Opinion: National Feral Cat Day serves as time to learn facts about how shelters work | NJ.com
The Times, Trenton, New Jersey
Jersey Journal file photoBrownie was a
feral cat rescued in Bayonne last year.
By Donna Hildreth and Ted Gardner
Tomorrow is National Feral Cat Day — a day Alley Cat Allies asks us to think about feral cats. Feral cats live outdoors, have no owners and, historically, have been cared for by compassionate people in the community.
Unfortunately, municipalities respond to feral cats by trapping them and relegating them to animal shelters, because some regard them as a nuisance.
People may believe that cats taken to shelters will be united with their owners or cared for until they are adopted, but, unfortunately, only about 2 percent of shelter cats are reunited with their owners. Having no owners and ill-suited for adoption, feral cats usually end up being killed. According to Alley Cat Allies, “Animal nonprofits, research veterinarians, and other experts agree: Killing in ... shelters is the leading cause of death of all cats in the United States. All are in agreement that too many cats are killed.”
Further complicating the problem, few states require that shelters collect and publish data as to the ultimate disposition of the cats they take in. Transparency might limit the killing; enshrouding the ultimate disposition of the cats likely facilitates what shelters euphemistically refer to as “euthanasia,” but is really killing, plain and simple. Feral cats are killed in shelters not because of sickness, injury or old age, but because of overcrowding.
The State of New Jersey Intake and Disposition Survey of 2009, issued by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, indicates that more than 28,000 cats were killed in New Jersey shelters. These statistics are grim. Given the overcrowding and concomitant killing, we suggest that a more humane approach is called for, namely: trap, neuter, return (TNR).
With TNR, rather than being trapped and placed in crowded shelters where they will ultimately be killed, feral cats are sterilized, vaccinated for rabies and returned to their outdoor homes, where they can continue to live while their numbers diminish as the cats die naturally without further breeding.
An Alley Cat Allies 2007 survey reveals that 80 percent of Americans believe that letting a stray cat live out a natural life outdoors trumps any response that is predicated upon prematurely killing cats. Municipally supported TNR programs can save taxes, improve the health of cats and relieve the strain on shelters. Tax dollars are saved, as most of the trapping, transporting and caretaking is done by volunteers. (The Best Friends Feral Cat Calculator at guerrillaeconomics.biz/communitycats/
shows how much a reader’s own town could be saving.) TNR programs increase public safety, because the sterilized cats are vaccinated against rabies and engage in fewer behaviors that bring them injury or illness.
Feral cat populations in our towns are living proof that we have spent the last 30 years wasting time and money using the “catch and kill” protocol. Even those unsympathetic to the argument that cats have a right to live out their natural lives would have to admit that this response has failed and is expensive. While bringing feral cats to shelters to be adopted is a desirable motive, the statistics belie any thought that the cats are then adopted. Virtually every feral cat that enters a shelter is ultimately killed. It is anti-empirical, illogical and disingenuous for municipalities to suggest that trapping and taking feral cats to a shelter is done for the purposes of adoption.
If we are serious about humanely and effectively reducing the feral cat population, TNR is the sole solution. Feral cats deserve the right to live to a natural death. A society that is both moral and ethical will endure a little inconvenience and assist these cats to that end. Feral cat populations have continued to grow for the last 30 years under the antiquated “catch and kill” policy. The sooner New Jersey municipalities adopt TNR, the sooner we will see feral cat populations stabilize and then reduce in size in our towns, with a resulting decline in shelter intakes and kill rates.
To learn more about TNR, interested readers can visit websites for Alley Cat Allies (alleycat.org
) and the Animal Protection League of New Jersey, Project TNR (aplnj.org
). More about reforms needed in our animal control shelters can be found in “Redemption” by Nathan Winograd, and the No Kill Advocacy Center website (nokilladvocacycenter.org
Trap, neuter and return is endorsed by every major animal welfare organization. It is the way out of the crisis we now face. Animals can’t speak for themselves. We have a duty to advocate for humane and innovative practices that will preserve and improve the lives of domestic animals in our care.
We need only to insist that our towns adopt TNR and change their animal control operations. This National Feral Cat Day, we hope readers will take time to learn the facts about feral cats and how shelters work. Armed with knowledge, we can make the difference that can save the lives of feral cats and shelter animals.
Ted Gardner and Donna Hildreth are husband and wife. Ms. Hildreth is a member of the all-volunteer Hightstown Animal Welfare Committee. Mr. Gardner is a retired attorney. They live with their cat, Crosley Hildreth-Gardner, in Cranbury.