“Hawaii’s Crazy War” is a shameful, inexcusable rehash of the same tired framing we’ve been seeing for at least 20 years now.Read more ›
In what I can only imagine was intended to be a dramatic headline, the Washington Post announced last week: “A wildlife rehab center confirms that cats are killers.” Did we really to confirm that domestic cats are, just like their wild relatives, predators?
What’s next? A Sunday magazine feature investigating the presence of gravity, perhaps? Or a three-part series, complete with online photo gallery, on heliocentrism? We can only hope. In the meantime, what exactly did this wildlife rehab center learn about the hunting habits of outdoor cats? Read more
The latest “black mark against domestic cats,” explained a headline in yesterday’s Washington Post: “They’re killing Hawaii’s rare monk seals.” As is so often the case, though, in the age of click-bait journalism, the story is considerably more complicated than the misleading headline suggests. Read more
“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? Read more
Cat Wars is, to anybody familiar with the topic, an obviously desperate attempt to fuel the ongoing witch-hunt against outdoor cats “by any means necessary,” including the endorsement of discredited junk science, an oceanful of red herrings, and B-movie-style scaremongering. The book’s central thesis—that outdoor cats must be eradicated in the name of biodiversity and public health—is, like the authors’ credibility, undermined to the point of collapse by weak—often contradictory—evidence, and a reckless arrogance that will be hard to ignore even for their fellow fring-ervationsists.
In early 2010, Peter Marra co-authored a desperate appeal to the conservation community, calling for greater opposition to trap-neuter-return (TNR). “The issue of feral cats is not going away any time soon,” he and his colleagues warned, “and no matter what options are taken, it may well be a generation or more before we can expect broad-scale changes in human behavior regarding outdoor cats.”  Since then, Marra, who’s been with the Smithsonian Institution’s Conservation Biology Institute since 1999 and now runs its Migratory Bird Center, has only become more desperate. Read more
In their second report in a recent series investigating the two-year TNR pilot program in Hillsborough County, Florida, television station WFLA revealed evidence of “gruesome feral cat deaths.” Apparently, some of the cats are being returned to their trapping location too soon, and dying tragic deaths as a result of post-surgery complications.
Or at least that’s what the headline implied. The story changes pretty quickly after that, though.
“How are [the cats] adjusting after surgery?” asks 8 On Your Side’s senior investigative reporter Steve Andrews, rhetorically. “No one knows for sure.”
Wait—no one knows for sure? Aren’t these people supposed to answer questions?
Not to be deterred by his team’s admitted lack of knowledge, Andrews persists, referring vaguely to “pictures of what’s happened to some” cats that have been released. “The pictures are so disturbing, News Channel 8 managers won’t allow them on television.”
But they are—of course—on the WFLA website. Such is the state of “investigative reporting” in the click-bait era. Read more
When I wrote about the launch of the Million Cat Challenge, in December 2014, I suggested that it “felt like something historic.”
“As if we’ve entered into a new era of animal sheltering where cats are concerned. This ambitious campaign promises to be a game-changer not just for the million cats it aims to save (over the next five years), but for sheltering itself.”
In the interest of full disclosure: I keep my cats indoors 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s an uncompromising policy I’ve adopted for their safety — and my sanity. I encourage others to keep their cats indoors, too. Why, then, do I object so strenuously to “cats indoors” efforts, such as Nature Canada’s recently launched Keep Cats Safe and Save Bird Lives campaign?
It’s a question to which I’ve given a great deal of thought since I first began blogging about the ongoing witch-hunt against outdoor cats nearly six years ago, and it mostly comes down to the following: Read more
Imagine, if you will, the following scenario:
The small colony of cats for whom you’ve been caring for years (sterilization and vaccination was just the beginning) lives quietly on your property. Thanks to the “cat fencing,” they’re safe from outside threats, and they’re no threat to nearby wildlife or to any neighbors who might consider them a nuisance.
And yet, they’ve been targeted for seizure and removal—or worse, eradication.
Vigilante fringe-rvationist (think Galveston’s Jim Stevenson)? No.
Online troll escaped his mother’s basement to make good on his tedious, typo-plagued, threats? No.
The party responsible, in this case, is the Hawaii Invasive Species Authority—or any party with whom the Authority might choose to contract (which, I suppose, might actually include the likes of Stevenson and the trolls).
Orwellian, sure—but maybe not all that far-fetched. Read more
A pair of bills winding their way through Hawaii’s legislature threaten community cats, their caregivers—and the very wildlife some supporters claim they’re trying to protect.
On barren, uninhabited Marion Island, it took 19 years to exterminate approximately 2,200 cats — using feline distemper, poisoning, hunting and trapping, and dogs. [1, 2] The only “handouts” these cats received were “the carcasses of 12,000 day-old chickens”  injected with poison. If there was any evidence of starvation, I’ve not read about it.
In Antioch, California, a 2014 feeding ban proved futile. “Opponents of the ban have simply ignored it without much consequence,” reported the San José Mercury News, “while city officials admit they don’t have the resources to enforce the law.”
Why, then, does anybody even remotely familiar with this topic think a feeding ban would reduce the number of unowned, free-roaming cats? Where’s the evidence?
Recent research is challenging the “conventional wisdom” that infection with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite can alter human behavior, lead to mental illness (especially schizophrenia). As a recent post on Discover magazine’s Neuroskeptic blog notes, “The idea of ‘behavioral’ toxoplasmosis has driven a huge amount of research and media interest.”
In my inaugural blog post for The Huffington Post, I take on Washington, D.C.’s Department of Energy & Environment and the agency’s demand that TNR programs in the District “will be revisited and reassessed.” Check it out for yourself here.
If the Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative truly aims to “develop management strategies that are guided by sound science,” then its recently released White Paper on Feral and Free-ranging Domestic Cats (PDF) represents a glaring and inexcusable failure. Just two sentences into the three-page paper, the self-described “coalition of 102 non-governmental organizations, governmental agencies, and businesses”  resorts to the familiar “kitchen sink approach,” a laundry list of (presumably) damning claims meant to substitute for a well-reasoned argument and appeal to the broadest audience possible:
“A number of peer-reviewed studies strongly suggest that large numbers of small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians are killed each year by domestic cats. Additionally, cats act as reservoirs for several diseases that can sicken humans, native wildlife, and other domestic animals, such as rabies, toxoplasmosis, bartonellosis, typhus, and feline immunodeficiency virus.” 
One wonders what rabies, toxoplasmosis, bartonellosis, typhus, and FIV have to do with OBCI’s stated mission: “Ensuring the conservation and effective management of birds in Ohio by fostering partnerships among governmental agencies, conservation organizations, businesses, and the public”?
Nothing, really. Perhaps OBCI is expecting that nobody will notice. Read more
“The science points to cats,” proclaimed David Jessup (long-time opponent of TNR) and Melissa Miller in their contribution to the Spring 2011 Issue of The Wildlife Professional, in a special section called “The Impact of Free Ranging Cats” (available free via issuu.com). As I explained at the time, it wasn’t science so much as certain scientists pointing to cats as the primary cause of California sea otter mortalities associated with Toxoplasma gondii infection.
And now, a study recently published in the International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife goes much further in challenging the scapegoating. Read more
When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed Assembly Bill 2778 earlier this week, he adopted the “kitchen sink” approach so often used by TNR opponents, explaining himself this way:
“Although the goal of this bill is laudable, it is problematic for several reasons. First, I cannot support diverting [the State’s Animal Population Control Program Fund] funds from existing programs that have already proven effective for humanely controlling feral cat populations. Second, a central tenant of TNR programs is the release of feral cats into the wild. However, that conflicts directly with Agriculture and Markets Law section 374(5), which makes the release of such animals a misdemeanor offense, and would create uncertainty as to the legality of releasing trapped animals. Third, the prevailing science suggests that TNR programs are not guaranteed to reduce feral cat populations, and, even if they do, may take many more years to do so than existing programs. Finally, the return of feral cats to the wild must be balanced against the impacts these cats can have on wildlife, including on threatened and endangered species, habitats, and food sources for native predators.”
Setting aside for the moment Cuomo’s (apparently) poor grasp of the relevant science, one wonders: if, as he suggests, spay/neuter services aimed at low-income residents are sufficient to control “feral cat” populations, then why is this issue even a topic of conversation—much less the focus of a controversial piece of legislation?
In fact, the purpose of New York’s Animal Population Control Program Fund, as written into law, is to “reduce the population of unwanted and stray dogs and cats thereby reducing incidence of euthanasia and potential threats to public health and safety posed by the large population of these animals.” And when it comes to reducing the “population of unwanted and stray cats,” the best return on investment is, of course, targeted TNR.
This bill would have allowed up to 20 percent of the Fund (approximately $1M in total, I’m told) to be used for TNR efforts. That’s the kind of funding that could make a significant difference.
No doubt Audubon New York, the New York Sportsmen’s Advisory Council, and PETA—all of whom opposed the bill—are celebrating Cuomo’s veto as a victory. But it’s difficult to see any winners here.
Making it more difficult to sterilize and vaccinate community cats doesn’t serve anybody’s best interest. (Even low-income pet owners, who presumably would have had to share a smaller slice of the Animal Population Control Program Fund pie, benefit from targeted TNR efforts: their neighborhoods are typically where the most community cats can be found.*)
As a policy decision, Cuomo’s veto runs counter to science, public opinion and common sense. And his convoluted, contradictory rationale is laughable—or it would be if the stakes weren’t so high.
*In a move that’s disgraceful even for PETA, the organization portrayed Assembly Bill 2778 (“a dangerous piece of legislation”) as TNR’s war on the poor, suggesting that TNR funding would hurt low-income pet owners.
When I launched Vox Felina in April, 2010, it was, I wrote, driven in part by “the flawed science promoted by many TNR opponents” and “the unbalanced—often dishonest—nature of the feral cat/TNR debate.” Five and a half years later, so-called scientists continue to churn out junk science (often a taxpayer expense) and the debate over community cats is, it seems to me, only rarely engaged in with sufficient rigor and integrity.
(That said, it also seems to me that elected officials are increasingly able to see through the empty rhetoric and fear-mongering that’s become boilerplate among TNR opponents—and choosing TNR as a result.)
In any case, it’s clear that there’s more work to be done. Thankfully, when it comes to lifesaving efforts, there’s also a great deal of support available. Witness, for example, the invitation I recently received from Maddie’s Institute, to host a webcast in which I challenge some of the most common myths surrounding community cats.
No arm-twisting was required.
And so, this Thursday evening: How to Bust Myths about Community Cats with Science. The webcast begins at 9:00 pm on the East Coast, and registration is free. For more information, check out the Maddie’s website.
I hope to “see” you all there!
Today is, as I assume most readers know, National Feral Cat Day. And, as Alley Cat Allies (which launched the annual celebration 15 years ago) explains on the NFCD website (where you can find events in your area, by the way), this year’s theme is “The Evolution of the Cat Revolution.”
Among the most recent phases in that evolution are return-to-field (sometimes called shelter-neuter-return, or SNR) programs, in which healthy cats brought into shelters as strays are sterilized, vaccinated, and returned to where they were found. RTF programs can be very effective at reducing shelter deaths—for obvious reasons—but have also demonstrated dramatic reductions in intake, too.
And where these programs result in a lower intake of young kittens, there’s good reason to think they’re reducing the overall number of community cats.
Through its innovative public-private partnerships, Best Friends Animal Society (in partnership with PetSmart Charities™) operates more RTF programs than any other organization in the country. And today, in celebration of NFCD, Best Friends is unveiling our* Community Cat Programs Toolkit, a comprehensive online resource covering a broad range of relevant topics, from humanely trapping cats and caring for them during post-surgery recovery to marketing and public relations.
Have a look and please share the news with others—and happy National Feral Cat Day!
* Full disclosure: I’ve been employed full-time by Best Friends since May 2013.
The headline from a National Geographic story posted online earlier this week created immediate buzz: “Island’s Feral Cats Kill Surprisingly Few Birds, Video Shows.” Whether or not you were actually surprised, I suppose, depends largely on how much you’ve been paying attention to the issue.
The team of researchers whose work is described in the NatGeo piece, led by the University of Georgia’s Sonia Hernandez, could—more than most—have anticipated such results. Kerrie Anne Loyd—for whom Hernandez served as PhD advisor—pioneered “KittyCam” research during her doctoral studies at UGA. And in April 2012, Loyd, discussing the results of “KittyCam 1.0” with Atlanta’s CBS affiliate, conceded, “Cats aren’t as bad as biologists thought.”
Perhaps we’re expected to be surprised again? Read more
The mainstream media is having a field day with a new U.K. study—but it’s a celebration that’s largely uncalled for.
Let me set the scene:
It’s Spring 2010. You’re a cat owner in the small English village of Mawnan Smith, population about 1,500. And like most* of your fellow cat owners in the UK, you allow your cat(s) to go outdoors. You and 30 of your neighbors have just taken part in a four-month sudy comprised of the following three phases: Read more