The “Need” for More Killing?

The press is making it out that I am like Josef Mengele, but shelters already do this now. Last year millions of animals were euthanized because we don’t have the resources to take care of them.”

—Peter Marra, co-author of Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer, in a recent interview with National Geographic


Even before Cat Wars was officially released (in print, anyhow), the pushback had begun. Among the more notable examples were Marc Bekoff’s blistering critique in Psychology Today and Gwen Cooper’s smackdown on the Hi Homer! blog (the likely source for that Mengele reference). More recently, Barbara J. King offered a much more tempered response on NPR’s Cosmos & Culture blog.

“It’s not a war against cats that we need. We should slow down, critically review the assumptions that underpin the science, and resist panicky, dire recommendations.”

All the while, Marra’s been trying to back away from his inflammatory rhetoric—witness the National Geographic piece, for example, followed by a Q&A with VICE.

One wonders: given the fact that he’s promoting the killing of this country’s most popular pet—on a scale that would dwarf anything this country’s seen—what did he expect?

To hear Marra tell it, there’s simply no other option—certainly not TNR, for which “the scientific data make it impossible to advocate.” [1] In fact, sterilization programs of all kinds are gaining traction worldwide, used to manage a variety of species. In China, for example, where rabies is a serious public health concern, researchers concluded that “reducing dog birth rate and increasing dog immunization coverage rate are the most effective methods for controlling rabies,” and recommended that “large scale culling of susceptible dogs can be replaced by immunization of them.” [2]

In India, which, according to a 2015 BBC story, accounts for nearly 21,000 deaths annually from rabies, “culling dogs is not allowed on humanitarian grounds.”

“A 2001 Indian law details how dogs should be humanely caught, housed, sterilized and released back onto the street. Experts say culling isn’t very effective anyway, considering at least half of the patients with rabies were bitten by pet dogs.” [3]

Closer to home, non-surgical sterilants are being used on white-tailed deer and wild horses (though not without controversy).

And the most ambitious large-scale sterilization projects are likely just around the corner, thanks to a team of researchers at SenesTech, a biotech start-up in Flagstaff, Arizona, whose debut product, an oral contraceptive for rodents, was the focus of a recent story in The Guardian.

“In tests conducted in Indonesian rice fields, South Carolina pig farms, the suburbs of Boston and the New York City subway, the product, called ContraPest, caused a drop in rat populations of roughly 40 percent in 12 weeks.” [4]

All of which raises serious questions about Marra’s emphasis on killing cats.

Even if we buy into his claims (almost entirely unsubstantiated) that outdoor cats are “unrelenting killers and cauldrons of disease” whose “devastating consequences” [1] require a radical shift in public policy—is killing really the best we can do? Obviously not.

Imagine if, rather than continue his campaign of misinformation and fear-mongering, Marra applied some of his energy (and financial support from his employer, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute/National Zoo) toward research into innovative non-lethal methods, such as those already being funded by the Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs and Found Animals.

Imagine how much further along we might be—closer to a goal we all share. Instead, Marra’s trying to explain to the media how he’s really not Dr. Josef Mengele.

Literature Cited

1. Marra, P.P. and C. Santella, Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer. 2016: Princeton University Press.

2. Zhang, J., et al., Analysis of Rabies in China: Transmission Dynamics and Control. PLoS ONE, 2011. 6(7): p. e20891. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0020891

3. Abraham, M.-R. India’s rabid dog problem is running the country ragged. 2015.  http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150915-indias-rabid-dog-problem-is-running-the-country-ragged

4. Kisner, J. Man v rat: could the long war soon be over? The Guardian, 2016.  https://http://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/sep/20/man-v-rat-war-could-the-long-war-soon-be-over

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