Just yesterday, I made a painful but necessary decision not to jump into a battle. The cause is one I believe in: TNR–or trap, neuter, release–of feral cats. I’ve been involved with TNR personally, in years past, and I think it’s worth fighting for. However, I need to sit this one out.
While a friend merely asked me to serve as a foot soldier, I knew in my heart that it would become much more than that. I rarely join battles that I don’t soon end up leading; rising up through the ranks to captain or commander merely because if I’m going to fight, I’m going to hit them with all I’ve got. As with most things in life, I’m either all in, or I’m out. I find there is no middle ground for me in this arena.
I’m not a fan of outside cats. Well, let me re-state that. I LOVE cats. I know how they wind up as strays and ferals (asshole humans usually), and I’ve loved many a former stray over the years. As I write this, Cole, my 4 year-old tabby cat who was found outside as a kitten, sits in my lap and purrs (with his claw kneading my arm–ouch). He is an inside kitty. My belief is that, once an animal is outside, it is no longer a pet. Oh, I understand it’s different in rural areas, but here in surburbia, cats should be inside their homes. Otherwise, why adopt it? If you want to get rid of mice, there are plenty of ways to do it yourself. Don’t get a cat to do your dirty work.
Sometimes outside cats simply don’t have homes. There are stray cats everywhere, even if you can’t see them. They usually colonize around a stable food source. Responsible caretakers sometimes maintain these colonies even though they’re not the reason the cats are there. Remember that: These people go out of their way to make the situation better, not worse. They see a problem, they see neglect and disease and sorrow, and they make it better.
I find any life in crisis a cause worth taking up.
Responsible caretakers practice TNR–almost always on their own dime. They trap the cats, bring them into a vet or clinic, get them neutered or spayed, get their ear tipped, and then return them to their colony. They then feed them for as long as they can. Remember: They are paying for all of this out of their own dwindling piggy bank. This is usually for the span of the caretaker’s lifetime or of the last remaining colony cat. I’ve known people who, when a colony dwindled, actually brought the remaining cats into their home for the duration of their lives. Regular people know these caretakers as “crazy cat ladies,” though occasionally I’ve met “crazy cat men.” You’d have to be crazy to go out in the frigid temps of winter, tromping through a foot of snow, to feed creatures that aren’t “yours”, right? It’s a good kind of crazy, folks; these big-hearted people who hide amongst us.
I’ve been blessed to know a few of them and call them friends. They’re dedicated, smart, and warm-hearted. They’ve often not even made the conscious choice to give so much of their life to a cat colony. Instead, the choice was made for them the minute they saw another living, breathing creature living in trash, awash with fleas. I’ve had to avert my eyes many times over the years because I’m a soft touch too. I find any life in crisis a cause worth taking up. But I’ve got bigger responsibilities to the two non-furry kids I’m raising in my own house, and so I force myself to look away, walk away.
There are stray cats in my own neighborhood. I have no doubt that somebody, good-intentioned but ill-informed, is feeding them. People have taken in the kittens, but not addressed the problem. The only solution is TNR–if you don’t neuter or spay stray cats, they multiply like bunnies. Most people have no idea what two unsterilized cats (one female and one male, obviously) can lead to. The oft-quoted figure of 420,000 cats in seven years should be more than enough to startle you out of complacency.
1 unneutered male cat + 1 unspayed female cat + 7 years = 420,000 kittens
And that’s really what’s needed. If everybody took responsibility, there wouldn’t be a problem. Don’t dump your pet outside when you move, or worse–and it happens way too often–leave it locked inside an empty home without food or water, hoping some good Samaritan will come along. Find out your town’s policies towards stray cats. Again, TNR is the only way to fix the problem. Too many animal controls think that catch and murder is a viable solution, but research has shown that nature abhors a vacuum: You remove cats from a colony, and more cats move in because there’s a viable food source. Take away the food source, and they’ll find another one. Cats are survivors because they’re smart and wily. And, well, that chart up above. They multiply fairly quickly. The only way to solve the problem is through kindness and sterilization.
I know there are many opponents of TNR, the most vocal being PETA and The Audubon Society. PETA is a font of hypocrisy, so I don’t even like having to mention them. I will say that, when it comes to animal companions, the only thing PETA cares about is keeping PETA’s own adoption rates high and they do this by euthanizing any animal they deem unadoptable (Read: not cute enough, not young enough). The Audubon Society, on the other hand, has a legitimate grievance regarding stray/feral cats and bird populations.
HOWEVER, they don’t espouse killing predatory birds or other wild animals that eat birds, AND TNR will take at least a decade to fully take hold in an area, so you have to be in it for the long haul. I figure a decade because of an outdoor cat’s typical lifespan. Once you get them all sterilized, adopting out the adoptables and letting the sterilized outside cats naturally die out, VOILA! no more outdoor cats to eat birds. If they thought about it intelligently, Audubon reps would embrace TNR and just gird themselves for the long haul. The outcome is a good one for all involved.
So, back to my town. As I’ve seen in previous places I’ve lived, the person put in charge of the town shelter knows nothing about humane animal control. He’d rather shoot a cat (true story) than embrace TNR. Even though it’s been proven to work locally (!), time (Cape May) and time (Bloomfield) and time (Phillipsburg) again. Listen: If you don’t want to be part of the solution, get out of the way of the people who do.