Spaying, neutering more effective than killing of feral cats

The MT article and editorial on potential changes to feral cat policies indicate there is lack of a basic understanding on the definition of feral cat, and the extent and relative impact of possible proposed changes in county policy.

By definition, a feral cat is one that cannot be touched or handled, and will not tolerate being approached or often even being seen. Contrary to your reporting, feral cats do not present a danger to people because they don't allow contact with people.

Feral cats represent a small fraction of the cats taken to the Jackson County shelter. The larger expense to the shelter is in caring for, holding, and adopting out tame pet cats.

Until the cat overpopulation problem is solved, by people taking responsibility to neuter and spay, there will always be feral cats. Every feral cat came from a pet cat that was neglected or became feral. Every single feral cat is the product of our irresponsibility and the failure to neuter a domesticated pet.

While your editorial is correct in stating there is no single ideal solution, history has shown that killing cats does not solve the problem, is publicly unpopular and a practice modern shelter management is turning away from. Aggressive spay and neuter programs, increased adoptions, public education and legislation are the predominant methods recommended and supported by the largest, credible and best known animal welfare agencies in the nation, such as the Humane Society of the U.S., the ASPCA, Best Friends Animal Society, Oregon Humane Society. These organizations also support and recommend trap neuter and release (TNR) programs as the most effective means of addressing feral cat populations.

TNR has advantages over traditional killing, beyond being humane. Neutering cats eliminates many of the behaviors that cause complaints such as yowling, spraying, fighting, littering the neighborhood with kittens. Their numbers stabilize and eventually decline. These are all pluses not found by killing cats, which are quickly replaced by other cats with bad behavior who will breed yet more.

We have a huge cat overpopulation problem and it is getting worse every year. But focusing on and blaming feral cats is incorrect, unfair, ignorant and completely misrepresents and diverts attention from the real problem. For decades society, including animal welfare agencies, has been unwilling to address cat overpopulation. Meanwhile cats continued to breed, the market for kittens became saturated, stray populations grew exponentially. Shelters became overwhelmed, developed huge waiting lists, struggled with increasing euthanasia, and the no-kill concept came into the forefront. On the street communities became more impacted by cat overpopulation, especially as the economy declined.

The local tipping point came two years ago when the wrong cat was misidentified as a feral and killed according to shelter feral policy at the time. Max was the wrong cat because not only was he misidentified as feral, like many others before him, but because his guardians took his story to the public through media attention. People got upset, the story was shared on social media and it shined a light on the dark and ugly side of cat overpopulation and how shelters are overwhelmed by it. As a result, improvements and changes have taken place at the shelter culminating in cooperation between shelters, increased adoptions, less killing. Max was not the wrong cat, he was the right cat.

Sally Mackler of Jacksonville is a director of SNYP (Spay/Neuter Your Pet); a cofounder of the San Diego Feral Cat Coalition, one of the nation's first high-volume feral cat spay/neuter programs; and a member of the Jackson County Animal Control Advisory Committee.

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