I’ve just learned from reading the local online newspaper that my California county has the very dubious distinction of having the most feral cats per capita of any county in the state. We have an estimated 11,000 of the creatures (as well as approximately 11,900 cats who are considered to be pets).
The article went on to state that there are an estimated 80 to 90 million feral cats (so-called “community cats”) in the United States. Then, when coming to a discussion of dealing with the problem, the article stated flatly that euthanasia was not a suitable remedy because killing feral cats and disposing of their bodies was ”expensive.” So instead, my county is apparently embarking on a program of “Trap, Neuter, Return/release” (TNR) in which wild cats are trapped and sterilized. Then they are vaccinated and have their ears “tipped” for easy identification after they are released back into the wild. The county has even applied for grant funding (from the state or local government?) to help pay for these “more humane” and supposedly intelligent procedures.
If this latter procedure is less expensive than simply killing cats and disposing of their bodies I’d frankly be very surprised, and I’d love to have someone supply me with the financial figures that back up this claim. But even if euthanasia is more expensive than spaying it’s still a preferable solution and for one simple reason: feral cats are an invasive species that wreaks enormous havoc on the natural ecosystem and wildlife of this country.
One study has concluded that feral cats are annually responsible for the deaths of hundreds of millions of birds. Some of the birds are common species, such as cardinals, blue jays, and house wrens, but others are rare and endangered species, such as piping plovers and Florida scrub jays. And in addition to this avian Holocaust, feral cats are believed to kill more than a billion small mammals, such as rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks annually.
And those are just the resulting slaughter committed by feral cats. When you factor in “pet” cats which are allowed outdoor access, the figures climb much higher. According to one study, the average outdoor “house” cat kills an average of 35.5 birds each year. If you multiply that figure by the estimated number of outdoor pet cats in the country the staggering total is over four billion birds killed by cats each year! (A more conservative study put the annual number of bird deaths per cat at just 15.5 per year — along with 41 other small animals. But that still leaves a “low” estimate of 1.75 billion bird fatalities per year.)
In addition to being killing machines, cats (both domestic and feral) also wreak havoc on the environment with their waste matter, which can get into rivers and oceans (much of the time through poor human disposal practices). One study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) determined that toxoplasmosis entering the water from infected cat feces kills thousands of marine mammals (such as California sea lions, sea otters, porpoises, and dolphins) especially in combination with another parasite, Sarcocystis neurona.
I’v known people who feed outdoor cats, and I don’t doubt that they and other advocates of a “live and let live” policy for these wild felines have good intentions. But as you can see from the above information, their intentions are totally misguided and the results of their cat coddling are lethal.
Invasive species are second only to habitat loss as a cause of extinctions of wildlife. And that’s what feral cats (and pet cats which are allowed to roam outdoors) are — invasive species. They have no place in the natural order of life. In fact, they are destroying the natural order of life. The only solution to the problem of cat predation on wildlife is to trap all cats found outdoors (what responsible cat owner who truly loved their pet would allow it to wander around outside where it could be hit by a car or killed by some animal like a coyote which was higher on the predator chain?), and kill them.
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And since there’s nothing wrong with using personal anecdotal evidence to support a position, I offer the following two bits of evidential input based on my own observation and experience.
One — At our previous house in California’s Central Valley the feral cat problem was terrible. Not only could you hardly ever do any yard work without stepping in their shit (or, worse, getting it on your hands), but we were constantly finding the remains of dismembered birds on the property. (Not to mention that they were always getting into the garage or under the house and having litters.) Eventually, I got a HavaHart live trap and started trapping them. After about a year I had trapped over 80 cats! (And this was without even a full-time trapping operation; it was something I did only periodically.) After that year, the noticeable effect of my efforts was virtually nil. The observation wasn’t “What happened to all of the cats?,” but was rather “Look at all the cats!”
Two — Even perfunctory observation of domestic cats reveals them to be prolific killers of native wildlife. A few years ago I was staying with my cousin’s family in Ohio for a few days. One day I saw their cat with a bird it had just caught. Happily, the bird got away, and I convinced myself that it was probably an isolated incident. But just a couple of days later I saw that the same cat had caught another bird that wasn’t to lucky. (This cat had been declawed, so that procedure is no solution to the problem.) And that was just what I observed over a three or four day period.
On the same trip, my cousin’s husband (he’s not a blood relative, folks) was recounting the story of an upset mother who had come to the house and complained because her young child had been practically traumatized by the sight of the family cat dismembering a chipmunk on my cousin’s porch. My cousin’s husband thought that the story was kind of funny, and dismissed the cat’s actions with, “But that’s what cats do!” (Oddly, though, the family doesn’t let the cat out at night because since it’s declawed it can’t defend itself from local predators like raccoons. So apparently it’s natural to my kin for their cat to fulfill its destiny at its level of the predator chain, but it would be unacceptable for the cat to meets its end at the claws of some creature higher on the chain. A cat killing a chipmunk is just “What they do!” But Fluffy falling prey to a raccoon should be avoided at all costs.)