The cats are not at fault. But when people let cats outside and when they feed feral cats, they attack our wildlife, violate our property rights, and are cruel to the cats themselves.
Cats Kill Wildlife
Outdoor cats in North America slaughter over 1.3 billion birds and over 6 billion mammals in the United States every year, not to mention lizards, butterflies, and other wildlife. A strong body of research has shown that, after habitat destruction, cats are the primary human cause of bird mortality. Felis catus is derived from Eurasian wildcats and is exotic to North America. Our native wildlife did not evolve with house cats as predators. Pet cats and colony cats are subsidized predators, cared for by humans who artificially boost their population densities far above what the carrying capacity would be for native predators.
Cats kill for fun. Inside, that behavior can help by killing household pests, but outside they express their predatory impulses by killing small animals, including native animals. Studies that track well-fed cats have shown that they keep on killing out of sight of humans. We all have the right to enjoy our native wildlife. Humans who release and feed outdoor cats violate that right.
Feeding Cats Brings Humans into Conflict with Wildlife
Other animals routinely eat the food left out for cats. Raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes might be here to stay, but giving them extra food leads to property destruction, spreads disease, and creates conflict with humans.
Adult rats are rarely killed by cats, and indeed they eat the free food left out by cat hoarders, boosting their populations.
Outdoor Cats Spread Disease
House cats spread toxoplasmosis, which can cause severe brain damage or death in young children and people with compromised immune systems. The parasite Toxoplasma gondii can only sexually reproduce in cats. All toxoplasmosis infections, including those acquired via tainted meat, stem from cats. This is why the CDC recommends keeping cats indoors and that pregnant women avoid stray cats.
The house cat is the domestic animal most often found with rabies (more than dogs). Outdoor cat food also attracts and feeds native rabies vectors like raccoons and skunks, bringing them into contact with cats and people. This is why CDC and USDA veterinarians oppose TNR programs and cat feeding outside.
Even cats released through TNR programs can develop and transmit rabies, as residents of the Tampa, Florida area know all too well. TNRed cats are not held before release to ensure that they are free of rabies. They almost never receive required rabies booster shots, so that their immunity wears off. This means that all feral cats should be assumed to be a rabies risk.
A cat colony caretaker died of rabies in Delaware, showing the real danger to people who come in contact with feral cats and the wildlife their colonies attract.
Outdoor Cats Violate Property Rights
Want to relax on your porch? It reeks of cat urine. Want to work on the garden? It’s now a litter box for someone else’s cat. Want to put out a bird feeder? The cats fed by your neighbor kill the birds. People who release and feed cats outside violate our property rights.
Trap Neuter Re-abandon Fails to Control Cat Populations
Jacksonville declared “Feral Freedom” in 2008. Today their shelter system is overflowing, rabies has appeared in feral cats, and residents complain of a “cat explosion,” and flea infestations caused by the cats.
Texas A&M University has conducted a TNR program for decades. There are still hundreds of feral cats on campus.
An analysis of TNR programs in San Diego and Alachua County, Florida, found that they had not reduced feral cat populations.
TNR actually maintains and can increase cat populations. No TNR program can neuter all the cats fed in a colony. A study in Israel found that TNR colonies attracted more strays and had higher kitten survival rates, cancelling out the benefits of neutering the ones they could trap. Moreover colonies act as magnets for cat dumping.
It’s common sense: an unlimited supply of food draws in cats and helps them breed. Desperate cat owners, shut out by “no-kill” shelters, dump their cats at feeding stations. The cat hoarder lobby likes to cite what they call the “Vacuum Effect,” the absurd notion that resident cats keep other cats away, and thus that other cats will move in when some are removed. Of course cats gather in colonies when they are fed by humans, which would be impossible if they were actually territorial (cat #1 would have kept the others away). Experience has shown remove the cats and stop the feeding, and you’ll get rid of the colonies.
The pattern is the same: the cat hoarders who feed and release cats claim the only solution to outdoor cat infestation is to keep feeding and releasing cats, and local governments buckle under the pressure from a small but vocal group of zealots.
Local shelters, under pressure to euthanize fewer cats, seize the opportunity to release cats rather than do the humane thing. The cats die instead by disease or injuries, often run over by cars, killed by dogs or wild animals, or poisoned by fed-up neighbors.
It may be impossible to remove all feral cats from the landscape, but we can successfully reduce their numbers by removing feral cats and stopping outdoor feeding. Ultimately we need laws that mandate cats inside and ban outdoor feeding and cat dumping.
No Such Thing as “No-Kill”
It sure sounds nice, but what happens when the shelters fill up? Frustrated cat owners dump their pets outside. Property owners are left with nowhere to take strays. All these outdoor cats kill billions of other animals per year.
Even as cat populations rise outside, no-kill shelters find their intake rates drop as they divert cats to outdoor colonies and frustrated pet owners dump their cats outside.
This is cruel to cats too. Which is the better death, painless euthanasia or a miserable death outside (lingering in the bushes after being hit by a car, wasting away from disease, eaten by a coyote)? This is why even PETA opposes no-kill shelters and TNR.
Of course cats are obligate carnivores, so we kill other animals to feed them. Thus we slaughter fish, chicken, and other livestock to save each cat. Cats and dogs consume one third of the meat produced in our country.
The Cat Hoarder Lobby
It’s not just a bunch of ‘crazy cat ladies.’ Alley Cat Allies, for example, is a $10 million advocacy organization that works to normalize outdoor cats and coaches local outdoor cat hoarders. In town after town, state after state, animal lovers, wildlife enthusiasts, common citizens have woken up to find that the cat hoarder lobby has hijacked the local animal control operations and has used its lobbying clout to pass laws that harm wildlife and violate private property rights.
Like the tobacco lobby before them, they manufacture doubt about the scientific consensus that our large population of outdoor cats are a threat to wildlife and human health.
They promote cats to control rats, something cats fail to do.
This is a problem we can solve.
We can tell the truth: Cats belong inside. Period.
Real solutions are out there, for example model pet ordinance that, when implemented and enforced, create communities where people, wild animals, and pets can coexist.
Educate your neighbors. Tell your elected officials that you value wildlife, your children, your property, your community more than you value feral cats.