Out-of-the-Box Thinking on Outdoor Cats

By on February 13, 2015 with 24 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

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.

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Animal Rescue and Care, Companion Animals, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Ez Cat Shop » Out-of-the-Box Thinking on Outdoor Cats – HSUS News (blog) | February 13, 2015
  1. Darla Ritchie says:

    I would like to comment on the ferel cat issue. I live on an 80 acre beef farm and have ferel cats. I take very good care of my cats but cannot afford to neuter them. Our local veterinarian charges $100.00 to spay or neuter. I have 10 cats and cannot afford it. Besides I could spay or neuter a cat and because they travel around the countryside 2 days later the cat could get hit by a car or killed by a fox or coyote. Besides even though I take good care of my cats only the fittest survived. I don’t know what the answer is.
    Darla Ritchie

  2. Linda says:

    I love seeing that HSUS is supporting TNR

  3. JJ McKibbin says:

    Bull. Your “guide” is nothing more than a thinly veiled propaganda tool for your ongoing attempt to convince people that TNR is a way to control feral cat populations even though it’s obvious to anyone with a brain that the true goal of TNR is to keep as many cats alive as possible regardless of the cost to native wildlife, public health, property rights, and the welfare of the cats themselves. TNR is an abject failure when it comes to reducing feral cat populations. HSUS should change their name to Humane Society of cats.

    • Susanne Coyle says:

      I have tnr’d about 6 cats resulting in the prevention of up to 10,000 offspring that would be on the streets. That’s a direct contradiction to wanting more cats on the streets. It really works, just takes dedication and work. Thanks!

      • Susanne Coyle says:

        A follow-up after the TNR program started in Jacksonville, FL the euthanasia rate at the city shelter went from 19,500/yr in 2002 to just over 9,000 in 2012. That’s exciting, proven success of the program :).

        • JJ McKibbin says:

          Of course euthanasia is down. They are simply re-dumping cats in the streets. The cats still die. You just don’t see them getting flattened by cars, lapping up spilled antifreeze, or slowly succumbing to infection, so you’re OK with it.

          What was the feral cat population in Jacksonville when they started TNR? What is the feral cat population in Jacksonville now? Those are the questions that matter.

    • Denise says:

      I’ve taken approx 50 cats in for TNR from my development…some stayed inside because they were kittens and socialized. 3 adult ferals transitioned inside after a year of caring for them. The rest? Instead of untold numbers of kittens running around as usual each year, we had 1 born last spring. Anyone doing TNR knows it works.

      • Jessica says:

        Keep up the great work Denise! It takes time and dedication but TNRM works; wish more people would step up in their community.

  4. Barbara Leonard says:

    For about the last 10 months, I’ve been trying to get help to round up cats I feed (about 30) to get spayed & neutered since my left hip is very bad and I can’t get around. I started out asking HSUS for help and got NONE so don’t preach about something you really don’t do. I’m fed up with HSUS.

  5. Susanne Coyle says:

    I have seen remarkable results of the tnr program in Jacksonville, FL. There is a clinic that provides low-cost and grants for certain zip codes partly provided by Maddie’s Fund. I propose landlords and apartment community owners be mandated to participate in the program. Possible funding extra $1/mth from tenants. They ARE responsible for their grounds and the feral cats living there. Thanks!

  6. Linda says:

    When I moved into my neighborhood near downtown St. Pete in 2007, I had a loudly mating, fighting and breeding population of stray and feral cats in my alley, most of them FIV+. I knew nothing about TNR at the time, but out of desperation, I learned. Fast forward eight years: After neutering and vaccinating more than thirty cats and adopting or finding homes for the friendly ones, I have not seen a new kitten since 2011 and have not had a new FIV+ diagnosis since 2010. I’ve also received multiple thank yous from neighbors over the years for the absence of screaming fights, and for the rat patrol. We have no pristine habitat or endangered species at risk in our urban neighborhood, and the cats are healthy. I’m not saying it’s a perfect solution everywhere, but it has clearly and undeniably worked for us.

  7. Janine P. says:

    I would like to make a comment about cats that really doesn’t have anything to do with this article. I recently read several articles that many, many cats end up suffering from kidney failure. I do not own a cat, I have had dogs … but I was wondering if cat owners do indeed see kidney problems with cats? From all the research I have done about vegan diets for people, many scientists and doctors say there is a high link between cow’s milk consumption and kidney disease in people. Well … a lot of cats are fed cow’s milk … proteins that are specifically designed for a baby cow. Those proteins are probably very hard on a cat’s kidneys. Many scientists say that cross-species feeding causes all kinds of health problems. Maybe it’s just me, but it sure seems to me that if people did not feed their cats the milk of a cow, cats would have much less kidney problems.

    I stopped feeding my dog anything with cow’s milk in it … no milk bones, nothing with cheese, etc. … and is health is fantastic!

    • Diana says:

      Janine P.
      You are wrong about cats and milk. Cats of course nurse from their mothers when kittens however it is an old belief that cats be fed a saucer of milk as is often depicted in old tv shows.
      Cats for the most part do not tolerate milk, it gives them loose stools as well as other stomach upsets.
      I do not know any owner who gives their cats milk.
      here is a quote I copied & pasted from the Cornell University Feline Health Center:

      “Unfortunately, feline kidneys are susceptible to a wide range of life-threatening disorders that can lead to renal dysfunction and death. Especially in cats that are seven years of age and older, kidney failure is one of the most frequently observed causes of severe illness.

      A high risk for kidney disease may be inherited, and some veterinary experts contend that long-haired breeds such as Persians and Angoras are more genetically predisposed than short-haired breeds. But the great majority of cases are acquired, and they fall into either of two broad categories: acute and chronic renal failure. The essential difference between the two is that acute renal failure is a severe condition with a relatively sudden onset whose clinical signs become apparent over a period of a week or a month, while chronic renal failure is a disease that has been present for a long time.

      Common causes of acute renal failure include blockages that interfere with the flow of blood to the kidney or the flow of urine from it. Most common of all causes, however, is the ingestion of substances that are toxic to the kidneys, such as antifreeze, pesticides, cleaning fluids and certain human medications. Consuming a tablet of ibuprofen, for example, can precipitate a severe and quite possibly fatal episode of acute renal failure in a cat. “

  8. Zsuzsanna says:

    Yes, TNR works if you do it right. I TNR-d more than 200 cats in the last two years and it was almost like a full time job. I am trying to manage the colonies and again, it’s a lots of work and money (for food). But if you do not feed the colonies do the cats really have a good life? They are starving and trying to survive. There are million of cats out there and who can keep up with TNR work? The few rescue groups and a few people who get tired of it after they TNR one colony? Why HSUS does not fight for mandatory spay/neuter and microchipping of owned pets (dogs and cats)? There should not be any excuses for not implementing this law.

  9. Jen G. says:

    I realize the benefits of TNR for feral cats and agree that it is a much better alternative to the archaic method of capture and euthanize. Not to mention TNR is definitely more humane.
    My question is why are cats treated differently than dogs? Dogs are rescued from the streets and homes are found for them. There isn’t a feral dog problem much less an issue of TNR for feral dogs.
    To rephrase, why is it generally acceptable for cats to remain living/surviving out of doors at all? This is humane treatment of animals?
    It has always bothered me that our country’s sheltering system treats dogs and cats differently. I am a caretaker for two feral cat colonies and have always been an animal lover. I was initially amazed to learn of the lack of options/resources available to feral cats yet the enormous amount of feral cats across the country. After spending an incredible amount of time learning about feral cats, how to care for them, asking for help, being turned away, advocating, etc. I have discovered that TNR is offered up as the best solution to the feral cat “problem”. I’m not exactly sold on the idea of TNR being the best we can do for feral cats but haven’t had the opportunity to ask anyone in such a position of knowledge and experience as yourself, Mr. Pacelle, to explain the reasoning behind this. I am truly interested in learning more on the subject of feral cats and look forward to hearing your thoughts on this matter.

  10. Maggie says:

    As an animal lover, supporter, and rescue/shelter mother…I truly hope something really reduces the numbers of all the abandoned, feral, and free roaming cats. I mean no offense to any cat-lovers with my feelings and/or opinions, and I hope you can see where I’m coming from as a responsible dog owner. I have experienced quite a few issues with my neighbors cats and the “neighborhood” strays over the last 2-3 years in two separate states and I’m extremely over the “shrug of shoulders attitude,” and unequal and unfair regulations allowed to free roaming cats versus dogs. I have had cats literally fighting outside of my bedroom window, my child’s bedroom window, in my front/back yards at all hours of the night, cats attempting multiple times to attack my dog (my dog was 3 mths old & on a leash), tearing up the garbage bag left outside on back porch (with a 6ft fence installed around yard), attacking & killing neighborhood ducks, and reproducing uncontrollably. The worst part of all, was the unvaccinated & unwormed cats defecating in my yard and flower beds and spreading worms that costed me $700 total in vet bills for my dog because she got very sick with worms. Yes, my dog has taken all of her worm/flea preventatives monthly & her vaccines are current. I feel that irresponsible cat owners should be penalized heavily for contributing to the feral/stray cat problem. I think ANY programs out there to help resolve, reduce, or aid in reducing the cat population nationally would be great to support because it’s severely out of control & getting worse every day.

  11. yoli says:

    I am very concerned about a little kitten. He was born 5 days ago and his mom abandoned him in my garden. After I got the cat I went to pet smart to get some milk. I am feeding the kitten with that milk, but the kitten doesn’t stop to cry and also from yesterday he started bleeding instead of make pup. I don’t know what do I have to do, the Vets in the area are so expensive, maybe somebody could give any advice please. I am really appreciate

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