Commentary: Better ways to manage feral cats
by Lynne Achterberg
Mar 21, 2013 | 6614 views | 3 3 comments | 346 346 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Everyone appreciated the rescue tips about baby birds from Carol Carson's column, “Domestic cats pose serious threat to native wildlife,” (March 15, Page 9) published last week. However, she had one alarming suggestion to “rent cages from the County Animal Shelter for capturing cats and transferring them to the shelter.” But once there, a friendly cat is capable of adoption and an “unfriendly” feral cat meets a deadly double standard: By contrast, it is deemed unadoptable and will be killed.

Oddly, another story about killing cats was making national headlines at the same time her article was published. Last Friday, Alley Cat Allies, a national cat advocacy organization, broke the story of a National Audubon Society editor-at-large who took to the Orlando Sentinel, a major metropolitan newspaper, an article which advocated that citizens get rid of millions of cats by poisoning them with a common over-the-counter medication. In defense of the cats, Alley Cat Allies quickly gathered an incredible 30,000 emails and sent them directly to Audubon CEO David Yarnold and Chairman B. Holt Thrasher. Because of overwhelming public response to his article, the Audubon Society suspended the author, Ted Williams, from his position over the weekend.

Devoid of facts, most anti-cat articles are rather tired and usually bring up some spectacular statistics in trying to substantiate the argument that outdoor cats have significant impact on bird populations. The Nature Communications Journal study, which Carol Carson's column was based on, has been criticized and challenged by the president of the Humane Society of the United States, saying “there is nothing to be gained by demonizing cats,” and catching and euthanizing feral cats is “morally wrong” and “publicly unsupportable.” In a national poll, 81 percent of respondents prefer to leave such a cat outside, to live out its natural life, rather than take it to a shelter. Feral cats have the right to live. Killing unadoptable cats is a cruel and proven ineffective approach. For more information on feral cat concerns, with data-driven and documented conscientious discussion, visit Vox Felina at

The very real problems to worldwide bird decline are habitat loss, urban sprawl, pollution and environmental degradation, including pesticide and herbicide use. There really is no credible evidence to show cats have any significant impact on bird populations. We want what's best for all animals, including birds, and that means taking a hard look at what we as humans can do to save the environment. Let's face it, people are the most significant contributor to bird death. When it comes to declining bird populations, the comic strip Pogo was right: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Locally, Project Purr, a feral cat advocate organization, offers a low-cost feral cat spay and neuter program for all residents of Santa Cruz County, regardless of income, and no voucher required. Trap-neuter-return is a kind, effective and compassionate way to help feral cats, prevent unwanted kittens and save cats’ lives. The cats receive rabies vaccines and are ear-tipped, a permanent visual identification. After surgery, the cats are returned to their homes, fed and monitored daily. The program allows the animal shelter to focus resources on finding homes for adoptable cats. TNR lowers free-roaming cat populations. Be a neighborhood hero: Set an example and help teach our children a kinder, gentler way to care for animals. Make our neighborhoods safer, healthier and happier. For information, visit

Santa Cruz resident Lynne Achterberg co-founded Project Purr more than two decades ago.
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Mary McMurtry
March 24, 2013
Cats have been living with or around humans for thousands of years and (like those of who are descended from European invaders) have lived in North America for some hundreds of years. Also, birds and other wildlife are, pretty obviously, most impacted by humans and our unending penchant for automobiles and other fast-moving machinery (which kill more birds than any cat ever thought of), poisons (farms, golf courses), and our desire to occupy more wetlands, orchards, and other wildlife corridors. Even so, some bird populations are doing quite well (ever notice how many crows live in your neighborhood?). Also, as any reader of National Geographic/watcher of Animal Planet knows, nature didn't mean for every animal to survive. Most baby turtles never make it to their first wave, lion cub death rate is about 80%, and so on. Roger Tory Peterson has been quoted thusly: “...We learn that each ecosystem has a carrying capacity, and that predation harvests only a surplus that otherwise would be leveled off in some different way: hence, putting up fences and shooting all the hawks and cats will not raise the number of Red-eyed Vireos to any significant degree.”
March 22, 2013
I suggest you work in a wildlife rehabilitation center and see for yourself. The majority of injured birds brought in to wildlife rescue organizations have been cat caught and are so severely mangled internally and externally most do not survive. If they do survive, many are not able to go back in to the wild. The number of birds killed by cats not brought in to a wildlife rehabilitation center is insurmountable. Yes, man is a big problem when it comes to destroying wildlife and their habitats, not just birds, mammals too. Cats on the other hand do much more damage destroying our local bird population. If cat owners would be more responsible, bird deaths and mutilations would decrease.
Wildlife Fried
March 24, 2013
I think you are missing several points. First, the methods propounded by the author will not reduce cat populations. TNR of feral cats, which Lynne's organization not only supports but even pays for, DOES reduce those populations, where killing does not. Trapping and surrendering your neighbor's pet cat is not good advice either. Second, perhaps the majority of hurt birds brought to wildlife rescue may be injured by cats, but the many more birds killed by habitat depletion do not ever show up at the rescue sanctuary. Those injured by cats, furthermore, are most likely to be picked up by a concerned human; those struck by cars or small planes are emphatically dead already and are not brought in. The notion that being a friend to birds means you must slaughter cats flies against well-researched scientific studies (did you know that the Smithsonian researcher was arrested for, and found guilty of, poisoning cats?). Do something positive: make your make yard bird friendly, and recognize that cats have a rightful place in the ecosystem as well. Feral cats hunt at night, and their primary prey are rodents. And btw, I believe Project Purr HAS worked with Wildlife Rescue.

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