A feral cat is an unowned and untamed domestic cat (Felis catus). It is the offspring of lost or abandoned pet cats or other feral cats that are not spayed or neutered. They are "wild" and difficult to handle and tame. They often live in colonies in cities and their outskirts. Feral cats can reproduce exponentially, even though they typically have a short, difficult life, dying from disease, infection, poison, wounds, predation, or being hit by vehicles. There is a huge nationwide coalition of groups that like cats, including feral cats, don't want them to be euthanized, and support what is known as TNR -- Trap-Neuter-Release.
There is a raging controversy about feral cats and what to do about them. Several groups are active in TNR and politically strong. These include Alley Cat Allies, The Humane Society of the U.S., Best Friends Animal Society, No Kill Advocacy Center. Generally, these groups support stabilizing the feral cat population by TNR and improving the health of these feral cat colonies through active feeding and removing new cats for TNR. One example of their political strength. They helped defeat a bill that was intended to eradicate invasive species from National Wildlife Refuges; the opposition to the bill was based on the idea that feral cats might be considered invasive and therefore killed on wildlife refuges.
Wildlife biologists are concerned that TNR is not effective, that feral cats kill millions of birds, small mammals, and other wildlife, and that they transmit diseases to wildlife and humans. Feral cat advocates are adamant that no cats be euthanized. And yet, these cats kill many wild animals. So, one might ask, "why do individual cats matter more than individual birds? Currently, it seems that there is little middle ground on what to do about feral cats. Adoption of feral cats seems one solution that everyone can agree on. Assuming that those adopting keep their cats inside. And that brings us to the other group of domestic cats of concern to wildlife biologists and others -- free-roaming cats.
Free-roaming cats are pets that are allowed to roam free at least part of the time. In 2007, it was estimated that there were 82 million pet cats and at least that number of feral cats in the United States. It is documented that cats, whether free-roaming or feral, kill millions of birds, a billion small mammals, and thousands of reptiles and insects each year. Bells on collars and de-clawing does not prevent cat predation on wild animals.
Lisa Macki, a graduate student at The Evergreen State College, studied the attitudes and behaviors of cat owners in an urban neighborhood in Olympia, Washington. This neighborhood of 1,100 residents, covering 268 acres, owned about 850 cats. In a survey of the owner's treatment of the cats she learned the following: 54.2% allow their cat to roam freely outdoors as well as indoors; 35% keep their cat indoors all the time; 8.3% allow their cat outdoors under controlled environments such as on leash or in an enclosure; and 0% keep their cats outdoors all the time. These cat owners supported more owner education to reduce free-roaming cats and their impacts; they least liked the option of trapping and euthanizing.
Perhaps everyone can agree that much more education is needed on proper cat ownership, the impacts of outdoor cats on wildlife populations and human and wildlife health, and the difficult lives of feral cats, with an emphasis on healthy cats living indoors with people.
We've been watching Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, who has an amazing talent for calming dogs and their owners so that they can live happier, healthier lives together. Maybe we need a Cat Whisperer. It is always about the owner, not the animals. Cats are doing what comes natural; it is humans that impart their biases and moral values on animals that then lead to unwanted behaviors.
There is much more to learn and think about regarding our pets, both cats and dogs. I'll have more on our dog, Bella. Our reason for watching the Dog Whisperer.