Recently I was in Florida at a veterinary conference. Attached to the conference facility was a large hall full of exhibitors touting everything from the latest surgical instruments to stem cell treatments. There was also a booth belonging to Alley Cat Allies (https://www.alleycat.org). Intrigued, I sauntered over to take a look. Unfortunately they represent an organisation that, rather than attempting to solve the feral cat problem, seem destined to perpetuate it by their program of trap and neuter. This works by catching feral cats, desexing them, vaccinating them and then letting them go again. The result is a vaccinated population of cats that cannot breed, which will hopefully lead to a gradual decline in the population.
Unfortunately what it doesn’t address is the fact that feral cats, sterilised or not, still need to eat. In Australia it is estimated that cats chew their way through 3.8 million native Australian animals annually (http://www.derm.qld.gov.au/wildlife-ecosystems/wildlife/threats_to_wildlife/cat.html). Add that to the fact that they also spread diseases such as toxoplasmosis, a condition which causes large numbers of marsupial deaths each year. After some “lively” discussion the Allies put it to me that the situation in America is different to Australia, as American animals evolved with a feline presence e.g. bobcats and mountain lions. Unfortunately no one mentioned this to the sea otters that are dying of toxoplasmosis off the California coast.
The only sensible way to manage feral cats is to euthanase them. No one would suggest trap and neuter programs for foxes or rabbits (at least I hope not) and I don’t see why feral cats should be treated differently. They are treated differently because of our emotional attachment to cats (as discussed in “All Animals Are Equal”). One argument advanced against the trap and euthanase method is that fresh cats will wander in to fill the void. Good. Then they can be euthanased too until, hopefully, there are no more cats left to euthanase. The New Zealanders have successfully re-introduced a number of native bird species to some of their offshore islands. They were only able to do this, not by desexing and releasing cats, but by removing every last one of them.
The root of the problem obviously goes back to irresponsible cat owners who, for whatever reason, lose interest in their pet and decide to turn it loose on the world instead of either rehoming it or having it euthanased. For a more realistic discussion of the feral cat problem see “Who’s For Cats?” at http://www.whosforcats.com.au/.
And the definition of a feral cat? According to a friend of mine, it’s any cat found more than 100 metres from a house that doesn’t answer to “Here Puss, Puss, Puss”.
Dr. F. Bunny