Guest column: Let’s cut a deal on feral cats

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1994:

by Petra Murray
New Jersey Pet Overpopulation Solutions
To catch and kill or to neuter and release
are issues we have been battling over for quite
some time now. Many of us feel very strongly in
support of one approach or the other, and most
likely will not convert to the other viewpoint––so
where do we go from here?
I think it really has to sink in just how
enormous the feral cat problem is. We are talking
of somewhere between thirty and sixty million cats
nationwide––10 to 20 times as many cats as are
handled by all shelters and rescue groups combined
right now. If these numbers really hit us in the
face, we must acknowledge that even if we were
in 100% agreement over how to deal with this situ-
ation, we’d have our hands full for a very long
time. Without compromise and joint cooperative
effort, we can’t begin to make serious headway.

But how can we compromise? I person-
ally favor neuter /release, and hence feel traitorous
at the thought of advocating both catch-and-kill
and neuter/release, but realistically both methods
must be employed. Many cats are in perilous envi-
ronments and cannot go back after neutering.
Many are in perfectly acceptable spots and can be
returned to their sites. Many cats are much too
sick to successfully treat, and it is cruel and point-
less to return them. Many others are sturdy, street-
smart toughies who do extremely well in a suitable
If we accept the reality of these good and
bad scenarios, and if we accept that the catch-and-
kill people can’t do it all and that the neuter/release
people can’t do it all either, then we must look at
collaborative efforts. We have very limited
resources with which to battle this problem, and
we certainly dissipate our energies arguing our
respective points of view. We need guidelines that
identify the areas and situations suitable for
neuter/release or for catch-and-kill. Without
guidelines, we waste resources. For instance, ani-
mal control officers and shelters waste time and
money whenever they handle cats who should have
been in a neuter/release program, and
neuter/release people waste time and money when-
ever they release cats who don’t do well or must be
removed from wherever they are for other reasons.
Give public a choice
The public must be more sensibly and
effectively drawn into the resolution of the prob-
lem, as well. Of course the public must stop creat-
ing the problem via abandonment and letting pets
wander, but more on that later. Right now only a
very small segment of the general public bothers to
try to do anything at all about feral cats. Some
contact authorities to have cats removed, but the
majority totally ignore strays and ferals while oth-
ers still actively try to hide colonies, fearing the
cats will be taken away and killed. Somehow we
must get the public on our side, as allies and not
obstructionists. Regardless of which approach is
used, the call for help must go out when two cats
are out there, not when there are 52.
Most of the people who try to hide cats
do not know about neuter/release. Since they
themselves cannot pick the cats up and take them
to a veterinarian for neutering, they think nothing
can be done. Or money is a problem. Many of
these people might try to resolve a situation of this
sort if they knew there was a choice––if they knew
“their” cats didn’t have to be killed. Even if the
catch-and-kill people don’t accept the concept of
neuter/release, situations such as this could
become an area of compromise: neutered, tat-
tooed or microchipped, vaccinated cats are far
better than a breeding colony!
Beggars can’t be choosers, and we are
all beggars and we have to know that. Any
improvement is better than none.
I would like to see eye-catching posters
asking for public participation in handling feral
cats. The concepts of catch-and-kill and
neuter/release should be briefly explained in terms
not critical of one another, and appropriate num-
bers should be listed for people to call for help.
The public has to be given a choice. Whoever is
called has to assess the situation to determine the
suitability of a particular approach. Time and
space do not permit a lengthy discourse here and
now, but we could set up such a system. These
posters should go up in nursing homes, fast food
restaurants, hotels––anywhere with food sources
and shelter that might attract cats. Similar materi-
al could be placed in mailboxes where people are
feeding ferals in their own yards. I would guess
the response would be tremendous and rather
overwhelming, but we must start somewhere, and
we would attract helpers and funds in the process.
Anything of this sort should be based on
a cooperative effort of all interested persons in the
animal protection network. No cooperation, no
resolution. No compromise, no resolution.
With either catch-and-kill or neuter/
release, we are dealing with clean-up operations.
They are approaches to dealing with spilled milk.
Equal effort must be put into stopping the spillage
in the first place. Most of us have very good ideas
as to why cats get dumped, but we have yet to put
together an effective anti-abandonment strategy.
Perhaps we can do this once we accept that we are
going to have to learn to work together despite our
Editor’s note: ANIMAL PEOPLE
publisher Kim Bartlett and Carter Luke of the
Massachusetts SPCA offered guidelines for
neuter/release and catch-and-kill in our June 1993
issue. Cat rescuers will also find useful the results
of a nationwide survey of rescuers concerning
feral cat habitat types, mortality, and the efficacy
of both catch-and-kill and neuter/release, which
we conducted with MSPCA support and published
in our November 1992 issue. Both issues are sold
out, but we’ll send photocopies of these articles
for $2.00 apiece, postage paid.
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