Cat advocates, wildlife conservationists, legislators, and public health representatives have long struggled with the issue of managing outdoor cats. And it’s no small matter, since there could be as many as 40 million community (feral and stray) cats now living in the United States, of which just two percent are sterilized and vaccinated.
As perhaps the only group in the debate with dozens of staff devoted to protecting companion animals and also to protecting wildlife, The HSUS believes in humane control where cats are trapped humanely, spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and then returned (TNR) to the communities in which they were found. For decades, we’ve been encouraging people to keep their cats safe indoors. We work with local and state lawmakers across the country to implement policies supporting TNR, and just last year, we helped more than 46 localities pass policies to eliminate barriers for community cat programs, including North Chicago, Ill., Pinellas County, Fla., Aiken, S.C., Pima County, Ariz., and Fort Wayne, Ind.
In Rockville, Md., near our headquarters, local lawmakers are now considering changes to their animal care ordinance, to make clear that TNR programs are allowed and encouraged. Several state legislatures, including Arizona, Montana, New York, and Virginia, are also currently considering bills that would clarify the legality of community cat management practices. Now, The HSUS has put together a practical guide, Managing Community Cats; A Guide for Municipal Leaders, to help lawmakers with all of the information they need to implement effective cat policy, and to provide cat advocates with a tool they can use to approach policy makers.
As the guide reminds us, cats are already present in most communities, in droves, and reproducing more each day. The question now is between having unmanaged populations of cats, or managed ones. Lethal management is no longer an option being discussed because it’s an approach that has been tried for decades and has failed. Animal service agencies and organizations do not have the resources necessary, or the philosophical bent, to effectively remove tens of millions of cats.
We also know that most people care about cats and want to see them treated humanely. Polls show that the majority of citizens support non-lethal programs for cat population control, and a significant portion of the public, approximately 10 to 12 percent, already feed community cats and can be motivated to help support non-lethal programs. These caretakers constitute a large and indispensable volunteer labor force working to reduce the numbers of cats outdoors, and they would never participate in a round-up-and-kill approach.
At The HSUS we advocate for all animals and we share the deep concern for the impact of outdoor cats on wildlife. But it is important to remember that neither cats nor wild animals are well served by a polarized, divisive, and expensive “cats vs. wildlife” controversy. Instead of further division, we advocate for collaboration and discussion on our shared common goal of fewer unowned, outdoor cats. Innovative programs are popping up across the country, like the Catio Tour in Portland, Ore., a joint program of the Portland Audubon Society, and the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon. Increased spaying and neutering and heightened public awareness of the need to keep owned cats indoors are also making a great difference.
Finally, we focus on best practices and new research to make the practice of TNR as effective as possible. By connecting organizations, sharing information, networking and providing access to thought leaders in the field through our Rethinking the Cat Symposia series and other trainings, we’re helping to improve these practices on the ground and in neighborhoods across the country.
For everyone concerned about cats, as well as the animal care and control agencies, shelters, rescues, and TNR organizations that have a major stake in effective cat policy, we encourage you to get involved and speak up for non-lethal and effective programs. Get our Managing Community Cats; A Guide for Municipal Leaders, and use it to motivate change in your community and help reduce the number of unowned, outdoor cats.