the indoor environment.”

  • I don’t understand how the author can, in one paragraph, state that “trap, neuter, release” won’t work in part because it is simply not possible to trap all feral cats and in another paragraph propose trap and euthanise as a viable solution.

    • Jimbo

      He didn’t propose trap and euthanise. I think he was proposing hunting and poisoning.

  • Paul,

    If you define “work” as “entirely remove an exotic species from its nonnative range,” then, most of the time, very likely nothing will work, certainly not for feral cats on a continental level. My definition of “work” in this case would be “significantly reduce mortality of birds and other native wildlife.” As I figure it, TE would “work” much better than TNR.

    What’s your definition of “work?” What would constitute movement in the right direction as you see it?

  • Richard Gregson

    A very good article with a sensible solution … BUT, the author refers to moral palatability and a trap-and-euthanise programme simply would not be morally palatable to a large proportion of the population. That is political reality. Perhaps the best compromise alternative to TNR might be TNC (trap-neuter-confine) but it would be hugely expensive and require the creation of special facilities to hold the cats until their natural demise – and that isn’t going to happen whatever we might desire in these economically straightened times, especially when most people don’t see there is a problem in need of a solution.

  • Thank you, Brian, for one of the most intelligent pieces on this topic that I have seen. You had me with you until this statement: “Clearly, given the stated facts, feral cats must be completely removed from the environment, and by that I mean active extermination.” and I think that is where you will lose “progressive” cat advocates as well. As you, and Paul Weiss, have noted, trapping (or shooting) every feral will not be possible, especially as more cats are abandoned into the environment. I think you are on the right track, though, and I honestly believe that there are ways that we can work with cat advocacy groups to reduce the feral cat population–just one of the common goals between the two sides. I would love to see us working on the common points–and there are several. It may well mean some compromise–such as keeping TNR and managed colonies away from wildlife habitat areas, but allowing them in less sensitive areas. It may be that pro-wildlife groups will have to promote some non-lethal alternatives, such as Trap, Neuter and Re-homing of cats, rather than always calling for their extermination. I am certain that it will involve education of the public of what life is like for these reabandoned cats. Your knowledge is a great start at the latter!

  • Linda

    Ann, you wrote: “to reduce the feral cat population–just one of the common goals between the two sides”.

    And many have come to realize that above is a ‘stated’ goal from TNR advocates, but a disingenuous one at best. The ‘goal’ of TNR is to prevent euthanasia of cats – period.

    Most of those groups do not want any regulations on cats or they want exemptions for ‘colony caregivers’. Just look at the text of the bill in the Florida legislature.

    Why in the world should we allow cats in ‘less sensitive’ areas when there is such destruction and any patch of green can make the difference for a migratory bird? Heck, I just read somewhere that in Brooklyn the Woodcock has returned… in Brooklyn!

    The reality is this – the major groups pushing for TNR, and funding TNR, such as Best Friends Animal Society, HSUS, the ASPCA, and Maddie’s Fund – all refer to ANY outdoor cat as a ‘community cat’ in a deliberate attempt to convince the public that cats are a natural part of the landscape when they are not. BFAS recommends TNR even for friendly cats, and launched such a program in Jacksonville, Florida in 2008 called Feral Freedom. BFAS produced a handy 22 page manual on how to implement FF across the country.

    Further, TNR is a fundamental component of the no-kill movement. The no-kill movement is seriously affecting property rights. The trend is to encourage shelters and impoundment facilities not to accept stray and feral cats. Where does that leave the property owner?

    Cats that may be trapped, if ear-tipped, may be sent right back to where they were trapped.

    Compromise should not mean that cats still have access to wildlife, anywhere.

  • Linda

    Two differences. TNR has a food source. Removal does not.

    And in TNR, the cats are always there. Colonies rarely cease to exist.

    Removal provides respite – for wildlife and for property owners.

  • Linda, I don’t think we can paint all TNR advocates with one brush any more than we can paint all conservationists with a single brush. While TNR folks do not want the cats killed, many(not all)of them are actively trying to reduce the numbers of ferals.

    The reaction of most of us to to go as far to the opposite side as possible when we feel threatened. So if the cat advocates are feeling that the conservationists only want to kill their cats, it’s no surprise that they would react by going to the extremes you’ve noted.

    IMHO, this isn’t a problem that is going to go away quickly or easily. I think it would be in everyone’s interests to try to take steps in the right direction–the ones that both sides can support–rather than raging and pushing the extreme agendas of either side. The confrontation isn’t getting us anywhere useful.

    We talk about REDUCING the impact of buildings, habitat loss, pollution, and all the other anthropogenic causes of bird deaths. Why is it when we talk about cats, we use absolute terms–elimination, eradication, and the like? Let’s work on reduction first. There are so many ways that we could do this WITH the cat advocates rather than doing everything we can AGAINST them. I honestly think this is our only hope.

  • Linda

    Some may think that TNR actually helps reduce the number of cats, but I think the ultimate concern is to keep the cats alive no matter what in, I will say, most of the cases.

    I don’t believe we can eradicate all cats nor that we should, and I have always advocated socializing for placement or confining on private property. But again, most of the groups pushing for TNR, especially the big organizations, are now either re-dumping ‘community cats’ or they don’t believe that socialization is possible for a cat above the age of 12 weeks (it is) or they don’t believe in confining.

    If there are ‘so many ways’ we could do this ‘with the cat advocates’ as you say, what are they? And will they not compromise wild animals, the cats, public health, or property rights?

  • Anonymous

    Most people don’t like death. So “saving” a cat is a popular sentiment. But it’s a surface sentiment. If you look deeply at all, you discover that there is a fundamental trade-off. If we want to subsidize an outdoor cat population on par with the human population, there is a great price to pay. If we love cats more than biodiversity, that is a choice we can make. If we love cats so much that we are willing to accept the extinction of endemic species, then that is a choice we can make. Or perhaps we prefer non-native rats to declining populations of Xantus’s Murrelets. I could go on of course, but it seems to me the problem is the lack of education on the matter of ecological balance. Nobody likes death, but death is a natural part of life, just as a rabbit gives its life so that an eagle may live, and this trade-off is necessary for ecological balance. Our ecosystems are now managed by man whether we like or not, and the choices are now ours to make.

  • Anyone have any numbers for coyote/cat interactions?

    I believe I’ve mentioned this before, but I used to have two massive feral cat colonies in my neighborhood, but when the coyotes moved in, the feral cats apparently vanished. All the cats I see outside now appear to be “owned,” and they’re in the residential areas and not out in the park.

    As surely as so-called “managed colonies” are a subsidized program that supports an unnaturally high predator population in the area, they’re also a subsidized program that supports an unnaturally high prey population in the area.

    In an ideal world, coyotes would take care of the problem for us in a way that the TNR people couldn’t pout and moan about. Even if the coyotes knocked the feral population down by half, it would be an improvement on what we have now.

    And as far as the TNR people go, the first step towards coming up with a solution is admitting that there’s a problem. The NRA doesn’t think we have a problem with guns, the tobacco lobby doesn’t think we have a problem with smoking, and the fossil fuel lobby doesn’t think we have a problem with climate change, so including them in any “discussion” is going to be a nonstarter. There’s nothing to discuss with people who don’t think there’s a problem. Even making a show of pretending like we’re dealing with reasonable people is only going to contribute to the intractability of the problem, where the “discussion” becomes about whether there’s a problem in the first place instead of being about how to actually solve the problem. Look at the “discussion” on climate change for an example of this. There’s no discussion to be had with deniers. None. The best thing to do is escort them from the room and let the grownups come up with solutions in a reasoned manner.

    • Jimbo

      Typical liberal rant. Blame everyone except the people responsible for the problem.

      Crime isn’t caused by guns anymore than auto accidents are caused by cars. Lung cancer isn’t the fault of tobacco, it’s the fault of people who insist on smoking.

      In the early 80’s some of the same scientists you worship created a solution for a non-existent problem. They banned freon propellant and R-12 refrigerant to fix to “The Ozone Hole” (a natural event that occurs every 50K years). The “solution” resulted in the release of enormous amounts of CO2 and carbon into the atmosphere. Now those same scientists blame CO2 and carbon for “global warming” or “climate change”! The refusal to discuss / debate is soming from YOUR side, not mine. It’s not “settled science”. It’s not even science. It’s a politically motivated scare tactic, used, in large part to justify population control efforts like abortion and sterilization. It’s used to promote the idea that humans are a plague on earth. Satan would be happy about that.

      • What do any of those things have to do with feral cats?

        • Nancy Edwards Clay

          I think the line of thought is this: whatever people to to animals, they might eventually apply the same principle to human. I knew some people who put their daughter’s dog to sleep because it was inconvenient. It dug holes in the yard and barked. They thought of it as a ‘kindness’, I guess. Spaying and neutering of animals has become so popular, it has become more difficult to find a puppy in a reasonable price range. Birth control in humans has evolved into abortion, even up to killing babies just before birth. Some even advocate killing children up to three — as a ‘kindness’, because they are inconvenient. Many people advocate euthanasia on a voluntary basis. It would not be long until euthanasia became involuntary — as a ‘kindness’ of course. These trains of thought tend to progress.

          • Yes, it is called a slippery slope argument.

            It’s a fallacy and logically invalid.

  • Sarah

    I love cats too, have had a couple myself. But, I agree feral cats are a huge problem. I am a serious birder and am watching bird populations dwindle, obviously not only due to cats. But,I also see the problem of feeding feral cats as that also brings in skunks, racoons and other predators. I grew up on Martha’s Vineyard Island. When I was a kid someone (not too smart!) introduced skunks and raccoons to the island. We have now lost just about all of our Quail, Whipporwills and other ground nesting birds. Literally gone! The skunks and raccoons have no natural predators on the island other than cars (if you call them natural). So by providing food to the feral cats and attracting other predators what chance do the birds have? I go birding to areas with fantastic habitat for birds and often there are hardly any birds. It is like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. I think the studies of damage feral cats are doing can’t be ignored.

    • Jimbo

      Rachel Carsons statistics were heavily disputed. The banning of DDT led to the deaths of millions of humans from malaria and other mosquito born diseases. Animals are important, but humans more so.

      • You know, just because *you* dispute them heavily, doesn’t mean they were heavily disputed.

  • Near where I live, the most biological diversity I see are in areas where coyotes regularly hunt and breed. You would think that the coyotes would eat all the wildlife, but it’s actually pretty balanced where they are.

  • There actually is a study done on coyotes in San Diego and their effects on meso-predators (smaller predators).

  • Angie says:

    There is a farm close to us. The farmer (91) and his wife (89) have at lease 30 feral cats with a bunch of pregnant females. They obviously are not going to be farming for long. These cats are unapproachable. Trapping them would take considerable effort. Our county has no intake place. Our neighbor brings them food because “They are so cute!” I think so too. I love cats. I have personally taken in a mom, her daughter (trapped them), their two male kittens and another male stray (FIVE CATS!) two years ago. I’ve had them all neutered. They all live inside. The closest I’ve come to mom and daughter is to have them sniff the ends of my fingers. BUT I WILL NOT LET THEM OUTSIDE! I value my love of birding more than I value their freedom. When farmer and wife are gone it’s going to be like the night of the living dead around here. I can’t take in anymore cats! What is the solution? Who wants a cat that will only sniff the ends of your fingers! I hate to say it but feral cats are rats on steroids and they will ravage our bird population here.

  • Angie

    According to MNSNAP (Minnesota Spay & Neuter Assistance Program – a wonderful 501c3 that helps low income folks with neutering their pets – support these fine people!) one female cat and her offspring can produce over 420,000 offspring in seven years. Our little female had kittens when she was about 5 months old. Just think what 30 feral cats can do in an area!!!

  • IloveWolves

    rehome them WHERE? Good luck trying to find an animal shelter that will accept a feral cat- or an animal control agency that will pick up a trapped cat from any property owner across the US. They are ALL wiping their hands of this problem because it is so very out of control. I’d like to know what would constitute a ‘less sensitive area’.
    I agree with Linda: Compromise should not mean that cats still have access to wildlife, anywhere. Period.

    • Anon

      Exactly! Bottomline: There are WAY WAY WAY more cats than people who want cats as pets, and certainly, than people who can responsibly keep cats as pets. There are a comparatively small number of people who adore cats and who adopt homeless cats, and who want all cats to live, but nowhere near enough of these people to provide homes for all the cats who are homeless. So, the cat lovers’ solution is to force the excess cats upon the rest of us, who while we may not dislike cats, do not choose to have pet cats, and FOR WHATEVER REASONS, do not want cats on our property. My property is now worth less to me because it has lost some of its value as a wildlife habitat garden since TNR came out from the shadows, was declared legal, and found someone to fund it. Actually, I think the funding came before the local governing body declared it to be legal, and probably was the main reason it was declared legal. The bird and nature lovers showed up with the facts. Cat lovers showed up with a little money. Guess who prevailed?

  • Anonymous

    Since cats are such an issue with bird mortality, why aren’t leaders in the birding community working with the local animal shelters and feline advocacy groups rather than against them? Am I wrong to think it’s possible to work together in raising awareness of the feral cat situation? Aren’t we both working toward a common goal here? The inherent problem is not cats; it’s irresponsible humans. As another commenter put it, it’s ignorant to think trap and euthanize programs will work any better than the current TNR programs. Sure, it would likely have a short-term impact on bird populations, but aren’t you pretty much back to square one in the long run? People will continue to drop off litters of kittens because they’re too cheap, ill-informed, or vacuous to have their cats fixed. The solution should be a major awareness campaign against animal cruelty involving both the “bird” and “cat” communities, showcasing the negative effects on pets and wildlife. Lawmakers should be lobbied by both sides to strengthen animal-rights laws and make penalties for breaking them much more severe. The rhetoric from both parties has become annoying and both birds and cats continue to live in peril. A mutual respect needs to be maintained on either side as we work together to spotlight this very serious issue of bird mortality. I don’t think we’ll get far by making comments such as, “tearfully pleading that no one needs to kill the poor, defenseless little kitty-cats”. Seriously? Did I sense an elementary school ‘jab’ there? That kind of belittling gets us nowhere, no matter how good of an argument that was made. As the saying goes, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar”.

  • Walter Lamb

    There are a great many flaws in Dr. Monk’s arguments. As other have already noted, there is a double standard with regard to trap and sterilize vs trap and euthanize. What the science actually says is that both methods require a certain to be achieved to be effective. There is no questioning that to be justified from a wildlife conservation perspective, non-lethal control must achieve a higher trap rate than lethal control, to compensate for the sterilized cats that remain in the environment for some period of time. How much higher is debatable as the Andersen et al study most often cited in this regard only calculated the relationship between trap rate and population decline for a year, which is like trying to predict who will win a marathon after the first 100 yards. Trap rate, of course, is dependent on resources, and non-lethal control attracts more volunteers and donors than lethal control. The point being that we ought to be providing local policy makers with flexible, math-based guidance rather than inflexible ideology.

    Regarding the recent Smithsonian study, all I can say is, where is our curiosity as a community of bird watchers? Isn’t anyone interested in understanding how the huge numbers from that study affect other, long held assumptions about overall populations and mortality rates? There was simply no effort to cross-check the results of the study against these other assumptions. The headline seems to be so useful in the ideological war against cat advocates that no one really cares how sound the conclusions might be.

    We have to stop treating this issue like we would a sports rivalry where each team paints there faces with team colors and waves their banners and shouts their slogans. We have to treat this as the complex policy issue that it is. We need to define what conservation based metrics we want to achieve, and what factors most determine whether those metrics are successfully achieved for different methods of control. Then we can help local policy makers choose the best method for their communities and also help instill some accountability into the process.

    Walter Lamb

  • Judy

    As an Animal Control Officer, I run into feral cat colonies all the time from seemingly ” well meaning animal lovers” that cant stand to see an animal Humanely put down. Yet they do nothing to stop the problem until they are forced to. These feral cat colonies depending where they are located(in my case in residential areas) are NOT practical. TNR is NOT possible because it does NOT solve the problem of the feral cats even if fixed going into other residents property, urinating and defecating on others property, carrying disease and a treat to children etc. While the TNR people will argue what about wildlife that is doing the same thing, they are not vaccinated and wormed and medically taken care of. People that love cats do not feel they should die, yet it is these people with the colonies that think nothing of these cats causing havoc to their neighbors, the cats killing wildlife, defecating and urinating, fighting etc in their neighbors property. Most the time cat colonies are fed the least expensive least nutritional food because the people feeding them half the time cant afford good healthy food. I have seen cats in cat colonies suffering with disease and deformity from inbreeding so much and lack of veterinary care. An existence of an animal at all cost- aka even if they are sick or carrying disease is not a humane existence. Fearl cats do not serve a purpose. Cows and Hogs and other animals are killed for human consumption – while i realize that it is not the cats fault it was brought into the world, its humans that are to ignorant to spay or neuter their animals, TNR is not a good solution, and in most cases of being in a residential area not a solution. It also attracts wildlife. I had one resident with several feral cats – and wanted me to trap and kill the racoons because they were getting into the feral cats food. what sense does this make?

  • Robin

    For more information, please google “Rabies Outbreak in Westchester County and the Connection to Feral Cats.”

  • Robin

    And also please Google “The Magic Rabies Shot?”

  • Regarding the Smithsonian study, I think it is now incumbent upon the feral cat advocates to provide the evidence in the form of peer-reviewed, published, data to rebut the claims that cat colonies have a significant impact on local bird populations. The place for exploring whether “huge numbers from that study affect other, long held assumptions about overall populations and mortality rates” is in the pages of a journal, not a blog comment section.

    I find the argument that this issue is being treated like a sports rivalry to be flawed. There are no objective metrics to determine which sports team is “better”, but we have a significant amount of corroborating evidence on feral cat impacts. There’s nothing wrong in pointing that out.

  • Jim Levine

    A tale of two counties:
    1: allows feral cat feeding
    2: stops feral cat feeding, and traps cats before numbers get out of hand

    Guess which one has more cats?

    How do you help? Get to know your animal control officer (if you have one). Educate them (if needed). Help them identify feral cat feeding sites. Offer to help trap if they allow it. Contact land owners of feral cat feeding sites. Inform them of your concerns. Solicit their help in stopping the feeding. You would be surprised to learn how many owners of strip malls and restaurant sites have ZERO knowledge of what goes on there. When they find out, almost invariably they want it gone. These are the people we should work with. Forget trying to convince a cat feeder to stop. Forget trying to convince a TNR advocate their method is misguided. BUT, it’s very easy to convince a landowner that a feeding colony on their property puts them at risk from a lawsuit. Our problem comes down to local animal control policies. If a landowner is stymied by local animal control law, elicit their help to get things changed. Who do you think local government will listen to? A ‘bird lover’ or a member of the business community generating income for the county?

    TNR is not really the issue here. TNR activities are a ‘drop in the bucket’. Cat feeding (TNR or not) is the relatively new activity that is resulting in the increase in populations. Cat feeding is the thing that puts wildlife and cats together (from a disease standpoint). Cat feeding allows them to have smaller territories and larger overall populations. Cat feeding allows hyper-predation. Cat feeding increases health and breeding potential. I even think it might be easier to convince local governments to prohibit outdoor feeding than to prohibit TNR activities.

    I can’t imagine any ordinance that would prevent a landowner from picking up and removing cat food and shelters from his property. Sure, when they try to do it at high profile sites like Lowes in FL, they get lots of press, but the vast majority of sites will not generate such attention. This is the easy thing that we are not doing. I have been very successful in removing feeding sites in my area. I can use qpublic to track down the owner, make a few phone calls, and that’s about all it takes. If we can’t trap the cats they move along and have to fend for themselves which makes their life shorter and their impacts lower. Fed cats kill as much if not more than un-supplementally fed cats, btw.

    Join me, won’t you in the new program of INSFTR (Identify, Notify, Stop Feeding, Trap, Remove)

  • Jim Levine
  • If I can take the “sports rivalry” ball and run with it for a moment, if “our” team has won all of the games we’ve played in and “their” team has won none of the games they’ve played in, their claims that they’re an inherently “better” team are simply false.

    The stats are on our side. If they want us to take them seriously as a team, they need to show us the money. If they really think they can bring it scientifically or even ethically, they’re welcome to bring it, but right now they’re playing t-ball while we’re in the NFL.

  • Daniel Tice

    Your argument is ridiculous. You say that TNR doesn’t work because, “not all cats can be captured” yet they would have to be for you to humanly euthanize (kill) them. I hope your name is well advertised so cat owner can be sure to NOT take their pet to you. The ONLY justification for this article is YOU placing the value of your birds over that of cats… Period.

  • Nate – This is more of a legal approach than a scientific one. Why should we wait for feral cat advocates to conduct a study that has important ramifications for wildlife conservation? As bird watchers, we know that the conclusions of the Smithsonian study severely alter our overall understanding of bird populations and mortality. Since we have limited conservation resources to apply to a wide array of threats, it is important that our understanding of the relative seriousness of each threat is reasonably accurate.

    All I’m asking for is the same kind of objective curiosity and devil’s advocacy that is our hallmark as a community. Are there vastly more birds in North America than we ever thought? Are mortality rates much higher than we ever thought? Are other causes of mortality, such as from pesticides, collisions, etc, much less significant than we thought?

    It is beyond me why these are not questions capturing the interest of the bird watching community. We’ve seemingly allowed the obsession with feral cats (and more specifically on TNR, which represents a small fraction of the cat problem) to trump our actual interest in conservation science.

    Michael Hutchins, former Executive Director of the Wildlife Society, once “conservatively” calculated that cats kill 6.2 billion birds a year. Why would we, as bird conservationists, not take a proactive approach to correcting these kinds of assertions, or at least exploring what they mean to our overall understanding of bird populations.

    There is a human psychology element strongly at play here similar to that which has defined our polarized political environment. People want to win a game rather than solve a problem or gain a better understanding of the scientific world.

  • Rlkittiwake – You certainly have taken the “sports rivalry” analogy and run with it, complete with trash talking, etc. Of course, my whole point is that treating this like a sports rivalry gets us nowhere in the effort to reduce the number of cats in the environment.

    As to who is “winning” games, if you set up a simple Google alert to track news on feral cats and TNR, you will see that TNR continues to gain ground in communities across the country. Many of these TNR projects will not have to answer to any system of accountability. Why? Because we’ve made no coherent effort to make accountability and measurable progress in reducing the number of cat populations the cornerstone of our approach.

    If you are only referring to scientific studies, you are wrong there as well. The Longcore et al study in Conservation Biology is the best source of references to raw science demonstrating that non-lethal control can be effective at population reduction under certain circumstances. This is a math problem that will have a different answer based on the variables plugged in for a certain situation, not a universal true or false question.

    Accountability is key. Alley Cat Allies “business as usual” is far more threatened by a culture of rational accountability than they are by an ideological war. The more they can talk about Ted Williams and Nico Dauphine, the less focus on whether they are actually reducing the number of cats in the environment, something that even their supporters (at least most of them) want.

  • Jennifer

    You state that TNR programs don’t work “because you can’t catch all the cats”, yet fail to admit that in 100 years of catch and kill programs, they have never worked because “you can’t catch all the cats”. Society has already tried your way–and that way has failed. It is time for a new and more humane alternative–TNR. TNR has worked in the areas it has been tried. Managed colonies frequently have individuals that live into their teens, and the population diminishes naturally, over time. As a vet technician for 25 years, I think you should be ashamed to call yourself a veterinarian.

  • They’re not “our” birds, they’re the planet’s birds. The feral cats, on the other hand, are “our” cats and we’re responsible for making sure that they don’t cause damage to the planet’s creatures or to human health and property.

    Why do you call them “our” birds?

    Where does this anthropocentric thinking come from, anyway?

  • Jon Mann

    Great piece. The reality is that ANY OUTDOOR CAT is a threat to native wildlife and the ecosystem, and MUST BE ELIMINATED. Whether that is capture and adoption, or euthansia, this has to be done.

    Dogs are not allowed to roam freely, but cats are – destroying yards, killing wildlife, and generally being a nuisance. The only good cat is a 100% indoor cat.

  • While I disagree with nearly every point Dr. Monk makes here, I have to give him credit for at least making his stand clear. (On the other hand, using the term “euthanasia” to describe the mass killing of tens of millions of this country’s most popular pet—most of them healthy—is troubling. Vague moral reasoning, anybody?)

    In any case, he’s welcome to his position. What he’s not welcome to, however, is his own science.

    Two brief points, if I may:

    1. Monk claims that proponents of TNR “have provided no studies that refute the numbers of wildlife killed.” Nonsense.

    Reviewing more than 80 predation studies for the book “The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behaviour,” researchers Dennis Turner and Mike Fitzgerald explain: “There are few, if any studies apart from island ones, that actually demonstrate that cats have reduced bird populations.” [1] Predators—cats included—tend to prey on the young, the old, the weak and unhealthy. At least two studies have investigated this in great detail, revealing that birds killed by cats are, on average, significantly less healthy than birds killed through non-predatory events (e.g., collisions with windows or cars). [2, 3] As the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds notes: “Despite the large numbers of birds killed, there is no scientific evidence that predation by cats in gardens is having any impact on bird populations UK-wide… It is likely that most of the birds killed by cats would have died anyway from other causes before the next breeding season, so cats are unlikely to have a major impact on populations.” [4]

    2. “The studies that they do refer to regarding the effectiveness of TNR,” argues Monk “are of limited scope, and often contradictory in their findings.” There are numerous cases, both in the published literature, [5–13] and anecdotally [14] of TNR stabilizing and/or reducing populations. As Monk surely knows, ALL studies are “of limited scope.” (It’s curious that he doesn’t find that problematic when researchers extrapolate from tiny studies of bird mortalities to generate nationwide estimates—ignoring any number of critical factors in the process.)

    Dr. Monk: if you really want to round up and kill all these cats, don’t expect to use public funding to do it. As a 2011 survey of 1,118 pet owners commissioned by the Associated Press and demonstrated, Americans are have little appetite for lethal control methods. “According to the poll, 71 percent of pet owners feel that shelters should only be allowed to euthanize animals when they are too sick to be treated or too aggressive to be adopted. Only 25 percent said that euthanasia should be used as a means to control the animal population.” [15]

    As I say, you’re welcome to your position. But please know that you have neither science nor public opinion on your side.

    Peter J. Wolf
    VoxFelina [dot] com

    Literature Cited
    1. B.M. and Turner, D.C., Hunting Behaviour of domestic cats and their impact on prey populations, in The Domestic Cat: The biology of its behaviour, D.C. Turner and P.P.G. Bateson, Editors. 2000, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, U.K.; New York. p. 151–175.
    2. Møller, A.P. and Erritzøe, J., “Predation against birds with low immunocompetence.” Oecologia. 2000. 122(4): p. 500–504.
    3. Baker, P.J., et al., “Cats about town: Is predation by free-ranging pet cats Felis catus likely to affect urban bird populations?” Ibis. 2008. 150: p. 86–99.
    4. RSPB (2011) Are cats causing bird declines?
    5. Levy, J.K., Gale, D.W., and Gale, L.A., “Evaluation of the effect of a long-term trap-neuter-return and adoption program on a free-roaming cat population.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2003. 222(1): p. 42–46.
    6. Stoskopf, M.K. and Nutter, F.B., “Analyzing approaches to feral cat management—one size does not fit all.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2004. 225(9): p. 1361–1364.
    7. Nutter, F.B., Evaluation of a Trap-Neuter-Return Management Program for Feral Cat Colonies: Population Dynamics, Home Ranges, and Potentially Zoonotic Diseases, in Comparative Biomedical Department. 2005, North Carolina State University: Raleigh, NC. p. 224.
    8. Natoli, E., et al., “Management of feral domestic cats in the urban environment of Rome (Italy).” Preventive Veterinary Medicine. 2006. 77(3-4): p. 180–185.
    9. Tennent, J. and Downs, C.T., “Abundance and home ranges of feral cats in an urban conservancy where there is supplemental feeding: A case study from South Africa.” African Zoology. 2008. 2: p. 218–229.
    10. Tennent, J., Downs, C.T., and Bodasing, M., “Management Recommendations for Feral Cat (Felis catus) Populations Within an Urban Conservancy in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.” South African Journal of Wildlife Research. 2009. 39(2): p. 137–142.
    11. Mendes-de-Almeida, F., et al., “The Impact of Hysterectomy in an Urban Colony of Domestic Cats (Felis catus Linnaeus, 1758).” International Journal of Applied Research in Veterinary Medicine. 2006. 4(2): p. 134–141.
    12. Mendes-de-Almeida, F., et al., “Reduction of feral cat (Felis catus Linnaeus 1758) colony size following hysterectomy of adult female cats.” Journal of Feline Medicine & Surgery. 2011.
    13. Robertson, S.A., “A review of feral cat control.” Journal of Feline Medicine & Surgery. 2008. 10(4): p. 366–375.
    14. Donlan, A.E. (1996, June 30). North Shore cat-lovers go… Where the wild things are. Boston Herald,
    15. Karpusiewicz, R. (2012) Poll: Americans Favor No-Kill Animal Shelters.

  • Robin

    Just to be clear…I do NOT advocate euthanizing feral cats. I simply think that is not the right thing to do. That being said, the argument that trapping and euthanizing will not help the situation is ridiculous. Take my neighbor…please. 🙂
    She had 51 feral cats. Wait, she changed her estimate to ONLY 35. If for instance all 35 of those cats were trapped and euthanized she would have ZERO cats. Now suppose new cats move in and TNR is started at that point with the new cats. End result would definitely be less cats. BTW, TNR is not the solution either( rabies, rabies, rabies)…and that’s just for starters.

  • John Jones

    I know that this is about birds and cats, but I would like to comment on the author’s statement of rabies in bats. It is a common misconception that bats are great carriers of rabies. The prevalence of rabies in bat populations is very low—listed in studies as <1% or <2% of wild bat populations (Sources 1 and 2 respectively). This is compared to 20% for raccoons (from a serology study quoted in Source 3). Other species like raccoons, foxes, and skunks are more likely to be infected (combined for 90.2% non-human rabies cases in 2010; see map and data at Source 4). The incidence of rabies in bats that come into contact with humans, however, is higher (estimated as ~6% of bats that people submitted for testing by Sources 5 and 6). This is because the bats that come into contact with humans are far more likely to be sick than the bat population at large (as rabies and other illnesses cause abnormal behavior). Because of this, 14 out of 19 cases where a human actually developed rabies in the US from 1997-2006 came from human-bat encounters (Source 6). It is this statistic that causes bats to be much maligned as carriers, though as a whole, they are poor reservoirs of the disease. While it may seem that I am arguing a meaningless point, the bats in our country need help (due to white-nose syndrome, etc), and the human populace is more likely to be sympathetic towards bats if they don’t think of them as loaded with rabies. That said, I am not encouraging anyone to handle any bats they may encounter as these individuals are likely sick.

    However, to tie back to the topic at hand, rabies is a problem in feral cats as “unvaccinated cats who are allowed to roam outdoors are at the highest risk for rabies infection” partially because they “may, in the course of daily life, get into a fight with an infected wild animal” (Source 7). Because this, feral cats are a reservoir for rabies (Source 7). Even if people (for some reason) dispute the studies on mortality of wildlife by cats, they cannot argue that rabies is a threat to humans, wildlife, and the cats in question themselves. Rabies is also not the only disease that is transmissible to humans that feral cats carry (for one example, see Source 8). Therefore, it makes sense to remove all cats from the environment for public health reasons alone (though there are many other compelling reasons).

    1. Klug, et al. 2011. Rabies prevalence in migratory tree-bats in Alberta and the influence of roosting ecology and sampling method on reported prevalence of rabies in bats. Journal of Wildlife Diseases.

    2. Hester, et al. 2007. Rabies in Bats from Alabama. Journal of Wildlife Diseases.







  • Again, too much focus on true or false type questions when we should be focused on things like accountability, incremental progress, relative threats. So today, we are framing the debate simplistically:

    1) Cats outdoors: good or bad for birds?

    2) TNR: works or doesn’t work?

    3) Cats: Carry diseases? Yes or no?

    We should be framing it as:

    1) Impact of cats on overall and geographical populations of bird species relative to other threats for the purpose of optimal resource allocation

    2) Variable success factors that determine the relative likely incremental benefit of various approaches, coupled with conservation-based metrics for monitoring actual progress

    3) Quantitative analysis of issues like rabies, feeding, etc. to determine when potential risks outweigh potential benefits and vice versa.

    There is no empirical science that I am aware of that suggests that we should be taking the first approach. I have no doubt that the overall body of science will support permanent removal under certain circumstances, but not all circumstances.

    Walter Lamb

    • Please, do the research, it’s there. You can easily find even more studies than the author listed in his bibliography. He discussed, in summary, several items in your list of questions in the first section of his article, please reread.

  • If one feral cat colony, a skyscraper, a giant wind farm, an oil spill, destruction of 200 acres of habitat to build a subdivision, and a major highway each kill a thousand birds in a year, which one of those is easiest for the ABA, the ABC, National Audubon, and their members as individuals to deal with?

    Feral cats are the low-hanging fruit here.

    • No, they aren’t. The number of studies that have been done on the extirpation and extermination of wildlife, including arthropods is solid.

      You responses suggests intentional minimalization of a problem because you don’t like the solution the author suggests.

  • SJC

    So you are saying that you are a reasonable person by stating that the way YOU think is the only “reasonable” way? And that there’s no point in even having a discussion with anyone that believes differently. Wow! I guess you don’t even see it do you? When you openly admit that you live in a bubble and only associate with people that agree with yourself…. I supposed it was pointless of me in even attempting to point that out with a denier, such as yourself. ;o)

  • SJC

    Well said. But for most posting today, it’s either their way or no way. But then they talk about how the other side is inflexible and there is no point in even discussing things with them. And these monumental minds of openness cannot even see the hypocrisy of their own statements. It’s what happens when you live in a bubble and never expose yourself to differing viewpoints. That is one reason why this country is so divided right now, everybody keeps to their “own” and is shocked that anyone believes differently from them. Keep it up.

  • … and I should add for clarification that the term permanent removal is a bit vague. I certainly seek the “eventual” permanent removal of cats from the environment, but that will sometimes be best achieved through sterilization, adoption, and other non-lethal measures rather than destruction of the animal. The key is for their to be a measurable and sustainable decline in the number of cats, as we successfully achieved in our neighborhood.

    • boldtruth11

      no one is mentioning the fact that other wild animals also prey on birds (in the nest, fledglings and adult)? nor are they discussing the millions spent rescuing wild life such as squirrels, raccoons, hawks, and other predators/nuisances who also kill those precious birds and/0r destroy private property too. what about all those birds now being killed by solar and wind farms. not a peep on that here. the only species here in the conundrum is the cat. I have been rescuing cats and other animals for years and the biggest issue for the cat is the humans that abandon them once they are not cute kittens or an inconvenience. many of those “ferals” are actually domestic cats that were abandoned and although they act feral outside (while they are starving), I have seen them begin to act like the domestic cats that they are within weeks. there is no easy solution on this issue but it is not wholesale slaughter of cats who are the only species NO ONE protects. lets go back to the real issue–humans. let’s hold them accountable first. landlords in apartment buildings and universities contribute greatly to this issue by looking the other way on their no pet policies then allowing former students or renters to simply leave the cats behind with no repercussions. I knew one cat rescue group that got the cat population at a local university from 500 strays to 50 within several years with TNR and adoption. and yes, it is possible to domesticate those “ferals” — I have only met one in all my years of rescue, who wasn’t yet able to be tamed.

      • No one is mentioning wild animals that prey on birds because it’s completely irrelevant to this discussion. Raccoon, squirrels, hawks, etc are *native* predators, and have co-existed with native bird species in North America for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. Comparing them with feral cats, which have been a concern for mere decades is foolish.

        As to solar and wind farms, there isn’t a peep here because this specific post is about cats, not energy. If you’d like to enter into a discussion on those concerning topics, you can find those discussions elsewhere *on this very blog*. In short, birders are extremely concerned about them, just as birders are extremely concerned about feral and outdoor cats.

        And finally, how can you say “NO ONE” protects cats and then follow that comment up with one about cat advocacy groups working to help university feral colonies. You completely contradict yourself in a matter of a few words.

        The only think about this comment I find I can agree with the statement that this is a human problem. Which is true. And which also means that humans need to buck up and seek out a solution that puts all options, including euthanasia, on the table.

  • SJC

    All TNR cats in my area are vaccinated for rabies. And as most of the latest studies have shown, both dogs and cats should be covered for the remainder of their lives (especially feral cats that apparently will only live for a few years) by those initial vaccinations. Many reputable vets are now only advocating a titers test every so many years, instead of vaccinating. But because vaccinating is a way to get pet owners in to see the vet, they are still pushed by many vets, instead of them focusing on wellness exams.

  • Peter posted a link to the dissertation by Beth Nutter. I urge everyone who is interested in this topic to read that report.

    Nutter, F.B., Evaluation of a Trap-Neuter-Return Management Program for Feral Cat Colonies: Population Dynamics, Home Ranges, and Potentially Zoonotic Diseases, in Comparative Biomedical Department. 2005, North Carolina State University: Raleigh, NC

    I believe that Nutter is a vet as well, now working with mountain gorillas. Her husband is a vet at the Smithsonian, I believe. He also works with gorillas.

  • Anonymous

    Walter, your comments and ideas are exactly what’s needed in this debate. If we all truly want to help birds, we need to leave the emotions at the door and work towards real, incremental progress. Thanks for posting and being a voice of reason. I’m glad to hear people out there in the birding community have similar viewpoints as my own.

  • MoreThanWikiEducated

    And for all your copy and paste education, you fail to realize or even know how the rabies vaccine works. If a cat has already contracted rabies then vaccinating it against rabies later does nothing to prevent it from spreading rabies to all other cats, animals, and humans. It is already too late. Unless that animal is quarantined for at least six months, as required by law for any animal collected from the wild and intended for any sector of the pet-trade, then you have done nothing to prevent that cat from spreading rabies.

    This is why rabid cats and kittens are now even being adopted direct from shelters after being given their required shots. Putting that shelter and all people involved in jeopardy of being sued for criminal negligence. Eventually shutting down all the shelters that you depend on. Until you can quarantine every TNR cat for at least 6 months, then you cannot claim you are preventing rabies outbreaks — you are causing them. Just like the TNR colony in Carslbad NM that forced pet-owners in the community near that TNR colony to have to destroy over 50 of their pets, hundreds of their livestock, and then pay for their own rabies shots out of their own pockets. Google is your friend.

  • Andy Boyce

    Speaking of living in a bubble. You sir, are wrong. If you would like to learn how wrong you are, please visit the Alley Cat Allies website. They are a huge, well-funded feral cat lobbying organization and their line of argument and reasoning is very much as described in this article. Make sure you do your research before you lecture folks on their hypocrisy.

    Andy Boyce

  • Andy Boyce

    Sorry, you are wrong. Fundamentally. There have been many successful cat eradication programs undertaken by agencies such as the US Navy to eradicate cats that are threats to federally endangered species. I know of one on San Clemente Island as an example. The feral cat lobby continues to beat the drum of “killing cats doesn’t get rid of cats”, besides being totally illogical, it is just plain wrong.


  • Linda

    Cats are prolific breeders, but that 420K figure is biologically impossible. The number does not take into account factors that affect mortality and restrict breeding.

  • Linda

    “TNR has worked in the areas it has been tried.”

    Where is your proof? Define ‘work’.

  • First, habitat loss is a completely different type of threat to birds than the other causes you mentioned, and I’m surprised that you would lump them together in that way.

    Also worth noting from this Sibley chart is that to account for the new Smithsonian study, all of the other causes of bird mortality listed would have to be shifted to feral cats or the number of birds dying each year would have to be adjusted upwards significantly. Again, that would mean that our estimates of overall bird populations were way of, or that we significantly underestimated mortality rates. Do we really want to throw out those estimates in favor of a meta-study with no cross-checking of the numbers whatsoever? With new technologies making it easier to track birds (eBird, bird banding web sites, etc.), it would seem that we’d have a much more solid base of data upon which to determine overall populations and mortality rates and then work backward from there.

    Second, where are you getting these numbers from?

    Third, how on earth can you call feral cats low hanging fruit? They have been a conservation issue for many decades and almost a single-minded obsession of groups like ABC for the last ten years.

  • You’reWastingValuableWildlife

    1) If even one native animal is destroyed by even one invasive species predator, that invasive species has proved itself to be a risk to all native wildlife. That one animal has sealed the fate of all of its kind. The only time numbers come into the picture is AFTER an invasive species has proved to be a threat to native species. Then the numbers of how many exist, how fast they spread, and how much resources are available to eradicate them from all environments in which they have proved harmful are the only numbers that are important.

    2) Since TNR is dependent on trapping, and trapping has proved itself to be a failed concept, as proved by all Trap & Kill methods to date, then any methods which are trap-dependent cannot be considered as a viable option.

    3) Since TNR has proved to exacerbate rabies threats in all communities in which it has been practiced, then there is zero benefit to this practice.

  • You’reWastingValuableWildlife

    Is that the same vet that got rich off of TNR cash-grants from PetSmart charities for exploiting suffering cats and wildlife suffering from those suffering cats? That one? For those are the only vets that support TNR. Every other vet with the least bit of credible education and morality are strongly against the reprehensible amoral practice of TNR

  • Please send me your reference to the vet who “got rich off of TNR grants.” I would love to see your proof.

  • Paul

    As a property owner that values wildlife and cares about declining biodiversity and the extirpation of species due to human impacts, I’d like to manage my property for wildlife. But how can I do this if TNR advocates are allowed to impose their values on everyone else?

    I understand that others have different values. And I understand that TNR advocates value cats and want to keep each cat alive as long as possible. But TNR imposes its values on me and my property: a love of cats with no regard for other species that are clearly unseen by the advocates of TNR. I have seen cats wipe out diversity, and that is not right.

  • Walter Lamb

    Ah, enter Woodsman. Thought maybe you had been banned from this site. You are always welcome at Ted Williams blog though.

  • Jim Levine

    I would like Ted and Walter to respond to the issue brought up by Paul. I think this is the problem in a nutshell. A TNR approach endorsed by local governments says that your rights to keep cats off your property are not as important as the rights of TNR advocates to conduct their operations. And please remember a TNR approach by local govt usually has provisions that allow the release of a TNR’ed cat from animal control back to the neighborhood it was trapped in. However, once initially trapped by TNR, re-trap is more difficult. Meaning instead of the homeowner easily trapping a stray cat for removal he now is faced with a trap shy cat using his property. If you support TNR the only truly respectful way to pursue it is to enclose the cats once you have processed them. TNR does not respect property rights. Plain and simple.

  • It is easier to point to the neighborhood cats and their mutilated prey as the biggest threat to native wildlife than it is to look at your own contribution to the demise of native species, living “in a new subdivision on the edge of a natural area in the foothills.” It is well documented by true scientists (not the pseudo-science quoted by Dr. Monk and the rest of the bird people) that cats, as any predator, prey only on the sick, old, weak, and young. Predation makes a species stronger via natural selection. But habitat destruction, such as your new subdivision, destroys irreplaceable food, water, and nesting resources. It’s easy to see what cats do, but not so easy to see the reduction in nest availability, crowding, reduced egg-laying, increased mortality due to lack of food, etc., caused by habitat destruction. For more information about the truth behind the bad science, visit where Peter Wolf goes line-by-line through all of the “evidence” against cats and contrasts it with the few real scientific studies on the subject.

  • “…that cats, as any predator, prey only on the sick, old, weak, and young…”

    Yes. It is that last one that is particularly troubling for bird populations

  • John

    You wrote, “cats, as any predator, prey only on the sick, old, weak, and young.” Glossing over the claim that the cats “only” prey on those groups for a minute, do you realize that predation on the young can be incredibly detrimental to a population?

  • Conservation 101… just like the majority of the feral kittens that were born in my neighborhood prior to trap/neuter/release died before reaching sexual maturity, so it goes for birds, snakes, rodents, and every other prey species (which cats are, as well.)

    I have had stray and feral cats in my neighborhood since 2008 (apparently my neighbors who lost their homes in the crash didn’t think they could support the unsterilized family cat any longer, either) and in 5 years I have found exactly one single pigeon carcass in my yard. There was an owned neighbor’s cat who was quite prolific at snatching house starlings off the fence near my bird feeders for a few months, but apparently either he lost interest after a while or the birds stopped sitting on the fence.

    Look, the fact is that trap and kill hasn’t worked, too many veterinarians don’t support low cost spay/neuter programs (which, coupled with TNR and neonate fostering, has reduced the number of cats being killed in shelters), and the general public doesn’t think killing one species to save another is an especially humane idea. TNR works, but only to the extent that it is practiced, which means there are tiny little islands of success (like my backyard) surrounded by oceans of ignorance and apathy. This is a fight that bird and cat people shouldn’t be having–we need to work together to find solutions, and we can start by dumping all the bad science that’s being quoted over and over again as if it has any relevance and start talking to each other.

    Baby birds die. Kittens die. Let’s leave our emotions at the door and work together.

  • Yes, baby birds die. But in a functional ecosystem they’re not being killed by a predator whose numbers are kept at artificially high levels by supplemental feeding.

  • It was a hypothetical, and the actual numbers don’t really matter for the point I was trying to make.

    The point I was trying to make is that one dedicated person can totally eliminate a feral cat colony. You trap ’em, you take ’em to the pound, you no longer have a feral cat colony.

    Yes, a skyscraper also kills birds, but getting rid of a skyscraper isn’t really an option for most people.

  • Excellent recommendations in this article.

    These are from the paper by Lepcyzk et al.

    First, conservation biologists, wildlife ecologists, and the like should have open dialogues with the animal welfare, sheltering, veterinary, and public-health communities. These communities generally agree on a desire to promote animal welfare and reduce cat overpopulation.

    Second, the wildlife and conservation communities need to challenge policies that are put forth to allow or promote feral cat colonies and TNR. Conservation biologists have just as much opportunity to make their points at local meetings, through the news media, and at outreach events as do TNR proponents.

    Third, the wildlife and conservation communities should advocate for policies that encourage responsible pet ownership as well as for enforcement of existing policies. This includes requiring licenses for cats, substantially decreasing unwanted breeding of pet cats through mandatory or subsidized spaying and neutering, and requiring cats to be kept under their owners’ control at all times when outdoors.

    Fourth, “releasing cats into the wild and supporting feral cat colonies is a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act, as well as laws prohibiting animal abandonment (Winter 2003).” Thus, it may become incumbent upon us to take legal action against colonies and colony managers, particularly in areas that provide habitat for migratory birds or endangered species.

    Fifth, we should seek laws making it illegal to maintain cat colonies on public lands.

    Sixth, we need to increase public awareness about being a responsible pet owner, not just for the benefit of cats (and other domestic animals as well), but also for individuals of wildlife species and the environment.

    The authors go on to say that “the issue of feral cats is not going away any time soon, and no matter what options are taken, it may well be a generation or more before we can expect broad-scale changes in human behavior regarding outdoor cats.”

    I agree. TNR is not practical at the scale that is needed to dramatically lower the feral cat population (at least 70% of males need to be sterilized for TNR to be effective). As Nutter showed in her research, the effort needed for an effective TNR program is simply not practical on the scale that is needed.

    What is also obvious to be is Monk’s recommendation that “the elimination of feral cats via Trap and Euthanasia is the only truly viable solution” only argues that there is no viable solution. Broad-scale euthanasia is socially and politically untenable. There is simply no political will to follow his suggestion; in fact, I think that you can imagine the political opposition.

    How would you argue for broad-scale euthanasia to your city council? I suspect that proponents would say that there are 60-70 million feral cats killing between 1 and 3 billion birds annually. Unfortunately, these numbers are speculative at best. Here is what is know, and therefore would be used against our proposition. The same paper (Loss et al.) states in the supplement that “No empirically-derived estimate of un-owned cat abundance exists for the contiguous U.S.” This is not an ambiguous statement. No one knows how many feral cats exist in the U.S.

    If you do not know the number of feral cats, then you do not know the number of birds killed. The math is simple. The mortality estimate is based on the population estimate.

    The supplement also provides a list of birds that studies have shown to have high rates of mortality. Here are some of the top species.

    American robin, American goldfinch, Carolina wren, house wren, and northern cardinal are among the species that ranked high in predation. Here are the data:

    According to BirdLife, the American robin “has undergone a small or statistically insignificant increase over the last 40 years in North America (data from Breeding Bird Survey and/or Christmas Bird Count: Butcher and Niven 2007).”

    Carolina wren: “This species has undergone a large and statistically significant increase over the last 40 years in North America (86.4% increase over 40 years, equating to a 16.8% increase per decade; data from Breeding Bird Survey and/or Christmas Bird Count: Butcher a.”

    House wren: “This species has undergone a small or statistically insignificant increase over the last 40 years in North America (data from Breeding Bird Survey and/or Christmas Bird Count: Butcher and Niven 2007).

    American goldfinch: “This species has undergone a small or statistically insignificant increase over the last 40 years in North America (data from Breeding Bird Survey and/or Christmas Bird Count: Butcher and Niven 2007).”

    Northern cardinal: “This species has had stable population trends over the last 40 years in North America (data from Breeding Bird Survey and/or Christmas Bird Count: Butcher and Niven 2007).”

    Four of the species listed as being highly predated are introduced species: ring-necked pheasant, house sparrow, rock pigeon, and European starling. When I look at the list of predated birds, I only see one with population decreases that pops out – northern bobwhite. I am not sure what impact cats are having on bobwhites compared to drought, imported fire ants, and habitat loss, but catbirds do seem to be severely impacted.

    One to three billion bird deaths, I would think, would be seen in population trend data. For example, what is the relationship between the predation rates and population decreases. On they surface I see little relationship.

    So if feral cats are killing 1 to 3 billion birds each year, either (1) there is sufficient excess population to handle the loss, or (2) the estimate is wrong. I cannot imagine 3 billion mortalities annually that are “hidden” in the trend data. How do we explain what the data indicate? Are there really that many robins, cardinals, and house wrens that such a loss would not decrease the population over time?

    Here is what I propose to do. First, I am comfortable with saying that feral cats are killing birds and other wildlife. I am also comfortable with saying there are far too many feral cats. I agree that steps should be taken, like those outlined above. I believe that TNR has too flaws. First, it is not scalable (at the practical level, at least that I can see). Two, the feeding stations also support nontarget species that are also damaging to wildlife and are potential threats to public health and safety. Ted Williams recently mentioned an excellent example of mongooses feeding at a TNR station.

    Monk’s recommends (based on the speculative data that I mentioned above) that “feral cats must be completely removed from the environment, and by that I mean active extermination.” Exactly how is Monk going to accomplish this? I could just as easily say that my recommendation for addressing climate change is for the government to require that we all stop driving. What is needed is a practical approach, based on real numbers, that can be incrementally implemented as the public begins to understand this issue. Otherwise you are stuck with stalemate, and the birds lose.

  • Anonymous

    Phoenix, actually the Savannah Sparrows that were exterminated were quite healthy. They spent the night perched in some low willows. They were easily picked off at night by a stealthy neighborhood cat that left them at my door. The Yellow-bellied Racers and Long-tailed Weasels were also healthy and now exterminated. Even healthy Say’s Phoebe adults are taken while coming in to feed their young – a pair used to nest near my home, and as their fledged young perched at various locations, and waited for mom or dad to bring food, one at a time all of the young and one of the parents were taken by a cat. Just yesterday I found a gnawed off wing of the adult male Red-winged Blackbird that was just singing in some cattails near my home the day before.

    As for natural selection, House Sparrows may have evolved and adapted to humans and their pets, but our native birds are not accustom to this new and overly pervasive predator, so are being exterminated. I would call it selection, but not natural selection.

  • So the logic is that fed cats kill more birds than unfed cats? That argument makes no biological sense.

  • I truly dislike conversations with anonymous posters, but since you persist… how did your new development end up with feral cats? It seems that what you are actually talking about are owned cats who are allowed outdoors, which is not strictly what this opinion piece was about. That said, did you set up a camera to capture the healthy Savannah sparrows being picked off of the low willows? Did you necropsy all of the dead carcasses to ensure the animals were not infected with a virus/fungus/bacterium/protozoa/etc.? I don’t doubt that you believe the birds in your neighborhood are being picked off by cats, but I also think you are seeing what you want to see, and not necessarily being rational or critical in your assessment of the situation.

  • No, but fed cats do not kill any fewer birds and animals than unfed cats. The kitty-cam study showed that cats kill regardless of whether they have access to regular food or not.

    And more, fed cat colonies are not subject to ecological patterns that see predators die back when prey becomes scarce, which allows them to continue to put pressure on prey animals to the point where those populations of birds, mammals, and reptiles are extirpated, at least on a local level.

  • Are you referring to Kerrie Anne Loyd’s non-peer reviewed study? 2,000 hours of video following 55 cats where it was assumed 5 of the 39 successful hunts involved common birds? I’m not sure there is any validity to making definitive conclusions about whether fed or unfed cats kill more or less birds based on that study.

    And to say that feral colonies aren’t under the same ecological pressure as other predators dismisses entirely the fact that they are also prey animals and subject to the same pressures as the animals you think are MORE deserving of protection.

    Bottom line is that all the difficulties faced by native wildlife are of a man-made origin and killing community cats is not the answer, it doesn’t work, has never worked, and the vast majority abhor the idea.

    Sadly, I am but a lowly student of veterinary medicine, home on spring break, and I don’t have nearly as much time to pursue the study of this issue as I would like. But it is truly going to take our two sides coming together and using real science to find a solution.

  • Anonymous

    Phoenix, this is a dialog of ideas, so it’s irrelevant what my name is. No, I didn’t get video proof, and I performed no necropsies. Its admittedly anecdotal, but its what I know to be true. I know the Savannah Sparrows perched in the willows at night because I take the time to observe, and I also watched them during the day and they were perfectly healthy.

  • Chas, thanks for the link. I have the paper. I am interest in the proof that You’reWastingValuableWildlife can provide for his rhetorical claim/question “Is that the same vet that got rich off of TNR cash-grants from PetSmart charities for exploiting suffering cats and wildlife suffering from those suffering cats? That one?”

  • Phoenix, you will see Kerrie Anne Loyd’s KittyCam work quoted incessantly, as well as Castillo’s 2003 paper. Each side in the debate has their own favorite suite of papers.

  • Nate remarks that “that cats, as any predator, prey only on the sick, old, weak, and young…” Yes. It is that last one that is particularly troubling for bird populations.

    Yet how do we explain that populations of the most predated species have not shown declines? I am baffled by this fact. On islands, yes. Endangered and threatened species? Yes. You will get no argument from me. But why do we not see declines here in those species that cats are reported to prey most on such as American robin and northern cardinal?

  • I can’t argue with this, but not for the reasons you may think.

    I think it’s very convenient for “community cat” (nice euphemism) advocates to find no shortage of holes in studies that reach conclusions that they do not like, while at the same time providing no evidence that TNR is an effective means of controlling cat populations (which is our stated goal, correct?) or offering unfounded assertions that that TNR colonies apparently provide a prey base for larger predators (any peer-reviewed studies on large predator concentrations around feral colonies? Didn’t think so).

    Yeah, it’s going to take science, but it’s also going to take clear-eyed assessment of the findings. And right now the body of evidence suggests that feral cats have a significant negative impact on bird and small animal populations, at least on a local level, and that something needs to be done about it. I’m not saying euthanasia is the right call 100% of the time, but it has to be on the table.

    And if one partner in this issue is not even willing to accept the, admittedly incomplete but still telling, data that does exist, then I don’t know how we find that solution.

  • Hi Jim –

    Yes, I agree that this is a valid issue, and one we had to deal with in our neighborhood. A few comments:

    – Not every community TNR discussion you read about is about making permanent removal illegal. Many are about making TNR legal. That isn’t the same thing, but it gets confused a lot.

    – In my neighborhood, people can catch cats and take them to a shelter where most will be euthanized. We came very close to doing this at the peak of our cat problem. There were just too many and it wasn’t viable. However, a very helpful local volunteer (or cat mafia henchman as Ted Williams would call her) explained how we could tame some of the younger cats for adoption. That brought the number to a manageable level. There is one outdoor cat left.

    – We put letters in all of the neighbor’s mailboxes. We explained that they had the right to trap them and take them to the shelter if they wanted, but asked that they not do that since we had gone to so much effort and cost to have them fixed. We got only supportive responses. Once the cats were fixed, they became much less of a nuisance. There are many more outdoor pet cats in our neighborhood than the one remaining stray, and we need to remember that that has nothing to do with TNR. Our letter also asked people to consider keeping their pet cats indoors, as we do ours.

    – I think we need to be cautious of championing property rights too heavily, as property rights are use much more often to argue against environmentally friendly policy. I think bird groups have every right to promote the ability of people to enjoy birds in their back yards.

    – I would support “no kill” only when a local government has realistically achievable, measurable goals for rapid population decline. This was have to include high trap rates, high adoption rates, aggressive education programs on spay/neuter and anit-abandonment, etc. Otherwise, “no kill” just isn’t sustainable in my opinion, meaning that it doesn’t even solve the animal welfare issue let alone the wildlife issue.

    I hope this answers your question, although I’m sure you don’t agree with some of what I said.

    Walter Lamb

  • Nate, I am good with this. Whatever the numbers (and they are mystifying) I am comfortable with the idea that feral cats need to be reduced. I outlined steps that I believe can be taken while to science helps us answer these important question. We don’t have to wait on the research. But the moment that you tell the public that “”feral cats must be completely removed from the environment, and by that I mean active extermination” you are dead in the water. Let’s focus on the steps that we can take, and wait for the public to get comfortable with what is needed.

  • I have always owned cats but since becoming a birder I’ve learned that it’s best to keep my cat indoors-better for the cat and the birds. I have mixed feelings when it comes to non-native bird species like House Sparrows. We brought them here and they’ve adapted well. It’s not their fault. I don’t have enough of facts to form an opinion about the feral cat problem but you have made a compellling case for extermination as the best solution. The fact that the animals lead a short, brutal life is what caught my attention the most.

  • Charles Swift (Chaetura)

    Yes, I was just providing the link for others. That wasn’t intended as a response to your question (just the way TypePad ordered the responses chronologically).

  • John

    There are several important differences between TNR and Trap and Euthanize (T&E). First, as others have said, “managed” colonies often come with a food source, so that the cats are subsidized. If they consume all of the natural food available (native wildlife), they still have the kibble people are supplying. This keeps their populations artificially high, as not as many starve to death as would without supplemental feeding. The cat population will never die back, and native wildlife does not have the chance to move back in.

    Second, and most importantly, colonies in particularly sensitive areas can be targeted for T&E. For example, even small natural areas like parks can be “migrant traps” where songbirds tired from migration stopover to rest and feed for the next leg of their flight. A colony near such a site is a terrible idea. Similarly, ground-nesting birds, including beach-nesting birds, can be decimated by cats, and colonies nearby should be removed. T&E allows for sensible management actions to be taken to conserve native wildlife. Not all feral cats can be targeted for T&R (or for TNR), but T&E provides a real solution to wildlife management.

    Third, colonies are often magnets for cat dumping, so they tacitly encourage the continuation of the problem. The idea that “someone” will feed the dumped cat may even encourage people to dump unwanted cats rather than seek to responsibily rehome their unwanted pet or turn it in to their local animal control service. There is no such encouragement with T&E.

    Fourth, I have met colony managers who freely discuss their practices of trapping, neutering, and returning kittens to colonies. It is not at all clear to me that the goal of colony managers is to reduce the number of feral or unowned cats. T&E’s goal is clear, even though it is unlikely that the goal can be fully achieved. In fact, I tend to believe that the TNR movement has nothing to do with reducing suffering, but is a cover for what is more appropriately termed the “no death” movement. People just don’t want cats to die. But cats do, and even though TNR advocates will deny it, feral cats lead unhealthy, unhappy lives and their deaths are not often pleasant. I’ve seen cats in colonies, and I have never seen one that I believed was leading a “good life.” If my dog that looked that way, my neighbors should report me for animal cruelty. TNR’s values imply that it’s better to keep a suffering animal alive–and to allow it to inflict additional suffering on other animals–than to euthanize it quickly and painlessly. This is a disturbing set of values indeed.

    Fifth, T&E helps the public to understand the severity of the problem created by all kinds of non-native wildlife and plants. Instead of sugar-coating the problem of cat overpopulation with TNR, which is falsely advocated as a “humane” option, T&E demonstrates responsibility, consequences, and how to humanely deal with overpopulation. Maintaining unhealthy, ecologically harmful colonies of cats (and allowing owned cats to roam freely instead of using a cat run or a leash), is terrible for cats, birds, wildlife, public health, and property values. T&E won’t remove every feral cat from the landscape, but it will go much farther than TNR, and it is the only logical and human solution to the problem.

    Finally, T&E goes farther in getting the message out that free-roaming owned cats are also inappropriate. We need to address both issues–ferals and owned cats uncontrolled outdoors–and TNR does nothing to encourage cat owners to understand the impact their pets have on wildlife. (And NO, I am NOT saying that cat owners should keep their cats inside for fear they would be swept up in a T&E program.)

  • John

    This would be a great solution, and as a proponent of T&E, I also support T&C, but feral cat advocates don’t support enclosing feral cats, by and large. I have never seen literature from Alley Cat Allies or other extreme groups that wish to foist feral cats on public land, or on privately owned land they do not have legal access to, calling for enclosures to be built on their members’ own properties. I’m sure some cat advocates have done just this, but that is not the norm or the majority–nor will it ever be, unless the only alternative to T&C is T&E, not TNR.

  • John

    Ann, I am FOR the rehoming of cats as the fist option for dealing with unowned cats, and I’m sure that Brian and practically every other TNR opponent is too. However, my experience with colony keepers has been that rehoming is NOT their first choice. Adoptable cats are returned to colonies. I know it’s hard to find homes for cats, and there aren’t enough homes for all the friendly unowned cats that exist, but I think that the notion that conservationists, birdwatchers, and others who do not support TNR actively want to kill cats for the sake of killing cats is a distortion that extreme groups foster intentionally. The idea that dumping cats (or other domestic animals) under any conditions–TNR or otherwise–is humane is completely against my moral upbringing.

  • John

    What is may be the most productive avenue to reducing the number of feral cats is educating people about the quality of life most colony cats experience. Most people, I’m afraid, do not value functioning natural ecosystems or biodiversity, but may respond better to the issue of cat welfare–although I still think it’s worthwhile to try to inform the public about the problems caused by non-native species, including cats. After all, I don’t imagine the public is happy about the number of dogs being euthanized every year, but there is no large lobby promoting the establishment of wild packs.

  • Shawn Sullivan

    I agree that feral cats need to be removed, I personally believe that lethal removal is the best way, but am always open to any idea that achieves the goal of no cats outside the home.

    I’m not sure about TNR or about trying to rehabilitate feral cats for the house, I’m concerned about where the funding is coming from for some of these programs, I don’t like the idea of money that could be used for other conservation issues being used to maintain feral cat populations.

    I also believe that the issue of house cats that are allowed outside needs to be addressed, I know that it has been addressed earlier, but dogs are required to be on leashes when outside, why not cats, I find that it is very irresponsible of owners to allow there cats outside that would kill native wildlife, and if an owner is relying on this as a source of food maybe they shouldn’t have a cat in the first place.

    There was an earlier post about the lack of effect of cats on the populations of the top target bird species, if we are not seeing any difference in the populations of those species due to cat predation, could there potentially be a reduction in the populations in their natural predators? or are we also looking at the possibility that those particular species are also affected in a positive way by bird feeders?

  • Jim Levine

    Thanks Walter, that answered my questions in your case and your neighborhood. As long as TNR does not reduce my ability to keep my own yard cat free (by any legal means I choose to use) I’m okay with that. Unless it is sold as ‘the only humane way to reduce populations’. I have not seen any publication that concludes this point at a city/county level.

    We, who are perfectly fine with trap and remove (and euthanasia) need to be just as aggressive with our desired method of population reduction as the TNR groups are. Although, it seems like when we are (and shelters or animal control euthanasia rates increase as a result) the national TNR groups get involved to shut that down. Note how TNR success is often measured by reduction in euthanasia rates (not in actual population reduction).

  • Hi Jim,

    I agree with your point that simply reducing shelter intake and euthanasia are not valid conservation metrics unless they are shown to correlate with drops in overall populations of feral cats. This was a key point made by one of the speakers at the recent HSUS conference on feral cats and wildlife. Of course, the same is true of the number of animals trapped and removed.

    I also agree that the claim that TNR is the only humane way to reduce populations is a PR talking point, not a scientific fact. It is clear that many cat advocacy groups do not find lethal control of healthy animals to be humane, and that they are using this subjective definition to disqualify lethal control. I don’t have a problem with their defining “humane” a certain way, but they ought to be more clear in what they are asserting by addressing the question of whether lethal control works and the question of whether it is humane separately.

    I do think that there are some very legitimate issues around how removal of cats affects density dependence, just as there are legitimate questions around how feeding affects carrying capacity. Most importantly, I think we need to be more realistic about resource constraints. It often seems as though TNR critics start with the assumption that all the cats are already trapped and the only question now is whether to kill them or sterilize and return them. That is obviously not the case. Any mathematical analysis has to factor in resource constraints as perhaps the most significant variable. A residential neighborhood in which a group of volunteers might engage in non-lethal control but where there is only one animal control officer is different than a remote wildlife area that might have trained staff for removal and only one or two committed cat activists trying to make TNR work.

    As I’ve always said, we need to treat this a math problem, not a true or false question.

    Walter Lamb

  • C Day

    It’s not birds over cats. It’s native species over invasive species, and I will personally fight for that every time.

  • C Day

    Don’t you think interviewing pet owners would produce a biased result against euthanizing pets? “Americans” does not equal “pet owners” I’d like to see a survey that asked wildlife biologists if they would support euthanasia of feral cats. All the biologists that I know would.

  • C Day

    I think one of the important questions is philosophical. Should we eradicate invasive species if we have the capability? I would argue yes.

  • Et tu, Brute?

    I have yet to read a study about feral/community/stray/unowned cats and/or TNR that wasn’t fatally flawed in either it’s design or assumptions, and it seems the “conservationist” agenda is more than willing to continuously rehash bad science from as far back as the early 20th century to blame cats for every bird death.

    Until your side is ready to throw out the junk science and understand that feral cat population management is possible without mass extermination, I’ll have to be satisfied that public opinion strongly favors my position.

  • Anonymous, I, too, am an observer.

    I observe beautiful, healthy, happy cats at play in my yard, while my many trees are filled with birds. A single bird carcass is all that has ever turned up–whether it landed in my yard because of the feral cats or was dropped by one of the local red-tailed hawks or red-shouldered hawks that soar in the sky above my home, I’ll never know. My feral colony is well-fed, and, three years in, the population is 80% neutered.

    Our backyard is a certified wildlife habitat where we welcome skunks, raccoons, and a variety of birds and reptiles. When I volunteer with the Feral Cat Coalition to assist with spaying and neutering feral cats every month somewhere here in San Diego County, I meet like-minded individuals who are also compelled to do the right thing for the cats who show up in their nieghborhoods.

    So take a deeper look at the bad science being used to villify outdoor cats, meet the people who care about them, and open your mind to the idea that extermination is not acceptable–maybe then we’ll find a solution that is.

    • mf12590

      Nicely said….I have to say some things here as well…I had a feral/stray who had 2 kittens living on my deck when I bought my house. I trapped her & the kittens I kept one to be an indoor cat with my 3 others, gave a kitten to my dad. Mommy cat still lives on my deck. I feed her once a day some kibble & over 4 years I have been brought hundreds of rodents of every description & ZERO birds. Bird feeders are akin to placing bowls of food for cats anyway. If you trap/neuter/release only the adults & place/re-home the kittens (pre-neutered) this would certainly not be such an enormous problem. The problem is the people who whine & complain without lifting a finger to help. Lastly …thank you for volunteering!! It should be a licencing prerequisite as far as I am concerned….

      • “over 4 years I have been brought hundreds of rodents of every description”

        Feral cats killing native rodents and small mammals is as concerning as their impact on birds.

    • Your feral colony is far more destructive than you seem to realize. Just because you do not see that destruction, doesn’t not mean it does not exist.

      The science is not bad, the arguments against it, however, are weak anecdotes and not data. Yours included.

  • Someone who cares

    High trees do provide refuge for suburban bird species that are not nesting on an open lawn. Replace that with brush and native grasses and you’d have a death trap for the sensitive species that have already been obliterated from your backyard.

    If you knew birds, and you had observed the bird life in your backyard before your cat colony was added, I’m pretty sure you’d have a different perspective.

  • Someone who cares, I have lived in my home for over 20 years–the unowned cats showed up only 3-4 years ago–so I have spent a fair amount of time observing the birds in my neighborhood long before the cats showed up. My home does not border a wildlife refuge, nor is it in a recently developed area–there has been a home on this property since the late 19th century. The nearest untouched natural habitat is at least 20 miles away. Before becoming a veterinary student, I worked for a decade as a naturalist and interpreter for a world-famous zoological park near my home. I have had several semesters of university-level instruction in animal behavior, anatomy, physiology, etc., and a bachelor’s degree in molec cell biology. (I switched away from conservation biology as an undergrad because I didn’t enjoy the company of the others who had chosen that as a career path.) But enough about me. In spite of the absolute destruction of all native habitat and the intrusion of community cats, birds continue to thrive in my neighborhood. Birds are more resilient than you want to give them credit for.

  • D

    There isn’t really much to debate on the issue. Feral cats are a problem in some areas of the country. Our neighbor mercifully fed a pregnant feral cat (our neighbor is a cat owner as well, but her cats are kept in the house), and the cat took up residence below her deck. The kittens were adorable. We watched them grow and now they are having kittens. We never supported her feeding them, but we felt our hands were tied. Of course, the kittens as adults seem to gravitate around the neighbor’s house, and now, unfortunately, ours as well. As Birders, the problem is we are seeing increasing numbers of dead birds that have been mauled by the cats, some of which are dragged under our shed and porch and left to rot and cat urine is sprayed on our property by pets we don’t own (our yard is fenced, our dog is prevented from doing similar salutes to the neighbor’s property). The borough hunts down Raccoons and other vermin with a vengeance, but turns a blind eye to the problems with an exponentially growing cat population. Hell, the Raccoons have more of a right to be here than the cats, at least they’re indigenous to our area.

    This misplaced animal rights stuff has got to come to an end. The wild animals have more of a right to an unmolested existence than domestic animals gone feral. I used to keep Tarantulas, and have a great fondness for most types of spiders, most of which I would never kill (many have been sequestered by my wife under a clear glass and allowed to remain imprisoned until I get home, whereupon I slowly slip a piece of paper under the glass, pick-up the entire thing and transport the offending individual outside, providing they are not house spiders, which are released in a more obscure section of the house). My point is that, despite the known benefits of spiders, very few people give smashing them a moments thought. Why have cats been apotheosized? It’s because they are cute, they are furry, and in domesticated cats they are downright fun to own. But feral cats are not domesticated cats.

    We should give due regard to all life forms in proportion to their benefit/risk. I would not hesitate, in domestic situations, to smash a Black Widow spider if I came across one, nor a False Widow, nor a Yellow Sac Spider. Their benefits, eating of insects, is outweighed buy their risk to human health. We need to consider the same with feral cats, only extend the concern onto the benefits and risks to other animals that frequent our property.

    Lastly, imagine dogs gone feral that roam that neighborhoods and live by killing and eating feral cats, maybe with some emphasis on just killing the kittens and feral cats suffering from aging or illnesses, temporary or otherwise. Do cat people honestly think they would not want something done to stop this outrageous behavior. Why is the destruction of birds by cats any different?

  • D

    Hi Shawn, Although my views are inflexible on feral cats (read elsewhere) house cats can be a difficult thing to control. Most cats would not take to being on a leash, cats are far more independent than dogs, so that won’t work. Cats are also prone to “slipping out”, a door opened to get the mail for instance. Also, depending on where you live, dogs may indeed roam the neighborhood, though not necessarily legally. (I’m in a city of 500,000 people, no small town, and the city and metro area are 1.5 Million). Usually, dogs that don’t cause problems fall under the radar. For house cats, sterilization is hopefully done with significant numbers, so that’s hopeful. I have a neighbor that traps something or other, I think he tries for Ground Hogs. One year he trapped a cat, and there it sat, in the sun, would have cooked to death eventually. Here I am, minding my business, and my wife comes in, very angry. I told her to call the Humane Society or other animal control group in our area. I was astonished that they refused to do anything. So, there I go, traipsing across the neighbor’s property, and let the cat go. Also let a squirrel go under similar circumstances. Hopefully the neighbor doesn’t have a camera. Oh, and by the by, released squirrels travel somewhat faster than the speed of light, sheesh, don’t stand in front of the cage. But I digress. Despite the possible (or probable) destructiveness of house cats, I don’t believe that this is a perfect world, the goal of the elimination of feral cats would satisfy me. I could not, under any circumstances, trap for euthanasia or have anything to do with killing a neighbor’s pet cat or any cat I suspect to be someone’s pet (ergo the cat released from the neighbor’s trap). It just doesn’t work for me. For the purists out there that noticed I ventured onto my neighbors property, I used to have fruit trees that he would spray with pesticide because he didn’t like the ants that occupied it. Not a good thing and done without my awareness. Apparently he felt that what I didn’t know wouldn’t hurt me. Again, life is not a perfect thing. Hopefully if he ever catches me releasing something he’ll remember the beam in his own eye. (If anyone is confused, look up Mote and Beam in eye).

  • McKenzie

    Dude that’s their prey, it’s the Circle of Life okay.

  • Colleen

    Your backyard, that is home to a feral cat colony, is a certified wildlife habitat? Did it become certified before or after the cat colony began? I’m quite certain it would not qualify as wildlife habitat any more, and your certification would be revoked if this little tidbit were brought to light.

    There are scores of peer-reviewed studies regarding TNR and its ineffectiveness and not ONE peer-reviewed study showing any benefit whatsoever, to cats or to wildlife. It’s easy to find fault with others’ studies, particularly when it goes against what you believe, but until you have something to hold up showing the contrary you really don’t have a leg to stand on.

    As for killing one species to benefit another, I’d like to point out that that IS the typical response when an invasive, non-native species, like the domestic cat, is having an impact on native species. It’s the typical response all over the world, including the U.S. It just hasn’t been considered an acceptable alternative for domestic cats in this country yet because there are too many folks like yourself that just can’t accept the fact that their cute little felines are NOT supposed to be there and they ARE causing significant damage. Are they the only perpetrators to wildlife populations? Certainly not. Are they a significant one? Most definitely.

  • Thanks for pointing out a deeply disturbing aspect of feral cat “management,” John. Among the few published studies I’ve read that claim reduction or elimination of feral cat colonies by TNR (conducted by TNR advocates, so hardly unbiased), the reduction/elimination has been accomplished mainly by removal for adoption. Re-releasing adoptable cats is hoarding, and any organization or agency that condones such behavior is doing a grave disservice to both cats and its TNR volunteers.

  • Judy, thank you for making one of the most important contributions to this discussion. The job you’re doing is already a tough and largely thankless one, and feral cat hoarders are making it even harder.

  • Paul

    About a week ago, I saw a response somewhere on the internet to the feral cat issue as follows:

    • “Dude, its their prey, its the circle of life, ok.”

    . (The “circle of life” phrase being popularized by the movie The Lion King.) I can’t recall where I saw this, but I’m pretty certain it is an exact quote. Also, I’ve noticed that when I talk with folks that let their cats outdoors, the common response I hear is usually something very similar, and then they go on about it being “nature’s way” and “survival of the fittest” and about weeding out the weak to create stronger genes etc… In hearing this so many times, I now believe that overcoming this mindset is the biggest obstacle to solving the feral cat problem. So I’d just like to throw in my two cents on the topic.

    The principle of “survival of the fittest” works well for the local evolution of native species in intact ecosystems over hundreds of thousands of years (think Hawaii), but shouldn’t be touted at the global level. The ecosystems we have today have been impacted by humankind, so they require some management. Because of our impacts, we have a responsibility to manage our ecosystems, and that includes keeping our cats indoors.

  • Lisa

    I have feral cats that are 10 years old. They have had food provided daily.

    • How many birds, native rodents, and small reptiles have they killed in that time? Countless, undoubtedly.

  • Julia A

    I live next door to an older lady who feeds (i.e. leaves cookie sheets of cat food out in her front and backyard) the neighborhood feral cats.

    We don’t have any pets, but we do have two preschool aged kids who are right now getting bitten by fleas that have come into our house via our pant legs etc after we play in our own back yard. I hate fleas. Having a garden is near impossible because cat poop is NOT fertilizer. We have a much larger lot than my neighbor so the cats (and raccoons, and skunks) eat what she leaves out, and then they poop, fight, have kittens, and die in our yard. None of them are spayed or neutered so they’re always marking their territory – between that and the poop some times it smells so bad I can’t even sit on my own porch.

    It’s so bad that I often wish we could just leave – but we’re owners not renters and putting our house on the market is not something we’re prepared to do right now.

    I’ll be spraying the yard with whatever I can find that will kill fleas without harming my kids. We’ll bleach our front stairs and walkway and I’ll continue spending most Saturday mornings picking up poop so my kids can plan in their own yard. I resent the time, effort, and money I’ve spent over the last 4 years on these cats because my neighbor’s actions.

    • Name

      Have you tried speaking with her? If that did not work, there are local cat organzations a google away that can perhaps help. We had a similar situtaion and Forgotten Cats came in and took care of capturing and neutering the cats as well as Rabie shots. The flea issue may not go away even if the cats do. Remember the black plague was caused by rats/mice carrying fleas There are all kinds of natural non-toxic treatments out there on the web as well.

      Here are a tips for the yard…

      Good luck!

  • Name

    People forget the biggest problem is the irresponsible pet owners that just dump or leave their cats as well as never get them neutered. I think the vet is wrong and where legislation needs to be addessed is pet ownership. Colony caretakers would like nothing more than people to be responsible with their pets and they go out of business.
    I love birds and all animals and have have rehabilitated many. I have had pet cats that were birders and needed collars (and yes, they have helped) and have taken care of feral colonies that have no interest in them. So, instead of killing the cats, let’s come down or the irresponsible owners. Love to see a law that along with rabies shots, all pets have to be microchipped as well, so we can track down the irresponsible owners and hold them accountable with more than just a slap on the wrist.

  • Jimbo

    I dispute the claim that cats are the most popular pet in America. Every month we have a page in our newspaper showing animals available for adoption. Typically, there are 1 or 2 dogs, and 25 or more cats! This situation (feral cats) has gotten totally out of control. A year ago, my sister, (who is NOT a cat lover), and had just lost her beloved dog, noticed some suffering feral cats in the neighborhood. She rented live traps, coaxed four cats into them, and paid to have them spayed or neutered, and treated. The shelter insisted that they be released to her neighborhood. Shortly thereafter, one of the cats got into her garage, and did a lot of damage. She called animal control, hoping they would put the cat up for adoption or re-locate it. Instead, the animal control officer assumed my sister was the owner, and ORDERED her to take it into her house, or she would be arrested! My sister had to learn how to domesticate a wild cat. She has since paid hundreds of dollars in vet bills to keep that cat healthy. And she never wanted a cat!

    I live in NY State. Our next door neighbor has been putting food out for a couple stray cats. They had a litter. Now, after a rough winter, we have four or five cats. Puking and defacating all over the back yard. So much sow that I can’t even mow the lawn without slipping on it. Fighting, and howling during the night. Eating all the songbirds I love. I rent from a family member I’m not allowed to have a pet. I have to maintain the property. So I called our local shelter and talked to the animal control officer (law enforcement). He said they would not capture the cats. My only legal option is to pay for or rent my own traps, take them to the shelter or a vet, and pay to have have them spayed or neutered, treated for any diseases, housed till they are well, and RE-RELEASED on the property! It is INSANE! I’ve never owned a pet. I’m not a cat lover. Why should I be FORCED to accept as pets, cats some deliquent cat owner released in our neighborhood? Why should I be forced to accept all that responsibility and cost?

    I don’t know if we should have “open season” on feral cats. But cats and their owners should be regulated and licensed just like dogs. And if anyone insists on breeding cats, regardless of pedigree, they should be forced to pay for spay and neuter, and any other program that is necessary to control the cat population.

  • TNR Researcher

    I’d post the solution to all your problems, no matter where you live, or what legal options are available to you. But the last time I did my information was deleted.

    Sometimes I think you birders are worse than the cat-lickers. (I can’t call them “cat-lovers”, people who love cats do not let them roam free to die inhumane deaths. “Cat-lover” is far too oxymoronic of a label for anyone who is being truly honest.)

    You all want to complain about the problem but not one of you want to do the nasty work to fix the problem. My lands were infested with hundreds of cats for 2 decades, nearly every last bit of native wildlife gone from my lands, either killed directly or starved-to-death by vermin cats. I used a method advised to me by my Sheriff. In only 2 seasons there were zero cats, and I’ve not seen even ONE cat in over 4 years now. My wildlife is rebounding faster than I could have ever hoped for. I estimate about 1-returning or 1 never-seen-before species (of all kinds of wildlife, not just birds, but the never-seen-before songbirds are a nice bonus) have been populating my lands since every last cat is gone. That’s a LOT of species that cats had annihilated during their time here.

    I’m not about to waste my time posting the solution, you’ll just delete it again. I have better things to do than waste my time on immature whiners who want everyone else to fix their problem for them. Suffice to say, if you don’t do something you can kiss your birds goodbye. Hint: The ONLY method that is faster than cats can out-breed and out-adapt to is “hunted to extinction”. Get on it! Before they breed beyond the reach of even that method. Then you can kiss your own asses goodbye too.

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  • wilywascal

    As someone who has owned cats and likes cats, I agree that native species must be given preference over any invasive species. That means responsible cat owners need to keep their cats indoors or safe outside, and feral cats need to be eradicated. We don’t allow invasive feral dogs, and cats should be treated no different. It is not conservationists that are relying on junk science, it is TNR advocacy groups. The cherry pick the data and use disingenuous and contradictory arguments. As the article points out, they manipulate people’s emotions, and the result is a lack of rationality on this issue.

    The problem isn’t just birds. Studies have shown they kill more other native wildlife than birds or pests. They do kill mice, but they don’t kill many rats. However, another study showed they don’t have much impact on the populations of mice, either, which have adapted to cats. I think this is probably true for some urban birds, also, but the vast majority of native wildlife are easy prey for these natural born killers. Studies indicate young birds are especially vulnerable to predatory invasive cats.

    One thing wrong with those advocating for cats outdoors is that they treat native animals as populations, but cats as individuals. Which is more inhumane, the torture and cruel slaughter of numerous native wildlife animals that are a natural part of our ecosystems by each of an invasive species of domesticated cat created by humans over thousands of years, or the euthanizing of a feral unwanted cat? The choice really isn’t that difficult, even though it means killing a great number of feral cats. The lives of far more native wildlife will be saved by doing so, and the life of one feral cat isn’t worth more than each or all of those lives lost due to its continued existence under inhumane conditions.

  • Mary DeLia

    I think if we make it harder to own cats, buy cats, and dump cats, that will help a lot. The situation is so far out of control that some elimination methods will need to be undertaken just to bring the populations down to where they are not overtaking other wildlife. Why not? America has a strong hunting culture. Deer and grouse and quail and ducks are just as beautiful as cats. It’s accepted that those are hunted, why not cats? Deer are regularly “managed” in areas where this is needed. It’s an unpleasant task, but we handle it with adult maturity and accept that in life sometimes there will be necessary evils. This HAS to be done. We can no longer allow law makers to regard cats with childlike logic. They are not part of the natural environment, but if advocates insist on claiming they are, then they should be treated the same as any other wild animal whose numbers grow too large to be sustained by their environment.

    Speaking of morals, it is morally repugnant to allow one species to kill off entire ecosystems. This is the most immoral of all our choices.

    I support taking measures to eliminate populations of feral cats. But I also think more can be done to raise cats to a higher level of value by making them harder to own and imposing stiff penalties for dumping them.
    Just think about dogs. Forty years ago dogs would run wild. People valued them less because the laws regarding dogs were so lax. Then laws got tough on dog ownership. Many stray dogs were unfortunately euthanized, and that was sad. But look where dogs are now, almost as well-regarded as humans! Dogs are living better lives now because mature people took a stand against improper treatment of them. We can do the same for cats. Every cat should have a home. It should be difficult to own a cat. There should be licences requred, and every cat should be neutered or spayed unless you are a licensed breeder. Towns could make money by imposing stiff fines on those who abandon cats, and also on the licensing fees.

    Changing laws about cat ownership and dumping will bring about great change, I believe. Until then, we need to give wildlife a break by enacting elimination strategies.

  • senior1946

    The problem with feral cats is simply overpopulation and by that I don’t me a small overpopulation problem. The problem is astronomical. Then there are people who think the way to deal with this overpopulation problem is to wipe them all out which can’t be done anyway. The thing is that even though cats are a non-native species they do have a place in today’s ecosystem. In large cities they help to keep the rat population down, for instance. Out in rural areas many farmers have “barn cats” in order to keep down the population of mice and rats which would eat the grain supplies. These cats do have a place in today’s ecosystem in this country, but like any animal population that grows beyond the numbers that the ecosystem handle and stay in balance it create’s problems. Cats as pets are companion animals to many humans and many of us humans love them. We cat lover’s know that the root of the problem with cat overpopulation lies with us humans and not with the cats. Many irresponsible pet owners abandon their “pets” every year and return them to the streets to fend for themselves and while the rest of us abhor this type of behavior we also feel sorry for the cats who are the victims of human misbehavior and no we don’t want to see widespread extermination of these poor little creatures. As with any population (including human populations) that grows beyond what the system can handle other factors will eventually emerge that will greatly reduce the overpopulation of that species and it usually isn’t pretty.

    Personally i can’t say what the best way to handle the feral cat overpopulation probem is. I love cats far too much to be objective.

  • George Black

    I am surprised to read such a personal and emotional rant by a DVM. First of all the epidemic of abandoned cats is an AMERICAN MADE population. Residents created it by allowing unfixed cats outdoors to breed freely. Ignorance in America breeds more of the same.It is of great cost to taxpayers. Call Chicago Animal Control today and ask for the numbers of cats they are putting down at warp speed that are being brought in every hour. Surrenders by the busload.. Moms and litters hit the euth pile too. That being said it is MY right in a free country to perform Trap Neuter Return in my neighborhood in Chicago.Residents leave open garbage bags in alleys everywhere. The alleys that have a feral colony are RAT FREE.. It took a few months of heavy work to clean up an 8 block area and it worked. It was my first trial of TNR. The areas where TNR has NOT been implemented are loaded with cats and kittens. I moved on to a 4 block area in Bridgeport with the help of residents. 19 females were spayed last summer. There are zero kittens this summer. 2 cats passed away, 4 were adopted and relocated and no males are fighting and spraying on fences. I tested TNR again in a large area of Englewood. Also took residents cats for Free s/n. Yep, once again,months later..alleys and streets once loaded are free of kittens and the population is being managed, So whatever you have to say go right ahead but until you actually test it your words are just that..words.I have saved taxpayers upwards of 50k. Now that speaks volumes.

    • wilywascal

      I was very surprised to see someone mischaracterize this veterinarian’s rational and thoughtful article as an “emotional rant.”
      I don’t know the local ordinances for Chicago, but there are many places where conducting TNR would be in violation of the law. A free country doesn’t mean anyone can do as they please.
      I don’t buy your narrative, because I’ve seen from personal experience and the studies that TNR does not work. I’ve seen rats in the same locale as feral cat colonies, and there are TNR colonies that have been going on for years and years, as new feral cats move into the area where they know people will provide them food, even as the older ones die off. TNR can also unintentionally encourage people to abandon their cats, because they rationalize that their abandoned pet will be fed and cared for. And your 100% trap rate does not match up with the litters I’ve seen or what studies have shown. I’ve seen the miserable existence outdoor cats are forced to live, and the horrific ways in which they die. And that’s supposedly more humane than euthanasia? Not in my book.
      Notably, no mention by you of vaccinating these animals regularly. That is hardly surprising, as few TNR programs properly vaccinate and keep vaccinated the cats they do manage to catch. Once trapped, feral cats are often weary of being trapped again, making it more difficult or impossible in some cases. Also notably, no mention by you of all the native birds and other native animals that aren’t considered pests that the cats you help maintain outdoors kill. So, TNR does little or nothing about feral cats receiving proper care, or spreading disease, or protecting native wildlife from an invasive predatory species. Nothing humane about any of those things, either.
      TNR actually costs society more money. TNR costs far more to administer than euthanasia, and it is a drain on society, whether the bill is footed through taxpayers or by taxpaying citizens directly. That’s a distinction without much difference because, ultimately, Americans are still paying one way or another. Even though I’ve never contributed to the problem, I actually don’t mind paying my fair share of taxes to deal with feral cats where the methodology is scientifically sound and humane. But in return, I would like to see all pets be required to have a microchip embedded identifying their health status (vaccinations and the like) and owner information. There needs to be stiffer penalties for those found guilty of abandoning their pet. And it should be required that all pets be sterilized, excepting those who wish to breed, which would require a permit insuring proper care, including sterilization of those not used for breeding, and homes for any litters produced.
      I do agree with you on one thing, and that is that feral cats are a problem caused by humans. That means humans have an obligation and responsibility to fix the problem. The problem isn’t confined solely to the U.S. and Americans, however, and numerous studies indicate TNR is not effective in reducing the feral cat population, or in protecting native wildlife. TSAFE (Trap, Sterilize, Adopt, Foster, or Euthanize) I do support, as it does not involve the inhumane releasing of an invasive species bred by humans and dependent upon humans back outdoors. Finally, cats should not be allowed outdoors unsupervised or without a confined area to keep them and our native wildlife safe. It’s part of being a responsible pet owner, and it’s what people do who really care about cats.

  • mf12590

    What an egotistical, “special” person this guy is….species will come & go. It is evolution & its reverse (still evolution) > The biggest problem is & always has been > HUMANS…we are a terrible, over-bred species….I just commented on how “backward” china is for slaughtering 5,000 dogs because of a rabies fear…this is no different. your precious birds will be fine. I find it hard to believe you are a practicing dvm…do your clients know how you feel? I think not…You might as well say” I love babies, I have 5 kids. The world is so over run with children though & they grow to be adults & reproduce at a phenomenal rate. We should just euthanize some babies instead of preventing their births” ….sounds the same to me

    • Your analogy is poor. Human beings are capable of weighing the decision to reproduce and respond to logical arguments pro and con (at least in theory). Cats are not.

      The biggest problem for bird populations are, indeed, humans. Feral cats are a human-caused solution, and require a human assisted solution. And that solution needs to include euthanasia.

  • Anon

    Feral and “community” cat caretakers are little more than cat ranchers, regarding our private property and carefully planned wildlife garden as merely open range on which to run their exotic and ever-growing cat herd. The native birds and other wild creatures for which we’ve carefully (and expensively) grown a beautiful backyard habitat, have become nothing more than free groceries for the cats in the herd. We’ll be selling out and moving soon—either to a place where people are not only science-literate but law-abiding, Constitution-respecting, and considerate, or to a place far enough away from neighbors that it won’t matter. I’m not even sure why anyone interested or knowledgeable about nature would want to waste their money buying residential property they can neither use themselves, nor keep others from using without permission. I’ll do what I can to work for change, but this is easily the most disturbing and astonishing departure from science, fact, reason, and just plain old Golden Rule civility I’ve ever seen at the local level. I guess 30 years’ worth of excising evolution from science textbooks has finally caught up with us, right on our own doorstep. (A little difficult to get the dynamics of population biology and wildlife managment if you don’t buy evolution….)

  • lilyoh

    An excellent, well reasoned article! My neighborhood has a number of strays. I have taken in 3 plus an elderly rescue cat. I love them, they are spayed/neutered, etc and never outside the house for their own safety. At my limit for cats I can care for, I have to witness the horrible horrible lives of the strays. Dr. Monk has courageously stated the truth, sad as it is.

  • Chris Colburn

    Watch Out!!!! Human eradication is next. There are much too many people destroying our planet…. The POPE seems to have the solution and is using CLIMATE CHANE to get your attention.

    • What evidence do you have that human eradication is next?

  • Chris Colburn

    Do we have birth control for animals? Why not? money?

    • No. And it’s because sterilization is easier and far cheaper.

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    items and prepared a cure for me, and instructed me on what to do and i OBEYED him completely as he told me. Then

    he sent a parcel to me through the courier delivery service. it was a holy water and a pure holy oil as described

    by DR otabor. I took the holy water and the holy oil and after taking it, he told me to go for check up but I was

    still in doubt and was so afraid to go for the test but i took a bold step and believed that it is well, and i

    believed all what he has done and all that he has told me. So i went to the hospital for the test it was so

    amazing, awesome and exciting what seems to be impossible became possible, the VIRUS disappeared completely from my

    system quickly I called him and told him what happened he congratulated me and today i am a happy person again the

    way things use to be. Don’t you think that this testimony is worth sharing? I promise to tell the world about him

    and i will keep sharing this testimony till the end because many people has died of herpes and i want many people


    by contacting him on his email at [email protected] and you can also YOUTUBE see so many people he has helped in

    other areas of life. Thank you GREAT Dr otabor and May your good gods keep rewarding you for your good deeds

  • Lisa

    This is two years old, but THANK YOU, for this enlightened response to the issue.

  • VickiP

    This is the second feral kitten I have found caught in insulation under a house. This kitten is dragging around a dead swollen paw. I have experienced a similar situation before and took it to a vet costing me 125 dollars to put a feral cat to sleep. Is there somewhere to take it without costing this much especially since it is feral and not mine but still very upsetting to see a kitten in this shape.

  • Marie Ostarello

    White Europeans were not native to these lands, either. Has it ever occurred to you the gross decimation human beings have brought upon this continent in overpopulation, destruction of land and poisoning of, well, everything? In addition, they brought African Americans over, another non-native. Is it right that these two groups and all other human beings thrived and the Native Americans were killed. Get a perspective. Cats have been in the U.S. for about 500 years. They are not new to this continent, and we must live with them now that this is the status quo. To suggest otherwise would mean all humans other than Native Americans should “go home,” too. Or, would you suggest euthanization?

    • Are you seriously suggesting that Native Americans and Europeans are different species? One native and the other invasive?
      Are you sure that’s a path you want to go down?

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