They Tried to Make Me Go to Rehab

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?

Apparently so.

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

Operation Catnip Launches National Training Program

Although no TNR effort can be successful without the ongoing commitment of veterinary professionals, this is especially true of high-volume clinics, where 100 surgeries per day is not unusual. This specialized work requires training well beyond what’s taught in a typical veterinary medicine program.

Soon, however, such training will be more accessible than ever before—as Operation Catnip, one of the most respected TNR programs in the country, makes their training program and materials available to veterinarians, veterinary students, and veterinary technicians nationwide.

According to a press release issued Tuesday, all of this was made possible because of an educational grant from PetSmart Charities, Inc.

“Our vision is to train an army of veterinarians to spay and neuter America’s community cats,” said Julie Levy, Operation Catnip founder and director of the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.

“This approach, along with vaccination, will allow us to reduce cat population, control infectious diseases, and improve the lives of the cats.”

Since the project was launched in 1998, the Operation Catnip staff and volunteers have cared for more than 45,000 cats (nearly 2,700 last year alone), and established themselves as leaders—not just as practitioners, but as teachers and mentors (and game-changers).

In other words, just the sort of team we need to scale up TNR efforts across the country.

To learn more about Operation Catnip, or to sign up for one of their upcoming training sessions, visit their website.

Recent Research Demonstrates the Effectiveness of TNR


Sophisticated population modeling provides theory to explain a wealth of empirical evidence.

For those of us who have watched colonies of sterilized cats decrease in size over time, the findings of recent population modeling work will hardly come as a surprise. Still, the publication of “Simulating Free-Roaming Cat Population Management Options in Open Demographic Environments” must be recognized as an enormously important contribution to the body of literature concerned with the management of unowned free-roaming cats in general, and TNR in particular. Read more

11 Signs of the American Bird Conservancy’s Desperate Struggle for Relevance

As most readers are undoubtedly aware, today is National Feral Cat Day. And at the risk of stating the obvious: NFCD has clearly become, to borrow a trendy phrase from social media, “a thing.” Now in its 14th year, there are hundreds of events going on around the country to mark the occasion.

All of which must be terribly frustrating for TNR-deniers. Thus, their increasingly desperate attempts to oppose, any way they can, TNR and community cat programs.

Witness, for example, Cats, Birds, and People: The Consequences of Outdoor Cats and the Need for Effective Management (PDF), a presentation by Grant Sizemore—who may or may not be the American Bird Conservancy’s Director of Invasive Species Programs. (As we’ll see shortly, it’s surprisingly complicated.)

It’s not clear exactly who these 33 slides are intended to help. After all, to anybody even remotely familiar with the issue, it’s immediately apparent that Sizemore’s claims—the “consequences” mentioned in the presentation’s title—are flimsy at best.

Equally apparent: Sizemore and ABC are not—though ABC’s been on this witch-hunt for 17 years now—about to provide any solutions.

Not only is the presentation available on ABC’s website, Sizemore’s now taking the show on the road. Last month, for example, he was in Ellenton, Florida, as part of a Coyotes and Feral Cats forum, hosted by the Suncoast Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area.

No doubt, most readers will miss such opportunities. Here, then, are 11 of the presentation’s “highlights”—my humble gift on National Feral Cat Day 2014. Read more

Say Anything

Considering I’ve never donated one cent to the American Bird Conservancy, the organization has been very generous to me—at least in terms of blog content, courtesy of the various misrepresentations, red herrings, and outright lies used to rationalize and promote their ongoing witch-hunt against outdoor cats.

The latest example (there are so many, it’s all I can do to keep up anymore) was actually brought to my attention (unintentionally) by an organization using (without acknowledging the fact) ABC’s standard talking points. “One long-term TNR study,” it was explained in a letter to elected officials, “concluded that TNR was a waste of ‘money, time, and energy.’”

As the accompanying citation indicated, the quote was taken from a 2006 paper published in Preventive Veterinary Medicine. It was also taken, I knew, out of context. Read more

Canine Citizens and Community Cats

You know what they say about judging a book by its cover. Well, don’t be fooled by the title of Citizen Canine—as its subtitle indicates, this book is about “our evolving relationship” with both dogs and cats. Using a combination of rigorous research and on-the-ground reporting, author (and online news editor of Science) David Grimm traces the journey of cats and dogs from domestication (such as it is, in the case of cats) through beloved family pet and into the present-day movement toward personhood.

All of which makes for very compelling reading, even for those of us who work in animal welfare and are therefore familiar with most of the material. For other readers—and I hope there are many—Citizen Canine will likely be their introduction to contemporary hot-button animal welfare issues such as breed-discriminatory laws and TNR. And even the “insiders” among us might be surprised to learn, for example, of dogs with attorneys and the details of the Uniform Trust Code, which allows people (in some states) to include their pets (and perhaps their colony cats, too—I don’t know) in their wills.

Plenty of good stuff for all of us, in other words.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like David’s book tour will make it to Phoenix (and I missed him in L.A. last month!). I was, however, lucky enough to get a few minutes with him recently via e-mail, and asked him a few questions about his book. Read more

American Bird Conservancy “Encouraged By” Government Overreach

From a member message sent last week by the American Bird Conservancy:

We were encouraged by [the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s] recent statement from an FWS field office on free-roaming cats, a thoughtful and science-based letter to Escambia County, Florida. The letter expressed strong opposition to free-roaming cats within the U.S. ‘due to the adverse impacts of these non-native predators on federally listed threatened and endangered species, migratory birds, and other vulnerable native wildlife.’ It also opposed trap-neuter-release (TNR) programs that maintain feral cats in outdoor colonies.

Trouble is, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has no official position on free-roaming cats. Yet here’s this letter (PDF) written by USFWS staff, on official letterhead, explaining that the “agency strongly opposes free-roaming, domestic or feral cats in the U.S.,” and hinting that there may be legal repercussions if the county were to implement a TNR program. Which is why Best Friends Animal Society (my employer since May 2013) called out USFWS publicly, first with a national action alert and then with a blog post.

As I’ve pointed out previously, USFWS has been back and forth on this for some time now, acting (when it suits their purposes) as if they do have a policy regarding free-roaming cats, and then backpedaling when they’re called on the carpet.

So why not just issue an official policy and proceed accordingly?

Because these things typically require a degree of transparency with which USFWS is apparently uncomfortable, as well as considerable public input (e.g., notification and a commenting period). This, then, is what ABC is endorsing: inappropriate action from a federal agency clearly contradicting its own official statements and violating the public’s trust.

Not that this is anything new, of course. It was just a year ago that ABC was publicly endorsing similar behavior from—and a similarly too-cozy relationship with—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dare we ask—which government agency will ne next?

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. Read more

PETA Threatens Florida’s Community Cat Act

Less than two weeks after the “Community Cat Act” received unanimous approval from Florida’s House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee, the bill (SB 1320) is scheduled to be heard and voted on by the Senate’s Agriculture Committee Monday afternoon.

As I reported in my previous post, the Florida Veterinary Medical Association came out in opposition to the proposed legislation last week, their “concerns” (PDF) a mix of misinformation and scaremongering (similar to the various complaints made by Audubon Florida when HB 1121 was before the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee).

On Friday, I received word of another longtime TNR opponent stepping into the fray—and this one might surprise some readers: PETA. Read more

Audubon Editor Suspended “Pending Further Review”

It’s been a turbulent few days for Ted Williams. First, the editors at the Orlando Sentinel—who, it seems clear, were previously asleep at the switch—revised his op-ed, pulling the comment about Tylenol and changing his affiliation from “editor-at-large for Audubon magazine” to “independent column[ist] for Audubon magazine.” They also added a disclaimer: “His views do not necessarily reflect those of the National Audubon Society.”

As of Saturday morning, Williams was more independent than ever.

That’s when the National Audubon Society announced via Facebook that the organization “suspended its contract with Mr. Williams and will remove him as ‘Editor at Large’ from the masthead pending further review.” This comes in the wake of his inflammatory op-ed in Thursday’s Orlando Sentinel in which Williams suggested that acetaminophen poisoning was one of “two effective, humane alternatives to the cat hell of TNR.”

And although Williams will likely blame his dismissal (assuming Audubon won’t just wait until the smoke clears and then quietly bring him back on board) on the “feral-cat mafia,” as he describes us in one of his online comments to the story, the fact is he’s got nobody to blame but himself. Read more

Audubon Editor Suggests Poisoning Feral Cats

Armed with the recently published “killer cat study” from the Smithsonian Biological Conservation Institute and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, TNR opponents are calling for increasingly extreme measures.

Travis Longcore was among the first, telling KCET reporter Judy Muller that “managing and controlling unowned, free-roaming cats will require euthanasia. There are not enough shelter spaces, there is not enough sanctuary space. And we have to stand up and be honest. But the thing is something is going to die in this equation.” Witch-hunt pioneer Stanley Temple chimed in a few days later with an op-ed piece in the Orlando Sentinel in which he referred to the work of Scott Loss, Tom Will, and Peter Marra as “a new study [that] for the first time provides a science-based estimate of the number of birds and mammals killed by cats nationwide.”

A week-and-a-half later came another op-ed, this one in the Baltimore Sun and penned by American Bird Conservancy president George Fenwick, who, like Temple, endorsed the Smithsonian/USFWS paper as valid science rather than the PR scam it truly is. “Local governments need to act swiftly and decisively to gather the 30 million to 80 million unowned cats,” argued Fenwick, “aggressively seek adoptions, and establish sanctuaries for or euthanize those cats that are not adoptable.”

All of which pales in comparison to the rhetoric unleashed by Audubon magazine’s editor-at-large, Ted Williams, in his own op-ed, published in today’s Orlando Sentinel. Read more

The Outdoor Cat Conference: Wrap-Up

Putting on any conference is a tremendous undertaking. But the challenges involved in pulling together The Outdoor Cat: Science and Policy from a Global Perspective went far beyond the logistics of wrangling 20-some speakers and 150 or so attendees. For starters, there was deciding who should (and should not) be invited to present. (More on that shortly.) And then there’s the fact that, no matter what happens, you’re bound to be criticized.

There’s simply no way to get something like this completely right, no matter who’s in charge or how much planning goes into it.

And so, I give a lot of credit to the people involved—who knew all of this, and did it anyhow. Those I know of (and I’m sure to be leaving out many others, for which I apologize) include John Hadidian, Andrew Rowan, Nancy Peterson, Katie Lisnik, and Carol England from the Humane Society of the United States; and Aimee Gilbreath and Estelle Weber of FoundAnimals. Many of you told me, very modestly, that this conference was “a start.”

Fair enough, but it’s a very important one. Five or 10 years from now, we might look back and call it a milestone.

Here, then, are some snapshots of the various presentations (in the order in which the they were given). Read more

War on Nature, War on Cats

In Nature Wars, to be released next week, award-winning journalist Jim Sterba argues that it’s time for Americans to reconnect with nature—and what better incentive than a massive lethal control campaign against any number of plants and animals, including feral cats? His book reflects attitudes that are out of step with contemporary culture, and a rationale that’s not supported by the science. As the song says: War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothin’…

“People have very different ideas regarding what to do, if anything, about the wild creatures in their midst,” writes Jim Sterba in his new book Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards Into Battlegrounds, “even when they are causing problems.”

“Enjoy them? Adjust to them? Move them? Remove them? Relations between people and wildlife have never been more confused, complicated, or conflicted.” [1]

Agreed. And I largely agree with Sterba’s diagnosis: “Americans have become denatured.”

“That is to say, they have forgotten the skills their ancestors acquired to manage an often unruly natural world around them, and they have largely withdrawn from direct contact with that world by spending most of their time indoors, substituting a great deal of real nature with reel nature—edited, packaged, digitized, and piped in electronically.” [1]

So what’s the solution? Here, Sterba and I part company. Read more

Veterinarians Oppose TNR in Polk County, FL

When officials in Polk County, Florida, contributed nearly $50,000 to SPCA Florida’s TNR program, they probably expected to take some heat. But maybe not from some of their local veterinarians. According to a story in Friday’s edition of The Ledger though, the “controversial stray cat program is drawing complaints from local veterinarians who question its effectiveness and the use of taxpayer dollars.” [1]

Sounds like some Polk County vets have been talking to their colleagues in neighboring Hillsborough County, where members of the Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation have launched a substantial anti-TNR campaign—apparently as a way to stifle competition from low-cost clinics. Read more

National Feral Cat Day: Traps on Sale!

National Feral Cat Day is just around the corner—October 16th. And to mark the occasion, Tomahawk Live Trap and Tru-Catch are offering special discounts.

For additional information, please check out Alley Cat Allies’ NFCD 2012 page.

HAHF-Truths, HAHF-Measures, Full Price (Part 5)

Complaining of the impacts of free-roaming cats on wildlife and the environment, along with a range of public health threats, dozens of veterinarians in Hillsborough County, Florida, have banded together to fight TNR. Evidence suggests, however, that their real concern has nothing to do with the community, native wildlife, or, indeed, with cats. What the Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation is most interested in protecting, it seems, is the business interests of its members.

In Part 5 of this five-part series, I discuss the apparent motives for HAHF’s recent campaign against TNR.

“All of the current issues have arisen from the No Kill movement that attempted to incorporate some radical changes to our county shelter without following the normal governmental process,” explained Don Thompson, executive director of HAHF, in a recent e-mail.

“A big part of the 11-point plan (point 1) is county-endorsed and -funded TNR—and initially, that was going to happen without public input. We objected, and the process is now being properly engaged… We are not in favor of county funded or supported TNR, for all the reasons listed on our page.”

Thompson is referring to a series of events following Nathan Winograd’s February visit to Tampa, including the establishment of a task force, a move Ian Hallett, director of Hillsborough County Animal Services, describes in an August 7th memo to “Animal Advisory Committee Members” and “Registered Voters of Hillsborough County”: Read more

Kitty Cams and PR Scams

In a joint media release, the American Bird Conservancy and The Wildlife Society team up to misrepresent the results of a recent predation study, decrying the “ongoing slaughter of wildlife by outdoor cats.” Meanwhile the University of Georgia researcher contradicts her previous position that “cats aren’t as bad as biologists thought.”

“To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful.”Edward R. Murrow

“‘KittyCam’ Reveals High Levels of Wildlife Being Killed by Outdoor Cats,” declares a media release issued today—a joint effort of the American Bird Conservancy and The Wildlife Society, and, to my knowledge, the first of its kind.

It’s difficult not to see this as an act of desperation—the PR-equivalent of an all-caps e-mail. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner, though, given all that ABC and TWS have in common. Their shared disdain for TNR, obviously, but also their utter disregard for science, scientific literacy, and the truth about the impacts of free-roaming cats. Two peas in a pod, as it were. (Irony: peas are, alas, not native to North America.)

And so, their joint media release is exactly what one would expect: heavy on errors, misrepresentations, and glaring omissions, and light on defensible claims. Read more

Prince George’s County, Maryland

“Bird lovers have just derailed a plan to save some alley cats from death at the hands of animal control,” writes Bruce Leshan in a WUSA-9 TV story that aired Tuesday. “When Prince George’s County Council woman Mary Lehman proposed to order animal control to release” TNR cats, “she ran into a storm of criticism at a council public hearing.” [1]

As Lehman pointed out, “This is not trail-blazing legislation. Fairfax County, Baltimore City, and Washington, DC, all have programs.”

So what’s the hold-up in Prince George’s County? Mostly the American Bird Conservancy, it seems.

“The American Bird Conservancy, which opposes ‘trap, neuter, and return,’ says what you are really doing is releasing predatory, ownerless cats back into the wild to kill again.” [1]

Presumably, ABC will be leading the charge when Lehman brings her bill up again in the fall, which she’s promised to do. Perhaps they can then explain to the Prince George’s County Council—and everybody else—the rationale for their position. Where’s the science to support the numerous claims they make to the media? Read more

Endangered In the Florida Keys: Journalism

The witch-hunt against free-roaming cats—promoted by USFWS and others—is doing nothing to protect the threatened and endangered species in the Keys (and elsewhere). Neither is the sloppy reporting that allows the agency to mislead policymakers and the general public.


Monday’s Tampa Bay Times reported that a captive breeding program aimed at saving the endangered Key Largo woodrat from extinction has been shut down.

“At first the breeding program seemed to be a big success. At Lowry Park and, later, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the endangered rats bred like, well, rats. But then the project ran into big problems, demonstrating why captive breeding is a tricky strategy that’s used only as a last resort, said Larry Williams, South Florida field supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife Service.” [1]

In fact, reporter Craig Pittman provides no evidence that the Key Largo woodrats were ever “breeding like rats.” Not even in the wild. Indeed, as he points out, “they… tend to be solitary. The males and females only get together when the female is ready to breed.” [1]

In any case, the population in the Keys—now limited to Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammocks Botanical State Park—continued, by all accounts, to decline. “Wildlife biologists,” writes Pittman, “didn’t have to look far for the reason.”

“Next to the parks is the Ocean Reef Club, a gated community that boasts some of South Florida’s wealthiest residents—as well as the state’s largest feral cat population. Ocean Reef’s homeowners spend thousands of dollars a year on a program that feeds and cares for the stray cats that wander the back alleys—and, according to biologists—occasionally gobble up endangered rats.” [1]

It’s true that biologists didn’t have to look far. “The primary threat to the Key Largo woodrat,” explains a 1999 USFWS report (which, admittedly, includes feral cats among the “other threats associated with human encroachment”), “is habitat loss and fragmentation caused by increasing urbanization.” [2]

But Pittman’s so busy trying to pin the Key Largo woodrat’s fate on the one-percenters that he fails (conveniently!) to mention that the Ocean Reef cats are also sterilized. Read more

Resort to Killing?

Last week, the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel and Loews Royal Pacific Resort reversed its position on TNR and on-site managed colonies, citing what the Orlando Sentinel calls “liability reasons.” According to the paper, Orange County Animal Control considered Loews’ past efforts a “model program”—exactly what one would expect from a chain of “18 distinctive luxury hotels and resorts” that’s gone out of its way to appeal to vacationing pet owners through its Loews Loves Pets program. (The Loews website mentions only their Woofie Weekends offer, but a 2009 Examiner.com article refers to “gourmet room service options like roasted salmon and tuna delight for cats.”)

Not surprisingly, Loews’ decision sparked an uproar among TNR supporters, and, indeed, cat lovers in general. (The comments—overwhelmingly in support of TNR—continue to pile up on the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel & Loews Royal Pacific Resort Facebook page.) On Friday, Jennifer Hodges, Director of Public Relations for Loews Hotels at Universal Orlando, issued the following statement:

“The cat colony remains unharmed and on property. We are working to find a solution that keeps the health and safety of our guests a priority while taking the most humane approach possible. Loews Hotels welcomes any viable suggestions. If you’d like to make a recommendation or can provide a safe sanctuary for these feral cats, please contact: input@loewshotels.com.”

A sanctuary? We’re still entertaining that fantasy? Clearly, the folks at Loews aren’t as well-informed as one would expect, given their previous support for TNR.

Hodges never replied to my e-mail and telephone inquiries requesting details about the alleged heath and safety risks. What’s changed recently to warrant this about-face? I’d also like to what Loews plans to do going forward, though I think that’s pretty clear: “relocate” (trap-and-kill apparently doesn’t do well in focus groups of affluent travelers) any cats found on the properties.

Something else that’s pretty clear: all the unwanted attention is making a difference. Hodges’ statement on Friday was itself a reversal from Loews’ position just a few days earlier, as posted via Facebook:

“Loews Hotels is a pet-friendly hotel brand and we support the humane treatment of animals. It is important to share the facts surrounding this issue. Feral cats at our Orlando hotels are being humanely trapped and taken to a local shelter…”

And the story continues to get traction, picked up by animal advocates (including Best Friends Animal Society, The Conscious Cat, and Bunny’s Blog) and others (see, for example, Flyer Talk and DIS). There’s even an online petition (2,657 signatures so far).

All of which puts Loews in a very awkward position. How does this “pet-friendly hotel brand” defend a position aligned with the mass killing of this nation’s most popular companion animal?

So far, Loews doesn’t have much of an answer.