Letter: TNR would be humane fix to feral cat problems

Published 8:28 pm Sunday, July 24, 2016

I am an Austin native who returned in 2013 after an absence of over 40 years. I have practiced animal rescue since I was a child, but I have actively volunteered in cat rescue with very large humane societies for over 16 years and I’m very experienced in feral cats. I was very dismayed to read about the current debate over the fate of cats in Austin. This community is blessed to have a very active and a very efficient no-kill humane society. The problem is not so much truly feral cats as it is free roaming cats which consist of owned pets and former pets who have been abandoned. It’s a problem that has been created by irresponsible pet owners. The Humane society is inundated with calls from upset citizens who expect help when they find litters of kittens or injured animals. The Humane Society wants to assist, but is currently overwhelmed by the numbers of animals in need. They are asking for our help to HUMANELY deal with this problem.

There are two approaches. One approach is trapping and killing cats. The problem is that the deaths are not only cruel and inhumane but that the victims of these trappings are often what are commonly referred to as “indoor/outdoor” pets. Some have already been spayed and neutered, but in the trapping process no one checks or cares. They are killed. This should concern every cat owner who has a cat that occasional goes outside. This is a costly and ineffective approach because of what is known as the vacuum effect. Once a colony of cats is removed from a territory that has provided for it, a new colony moves in. Norman Brise, Animal Control Supervisor of Peoria, Arizona, noted that city’s trap and kill policy resulted in a large number of cats killed with ZERO reduction in the feral cat population due to the vacuum effect. They instituted Trap Neuter Release and immediately lowered their costs and when properly combined with adoption and vaccinations the cat population and cat diseases were reduced. Most TNR cat communities are healthy.

The second approach is multifaceted. Cats and kittens are trapped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated and the adults returned to their habitat. Cats that have been previously socialized can be adopted, as can the kittens. This reduces the population immediately, is more humane and less costly than trap and kill. The remaining population of cats will eventually die out, but meanwhile they do a service to the community by killing rodents and keeping other wildlife out of the area. My neighborhood is a very good example. I purchased a home in an older centrally located part of Austin in 2013. There are a lot of high density multi family homes in my area with a lot of turn over in residents. They frequently leave pets behind. There were four breeding females and three adult males in my area. Two of us purchased inexpensive humane traps and within 18 months all of the adults were spayed or neutered. Thee females and one male found indoor homes in the neighborhood, and three adults were released. Twenty-eight kittens were removed, spayed and neutered and adopted out. Today there are no free roaming cats in our neighborhood. It was done by just two people with minimal cost and time invested. Another example is the community of Sea Bright, New Jersey. Within a year the number of kittens born to feral cats was zero, thanks to TNR. One College Campus experimented and documented TNR and they reduced their feral cat population by 66 percent. There are many, many similar success stories coast to coast.

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It costs about $16 billion dollars annually in the U.S. to trap and kill feral and community cats, while discounted spay and neuter programs cost taxpayers about $7 billion a year, saving taxpayers $9 billion. Free roaming cats can live very peaceful, healthy lives in our community and they deserve that chance and by limiting their ability to reproduce, the population will decrease to a manageable number for both the community and the Humane Society.

I hope the city of Austin will move toward a more successful, progressive and humane solution for cats. As Mahatma Ghandi said, “The greatness of a Society and its moral progress can be judged by the way it’s animals are treated.”

Linda Calhoon,