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My Pet World: Humane approaches to feral cats

December 14, 2010|By Steve Dale

A recently released report from the University of Nebraska Extension, called "Feral Cats and Their Management," actually endorses catching feral cats in barbaric traps, and also whipping out a gun to shoot unwanted cats.

I concede that feral cats are problem, and this is an issue I've written a great deal about this past year. We don't know how many feral cats are out there, but we do know cats are America's No. 1 pet, with nearly 90 million pet cats (according to American Pet Products Assn.). It's estimated there may be up to 1 ½ times that number of un-owned cats, including both feral cats and strays. These cats typically live in colonies in urban alleys, or roam from farm to farm. They live on empty urban properties, on grassy areas of college campuses and in city parks — pretty much everywhere.

This isn't a new problem, or an issue unique to America. Many nations have been dealing with feral cats for centuries.

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It is a problem for people because feral cats can carry diseases we might potentially get, including toxoplasmosis and rabies. And it's a problem for the environment because the cats do kill songbirds (often endangered species) and other wildlife. And feral cats can be annoying, leaving their "calling cards" in our gardens or yowling at all hours.

Going back centuries, when feral cats became too much of a problem, they might have been poisoned, shot at, or animal control officials would be asked to catch and kill them.

If this approach worked, we wouldn't still have a problem today. The University of Nebraska wouldn't have written that paper, and I wouldn't be offering comments.

Relatively recently, the idea of managed care for feral cat colonies, called trap, neuter, return (TNR), was popularized as a solution. Feral cats are individually trapped and ear-notched to identify them as colony members. The cats are spayed or neutered, vaccinated for rabies (and in some instanced micro chipped for further identification), then released. Kittens are given to shelters to adopt out, and very sick cats are humanely euthanized. Volunteer caretakers watch over the colonies, processing any new arrivals and supplementing the colony's food. While cats will still instinctively kill some birds, with a full tummy they're not as driven. Unable to reproduce, colony members dwindle to zero.

Well, that's the theory. TNR can take time and requires dedicated volunteers, effort and resources. But given half a chance, it does work.

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