Thursday, March 21, 2013

Cat People and Bird People at War

Great blow up in the cat people vs. bird people wars this week. It started when the then editor-at-large of Audubon Magazine, Ted Williams, wrote an Op-Ed for the Orlando Sentinel arguing for the trapping and euthanizing of feral cats. The cat-people approved method for dealing with feral cats is to catch them, neuter them, and return them to the wild, on the theory that their numbers will then gradually decline. Feral cat lovers also often feed the cats, on the theory that this will reduce their hunting. Williams called this practice "dangerous, cruel, and illegal."
After these unfortunate animals are re-abandoned, they are regularly fed, which draws more feral cats and encourages more re-abandonment.

One intact male can impregnate dozens of females, so trying to reduce cat populations by TNR is like, well, herding cats.

It's dangerous — because feral cats are reservoirs for disease. Three studies reveal that 62 percent to 80 percent carry toxoplasmosis. Feral cats are now the most common domestic rabies vector. In Florida, where rabid cats attack people, the state Department of Health warns that TNR "is not tenable on public health grounds because of the persistent threat posed to communities from injury and disease." A TNR colony at Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., was removed because rabid cats were biting children.

It's cruel — because feral cats lack vet care and suffer from injuries and the same diseases they spread. They infect lynx, bobcats and endangered Florida panthers with feline leukemia, distemper and an AIDS-like immune-deficiency disease.
This, of course, led to angry responses from cat lovers. Audubon, which has tried to walk a careful line through the middle of this war, suspended Williams and removed him name from their masthead. Their spokesman told National Geographic,
We all need to work together on effective strategies that will address the very serious harm cats inflict on birds and other wildlife and that are also truly humane toward cats.
But of course Williams was only saying in public what most of Audubon's readers and writers all believe, so he will no doubt find some other beat.

If you have any real experience with feral cat colonies, you will recognize some of what Williams says. Around here feeding stations for feral cats are often visited by raccoons, who get so fat off cat food that they waddle to and from the bowls, and probably other wild animals, which leads to the spreading of diseases and other problems. Many feral cats are pretty disreputable looking, with missing, eyes, ears, and so on. But the tone of Williams' piece is nonetheless very strange, since he mainly dwells on the suffering of feral cats denied veterinary care and the like. Of course wild animals are also denied veterinary care, and wild deer, raccoons, etc. are often a scroungy lot just as feral cats are; does Williams think we should euthanize them to spare their suffering?

I venture one prediction: it will be a long time, if ever, before cat people and bird people "work together" to solve a problem that cat people deny even exists.

More on this ongoing and ever fascinating conflict here.


pootrsox said...

I have a problem with "feral" deer:

Not only do they destroy all efforts on my part to landscape my property (even "deer-resistant" plants fall prey to their starvation) but they also litter the ground with ticks of several sorts-- ticks to whose bites I am allergic. And whose bites have more than once sent me for emergency medical care for infections on the verge of cellulitis!

I'd adore a trap-neuter-release program for deer who live in/near populated areas! I love to watch them, but hate what they do.

And they're often scrawny, regularly have abrasions visible to me from my second floor aerie, and reproduce regularly regardless of the ability of their habitat to support them. Not to mention all those people who *feed* them! Just keeps them coming around!

In other words, feral cats who eat birds are eating sparrows and robins and such, not endangered species. And they are no more likely to spread disease than are naturally wild populations of assorted animals.

Besides, the damn deer terrorize my cat when she's simply trying to enjoy the sunshine on the screen porch! (My cat is a rescued feral, who's a totally indoor/screen-porch kitty and a fiend for affection whenever I sit down.)

John said...

Both feral cats and rampaging deer herds show nature out of balance, distorted by human intervention. In the case of deer, the decline of hunting and the surge in their numbers is changing the very make-up of the forest, as the trees and other plants they like to eat are out-competed by those they don't. As for feral cats, their numbers are constantly swelled by abandoned pets, they are helped through hard winters by human feeders, and they are not native here anyway. How much impact they are having on native ecosystems is disputed, but it might be as important as that of deer. It seems to me that since we can't very well bring wolves and cougars into our suburbs, we have no choice but to take an active hand in managing animal populations, whether antlered or feline.