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Trap, Neuter, Release

Dear John,

I deliver newspapers in the early hours of the morning to townhouses in my neighbourhood. There were always plates to feed all the homeless cats in that area .One day I have noticed that someone took them all away so I started feeding them. The owner of the townhouse has now told me that there is a fine of $500.00 for feeding strays. I called Humane Society, the city’s animal control, and 3 private rescues. Only one tried to help but still the cats are here. It’s been four weeks now and I can not stand to think of these cats starving or worse. Something needs to be done. – A.S.

Dear A.S.

It sure does. However, after 20 years working with people and their animals, working and volunteering for various big and small animal organizations I’ve come to believe that the biggest problem animals in need have is that there are too many people running rescue organizations that love animals but don’t like people and end up marginalizing their voices where they could do the most good. The ability to relate to and love an animal doesn’t appear to be enough to help animals in need. The ability to collectively and effectively communicate with the people most definitely does. Part of what gets my knickers in a knot is that some of the higher profile institutional organizations have annual budgets in the millions of dollars, most of it donated. Some have been around for over a hundred years. When you’ve been in business that long and you’re still not making a dent in the over population problem you’re either propagating an internal culture of failure or there is no solution to the problem. I don’t believe it’s the latter.

Cats like you write about come from one of two groups, feral and stray. Strays are pet cats that have been abandoned or are lost. Feral cats are cats that were born and raised outside. Adult ferals are generally too wild to be socialized and adopted out although their kittens may be tamed if they are less than 8-10 weeks old. Traditionally there have been two warring philosophical camps regarding feline overpopulation. One camp believes in “no-kill.” The other camp believes some can be re-socialized and adopted out but believe they end up with the cats that the no-kill camp can’t take in, try but can’t find them homes and by default end up forced to kill them. Ethical or not, you’d think trapping and killing cats would eventually take care of the problem but it doesn’t. All you do is create a vacuum and paraphrasing Henry David Thoreau, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” The cats you don’t catch, breed, and their young fill the void.

Some of the better cat rescue organizations and municipalities are now embracing an approach not intended to eliminate stray and feral cats which is generally accepted for all practical purposes to be impossible, but to reduce and control the population. They locate colonies of cats, trap them, neuter, vaccinate, provide any necessary medical care, and if they aren’t wild, attempt to adopt them, if they’re wild they nick their ears and send them back to where they came from with usually volunteers keeping them keeping an eye open for any unmarked cats. By bringing them back the established colony cats defend their territory against unsterilized cats.

With the right leadership, I believe the cat ladies can do this everywhere. If you’ve ever met a cat lady you know you don’t want to mess with her. Once they get going they’re a force of nature. Give them a little money for the neutering and they’ll get the leg work done, and they’ll swing their collective hand bags to get deals on neutering too. A few years down the road, the cat population will be down to a manageable size and they’ll have more time for taking up actives in keeping with their energy levels. Something like triathlons I should think.

However, until the animal rescue organizations actively seek out a majority on their boards with the connections and experience and people skills to work the system without antagonizing it, it’s never going to get done. There is not yet the political will or awareness in government and so it truly is up to the animal rescues big and small, but if all their various factions don’t acknowledge that what they’re doing isn’t working it appears that ironically the champions of the cat world by default are going to have to assume some of the responsibility for the misery within the stray and feral cat populations.


-John Wade

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