Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Feral Crisis

READERS. This paper was written by my nephew for a middle-school project. Please leave your constructive criticism in the comments. He is particularly interested in thoughts on action items! Thank you for helping the next generation of TNR activists.

The Feral Crisis

Seventy to seventy three percent of cats and kittens that enter shelters are killed there. More surprising than that is why some are marked for death. Cats are killed not just for being sick, but for being feral or to put it more simply – wild. There is a huge disparity between public opinion and course of action. Alley Cat Allies took a survey that shows that 81% of Americans believe that it is more humane to leave stray cats outdoors to live out their lives in contrast to 14% who believe that stray cats should be killed in shelters. It is the policy of government funded animal shelters and animal control agencies to kill stray/feral cats rather than return them to their habitat. Taxpayer dollars, and state and local laws, support trap and kill as the solution. Not only is killing feral cats in animal shelters against public opinion, it is also not an effective way to deal with feral cat overpopulation. Trap, Neuter, and Return, or TNR, is a better solution that is humane, less expensive than trap and kill, and will better control the population.

Cats are an 8,000 to 10,000 year old species that have always lived outside and done very well. The animal control agencies want to redefine the cat species as indoor only but history shows us that cats are meant to be outside also. County Animal Control Facilities are funded by the county government. It is the role of these Facilities to catch and euthanize feral cats to stay inline with local leash laws. Feral cats are considered domestic animals and therefore always considered to be off leash and in violation of the law. If Animal Control supported TNR they would be in opposition of the laws they are supposed to enforce.

Today the cat population across the world is estimated to be around 600 million so we need to establish a humane and effective policy to help cope with this number. The only working method to get a handle on feral cat overpopulation is TNR. Cats are trapped in humane traps, surgically sterilized by veterinarians, and then the cats are returned to their colonies to live out a healthier life. In fact, some call TNR TTVAR which stands for trap-test-vaccinate-alter-return. So you see, not only are the cats neutered, they are also tested for contagious diseases and vaccinated to prevent them. So, feral colonies that have been through TNR are generally healthy and thriving. I have grown up around and grown to love cats both domestic and feral. I believe that the problems created by feral cat overpopulation are real and serious and know that TNR is the humane solution.

There are many reasons that TNR is a better option than killing. TNR is the only effective method of lowering the feral cat population. TNR fosters good relationships between humans and cats while decreasing the size of the colonies. Following TNR, cats become healthier and gain more weight. Cats in colonies are less likely to hunt birds as their human caretakers provide food. Aggressive cat numbers decrease after TNR. Diseases such as feline AIDS, feline leukemia, and even rabies are better controlled with TNR programs as animals are tested and vaccinated. Unfortunately not even TNR can save all of the feral cats. Those cats that test positive for some of the highly contagious diseases must be humanely euthanized for the sake of the colony but these same cats would have died a horrible death otherwise. These are only some of the benefits of TNR.

There are lots of components necessary to maintain a successful TNR program. The Maryland SPCA has established a program called Feral-Fix with the purpose of helping the stray/feral cat population through TNR. The SPCA has outlined specific expectations of the feral cat colony and its caretaker. Caretakers must provide a safe place with feeding stations and shelter. Specific dates must be arranged with trappers and veterinarians for TNR so that cats are not left in cages for longer than absolutely necessary and trappers must learn safe and humane trapping methods. Cats must also be carefully monitored following their release back into the colony. Caretakers are responsible for tracking colony numbers and submitting reports back to the Maryland SPCA. In return the SPCA offers low cost spay/neuter services and low cost vaccinations. The caretaker is still responsible for raising all the money needed to pay for the low cost Feral-Fix cat services, as well as all money needed for the food, shelter, etc. Caretakers that do not have a program like Feral-Fix must contact local veterinarians and unfortunately most times end up paying full price for veterinary visits.

As for financial impact, an extensive study was very recently done titled “The Fiscal Impact of Ferals,” by Sandy Miller of Best Friends Society, March 19, 2010. “The study estimates that trap and kill programs cost the state $250 per cat (for trapping, enforcement, sheltering, food, supplies, laboratory testing, and euthanizing)…while discounted TNR programs cost the state just $100 per cat (for trapping and a packaged TNR procedure.)”

The current leash law makes it impossible for the animal control facilities to see TNR as an option even though TNR is more humane and less expensive than catch and kill. In looking to make a difference my next steps would include lobbying for a spay/neuter assistance program funded by the government to assist TNR programs, (suggesting that a small portion of proceeds from county animal licensing be put towards TNR programs), working towards changing the current leash laws to not include WILD cats, and looking to begin a TNR program in my community.


  1. Good work, and excellent writing. The study you refer to in the next to last paragraph was prepared by John Dunham & Associates, however. If you go to the Best Friends Animal Society website and click on their "focus on felines" campaign, eventually you'll see a box with a cat in it, and a caption for "The Fiscal Impact of Ferals." This will link you to a site called "guerilla economics," which is the John Dunham website.

  2. Very well done! I'm very impressed with the depth of your research and the clarity of your writing. You have an excellent academic (and cat-filled) future ahead of you. Congratulations!

  3. Never end a sentence with a preposition, especially in the first sentence where it sticks out.
    Seventy to seventy three percent of cats and kittens that enter shelters are euthanized. Or, are euthanized by those shelters due to overpopulation.
    THis sentence
    Specific dates must be arranged with trappers and veterinarians for TNR so that cats are not left in cages for longer than absolutely necessary and trappers must learn safe and humane trapping methods. would be better as 2 sentences as they are different points.
    Note commas in following:
    Caretakers that do not have a program like Feral-Fix must contact local veterinarians and unfortunately, most times, end up paying full price for veterinary visits.

    IN the 6th paragraph, I would end the paragraph with a summary sentence; something like, "So not only is TNR a more humane practice, it also saves state money."

    IN the last paragraph, you need to explain the current leash law.

    Great job!