Revisiting “Reassessment”

“Reassessment: A Closer Look at ‘Critical Assessment of Claims Regarding Management of Feral Cats by Trap-Neuter-Return’” has been revised and expanded!

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This paper, a brief review and critique of the essay “Critical Assessment of Claims Regarding Management of Feral Cats by Trap-Neuter-Return” by Travis Longcore, Catherine Rich, and Lauren M. Sullivan, now includes sections on Toxoplasma gondii, the mesopredator release phenomenon, and more. In addition, links and downloadable PDFs have been added to the list of references.

Over the past year, “Critical Assessment” has gotten a great deal of traction among TNR opponents, despite its glaring omissions, blatant misrepresenta­tions, and obvious bias. “Reassessment”—intended to be a resource for a broad audience, including, wildlife and animal control professionals, policymakers, and the general public—shines a bright spotlight on these shortcomings, thereby bringing the key issues back into focus.

Act Locally
Politics is, as they say, local. This is certainly true of the debate surrounding TNR. Policies endorsing TNR, the feeding of feral cats, etc. typically begin with “Town Hall” meetings, or even meetings of neighborhood associations. “Reassessment” provides interested parties with a rigorous, science-based counter-argument to those using “Critical Assessment” as a weapon against feral cats/TNR.

So, once you’ve had a look for yourself, please share generously! Together, we can—in keeping with the mission of Vox Felina—improve the lives of feral cats through a more informed, conscientious discussion of feral cat issues in general, and TNR in particular.

Download PDF

False Confessions

Whether the latest iteration of reality TV— Animal Planet’s Confessions: Animal Hoarding—is more education, entertainment, or exploitation is a matter of debate. But it’s a safe bet that by streaming “an unflinchingly honest look at a human condition that affects people and animals” into living rooms across the country, a problem too rarely acknowledged (not to mention taken seriously) is now receiving unprecedented attention.

Even if I were a cable subscriber, though, I don’t think I’d be tuning in. Although I was nowhere near the “front lines” of the Great Kitty Rescue, I’ve seen and heard plenty where animal hoarding is concerned. But in reading about Confessions, I was reminded of some remarks included in a comment published earlier this year in Conservation Biology. There, Christopher Lepczyk, Nico Dauphiné, David M. Bird, Sheila Conant, Robert J. Cooper, David C. Duffy, Pamela Jo Hatley, Peter P. Marra, Elizabeth Stone, and Stanley A. Temple compared TNR to animal hoarding:

“The animal welfare community opposes ‘cat hoarding,’ whereby people care for more pets than they can adequately support, because it is considered inhumane. Trap-neuter-return is essentially cat hoarding without walls. Considering that most communities have laws banning animal hoarding, we should consider the same standard for outdoor cats as those that are in a person’s home.” [1]

This strikes me as almost desperate—the latest volley in the kitchen-sink/something-for-everybody approach taken by some TNR opponents. Nevertheless, the analogy—however incongruous—is not new. In 2004, David Jessup made essentially the same comparison:

“Some people are compelled to own and care for excessive numbers of cats. This psychological illness is referred to as ‘collectors psychosis.’ How is the person who must save 25 to 30 cats in their home different from the person who sees themselves [sic] as the savior of 25 to 30 cats in a park? Some ‘cat people’ may be ‘collectors,’ and it is possible that TNR is enabling and supporting some people who need psychologic counseling and assistance.” [2]

Jessup doesn’t burden himself or his audience with even the slightest support for his assertions; his claims are as much conjecture as anything else, his question largely rhetorical. Five years later, Dauphiné and Cooper revisited Jessup’s query, but—despite a handful of references—do no better in terms of its resolution:

“In many cases, the characteristics and behavior of people involved in TNR are suggestive of the psychiatric disorders described in problematic animal hoarding [3]. When presented with alternatives to TNR, such as enclosed sanctuaries, no-kill shelters, and traditional animal control, many such people can be “fiercely protective, retaliatory, and uncooperative,” [4] and will subject public officials and other citizens opposing TNR to harassment and threats [5, 6].” [7]

Animal Hoarding
Dauphiné and Cooper’s argument presupposes that enough is known both about “people involved in TNR” and “the psychiatric disorders described in problematic animal hoarding” for a valid comparison to be made. In fact, very little is known about either one. Randy Frost, whose 2000 article the authors cite, begins by noting, “almost no psychiatric literature exists on this topic.” [3] A year earlier, Gary Patronek (a collaborator of Frost’s, whose work Frost cites throughout his paper) observed: “Unlike the hoarding of inanimate objects, which may be linked with a variety of psychiatric conditions, animal hoarding has not yet been linked with any specific disorder.” [8]

Nevertheless, both Patronek and Frost describe—based on some of the earliest research on the subject—some common characteristics of, and explanatory models for animal hoarding. And provide this definition:

“someone who accumulates a large number of animals; fails to provide minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation and veterinary care; and fails to act on the deteriorating condition of the animals (including disease, starvation and even death) or the environment (severe overcrowding, extremely unsanitary conditions), or the negative effect of the collection on their own health and well-being and on that of other household members.” [8]

This seems to have been the framework for the definition adopted by the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (with which Patronek and Frost were involved), which places greater emphasis on two key elements: denial, and accumulation and control:

  • Having more than the typical number of companion animals;
  • Failing to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in illness and death from starvation, spread of infectious disease, and untreated injury or medical condition;
  • Denial of the inability to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household, and human occupants of the dwelling;
  • Persistence, despite this failure, in accumulating and controlling animals.

“Saving” 25 or 30 cats, then—whether in one’s home or in the park—does not constitute animal hoarding. As Patronek pointed out during a recent interview on NPR’s Radio Times, “numbers alone don’t define hoarding… you’ve got to have these functional deficits and denial, in combination with the numbers.”

Opponents of TNR (and of free-roaming cats in general) will likely seize upon that second point, arguing that feral cat colonies—by definition—lack adequate care. But the very fact that these cats are part of a TNR program means they’ve been evaluated by veterinary professionals, requiring a concerted effort—sometimes bordering on the heroic—on the part of the trappers and caregivers involved. Some programs perform vaccinations (that this is not standard practice, is, admittedly, a controversial issue); at a minimum, cats deemed too sick to be returned are euthanized.

A 1999 survey of survey of “101 individuals or couples who cared for 132 colonies of free-roaming cats in north central Florida” illustrates the importance caregivers place on health:

“More than a third of the caretakers reported that they had provided some kind of veterinary care (not including being neutered at the TNR clinic) for the cats in the past or would provide veterinary care if it was necessary in the future. This type of care included booster vaccinations, parasite control, antibiotic treatment, ear medication, veterinary examinations, and emergency treatment.” [9]

In addition, 96% provided food, and 75% provided shelter. It’s important to note, too, that these numbers are conservative relative to the care received by the cats, in that (1) some caregivers were responsible for multiple cats, and (2) respondents to the survey were not necessarily the individuals who provided food, shelter, and so forth.

Such findings are certainly consistent with my own experience. The TNR networks I’m tapped into (mostly by way of e-mail or online bulletin boards) are typically buzzing with requests from, and recommendations to, caregivers committed to maintaining and improving the health of feral cat colonies.

On the other hand, it’s not clear from Dauphiné and Cooper’s paper that their reference to animal hoarding has anything to do with the behavior’s defining characteristics at all. More than anything else, the authors seem to be suggesting that resistance to TNR “alternatives” constitutes some psychiatric disorder—a possible reference to animal hoarders’ “reluctance to remove any animals, even when adequate homes were available.” [3]

Alternatives to TNR
Respectable sanctuaries, as I’ve already discussed, are few and far between, and typically at operating at capacity. In any case, such environments are not in the best interest of unsocialized cats. No-kill shelters, too, are scarce, and—recognizing realities Dauphiné and Cooper (and veterinarian Christine Storts, whose letter they cite) overlook or ignore—generally endorse TNR as their feral cat management approach. [10]

And as for “traditional animal control,” that’s nothing more than a rather cowardly euphemism for trap-and-kill.

What about the harassment and threats? Here, Dauphiné and Cooper cite Paul Barrows’ 2004 article “Professional, Ethical, and Legal Dilemmas of Trap-Neuter-Release,” and Pamela Jo Hatley’s 2004 paper, “Will Feral Cats Silence Spring in Your Town?” “During the past several years,” writes Barrows:

“as debate regarding abandoned and feral cats has become more heated, concerns have emerged regarding the extent to which some activists will go to promote their cause. Those supporting trap and removal of abandoned and feral cats, rather than TNR, have reported verbal abuse, personal threats, disruption of public forums, and interference with the conduction of their businesses.” [5]

Dauphiné and Cooper buy into Barrows’ account without bothering to check out his source (actually, these two make a shameful habit of such shortcuts throughout their paper, thereby raising questions about their numerous assertions, and, more problematically, their capabilities and integrity as researchers). In fact, Barrows cites a 2002 Wall Street Journal story in which exactly one of “those supporting trap and removal”—Frank Spiecker, of Garden State Pest Management—was interviewed:

“…property managers, fearing health complaints or lawsuits, hire Mr. Spiecker to trap and remove stray cats… Cat jobs have gotten him screamed at, threatened and jostled. His truck has been jumped on and pounded, his traps run over, and his trapped cats freed… To cat lovers, he abets feline mass murder, since most of the cats he traps end up dead.” [11]

All of which seems remarkably flimsy for describing and condemning—as Dauphiné and Cooper do—the behaviors of “many such people.” Until it’s compared to the even flimsier “evidence” provided by Hatley:

“Many citizens and public officials have voiced concerns about the public health issues and wildlife issues involved in hoarding large numbers of cats in the wild. Some who have resisted the extreme efforts by proponents of TNR and cat colonies have been subjected to verbal abuse and threats.” [6]

Dodgy research practices aside, the notion that one’s preference for TNR over “enclosed sanctuaries, no-kill shelters, and traditional animal control” is indicative of some psychiatric disorder remains a mighty hard sell. Dauphiné and Cooper’s so-called alternatives are simply not—in a very literal sense—viable options.

*     *     *

To compare TNR to animal hoarding betrays either a profound lack of knowledge about either one, or a desperate attempt to taint the former by association with the latter. I suspect that, like the most despicable political strategists, Jessup, Dauphiné and Cooper, and Lepczyk et al., threw it out there just to see if it would stick—the connection they’re attempting to make certainly has nothing to do with science.

I’ve a friend who jokes that the only thing feral cats aren’t being blamed for these days is climate change. Well, not yet, anyhow.

Literature Cited
1. Lepczyk, C.A., et al., “What Conservation Biologists Can Do to Counter Trap-Neuter-Return: Response to Longcore et al.” Conservation Biology. 2010. 24(2): p. 627-629.

2. Jessup, D.A., “The welfare of feral cats and wildlife.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2004. 225(9): p. 1377-1383.

3. Frost, R., “People Who Hoard Animals.” Psychiatric Times. 2000. 17(4).

4. Storts, C.M., “Discussion on TNR programs continue (letter).” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2003. 222: p. 711–712.

5. Barrows, P.L., “Professional, ethical, and legal dilemmas of trap-neuter-release.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2004. 225(9): p. 1365-1369.

6. Hatley, P.J. (2004) Will Feral Cats Silence Spring in Your Town? Accessed August 8, 2010.

7. Dauphiné, N. and Cooper, R.J., Impacts of Free-ranging Domestic Cats (Felis catus) on birds in the United States: A review of recent research with conservation and management recommendations, in Fourth International Partners in Flight Conference: Tundra to Tropics. 2009. p. 205–219.

8. Patronek, G.J., “Hoarding of animals: An under-recognized public health problem in a difficult-to-study population.” Public Health Reports. 1999. 114(1): p. 81–87.

9. Centonze, L.A. and Levy, J.K., “Characteristics of free-roaming cats and their caretakers.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2002. 220(11): p. 1627-1633.

10. Winograd, N.J., Redemption: The myth of pet overpopulation and the no kill revolution in America. 2007: Almaden Books.

11. Sterba, J.P., Tooth and Claw: Kill Kitty?, in Wall Street Journal. 2002: New York. p. A.1

A Critical Assessment of “Critical Assessment”—Part 3

The third in a series of posts that breaks down my critique of the essay “Critical Assessment of Claims Regarding Management of Feral Cats by Trap-Neuter-Return” (Conservation Biology, Volume 23, No. 4, 887–894) by Travis Longcore, Catherine Rich, and Lauren M. Sullivan.

As I’ve suggested previously, much of the “evidence” that Longcore et al. cite regarding cat predation is rather weak. The links between predation and declining wildlife populations (especially birds) are, not surprisingly, no better. According to Longcore et al., “Comparative field studies and population measurements illustrate the adverse effects of feral and free roaming cats on birds and other wildlife.” Let’s take a closer look at some of these studies…

In canyons in San Diego native bird diversity declined significantly with density of domestic cats (Crooks & Soulé 1999). —Longcore et al.

  • Longcore fail to mention the density of people here—the study site was a “moderately sized fragment (~20 ha) [approximately 49 acres] bordered by 100 residences.” [1]
  • It’s also not clear how sites such as this one, which the authors describe as, “undeveloped steep-sided canyons… habitat islands in an urban sea,” correspond to the environment overall. Don’t forget: when Longcore and the Urban Wildlands Group sued the City of Los Angeles last year, it was to put a stop to publicly supported TNR throughout the city.

In a comparative study in Alameda County, California, a site with a colony of feral cats had significantly fewer resident birds, fewer migrant birds, and fewer breeding birds than a control site without cats (Hawkins 1998). Ground-foraging species, notably California Quail (Calipepla californica) and California Thrashers (Toxostoma redivivum), were present at the control site but never observed at the site with cats. Native rodent density was drastically reduced at the site with cats, whereas exotic house mice (Mus musculus) were more common (Hawkins 1998). —Longcore et al.

Hawkins’ dissertation [2] is so problematic—and cited frequently enough as “evidence” of the impact of cats on wildlife—that it warrants a post of its own. Here, I’ll touch on just a few issues.

  • Hawkins describes the “cat” and “no-cat” sites as being similar enough that a valid A-B comparison is appropriate. But a closer look at the study suggests otherwise. Much of the cat site bordered the park’s lake and marina, not far from a number of picnic sites. Hawkins notes that there were more people in the cat area, but doesn’t even admit to the possibility that their presence may have influenced the numbers of birds and rodents he observed there.
  • In addition, the presence of pesticides may have played a role. According to a 2002 report (the earliest I was able to find) from the East Bay Regional Park District, “The focus of Lake Chabot’s weed control efforts are vegetation reduction within the two-acre overflow parking lot, picnic sites and firebreaks around park buildings, corp. yard, service yard, and the Lake Chabot classroom.” [3] Now, Hawkins’ fieldwork was done in 1995 and 1996, but if there was any pesticide use going on during the study period, it may have affected the results—especially if the pesticide was distributed differently across the two sites.
  • Hawkins writes, “The preference of ground feeding birds for the no-cat treatment was striking; for example, California quail were seen almost daily in the no-cat area, whereas they were never seen in the cat area.” What’s more striking to me, though, is the fact that five of the nine ground-feeding species included in the study showed no preference for the cat or no-cat area—a point Hawkins downplays, and Longcore et al. ignore entirely.
  • Finally, it’s not clear how this study constitutes an experiment at all. Hawkins chose two sites, one where cats were being fed, and another (approximately two miles away) where cats were not being fed. We have no idea what the cat area was actually like prior to the cats being fed there—Hawkins merely assumes the populations of birds and rodents would have been identical to those found at the no-cat site. We also have no idea what effect the feeding had—what if the cats were present but had to fend for themselves? And we don’t know if the cats were sterilized, or what impact that might have had on the study. In other words, Hawkins doesn’t actually know enough about what’s going on at the two sites to conclude, as he does, that “it is not prudent to manage for wildlife and allow cat feeding in the same parks.”

In Bristol, United Kingdom Baker et al. (2005) calculated that the predation rates by cats on 3 bird species in an urban area is high relative to annual productivity, which led the authors to suggest that the area under study may be a habitat sink. —Longcore et al.

  • Also, Longcore et al. fail to mention that Baker et al. concede an important point: “collectively, despite [cats] occurring at very high densities, the summed effects on prey populations appeared unlikely to affect population size for the majority of prey species.”
  • In addition, a subsequent study (also conducted in Bristol) involving two of the authors, suggests that much of the predation observed was compensatory rather than additive. That is, many of these birds would have, for one reason or another, died anyhow, whether the cats were present or not. Specifically, the authors found that “birds killed by cats in this study had significantly lower fat and pectoral muscle mass scores than those killed by collisions.” [6] Baker at al. are cautious about these findings, suggesting, “the distinction between compensatory and additive mortality does… become increasingly redundant as the number of birds killed in a given area increases: where large numbers of prey are killed, predators would probably be killing a combination of individuals with poor and good long-term survival chances.” But once again, their estimates of birds killed by cats are inflated by a factor of 3.3, as described above—thereby raising doubts about any level of “redundancy.”
  • Another study to investigate compensatory vs. additive predation was more conclusive. Møller and Erritzøe compared the average spleen mass of birds killed by cats to that of birds killed in collisions with windows found that, “small passerine birds falling prey to cats had spleens that were significantly smaller than those of conspecifics that died for other reasons,” concluding that the birds killed by cats “often have a poor health status.” [7] In other words, the birds killed by cats were among the population least likely to survive anyhow.

Clearly, this is a complex—not to mention contentious—issue. But Longcore et al. make it out to be remarkably straightforward. The “adverse effects of feral and free roaming cats on birds and other wildlife,” they seem to suggest, are widely accepted common knowledge.

*     *     *

Then, too, there are those—and there are many—who have disputed the broad-brush claims about the impact of cat predation on wildlife. Consider, for example, the following studies:

  • Biologist C.J. Mead, reviewing the deaths of “ringed” (banded) birds reported by the public, suggests that cats may be responsible for 6.2–31.3% of bird deaths. “Overall,” writes Mead, “it is clear that cat predation is a significant cause of death for most of the species examined.” But the relationship between bird deaths and population declines is complex. In fact, Mead concludes that “there is no clear evidence of cats threatening to harm the overall population level of any particular species… Indeed, cats have been kept as pets for many years and hundreds of generations of birds breeding in suburban and rural areas have had to contend with their predatory intentions.” [8]
  • Mike Fitzgerald and Dennis Turner come to essentially the same conclusion. (Their contribution to The Domestic Cat: The Biology of its Behaviour is a must-read for anybody interested in the subject.) “We consider that we do not have enough information yet to attempt to estimate on average how many birds a cat kills each year,” write Fitzgerald and Turner. “And there are few, if any studies apart from island ones that actually demonstrate that cats have reduced bird populations.” [9]
  • Martin, Twigg, and Robinson conclude more broadly, “it is not possible to make any inferences concerning the real impact of feral cats on prey populations from dietary studies.” [10]

Given the scope of their essay, perhaps it’s understandable that Longcore et al. were unable to cover each aspect of this rather broad topic in a comprehensive manner. Nevertheless, the amount of research into cat predation and declining bird populations—a critical piece of the puzzle, to be sure—that was omitted, glossed over, and/or misrepresented suggests a clear agenda. Read carefully, their essay comes across as not as scientific discourse, but as fodder for a marketing campaign. (And, given the number of wildlife conservation/bird advocacy groups that have posted it on their websites—not to mention the L.A. Superior court decision—it’s been effective.)

*     *     *

Many proponents of TNR will acknowledge that the practice is not appropriate for all environments. Crooks and Soulé’s work in San Diego’s canyon country (cited previously), writes Ellen Perry Berkeley, “suggests to even the most ardent TNR advocate that such a landscape might not be the best place for TNR… The world is a complicated place.” [11] Gary J. Patronek, the former Director of the Center for Animals and Public Policy at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, and one of the founders of the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium, goes further: “the release of cats into an environment where they would impact endangered or threatened species, or even into wildlife preserves or refuges, is inexcusable.” [12]

This, I worry, is a slippery slope. Given the current nature of the cat debate, how long would it be before every alley, Dumpster, and abandoned property is deemed a wildlife preserve? And, given the number of endangered and threatened species—and their wide range—would there be any environment left for cats? Nevertheless, Patronek’s larger point is an important one:

I do not believe that this is being advocated by cat protectors who see urban, managed colonies as an imperfect but still preferable alternative to the euthanasia of healthy animals. Abandoned pet cats whose own habitat has been reduced to colonies, and the wild species endangered by clear-cutting or beachfront development, are casualties of the same callous disregard for the lives of animals. I see little justification for shifting the role of cats to that of scapegoat.

For Longcore and the Urban Wildlands Group (and others, too, of course), though, there’s simply no place for TNR anywhere. But there’s something even more troubling with their argument: they’re asking the wrong questions. As Patronek puts it so eloquently:

If the real objection to managed colonies is that it is unethical to put cats in a situation where they could potentially kill any wild creature, then the ethical issue should be debated on its own merits without burdening the discussion with highly speculative numerical estimates for either wildlife mortality or cat predation. Whittling down guesses or extrapolations from limited observations by a factor of 10 or even 100 does not make these estimates any more credible, and the fact that they are the best available data is not sufficient to justify their use when the consequence may be extermination for cats… What I find inconsistent in an otherwise scientific debate about biodiversity is how indictment of cats has been pursued almost in spite of the evidence, and without regard to the differential effects of cats in carefully selected, managed colonies, versus that of free-roaming pets, owned farm cats, or truly feral animals. Assessment of well-being for any is an imprecise and contentious process at best. Additional research is clearly needed concerning the welfare of these cats.

In a future post, I’ll get into the ways Longcore et al. would have us measure the success of TNR.

1. Crooks, K.R. and Soule, M.E., “Mesopredator release and avifaunal extinctions in a fragmented system.” Nature. 1999. 400(6744): p. 563.

2. Hawkins, C.C., Impact of a subsidized exotic predator on native biota: Effect of house cats (Felis catus) on California birds and rodents. 1998, Texas A&M University.

3. Brownfield, N.T., 2002 Annual Analysis of Pesticide Use East Bay Regional Park District. 2003, East Bay Regional Park District.

4. Baker, P.J., et al., “Impact of predation by domestic cats Felis catus in an urban area.” Mammal Review. 2005. 35(3/4): p. 302-312.

5. Kays, R.W. and DeWan, A.A., “Ecological impact of inside/outside house cats around a suburban nature preserve.” Animal Conservation. 2004. 7(3): p. 273-283.

6. Baker, P.J., et al., “Cats about town: is predation by free-ranging pet cats Felis catus likely to affect urban bird populations? Ibis. 2008. 150: p. 86-99.

7. Møller, A.P. and Erritzøe, J., “Predation against birds with low immunocompetence.” Oecologia. 2000. 122(4): p. 500-504.

8. Mead, C.J., “Ringed birds killed by cats.” Mammal Review. 1982. 12(4): p. 183-186.

9. Fitzgerald, B.M. and Turner, D.C., Hunting Behaviour of domestic cats and their impact on prey populations, in The Domestic Cat: The biology of its behaviour, D.C. Turner and P.P.G. Bateson, Editors. 2000, Cambridge University Press. p. 151–175.

10. Martin, G.R., Twigg, L.E., and Robinson, D.J., “Comparison of the Diet of Feral Cats From Rural and Pastoral Western Australia.” Wildlife Research. 1996. 23(4): p. 475-484.

11. Berkeley, E.P., TNR Past present and future: A history of the trap-neuter-return movement. 2004, Bethesda, MD: Alley Cat Allies.

12. Patronek, G.J., “Letter to Editor.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 1996. 209(10): p. 1686–1687.

Barrier-free Blog?

As I’ve suggested elsewhere, I don’t claim to have all the answers to the numerous complex questions raised in the feral cat/TNR debate. But I’m very interested in asking better questions—the sort of questions that might stimulate a more conscientious debate of this important issue. Vox Felina, I hope, will help me do that—and, who knows, perhaps arrive at some answers too.

So, now that I’m getting started, I keep coming back to the words of Gary J. Patronek, the former Director of the Center for Animals and Public Policy at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, and one of the founders of the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium. My copy of Patronek’s 1998 article, “Free-roaming and feral cats—their impact on wildlife and human beings,” published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association (JAVMA), is becoming rather shabby, as I continue making notes in the margins and covering it with a rainbow assortment of highlighter.

Patronek begins his final section, “Conclusions and Possible Solutions,” with this:

It is unfortunate that the debate about free-roaming cats is often framed as pro-cat and anti-wildlife, or vice-versa. This attitude polarizes groups and individuals who otherwise have common concerns about animals and the environment, and is a barrier to developing effective public policy.

Let me be clear: though I am certainly in the “pro-cat” camp, I am not at all “anti-wildlife.” I’m far more interested in finding common ground than I am in further polarizing the parties involved. That said, I will not stand idly by while opponents of feral/free-roaming cats—and TNR in particular—mishandle, misconstrue, and misrepresent the research for PR purposes.

The “effective public policy” Patronek refers to is needed more urgently than ever. But to get there—to really tackle this incredibly complex issue—we first need to untangle some of what’s being said. This is precisely what I intend to do with Vox Felina. As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis put it so eloquently, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”