I hope we can find solutions for the feral cat problem before we reach for the kooky idea that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has come up with.
Feral cats, for those who don’t know, are previously domestic cats that have been abandoned by their owners. Over the course of a couple generations, the cats become unsocialized and no longer trust humans. While it’s possible to re-socialize these cats, it is often time-consuming and requires a lot of patience.
Wisconsin’s DNR has proposed allowing residents to simply shoot any cat they see without a collar. That could mean that if a pampered indoor cat escaped or a kitty got out of its collar, it could be fair game.
According to officials at the DNR, a survey the department conducted showed that a majority of 6,830 people were in favor of such a proposal, while 5,102 of those polled were against the idea. Don’t get too concerned yet about citizens blasting kitties with their hunting rifles – a proposal of this nature would have to be passed by the state legislature and signed by Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle before becoming law.
“I don’t think Wisconsin should become known as a state where we shoot cats,” Doyle told the Associated Press. “What it does is sort of hold us up as a state that everybody is kind of laughing at right now.”
But the fact that the proposal was made reflects the frustration many communities are having about the feral cat problem. One specific issue is that feral cats (as well as owned domestic cats) kill songbirds, which riles many bird watchers and wildlife advocates. And shooting cats in this manner actually IS legal in South Dakota and Minnesota.
We need to look at solutions to the feral cat problem before considering making them fair game for hunters. One way is to support low-income spay and neuter programs for owners of domestic cats. Feral cats are the result of unwanted domestic cats – cats which may not have been born if all cat owners had an easy, inexpensive way to get their pets altered before they end up with several litters of kittens.
An often-cited statistic is that one female cat and all her kittens can produce up to 420,000 cats in seven years. That’s under ideal circumstances, where each cat has a large litter and reproduces as often as possible, but it’s easy to see how one person with an unaltered female cat and a couple of her litters could easily get overwhelmed.
This is a particularly poignant issue in Linn and Benton Counties, because low-cost spay and neuter programs are difficult to qualify for and often don’t result in significant savings for the owner. People who have multiple cats struggle to do the right thing for them but often run up against a financial brick wall. Providing a community resource that allows anyone on a limited or fixed income to participate in a low-cost program will reduce some of the unwanted cats in the area.
Another successful method to control feral cat populations is called Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR). This involves catching feral cats, altering them, and putting them back in the colonies where they live. Over time, when done correctly and watched diligently for new members of the colony, this results in the cats living and dying naturally without reproducing.
Many TNR programs also provide an opportunity to vaccinate cats against rabies and other diseases that they can pass along to other domestic animals or even humans. When they come in, the cats may also receive veterinary care for any wounds or medical issues they have, so that they are relatively healthy.
Cats that are altered in a TNR program are typically eartipped so they can be identified at a distance. This painless procedure, done under anesthesia, involves removing the very top of the cat’s ear so it can easily and quickly be seen. This prevents animals that have already been spayed from having to undergo the surgery again (it’s often impossible to locate a spay scar on an animal). It also allows animal control officials to determine whether a cat belongs to an area colony and prevents wasting resources to catch, transport and house a colony cat.
The Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon explains these issues and what they’re doing to help on their web site, www.feralcats.com.