Three Cats Lost in Fire at Animal Coalition of Tampa Clinic

I should have been working on a blog post to mark the four-year anniversary of Vox Felina—something light and, more likely than not, a little bit snarky. Instead, I found myself staring in disbelief at my laptop screen late Saturday evening, as the news slowly registered: three cats were killed in an early-morning fire at the Animal Coalition of Tampa clinic.

While a dog had apparently managed to escape, a post on ACT’s Facebook page explained that the fire took the lives of “our beloved Jazz, Boy, and Mama.”

Arson is suspected.

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O (Environment) Canada!

In “Estimated Number of Birds Killed by House Cats (Felis catus) in Canada,” published late last year in Avian Conservation and Ecology, Environment Canada research scientist Peter Blancher estimates that cats—owned and unowned—“kill between 100 and 350 million birds per year in Canada,” and suggests that this level of predation “is probably the largest human-related source of bird mortality in Canada.” [1]

I submitted the following comments to the journal in response to Blancher’s article, but retracted my submission upon learning that (1) the length is nearly twice as long as what is permitted, and (2) that I would be required to pay an “author fee” of about $340.

I’m not naïve enough to think that posting my comments here is comparable to having them published in ACE, but, given the considerable work involved—and, more important, the obvious policy implications of Blancher’s paper—I think it’s important that they be available.

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Faith Misplaced?

Old news: Richard Conniff’s March 23rd op-ed in the New York Times, in which he used his experience of losing a cat he cared for as an opportunity to misrepresent TNR, and vilify animal welfare organizations that support it. Although Conniff’s piece lacks the kind of focus one expects from an op-ed in the Times, it’s clear to anybody familiar with the issue: he’s using all the familiar “science” and scaremongering to justify lethal roundups.

And like so many others who have taken the same position, Conniff is happy to talk about anything except the evidence that lethal methods can do the trick.

The reason, of course, is because such evidence doesn’t exist.

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Lapse of Memory or Lapse of Reason?

Less than two weeks after American Bird Conservancy president George Fenwick explained in the Washington Post Magazine his organization’s position that killing cats is a moral imperative, ABC is giving a nudge to those who might be reluctant to get on board. “‘Remarkable’ deterioration in memory functions of seniors infected by common parasite found in free-roaming cats,” declared a press release issued yesterday.

Interestingly, the headline is far more accurate than ABC probably intended. Far more accurate than the rest of the release, to be sure—and more accurate than what the authors of the study suggest at times (and then contradict at other times), too. The findings reveal an association between Toxoplasma gondii infection in seniors subject to a “test battery for measuring memory functions” [1] and certain of those memory functions.

However, no causal relationship was found.

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Tough Sell, But a Good Bet

“We’re kind of a tough sell, but we’re a good bet.”

That’s the way Father Greg Boyle described Homeboy Industries, the organization he founded 26 years ago in Los Angeles, to NPR’s Arun Rath on All Things Considered Sunday. According to their website, Homeboy Industries “is the largest gang intervention program in the nation and has become a model for other organizations and cities.”

Through Homeboy Industries, where the motto is “Nothing stops a bullet like a job,” “Father G” works with15,000 former gang members each year. And, explained Rath, “his success rate is astounding. Seventy percent of people who walk through these doors don’t return to prison.”

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Book Buddies

No doubt some of you have already seen this photo—an adorable shot of young boy reading to a shelter cat nearly as big as he is—that lit up the Interwebs last weekend and into the early part of this week. It wasn’t until yesterday, though, that I learned of the story behind the picture.

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The Call for More Killing

By the time readers had the print version of last week’s Washington Post Magazine in their ink-stained hands, the online version of its cover story, “Is it more humane to kill stray cats, or let them fend alone?,” had already been revised.

Julie Levy, director of Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida,” reads the original, “estimates between 71 percent and 94 percent of the cat population must be neutered to bring the birth rate below replacement level.”

“In addition to TNR, she says, caregivers need to stop feeding free-roaming cats and keep pet cats inside for there to be ‘a humane, gradual reduction in cat numbers.’ At one university campus she studied, the feral cat population was reduced from 155 in 1991 to 23 in 2002 through a combination of adoption, euthanizing sick cats, natural attrition and neutering ‘virtually all resident cats.’” [1]

Sometime between Thursday, when the online version was posted, and Sunday, the second sentence disappeared from the Post website.

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Haters Gonna… Love?

Earlier this week the American Bird Conservancy launched a series of short public service announcements created in collaboration with the Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation, “calling on cat owners to care for their pets using ‘Cats Indoors’ approaches that are demonstrably better for cats, better for birds, and better for people.”

That same day, on the organization’s Facebook page, ABC declared, “We love cats! That’s why we want to keep them inside.”

Love?

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10 Most Important Community Cat News Stories of 2013

It’s that time of year again—time to take stock of the year’s milestones. Check out Rolling Stone’s 50 Best Albums of 2013, for example, or Fresh Air’s book, TV, movie, and music picks.

Not to be outdone, I’ve compiled a list of what I see as the year’s 10 most important community cat news stories—a number of which even the most avid readers may have missed. (Indeed, I’ve blogged about only a handful.)

Suffice it to say, others will disagree with my choices. In fact, I’d be very surprised if anybody agreed with the entire list.

That’s fine. Better than fine, actually—if it means my selections will spark a conversation, or even a debate. Maybe even inspire others to set to work on their own list for 2014.

Without further ado, then, my picks for the 10 most important community cat news stories of 2013…

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On Wind Farms and Witch-hunts

Here’s a tip for those in the bird conservation community who persist in their witch-hunt against free-roaming cats: be careful what you wish for.

For several years now, the National Audubon Society and American Bird Conservancy have co-opted, twisted, and misrepresented any scrap of published science they could find—however indefensible—suggesting that such cats might have an impact on bird populations. And, as I’ve demonstrated time and time again, there’s an audience out there for such propaganda.

But what if their campaign has been too effective—with the wrong audience?

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JAVMA Letter: A Trojan Horse

TNR opponents’ recent letter to the editors to JAVMA was just an excuse for promoting their witch-hunt agenda—supported, as has become their habit, with the kind of bogus “research” that fails to stand up to even moderate scrutiny. (And, I would bet, probably hasn’t actually been read by most of the letter’s co-authors.)

A recent letter to the editor, published last month in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (PDF available here), reminds me of one of the reasons I’ve never enabled comments on this blog: the likelihood that some commenters would surely hijack the conversation—pretty much any conversation, however marginally relevant—to take up their own agenda. Although I’m a proponent of open dialogue (the name of this blog is no accident), I have neither the time nor the patience for people intent on making my platform their platform.

Luckily, the JAVMA editors—dealing, as I’m sure they do, only with the most conscientious professionals—aren’t subject to such hijack attempts. Right?

Guess again.

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Tune in Sunday to Animal Wise Radio!

Tune in Sunday to Animal Wise Radio, when I’ll be on with hosts Mike Fry and Beth Nelson discussing a recently published paper declaring that “predation by house cats is probably the largest human-related source of bird mortality in Canada.”

For schedule, a list of local stations, or to listen online, check out the Animal Wise Radio website.

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National Feral Cat Day 2013

I had this year’s National Feral Cat Day post all worked out—which is to say, I’d given myself something like 24 hours to round up the various materials needed (the easy part), assemble what I think we can all agree is a brilliant prop (also easy), and then photograph my cats with the aforementioned prop (what was I thinking?).

As the photos below illustrate, the concept was rock-solid. It was the execution that suffered from (1) a rushed schedule, (2) poor-quality photography, and (3) a lack of assistants.

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Montgomery County, VA: Then and Now

In answering one question, other more interesting questions sometimes emerge. That’s exactly what happened when I followed up on a claim made in “Rabies Prevention and Management of Cats in the Context of Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release Programmes,” recently published in Zoonoses and Public Health (and critiqued in some detail in my August 3rd post).

As evidence of both the threat of free-roaming cats and the need for lethal roundups, the authors—five from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the other, George Fenwick, president of the American Bird Conservancy*—cite a 1992–1996 study of Montgomery County, VA, rabies exposure reports.

“Most striking, a study in Montgomery County, VA, attributed 63 percent of [post-exposure prophylaxis] recommendations to stray cat exposures compared with only 8 percent for wild animal contact. In this community, the high rate of PEP due to cats resulted in part from the lack of a county animal shelter facility for cats, illustrating the need for removal of feral and stray cats as a means of rabies control and PEP reduction.” [1]

A review of the work cited confirms that, indeed, 24 of 38 exposures requiring PEP (63 percent) over the course of the 55-month study period were related to stray and feral cats. [2] So far, so good.

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National Feral Cat Day Awards Program

National Feral Cat Day is still a month away, but the celebration is already well underway with Alley Cat Allies’ announcement of their National Feral Cat Day Awards Program. As the organization explains on the NFCD website, this year the awards are being used to recognize shelters that commit to implementing innovative policies for protecting community cats.

This year, our National Feral Cat Day® Challenge focuses on partnering with shelters to take strides to protect even more cats. And our National Feral Cat Day® Awards Program will support five shelters that commit to an official Feral Cat Protection Policy (FCPP), which means that they stop impounding feral cats, and support Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). There are many “blueprints” for saving cats’ lives, but the Feral Cat Protection Policy is the number one lifesaving program for cats. When shelters stop impounding feral cats, cat intake decreases, community buy-in increases, and lives are protected. Instead of impounding feral cats, also known as community cats, shelters can re-route them to TNR programs where they are neutered and returned to their colony.

Each of the five NFCD Awards Program winners will receive:

  • $5,000 in seed money to support your Feral Cat Protection Policy initiative.
  • Written protocol and standard operating procedures for implementing new programs and procedures.
  • Staff support and guidance from Alley Cat Allies as you launch this and other initiatives to save cats’ lives.
  • Increased visibility for your shelter through local promotional support and placement in Alley Cat Allies’ high-traffic news vehicles.

Know a shelter that’s doing right by community cats? Encourage them to apply—so that they can do even more! Applications can be found at the NFCD website. The deadline is right around the corner—midnight, Friday, September 20th.

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When Feeding Community Cats Is Outlawed…

The timing could hardly have been better. Less than 12 hours after I uploaded the artwork for the latest Vox Felina gear, I learned that the Virginia Supreme Court had, just last Friday, decided in favor of caretaker Susan Mills, who’d been cited in 2011 for feeding community cats. As a story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch explained, the Court ruled that the zoning ordinance violation “is unenforceable because it was overly broad.”

While it remains unclear whether Henrico County will pursue the matter further (e.g., revising their zoning ordinance), the area’s community cat advocates are celebrating.

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Reductio ad absurdum

Results of a new computer model suggest that sterilization via vasectomy and hysterectomy is more effective than traditional spay/neuter at reducing the population of community cats. But the work raises several questions about the model’s validity—and more troubling ones about its implications for animal welfare.

Since starting this blog a little more than three years ago, I’ve been describing TNR as a compromise—but the best option we’ve got in most circumstances. But what if there’s a better option, a non-lethal method for managing the population of stray, abandoned, and feral cats that reduces their numbers more quickly?

Intriguing, right?

According to a team of researchers at Tufts University, the answer is trap-vasectomy-hysterectomy-release, or TVHR. By eliminating the possibility for reproduction while leaving the cats “hormonally intact,” this method takes advantage of biological and behavioral characteristics not found in cats subject to traditional spay/neuter surgery,* thereby outperforming TNR in reducing colony size.

Or at least that’s what their computer model predicts.

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CDC Doing the American Bird Conservancy’s Bidding?

Representatives of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sign on to the American Bird Conservancy’s witch-hunt against free-roaming cats, misrepresenting the relevant science to support their claim that “rabies transmission via feral cats is a particular concern.”

“Feral cat populations,” argue the authors of a recently published paper, “must be reduced and eliminated to manage the public health risk of rabies transmission.” [1] Their solution? “Traditional animal control policies [that] have stressed stray animal control and removal.”

It’s no surprise, given the American Bird Conservancy’s contribution (president George Fenwick is among the paper’s seven co-authors, and Steve Holmer, Bird Conservation Alliance director, is thanked in the acknowledgments for his “review and input during the writing of the manuscript”) that the article provides no evidence whatsoever of such policies and practices reducing the risk of rabies posed by free-roaming cats.

Witch-hunts, after all, have little use for evidence.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of Agriculture, representatives of which make up the paper’s other six co-authors,* rely on solid evidence to develop sound public policy.**

Don’t they?

To borrow a line from Ernest HemingwayIsn’t it pretty to think so?

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A Commitment to Lethal (Non) Control

The reason the American Bird Conservancy, National Audubon Society, The Wildlife Society, and others oppose TNR is, explained chief Animal Control Officer for Pompano Beach, Florida, David Aycock, during a barn-burner of a City Commission meeting Tuesday night, “that these animals are not safe out there—on their own, by themselves.

I was reminded of that famous line from Forrest Gump: “My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’”

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ACC&D Symposium Wrap-Up

Three key take-aways from the 5th International Symposium on Non-Surgical Contraceptive Methods of Pet Population Control, held last weekend in Portland, OR.

Dogs in the Lead

As the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs explains on the organization’s website, this meeting “[took] place at a critical juncture in development and use of permanent, non-surgical options for canines and felines.” Indeed, Zeuterin,* a formulation of zinc gluconate and arginine—and the “first FDA-approved non-surgical sterilant for male dogs—is scheduled to be launched commercially in the U.S. in mid-2013.”

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