Putting the “Nation” in FixNation

I’ve been a big fan of FixNation since contacting them, nearly a year ago, to clear up bogus allegations made in the Toronto Star by documentary filmmaker Maureen Palmer, who’d visited the clinic while filming Cat Crazed. The response I received was prompt and professional. And, it turns out, the beginning of an ongoing conversation.

Last month, while on a business trip to Los Angeles, I had the pleasure—finally—of seeing the FixNation operation for myself, beginning with their bimonthly Catnippers clinic, an all-volunteer community outreach/spay-neuter program now in its 12th year. A few days later, I toured the facility under “normal” conditions—meaning two veterinarians and seven staff sterilizing and vaccinating (and addressing a host of other health issues) 80­–90 cats each day (with an ease and efficiency that would put many manufacturing facilities to shame, to say nothing of our healthcare providers).

Since opening its doors in July 2007, FixNation has sterilized and vaccinated more than 60,000 cats (not including the 16,000 or so brought in through Catnippers), more than 85 percent of which were feral, stray, or abandoned—receiving services at no charge to their caretakers (owners of pet cats are charged a modest fee).

All of which would be impressive enough. But in L.A.—which has more or less become ground zero for the TNR debate since a January 2010 injunction put an end to City support of trap-neuter-return—what FixNation has accomplished is nothing short of heroic.

The Injunction
The original complaint—filed by the Urban Wildlands Group, Endangered Habitats League, Los Angeles Audubon Society, Palos Verdes/South Bay Audubon Society, Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society, and the American Bird Conservancy—was brought under the California Environmental Quality Act, with the plaintiffs arguing, for instance, that TNR “can cause significant adverse environmental impacts by causing proliferation of rats and raccoons and creating water pollution problems.”

(As for how the restriction—or elimination, as ABC has proposed—of TNR would benefit the wildlife these groups claim to protect is anybody’s guess, and a topic for another post.)

Under the provisions of the injunction (in its revised version, filed with the court in March 2010), the City, its Board of Animal Services Commissioners, and its Department of Animal Services are prohibited from “promoting TNR for feral cats and encouraging or assisting third parties to carry out a TNR program.”

City agencies are no longer allowed to:

  • “Assist or provide incentives for, or otherwise facilitate the capture, sterilization and release of feral cat;
  • Provide discounts or discount vouchers for spay or neuter surgeries for feral cats…
  • Release feral cats from shelters to TNR groups or individuals [if the cats will be placed into a colony].
  • Develop or distribute literature on the TNR program or conduct pubic outreach on TNR using press releases, fliers, or other media except in conjunction with the proposed [California Environmental Quality Act] process…
  • Knowingly referring complaints about feral cats to TNR groups or individuals who engage in TNR.” [1]

Nevertheless, TNR continues in L.A.—with many supporters more determined than ever. And I understand the City of Los Angeles is working (albeit far too slowly) to get the injunction lifted. Still, the loss of City-funded vouchers—which provided a substantial portion of overall revenue for many TNR programs—is taking its toll. According to founders Mark Dodge and Karn Myers, FixNation lost about $300,000 in annual revenue, more than 20 percent of its yearly budget.

The fact that they’ve been able to continue their community outreach and provide no-/low-cost spay/neuter services for the past couple of years is, as I say, truly heroic. But now, as Myers explains in a video released late last week, FixNation needs our help.

Today, We Are All Angelenos
Charity, it’s often said, begins at home. And I do what I can to support local TNR and low-cost spay/neuter programs. But the stakes are extraordinarily high in L.A.—in terms of lives saved or lost, but also in terms of the city’s symbolic value as a community committed to trap-neuter-return despite both the injunction and the faltering economy. Which is why I also support the organizations doing the heavy lifting there—among them, FixNation.

If you’re able to make a (tax-deductible) donation, I encourage you to do so. If not, please pass the word along to other TNR supporters.

Need a little more incentive? For the rest of the month, PetSmart Charities will match every “new donor” dollar up to $51,000. You can even turn your holiday shopping into a contribution: FixNation will receive 5 percent of December sales from Moderncat Studio, makers of beautifully designed cat toys, scratchers, and more.

Thank you.

Literature Cited
1. Urban Wildlands Group et al. vs. City of Los Angeles et al. (Case No. BS 115483). Stipulated Order Modifying Injunction. March 10, 2010. Los Angeles Superior Court.

(Animal) Wise Guy III

Thanks once again to Animal Wise Radio hosts Mike Fry and Beth Nelson for having me back on the show Sunday.

Among the topics we discussed were The Wildlife Society’s position statement on Animal Rights Philosophy and Wildlife Conservation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s upcoming Influencing Local Scale Feral Cat Trap-Neuter-Release Decisions workshop, and the recent case of a North St. Paul, MN, man charged with failing to license—and allowing to roam freely—the unowned neighborhood cats he was sterilizing. (Charges were dismissed Friday, though the defendant is facing something like $5,000 is legal expenses.)

If you missed it, you can check the complete show in podcast format. An MP3 file (10 MB) of our conversation (approximately 20 minutes) is available here.

Hutchins & Co.

The Wildlife Society’s final position statement on Animal Rights Philosophy and Wildlife Conservation pits wildlife conservationists against animal rights advocates, further hampering an already difficult debate about free-roaming cats and TNR.

Last week, The Wildlife Society released its final position statement on Animal Rights Philosophy and Wildlife Conservation (PDF), declaring “that the philosophy of animal rights is largely incompatible with science-based conservation and management of wildlife.”

“The Wildlife Society recognizes the intrinsic value of wildlife and its importance to humanity,” says Michael Hutchins, Executive Director/CEO of TWS. “We also view wildlife and people as interrelated parts of an ecological-cultural-economic whole. But we’re concerned that core beliefs underlying the animal rights philosophy contradict the principles of successful wildlife management and conservation in North America and worldwide.” Those beliefs (listed below) “promote false choices regarding potential human-wildlife relationships and false expectations for wildlife population management,” says Hutchins. “They also undermine decades of knowledge gained through scientific research on wildlife and their habitats.”

At its core, the animal rights philosophy hinges on beliefs that: (1) each individual animal should be afforded the same basic rights as humans, (2) every animal should live free from human-induced pain and suffering, (3) animals should not be used for any human purpose, and (4) every individual animal has equal status regardless of commonality or rarity, or whether the species is native, exotic, invasive, or feral.

Strict adherence to these beliefs would preclude many of the science-based management techniques that professional wildlife biologists use, such as aversive conditioning, the capture and marking of animals for research, or lethal control of over-abundant, invasive, or diseased animals. For example, a recent TWS position statement advocates for control of non-native feral swine to protect and conserve native plants and animals and their habitats and to protect human and domestic animal health, yet this goal would be jeopardized by animal rights philosophy.

Instead of focusing exclusively on the “rights” of individual animals, TWS supports a more holistic philosophy of animal welfare and conservation that focuses on the quality of life and sustainability of entire populations or species of animals and their habitats. This approach allows for the management of animal populations and the use of animals for food or other cultural purposes, as long as any loss of life is justified, sustainable, and achieved through humane methods.

In sum, TWS’ policy regarding animal rights philosophy is to:

1. Recognize that the philosophy of animal rights is largely incompatible with science-based conservation and management of wildlife.

2. Educate organizations and individuals about the need for scientific management of wildlife and habitats for the benefit of conservation and other purposes, and inform people about the problems that animal rights philosophy creates for the conservation of wildlife and habitats and for society as a whole.

3. Support an animal welfare philosophy, which holds that animals can be studied and managed through science-based methods and that human use of wildlife—including regulated, sustainable hunting, trapping, and lethal control for the benefit of populations, threatened or endangered species, habitats, and human society—is acceptable, provided that individual animals are treated ethically and humanely.

“There is a profound conflict between many tenets of animal rights philosophy and the animal welfare philosophy required for effective management and conservation,” says TWS President Tom Ryder. “Established principles and techniques of wildlife population management are deemed unacceptable by the animal rights viewpoint, but are absolutely essential for the management and conservation of healthy wildlife populations and ecosystems in a world dominated by human influences.”

Superior Ideas
Etienne Benson, a research scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, provided a remarkably detailed, thoughtful critique of TWS’s statement on his blog, calling TWS’s final position “no surprise,” but “a shame nonetheless.”

“The statement caricatures the animal rights movement and will make it harder for wildlife conservationists and animal protectionists, even many of those who are skeptical of rights-based reasoning, to find common ground.”

“When the leadership of the Wildlife Society asked its members to comment on a draft position statement on animal rights early this year,” writes Benson, “I had some hope that calmer and better-informed minds might improve what then seemed like an intemperate and ill-thought-out attack.”

(Benson, whose “research focuses on the intersection of science and politics in the practice of conservation,” provides readers with an informative, very readable introduction to the subject.)

While I lack Benson’s familiarity with the topic in general, and TWS’s position in particular, I, too, wasn’t surprised at last week’s news. Indeed, the language of the official TWS statement is nearly identical to what’s found in Hutchins’ own writings. In “The Limits of Compassion,” published in the Summer 2007 issue of TWS’s The Wildlife Professional, Hutchins warned of “serious and legitimate concerns regarding the use of compassion, sentimentalism, and animal rights to generate public concern for wildlife and, more specifically, about the possible implications for wildlife management and conservation policy.” [1]

In his 2008 letter to Conservation Biology, Hutchins argues, “Animal rights and conservation ethics are, in fact, incompatible, at the most fundamental level.” [2]

“It would be wonderful if we could all get along, but it is time to recognize that some ideas are superior to others because they clearly result in the ‘greatest good.’ As a conservationist, I reject animal rights philosophy. This unrealistic and highly reductionist view, which focuses exclusively on individual sentient animals, is not a good foundation for the future of life on our planet and does not recognize the interrelationships that exist among various species in functioning ecosystems. It is time to face up to the fact that animal rights and conservation are inherently incompatible and that one cannot be an animal rights proponent and a conservationist simultaneously. To suggest otherwise only feeds into the growing public confusion over animal rights, welfare, and conservation and their vastly different implications for wildlife management and conservation policy (Hutchins 2007a, 2007b, 2008a, 2008b).” [2]

So, where’s TWS’s “superior idea” for feral cat management?

I’ve asked Hutchins directly and gotten nothing but his usual boilerplate response:

“Our position on TNR and feral cat management is based on valid science, established law (the ESA and MBTA), and has high moral ground (both based on animal welfare and conservation principles). We welcome a chance to educate the public about this growing environmental problem.”

And I’m not the only one who’s tried to pin down Hutchins on this point. In July, when Hutchins was (again, to the surprise of no one) singing the praises of a recent Mother Jones article that misrepresented both the threats posed by feral cats and the effectiveness of TNR, he twisted himself into a knot avoiding the real issue. (Instead, Hutchins scolds commenter Walter Lamb, using what’s become a familiar refrain: “I’m afraid that I don’t find you credible to lecture the community of highly trained wildlife professionals about what does or does not have basis in science.”)

More recently, Hutchins’ put an end to any such discourse in the future. Complaining that “the TWS blog site has been recently targeted by feral cat and horse activists,” he announced that TWS would “no longer post comments from non-member individuals who are clearly biased in their thinking, and are arguing in favor of ecologically destructive feral animals based solely on their emotional attachment to these particular animals.”

Inferior Facts
Hutchins and TWS (and here I’m referring only to the organization’s leadership; I doubt very much whether these few truly speak for, as they would have us believe, “over 10,000 professional wildlife biologists and managers”) like to portray their opposition to TNR as science-based (the term is used no less than four times in their recent release alone), despite their abysmal track record when it comes to gathering and presenting the relevant facts.

If TWS was really interested in science-based discourse and action, they would have done a better job pulling together their “facts” for the Spring Issue of The Wildlife Professional’s special section, “The Impact of Free Ranging Cats.”

TWS’s “fact sheets” are no better. “Problems with Trap-Neuter-Release” (PDF), for example, suggests—despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary—that the trap-and-kill approach adopted by Akron, OH, costs taxpayers about $10 per cat. And in their rabies “fact sheet,” TWS misrepresents CDC rabies data, overstating the cost of post-exposure treatment by a factor of seven.

Yet, TWS members—and the general public, of course—are told that it’s the core beliefs underlying the animal rights philosophy that are “undermin[ing] decades of knowledge gained through scientific research on wildlife and their habitats.”

If Hutchins’—and, by extension, TWS’s—ideas are, indeed, superior, why all the dishonesty?

•     •     •

I’m convinced that there’s more common ground between wildlife conservationists and animal rights advocates—including, as Benson points out, “those who believe… both that endangered species deserve special protection and that being a member of a so-called ‘invasive’ species does not automatically make one eligible for carefree extermination”—than Hutchins and TWS are willing to admit. And, therefore, more hope that philosophical differences can be overcome or set aside in order to move the TNR discussion forward.

“If The Wildlife Society wants to continue arguing that all we owe individual animals is efficient use and a pain-free death,” argues Benson, “it’s free to do so. But the rest of us will move on to a version of conservation that is more positive, more open, more humble—more about strengthening connections than building walls.”

While I agree, my hunch is that “the rest of us” actually includes a number of TWS members who are fed up with Hutchins’ witch-hunt against free-roaming cats, and the indefensible tactics he employs in its promotion. What if the greatest threat of “philosophical incompatibility” isn’t from outsiders, but from within his own organization?

Literature Cited

1. Hutchins, M., “The Limits of Compassion.” Wildlife Professional (Allen Press). 2007. 1(2): p. 42–44. http://joomla.wildlife.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=18

2. Hutchins, M., “Animal Rights and Conservation.” Conservation Biology. 2008. 22(4): p. 815–816. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.00988.x

Demanding (a) Better Service

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under fire for proposed roundups of free-roaming cats in the Florida Keys, an out-of-control burn on National Key Deer Refuge land, and participation in anti-TNR workshop.

Many U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel are, I suspect, looking forward to October—or at least putting September behind them. For those involved with USFWS’s “war on cats,” this month’s been a tough one: too much of the wrong kind of attention.

Camera (en)Trap(ment) Project
September got off to a rocky start with readers (myself included) responding to news of camera traps being used in Florida’s National Key Deer Refuge “to document the number of cats stalking prey in the refuge.”

According to Key West Citizen reporter Timothy O’Hara, cats appeared on 5 percent of the “nearly 7,000 [photos] snapped so far,” whereas the endangered Lower Keys Marsh Rabbit appeared on just 3 percent. (Deer and raccoons topped the list, though specific percentages weren’t mentioned.)

Future plans include “a more in-depth study to get a better handle on the number of cats,” which, says USFWS biologist Chad Anderson, who was interviewed for the story, “will give us better insight into the predator management plan [of which I’ve been highly critical]. We want it to be as effective and efficient as possible.”

Five days later, Big Pine Key resident Jerry Dykhuisen took USFWS to task in a letter to the editor calling O’Hara’s article “our quarterly puff piece about how great it’s all going to be when feral cats are trapped and removed from Big Pine Key.” Dykhuisen, vice president of Forgotten Felines, pointed out the incredible expense associated with the proposed roundup (a “government boondoggle that is nothing more than a waste of our tax dollars and job security for U.S. Fish and Wildlife”) and the risk of skyrocketing rodent populations if eradication efforts were actually “successful,” and challenges the “‘best available science’ of which they are so proud” (which “is not really very good science at all, being decades old, using statistical methods that are highly suspect, and not even being conducted on Big Pine.”).

Tax dollars are at a premium in this economy,” wrote Dykhuisen, “and the idea of spending more than $10,000 per cat on a project that has no chance of success is mindless government at its worst.”

The following week, a letter to the editor from Forgotten Felines volunteer Valerie Eikenberg called the camera trap project a lame-brain experiment,” criticizing Refuge personnel for baiting the cameras with cat food. “Why spend thousands of taxpayer dollars to figure out a question that any second-grader could answer,” she asked.

Refuge Manager Anne Morkill disputes Eikenberg’s claim: “extremely small amounts of bait were used at only two camera trap sites located at unauthorized cat feeding stations, where the cats were already lured by food. The purpose was to get the animals to stop and pause for a clear photo for identification purposes.” (I received a similar explanation by e-mail from Anderson.)

Note: I’ve tried to contact O’Hara, who badly misrepresented the science in his story (for example: “Research indicates that cat predation accounts for 50 percent to 77 percent of the deaths of Lower Keys marsh rabbits and Key Largo woodrats.”), but he’s not responded to my e-mail requests.

(Mis)prescribed Burn
Just two weeks later, Refuge personnel once again found themselves defending their actions, this time for a prescribed burn that grew quickly out of control, scorching about 100 acres—five times what was originally planned.

For some, at least, this was the last straw. “Morkill has to go!” read one particularly harsh comment to a Key West Citizen story about the fire.

“Not tomorrow, not next week, not at the end of the fiscal year, NOW!! She is completely over her head and needs to transfer somewhere else. From the complete mishandling of the feral cat situation [to] the out of controlled prescribed burn that threatened both residents AND sensitive wildlife… Ms. Morkill is a complete and total failure at her position. What a travesty. Go back to wherever you came from Anne, you’re a failed experiment in the Keys.”

Earlier this week, USFWS officials met with residents to explain the results of an internal investigation into the fire.

According to USFWS Fire Ecologist Vince Carver, “The review team came up with three findings: One, it was too dry to burn. Two, the [fire] crew that did it, the majority of them did not have enough experience for this type of burn. And three, after they did screw up, they did a fantastic job.” [1]

Refuge fire management specialist Dana Cohen “repeatedly apologized to residents, saying, ‘We made a bad call’ in deciding to burn, but most appeared unmoved.” [1] The “unhappy audience,” as Citizen reporter Adam Linhardt describes them, were short on patience, “speaking out and lambasting” USFWS officials. “One person described the burn as a ‘fiasco’ and called for Cohen’s firing.” [1]

National Feral Cat Policy
A day after the blaze on Big Pine Key, USFWS was trying to tamp down another fire of its own making. This one, too, had gotten out of hand—but on a national scale.

In a post on its Open Spaces blog, USFWS responded to “many expressions of interest and concern regarding participation by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees at an upcoming Wildlife Society conference.” This, of course, is a reference to Informing Local Scale Feral Cat Trap-Neuter-Release Decisions, the day-long workshop being presented by Tom Will, Mike Green (both of USFWS), and Christopher Lepczyk (University of Hawaii).

As part of that conference, two Service biologists are presenting a workshop designed to help wildlife biologists and other conservationists effectively communicate the best available science on the effects on wildlife from free-ranging domestic cats. The Service has no national policy concerning trap-neuter-release programs or feral cats.

If there’s no official policy, it’s not for lack of effort.

In his 2010 presentation to the Bird Conservation Alliance, What Can Federal Agencies Do? Policy Options to Address Cat Impacts to Birds and Their Habitats, Will is pushing for a “Firm policy statement—clear, definitive, easily available—as a tool for partners.” In fact, it looks like he’s suggesting that such a policy already exists, citing, for example, a 2007 “response to inquiry” from the USFWS Charleston Field Office:

Is it still FWS policy to promote legislation banning feeding of wildlife? Yes. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) stands firmly behind its recommendations promoting legislation banning the feeding of wildlife, especially nuisance species such as feral cats. Local governments are better equipped than are Federal and State agencies to regulate feral and free-ranging cats since most local governments have ordinances in place to address domestic animal issues as well as animal control services and personnel to implement those ordinances.

Is it still FWS policy opposing free ranging cats and establishment of feral cat colonies? Yes. The Service continues to oppose the establishment of feral cat colonies as well as the perpetuation and continued operation of feral cat colonies. As an agency responsible for administering the regulatory provisions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), the Service’s position is that those practicing Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) could be subject to prosecution under those laws.

Is it still FWS policy opposing TNR programs? Yes… the Service’s New Jersey Field Office correctly states that “a municipality that carries out, authorizes, or encourages others to engage in an activity that is likely to result in take of federally protected species, such as the establishment or maintenance of a managed TNR cat colony, may be held responsible for violations of Section 9 of the ESA.”

Will goes on to cite several more passages from the letter quoted above, sent in November 2009 from the New Jersey Field Office to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Division of Fish and Wildlife “in support of the New Jersey Fish and Game Council’s Resolution on Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) and free-ranging domestic cats, passed June 19, 2007.”

The Service strongly opposes domestic or feral cats (Felis catus) being allowed to roam freely within the U.S. due to the adverse impacts of these non-native predators on federally listed threatened and endangered (T&E) species, migratory birds, and other vulnerable native wildlife. Therefore, the Service opposes TNR programs that allow return of domestic or feral cats to free-ranging conditions.

Migratory birds are Federal trust resources and are afforded protection under the MBTA, which prohibits the take of a migratory bird’s parts, nest, or eggs. Many species of migratory birds, wading birds, and songbirds nest or migrate throughout New Jersey. Migratory birds could be subject to predation from State municipality, or land manager-authorized cat colonies and free-ranging feral or pet cats. Predation on migratory birds by cats is likely to cause destruction of nests or eggs, or death or injury to migratory birds or their young, thereby resulting in a violation of the MBTA.

All of which looks a lot like a “national policy concerning trap-neuter-release programs or feral cats.” Which might explain why the American Bird Conservancy has the NJ Field Office letter posted on its website (PDF). (ABC and TWS were among the signatories to a letter sent earlier this year to Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, “urg[ing] the development of a Department-wide policy opposing Trap-Neuter-Release and the outdoor feeding of cats as a feral cat management option, coupled with a plan of action to address existing infestations affecting lands managed by the Department of the Interior.”)

To hear USFWS tell it, Will and Green don’t even speak for USFWS.

In order to protect the independence and integrity of their work and the quality of the scientific information generated, the Service does not review or edit their work based on its potential policy implications. Any findings or conclusions presented at this workshop, as well as other scientific papers and presentations by Service employees, are those of the organizers and do not necessarily represent those of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

How exactly does that work? Are taxpayers (who are, like it or not, supporting TWS’s conference: “the Service is a sponsor of the conference as a whole”) expected to believe that Informing Local Scale Feral Cat Trap-Neuter-Release Decisions wasn’t put together “on company time,” using agency resources? Like me, commenter “Mrs. McKenna” isn’t buying it:

“I find it very strange that there would be not be an edit or review of the presentations done by employees/consultants (personnel on your payroll.) Quite frankly, I know of no organization that would allow taxpayer paid employees to present at a conference of this magnitude without a screening of materials to be presented. In fact, one could deem this type of policy quite irresponsible… If there were no interest in presenting a specific viewpoint supported by U.S. Fish & Wildlife for current or upcoming policies, one can be quite certain no such presentation would be sponsored.”

Mrs. McKenna and I are, it turns out, not the only skeptics. At last check, there were 50 comments on the USFWS post (not all of them critical of the Service, of course), a record for the Open Space blog (which, since its inception in late April, has attracted just 140 comments across 97 posts—including the August 2 post about “a recent incident where the Service inadvertently issued a citation in Fredericksburg, Virginia,” which attracted 46 comments).

Although USFWS is, according to its Office of External Affairs, “committed to using sound science in its decision-making and to providing the American public with information of the highest quality possible,” recent events suggest otherwise.

Actually, past events tell a similar story.

In its Migratory Bird Mortality fact sheet (PDF), published in January 2002, USFWS offers this prediction: “Many citizens would be surprised to learn that domestic and feral cats may kill hundreds of millions of songbirds and other avian species each year.”

“A recent study in Wisconsin estimated that in that state alone, domestic rural cats kill roughly 39 million birds annually. Add the deaths caused by feral cats, or domestic cats in urban and suburban areas, and this mortality figure would be much higher.” [2]

In this case, the Service’s “best available science” can be traced to the infamous Wisconsin Study, [3] and—eventually—to “a single free-ranging Siamese cat” that frequented a rural residential property in New Kent County, Virginia. [4])

Nearly 10 later, Migratory Bird Mortality is still available from the USFWS website. So much for “using sound science in its decision-making and to providing the American public with information of the highest quality possible.”

USFWS is right about one thing, though: many citizens are surprised—just not in the way the Service imagined. The public, to whom USFWS is ostensibly accountable, is surprised at the way their tax dollars are being used to fund a witch-hunt. And, judging by the overwhelming response to the USFWS/TWS workshop (see, for example, Best Friends Animal Society’s Action Alert, blog posts from Alley Cat Rescue and BFAS co-founder Francis Battista, and the Care2 petition), the public has had enough.

With access to both information and “broadcast” technology more accessible than ever, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for USFWS to continue with business as usual. The people the Service is supposed to—well, serve—are demanding better science, more transparency, and greater accountability. People are paying attention like never before.

Think of it as “the new normal.”

Literature Cited
1. Linhardt, A. (2011, September 29). Residents rage about rogue fire—Fed officials apologize: ‘We made a bad call’. The Key West Citizen, p. 1A,

2. n.a., Migratory Bird Mortality. 2002, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Arlington, VA. www.fws.gov/birds/mortality-fact-sheet.pdf

3. Coleman, J.S., Temple, S.A., and Craven, S.R., “Cats and Wildlife: A Conservation Dilemma.” 1997. http://forestandwildlifeecology.wisc.edu/wl_extension/catfly3.htm

4. Mitchell, J.C. and Beck, R.A., “Free-Ranging Domestic Cat Predation on Native Vertebrates in Rural and Urban Virginia.” Virginia Journal of Science. 1992. 43(1B): p. 197–207. www.vacadsci.org/vjsArchives/v43/43-1B/43-197.pdf

Downgrading ABC’s “Perfect Storm”

Once again, the American Bird Conservancy is using scare tactics to gain support for their long-standing witch-hunt against free-roaming cats, this time suggesting a connection between TNR and rabies exposure. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demonstrate no such connection.

Maybe the folks at the American Bird Conservancy were simply feeling left out, what with all the attention the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been getting for their participation in The Wildlife Society’s upcoming feral cat workshop.

You know, all dressed up (tired talking points in hand) and nowhere to go.

With just a day to spare, ABC announced that senior policy analyst Steve Holmer would be participating in the 2nd Annual World Rabies Day Webinar, apparently using the occasion—as is ABC’s habit—to trot out all the usual anti-TNR propaganda.

According to a media release from ABC, Managed Cat Colonies and Rabies was to be “one of 28 presentations being aired in over 70 countries.” I was unable to tune into Holmer’s presentation, but ABC’s announcement suggests I didn’t miss much: “Feral cat colonies bring together a series of high risk elements that result in a ‘perfect storm’ of rabies exposure.”

Put into context, though, the rabies threat posed by “feral cat colonies” is more of a tempest in a teacup.

“While cats make up a small percentage of rabies vectors,” argues Holmer, “they are responsible for a disproportionate number of human exposures.” As the media release explains:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people are exposed to rabies due to close contact with domestic animals such as cats and dogs. Although dogs historically posed a greater rabies threat to humans, dog-related incidents have become less frequent in recent decades, dropping from 1,600 cases in 1958 to just 75 in 2008. Meanwhile, cases involving cats have increased over the same period with spikes of up to 300 cases in a single year.

Here, ABC is, once again, not telling us the whole story—beginning with their source. It turns out this paragraph—along with other portions of their release—were lifted verbatim from The Wildlife Society’s Rabies in Humans and Wildlife “fact sheet” (PDF). TWS attributes the figures to a 2009 report of CDC data published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (which includes the graph below).

“State health authorities have different requirements for submission of specimens for rabies testing,” note the authors, “therefore, intensity of surveillance varies.” [1]

“Because most animals submitted for testing are selected because of abnormal behavior or obvious signs of illness, percentages of tested animals with positive results in the present report are not representative of the incidence of rabies in the general population. Further, because of differences in protocols and submission rates among species and states, comparison of percentages of animals with positive results between species or states is inappropriate.” [1, italics mine]

Comparing rabies cases in dogs and cats, as TWS—and, by extension, ABC—have done, misrepresents the actual threat posed by cats. Indeed, as “Rabies surveillance in the United States during 2009” makes clear (see table below), no human case of rabies reported between 2000 and 2009 was linked to a cat.

As one of my colleagues astutely observed, “You are more likely to be executed by Rick Perry than die from rabies contracted from a cat.”

[Note: As I’ve demonstrated previously, TWS’s “fact sheets” aren’t any better than ABC’s media releases when it comes to, well, facts. In Rabies in Humans and Wildlife, TWS suggests that treatment for people exposed to rabies “can cost $7,000 or more; every year, the United States spends approximately $300 million on rabies prevention.” [2]

Among the sources cited by TWS is the CDC—which paints a very different economic picture, suggesting that “a course of rabies immune globulin and five doses of vaccine given over a 4-week period typically exceeds $1,000,” and pointing out that the annual expenditures for rabies prevention “include the vaccination of companion animals, animal control programs, maintenance of rabies laboratories, and medical costs, such as those incurred for rabies postexposure prophylaxis.”

If ABC isn’t going to do their own homework, then they should at least look for a trustworthy source.]

TNR: Barrier to Rabies Transmission
“Managed colonies teach feral cats to associate with humans,” says Holmer/TWS, “and while most people will not interact with wildlife, especially animals displaying erratic behavior, cats are perceived as domestic and approachable.”

In an e-mail to me earlier this week, Merritt Clifton editor of Animal People, dismissed several of Holmer’s assertions, describing TNR as “a very useful tool in fighting rabies.”

“Neuter/return feral cat population control, including vaccination, is in truth a very effective rabies control measure, as I know firsthand, because I was personally involved in the introduction of neuter/return feral cat control to the U.S. in 1991–1992—and it was done as part of a rabies control program.”

“The idea,” says Clifton, “was to see whether neuter/return could turn the feral cat population into a vaccinated barrier between rabid raccoons and free-roaming pet cats.”

“As coordinator of a rabies information hotline for the preceding year, following the arrival in Connecticut of the mid-Atlantic raccoon rabies pandemic, I became one of the three coordinators of an experiment which sterilized and vaccinated 330 feral cats at eight locations in northern Fairfield County, Connecticut.”

The experiment was, Clifton explains, a success. “The only rabid cat ever found near our eight working locations,” he says, “was an unvaccinated house cat who was not normally allowed outside, but escaped and fought with a raccoon before being captured by [a] Town of Monroe animal control officer.” Clifton and his colleagues were, he tells me, “honored by the Town of Monroe Police Department for our accomplishment in keeping rabies from spreading beyond raccoons. The certificate is above my desk right now.”

“To date,” Clifton continues, “there has never been even one case of rabies in the U.S. among cats who were part of a managed neuter/return program, coordinated with a humane society or animal control agency. Of the 32 instances of rabid cats in the U.S. reported by ProMed since 2005, 11 involved feral cats, and several others involved found kittens [and] cats of indeterminate status, but none were part of a neuter return/program.”

[Note: The apparent discrepancy between CDC and ProMed figures are, Clifton tells me, easily explained: “ProMed reports outbreaks, not individual cases.”]

For Holmer, incorporating the rabies vaccine into standard TNR protocol—as is done in many locations—is insufficient.

“Even when they are vaccinated when first trapped, re-trapping cats to revaccinate can be problematic as the cats become wary of the traps. There is also typically not the funding or infrastructure among the colony feeders to repeatedly re-trap cats to administer vaccines.”

In fact, boosters are probably unnecessary. Julie Levy, Maddie’s Professor of Shelter Medicine at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine—and one of this country’s foremost experts on feral cats—suggests, “Even a single dose of rabies vaccination provides years of protection against rabies infection.”

When it comes right down to it, initial vaccinations are probably unnecessary, too, in much of the country. As the authors of the 2009 rabies surveillance report—referring to the map shown below—point out, “Most (81.0 percent) of the 300 cases of rabies involving cats were reported from states where raccoon rabies is enzootic, with two states (Pennsylvania and Virginia) accounting for nearly a third of all rabid cats reported during 2009.” [3]

If ABC is truly concerned about the public health threat posed by “feral cat colonies,” why withhold such critical information? Because their “perfect storm” media release has nothing whatsoever to do public health. Or science, for that matter. It’s just another feeble attempt to gain support for their long-standing witch-hunt against free-roaming cats.

And to add to the fear-mongering, ABC now suggests that TNR actually increases the number of stray, abandoned, and feral cats.

“Peer reviewed studies have shown that over time, cat colonies increase in size, the result of the inability to neuter or spay all the cats and the dumping of unwanted cats at the colony sites by callous pet owners. The result is a large number of unvaccinated cats.”

Just 10 months ago, though, ABC was telling a rather different story. Authors of The American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird Conservation suggest, “few colonies managed under this system shrink.” [4] Either way, ABC is ignoring compelling evidence that TNR can indeed reduce colony size over time—in some cases 16–32 percent, [5] 36 percent, [6] and 66 percent. [7]

•     •     •

“The increase in the cases of human rabies exposure from feral cats,” argues Holmer, “should be a concern to city and other government officials.”

“This problem will only get worse as managed feral cat colonies grow in number because half truths about their impacts and implications on local communities and the environment is accepted by decision makers who mistakenly believe they are receiving full disclosure.”

If Holmer’s looking for half-truths and partial disclosures, he needn’t look any further than ABC’s most recent piece of propaganda—the most insidious element of which is merely implied. One might easily get the impression that ABC has a plan to reduce the population of stray, abandoned, and feral cats—a feasible alternative to TNR.

In fact, there is no such plan.

That’s ABC’s dirty little secret (one they share with TWS and USFWS). And that’s what should be a concern to city and other government officials.

Literature Cited
1. Blanton, J.D., et al., “Rabies surveillance in the United States during 2008.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2009. 235(6): p. 676–689. www.avma.org/avmacollections/rabies/javma_235_6_676.pdf

2. n.a., Problems with Trap-Neuter-Release. 2011, The Wildlife Society: Bethesda, MD. http://joomla.wildlife.org/documents/cats_tnr.pdf

3. Blanton, J.D., Palmer, D., and Rupprecht, C.E., “Rabies surveillance in the United States during 2009.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2010. 237(6): p. 646–657. http://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/pdf/10.2460/javma.237.6.646

4. Lebbin, D.J., Parr, M.J., and Fenwick, G.H., The American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird Conservation. 2010, London: University of Chicago Press.

5. Natoli, E., et al., “Management of feral domestic cats in the urban environment of Rome (Italy).” Preventive Veterinary Medicine. 2006. 77(3-4): p. 180–185. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6TBK-4M33VSW-1/2/0abfc80f245ab50e602f93060f88e6f9


6. Nutter, F.B., Evaluation of a Trap-Neuter-Return Management Program for Feral Cat Colonies: Population Dynamics, Home Ranges, and Potentially Zoonotic Diseases, in Comparative Biomedical Department. 2005, North Carolina State University: Raleigh, NC. p. 224. http://www.carnivoreconservation.org/files/thesis/nutter_2005_phd.pdf

7. Levy, J.K., Gale, D.W., and Gale, L.A., “Evaluation of the effect of a long-term trap-neuter-return and adoption program on a free-roaming cat population.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2003. 222(1): p. 42-46. http://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/abs/10.2460/javma.2003.222.42

8. Yoshino, K. (2010, January 17). A catfight over neutering program. Los Angeles Times, from http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-feral-cats17-2010jan17,0,1225635.story

Press Here

I thought I’d use this post—my 100th!—as an opportunity to create a (long-overdue) press page. My sincere thanks to the various writers, reporters, editors and bloggers who have helped spread the word about Vox Felina—your support is greatly appreciated!

Devolution In the Classroom: Three Editions of F. Gill’s “Ornithology”

For more than 20 years now, Gill’s classic text has been required reading for ornithology students. While the book’s attention to conservation issues has expanded over its three editions, its treatment of the impact of cats on bird populations reflects an unsettling shift away from science.

The hoards of students descending upon college campuses this fall will—despite the rise of the eco-friendly PDF and a great variety of online content—more often than not find their arms and backpacks stuffed with old-school printed-and-bound books. Among them will be Frank Gill’s Ornithology, a regular offering on campus bookstore shelves for 21 years now.

Gill’s Ornithology is, I’m told by one Vox Felina reader, “considered (at least in these parts) the text regarding ornithology.” From what I can tell, it’s popularity as required reading for third- and fourth-year undergraduates isn’t limited to any one region of the country. Indeed, according to Amazon.com, the book is “the classic text for the undergraduate ornithology course.” Its third edition, published in 2007, “maintains the scope and expertise that made the book so popular while incorporating a tremendous amount of new research.”

Unfortunately, none of this new research made it into the section—a single paragraph—meant to address the “threat” of cats. Indeed, students interested in this topic are better off with the first edition, published 17 years earlier.

First Edition
“The numbers of deaths attributable directly or indirectly to human actions each year during the 1970s are staggering,” writes Gill in the 1990 edition of Ornithology, “but are apparently minor in relation to the population level.” [1] Citing a 1979 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report by Richard C. Banks, Gill continues:

“Human activities are responsible for roughly 270 million bird deaths every year in the continental United States. This seemingly huge number is less than two percent of the 10 to 20 billion birds that inhabit the continental United States and appears to have no serious effect on the viability of any of the populations themselves, unlike human destruction of breeding habitat and interference with reproduction… Miscellaneous accidents such as impact with golf balls, electrocution by transmission lines, and cat predation, may amount to 3.5 million deaths a year.” [1]

Predation by cats (included under “All Other Indirect”), then, according to Banks, represents about 1.3 percent of overall human-caused mortality—a loss of, at most, 0.04 percent of the U.S. bird population annually. By contrast, hunting and “collision with man-made objects” combine to make up “about 90 percent of the avian mortality documented” in Banks’ report. [2]

Second Edition
Five years later, in the second edition, the story changes dramatically. Gill discards Banks’ reference to cats and uses his 270 million figure purely for dramatic effect—the set-up for a punch line in the form of Rich Stallcup’s back-of-the-envelope guesswork (which Stallcup himself considered “probably a low estimate” [3]). Gill even includes a bar chart to drive the point home. (Apparently, he didn’t find Banks’ pie chart compelling enough to include in the his first edition of Ornithology.)

“Human activities are directly responsible for roughly 270 million bird deaths every year in the continental United States, about 2 percent of the 10 to 20 billion birds that inhabit the continental United States (Banks 1979)… Dwarfing these losses are those attributable to predation by pets. Domesticated cats in North America may kill 4 million songbirds every day, or perhaps over a billion birds each year (Stallcup 1991). Millions of hungrier, feral (wild) cats add to this toll, which is not included in the estimate of 270 million bird deaths each year.” [4]

But Stallcup’s “estimate”—published in the Observer, a publication of the Point Reyes Bird Observatory (which Stallcup co-founded)—lacks even the slightest scientific justification. In fact, “A Reversible Catastrophe” is little more than Stallcup’s advice—at once both folksy and sinister—about defending one’s garden from neighborhood cats (“…try a B-B or pellet gun. There is no need to kill or shoot toward the head, but a good sting on the rump seems memorable for most felines, and they seldom return for a third experience.” [3]).

“Let’s do a quick calculation, starting with numbers of pet cats. Population estimates of domestic house cats in the contiguous United States vary somewhat, but most agree the figure is between 50 and 60 million. On 3 March 1990, the San Francisco Chronicle gave the number as 57.9 million, ‘up 19 percent since 1984.’ For this assessment, let’s use 55 million.

“Some of these (maybe 10 percent) never go outside, and maybe another 10 percent are too old or too slow to catch anything. That leaves 44 million domestic cats hunting in gardens, marshes, fields, thickets, empty lots, and forests.

“It is impossible to know how many of those actively hunting animals catch how many birds, but the numbers are high. To be very conservative, say that only one in ten of those cats kills only one bird a day. This would yield a daily toll of 4.4 million songbirds!! Shocking, but true—and probably a low estimate (e.g., many cats get multiple birds a day).” [3]

It’s hardly surprising that Stallcup’s “estimate” grossly exaggerates predation rates since his research never went any further than the Chronicle’s mention of the U.S. pet cat population. His assumptions about how many of these cats go outdoors and their success as hunters stand in stark contrast to the trend suggested by pet owner survey results and various predation studies (some of which suggest that just 36–56 per­cent of cats are hunters. [5, 6])

(It was, no doubt, the “shocking” aspect of Stallcup’s numbers that appealed to Nico Dauphine, who, in her “Apocalypse Meow” presentation, acknowledges that Stallcup “didn’t do a study” but nevertheless concludes, inexplicably, that his “is a conservative estimate.”)

Unnatural Selection
So, how did Stallcup’s indefensible “estimate” make it into the standard ornithology textbook? It was, Gill told me recently by e-mail, “one of the few refs [he] could find.”

Referring to what he calls “the great cat debates,” Gill writes: “I claim no great expertise or authority… now or in the ancient histories of early textbook editions.”

Fair enough. Writing, editing, and revising multiple editions of Ornithology was an enormous undertaking—one for which Gill deserves much credit. But there was, available at the time, work by scientists who, unlike Stallcup actually studied predation. Indeed, even before the first edition of Ornithology was published, a great deal of work had been done—and compiled in the first edition (published in 1988) of The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behaviour. In it, Mike Fitzgerald, one of the world’s foremost experts on the subject, reviewed 61 predation studies, concluding:

“Predation on songbirds by domestic cats is noticed because it takes place during the day, whereas much predation on mammals takes place at night. People generally enjoy having songbirds in their gardens, and providing food in winter may increase the numbers of birds. When cats kill some of these birds, people assume that cats are reducing the bird populations. However, although this predation is so visible, and unpopular, remarkably little attempt has been made to assess its impact on populations of songbirds.” [7]

Two years later, Fitzgerald had a brief letter on the subject published in Environmental Conservation. His comments are as relevant today as they were some 21 years ago:

“Before embarking… on programmes to educate the public so that they will pressure elected officials to act on ‘cat delinquency,’ we must discover what effect domestic cats really have on the wildlife populations in various urban localities—not merely what effect we assume they have on the basis of prey brought home by cats in one English village. Although we know what prey cats bring home in a few urban localities, we do not know what effect this predation has on the prey populations, or how the wildlife populations might differ if cat populations were reduced. Until we have this information we cannot ensure sound educational programmes. We should perhaps also try to discover what values urban people place on their wildlife and their pets—it seems likely that many of the people who love their pets also treasure the wildlife.” [8]

Surely, Fitzgerald’s work would have been more appropriate for, and useful to, Ornithology’s audience. Instead, unsuspecting undergraduates were treated to biased editorializing dressed up as science.

Third Edition
Gill tells me I wasn’t the first to “react… to the Stallcup paper,” and that the push-back was sufficient to prompt its removal from the third edition. Gone, too, is Banks’ report. Instead, Gill employs the now-common kitchen-sink approach, rattling off a litany of sins—borrowed, it seems, from the American Bird Conservancy.

“Domestic house cats in North America, for example, may kill hundreds of millions of songbirds each year. Farmland and barnyard cats kill roughly 39 million birds (and lots of mice, too) each year. Millions of hungrier, feral (wild) cats add to this toll. There is a common-sense solution. Letting cats roam outside the house shortens their expected life span from 12.5 years to 2.5 years and increases their risk of rabies, distemper, toxoplasmosis, and parasites. Evidence is mounting that cats help to spread diseases such as Asian bird flu. The message is clear: Keep pet cats inside for their own well being and for the future of backyard birds (http://www.abcbirds.org/cats/).” [9]

That 39 million birds figure, of course, comes from the infamous “Wisconsin Study,” the authors of which claim: “The most reasonable estimates indicate that 39 million birds are killed in the state each year.” [10] (The “reason” is, in fact, notably absent from Coleman and Temple’s figure—which can be traced to “a single free-ranging Siamese cat” that frequented a rural residential property in New Kent County, Virginia. [11])

Its implied use as a nationwide estimate, Gill says, was “a lapse.” The more serious lapse by far, though—not in copyediting but in judgment—is Gill’s endorsement of ABC.

A Constructive Approach
While he readily admits that he’s “not tracked nor verified [ABC’s] stats (and have paid precious little attention to the issue for almost 10 years),” Gill’s support is unwavering.

“ABC has taken a lead role on the cat-bird issues, generally with a constructive approach, which I applaud, given how polarized the debates can be.”

Constructive? As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, no organization has been more effective at working the anti-TNR pseudoscience into a message neatly packaged for the mainstream media, and eventual consumption by the general public. (The Wildlife Society, though, which shares ABC’s penchant for bumper-sticker science and public discourse via sound-bites, is at least as eager to participate in the witch-hunt.)

Among the more glaring examples: senior policy advisor, Steve Holmer’s claim, quoted in the Los Angeles Times, that “there are about… 160 million feral cats [nationwide]” [12]; ABC’s promotion of “Feral Cats and Their Management,” with its absurd $17B economic impact “estimate,” published last year by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; and the numerous errors, exaggerations, and misrepresentations that persist in their brochure Domestic Cat Predation On Birds and Other Wildlife (PDF)—including a rather significant blunder that Ellen Perry Berkeley brought to light seven years ago in her book TNR Past, Present and Future. [13]

A constructive approach begins, by necessity, with sound science. But when it comes to the issue of free-roaming cats, at least, ABC has demonstrated neither an interest nor an aptitude.

So how does such an organization end up as the sole resource listed in a widely-used undergraduate textbook? (One written by the same man who served as the National Audubon Society’s chief scientist from 1996 to 2005, no less.) What’s next—physiology and nutrition books directing students to the PepsiCo Website for their hydration lesson? Psychology texts deferring to Pfizer (makers of Zoloft) on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors?

Frank Gill’s View
Gill never responded to my follow-up questions for this post. Still, his comments during our first exchange shed some light on his general attitude toward cats. “I have owned some wonderful (Siamese) cats in my life,” Gill explained, “so I do view them positively in many ways. But when they are dumped near a research station by returning vacationers and then eat the ringed birds I have been studying for many years, I take a different view.”

He followed this last sentence with a smiley-face emoticon, though the joke was clearly wasted on me.

“My informal view now is that managed feral cat colonies are potentially a serious threat to local bird populations, including both migrants that stopover in urban parks and endangered shorebird colonies. Sustaining those colonies should be prohibited generally. The return of coyotes to suburban landscapes is most welcome both to add a top predator to these ecosystems and to counter the numbers of feral cats as well as other midsized predators that impact breeding productivity. Just their presence in a neighborhood should persuade cat owners to keep their cats safely inside!”

•     •     •

It would be a mistake to suggest that the sloppy, flawed research I spend so much time critiquing can be traced directly to the second or third editions of Frank Gill’s textbook. Still, for many students, the path to a degree in ornithology (and onto related graduate degrees) leads through the book of the same name. As such, Ornithology may well be their first exposure to issues of population dynamics, conservation, and the like.

First impressions tend to be lasting ones. If, as a wide-eyed undergraduate, you “learned” that cats kill up to four million songbirds every day, how might that shape your future studies? Your career? What if you “learned” that such predation takes a $17B toll on the country annually?

Considering the tremendous burden we’re placing on future generations, why would we hobble them—before they even get started, really—with such misinformation and bias? They’ve got more than enough on their plate without having to fact-check their textbooks, too.

Literature Cited
1. Gill, F.B., Ornithology. 1st ed. 1990, New York: W.H. Freeman and Company. 660.

2. Banks, R.C., Special Scientific Report—Wildlife No. 215. 1979, United States Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service: Washington, DC. p. 16.

3. Stallcup, R., “A reversible catastrophe.” Observer 91. 1991(Spring/Summer): p. 8–9. http://www.prbo.org/cms/print.php?mid=530


4. Gill, F.B., Ornithology. 2nd ed. 1995, New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

5. Perry, G. Cats—perceptions and misconceptions: Two recent studies about cats and how people see them. in Urban Animal Management Conference. 1999.

6. Millwood, J. and Heaton, T. The metropolitan domestic cat. in Urban Animal Management Conference. 1994.

7. Fitzgerald, B.M., Diet 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. 1988, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge; New York. p. 123–147.

8. Fitzgerald, B.M., “Is Cat Control Needed to Protect Urban Wildlife? Environmental Conservation. 1990. 17(02): p. 168-169. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0376892900031970

9. Gill, F.B., Ornithology. 3rd ed. 2007, New York: W.H. Freeman. xxvi, 758 p.

10. Coleman, J.S., Temple, S.A., and Craven, S.R., “Cats and Wildlife: A Conservation Dilemma.” 1997. http://forestandwildlifeecology.wisc.edu/wl_extension/catfly3.htm

11. Mitchell, J.C. and Beck, R.A., “Free-Ranging Domestic Cat Predation on Native Vertebrates in Rural and Urban Virginia.” Virginia Journal of Science. 1992. 43(1B): p. 197–207. www.vacadsci.org/vjsArchives/v43/43-1B/43-197.pdf

12. Yoshino, K. (2010, January 17). A catfight over neutering program. Los Angeles Times, from http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-feral-cats17-2010jan17,0,1225635.story

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

Community Service

On October 24th, Nico Dauphine is scheduled to appear in court, charged with attempted animal cruelty related to the poisoning of cats in her Columbia Heights neighborhood. (The latest continuance, requested by the prosecution and granted earlier this month, pushes the trial date back two full months.)

It won’t be the first time her “involvement” with cats has landed her in front of a judge.

Three years ago, while she was a PhD student at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, Dauphine was in an Athens-Clarke County court seeking a judgment against a woman whose cat she’d trapped and turned in to the Athens Area Humane Society. I don’t know that her testimony will have any bearing on the case brought by the Washington Humane Society, but it speaks volumes about her attitude toward cats—owned and feral alike (and contradicts the statement made by her attorney following her arrest in May: “her whole life is devoted to the care and welfare of animals”).

Her testimony also raises additional questions about her willingness and/or ability to be truthful, even under oath. (I say additional because, as I’ve pointed out more than once, Dauphine’s professional work is simply indefensible in terms of its scientific underpinnings—as she demonstrated in the collection of “facts” she complied for the Spring Issue of The Wildlife Professional and in her infamous “Apocalypse Meow” presentation to an audience of students and local birders at Warnell in 2009.)

The Case
What follows is an edited version of the transcribed court proceedings—focusing on testimony by both Dauphine and the witness for the defense. The names of the people involved (other than Dauphine’s, obviously) have been omitted (as denoted by […]) throughout. (Note: As a matter of convenience, I refer to the cat’s owner as the defendant in the case; in fact, I’m not sure that’s the correct term for a dispute brought before a magistrate court.)

A little background: The defendant’s cat (its rhinestone color clearly indicating that it was somebody’s pet) had been missing for 16 days when Dauphine turned it in to the Athens Area Humane Society. Out of frustration and a determination to make public Dauphine’s trapping activities, the defendant created a blog/website (taken down voluntarily after the court hearing “to make it all go away,” as one of the people involved put it to me recently).

Dauphine’s Testimony I
The proceedings began with the judge magistrate explaining to the defendant the process and the options available to her:

…my decision today is to decide whether or not to issue an arrest warrant against you for simple assault, for terroristic threats, or for any other criminal activity that I hear, or to issue a good behavior bond against you.

Now, I could not arrest you for anything, hold the matter under advisement and just order you to do certain things and not do certain things, and as long as you abide by the terms of my order, you’ll not be arrested—but if you violate my order, then I can arrest you on these charges and any other future charges that might happen. Or I could decide that you did nothing wrong and dismiss it altogether. Those are the choices that I have this morning. Do you understand those choices?

The defendant agreed, and both parties were sworn in. Dauphine then described the series of events that led to her appearance in court—beginning with her April 15 visit to the Athens Area Humane Society, when she turned in eight cats—one of which belonged to the defendant. There, she was “confronted” by an AAHS volunteer who was “very aggressive and angry.”

“… she said that she didn’t want me to bring cats there, and that… if any of the cats belonged to them, they would be very angry. She said she was going to try to come after me for animal cruelty, and made a number of other threats.”

Three days later, Dauphine received a call from AAHS.

“They said that that morning, Friday morning the 18th, they had gotten a call from a woman who lived in an apartment complex on Barnett Shoals—that this woman had picked up a cat… that I had trapped… They warned me that this person might come to my house and hurt me.”

Dauphine then described her subsequent interactions with AAHS and the police, as well as her discovery of the blog created by the defendant. The judge magistrate then asked Dauphine about her trapping activities.

Judge Magistrate: So, have you ever gone onto the property at Cambridge Apartments and set traps for animals?
Nico Dauphine: I have not trapped there. I have several friends there and have been on the property many, many times.

JM: But you never set a trap for animals?
ND: Correct.

JM: And so the animals that you took to the shelter on April 15—how many were there?
ND: There were—I had eight cats with me.

JM: Eight cats?
ND: That’s correct.

JM: And where did you get them from?
ND: They were from—one or two were from Tivoli Apartments.

JM: Timberly?
ND: Tivoli Apartments, which is on Cedar Shoals: T-I-V-O-L-I.

JM: Oh yeah, and how did you get them?
ND: You set humane live traps and you put food in them and the animal goes in.

JM: Do you live at Tivoli?
ND: No, my friend […] lives at Tivoli.

JM: So why would you do that at Tivoli if you don’t live there?
ND: Oh, I do it basically as a community service, because I volunteered at Athens-Clarke County Animal Control for many years, and they’ve told me that one of their big problems that there’s no public service to pick up cats, but a lot of people have concerns about stray cats around.

JM: So it’s your mission to just go to apartment complexes and pick up stray cats and take them to the animal shelter?
ND: My mission is, when people—well, I mean, I have other things that I do—

JM: Let’s just talk about this one.
ND: Okay. If people ask me—I’ve had a number of people ask me to help them if they have cats on their property.

JM: Are you doing it for the landlord or are you doing it for the tenants?
ND: I’m doing—well yeah, either way.

JM: But suppose the cats belong to somebody?
ND: Well then the animal—they can be reunited with their animals at the animal shelter.

JM: Why do you make people go through that though? I don’t understand. You just go from apartment to apartment just taking up animals and taking them to the shelter?
ND: Only if people are concerned about cats there and they ask me to help them.

JM: So you took eight on April 15th—which, you got one to two from Tivoli, and where did the others come from?
ND: A couple came from my neighborhood.

JM: Which is where?
ND: East Meadow Drive…

JM: And—
ND: And the others came from off Peter Street at an address of a colleague of mine there.

JM: So who gave you permission on Peter Street?
ND: The colleague of mine.

JM: And was that—the animal is picked up at your colleague’s house, or just along the street?
ND: Yeah—no, at his house he has a lot of stray cats that come around. He doesn’t know.

JM: And so he doesn’t want them there so you set the humane traps and—
ND: That’s correct.

JM: —pick up the animals and take them to the shelter?
ND: That’s correct.

JM: That’s a new one for me. Okay. So this person that created this website is accusing you of having taken animals from Cambridge Apartments?
ND: Mmm-hmm.

JM: So have you ever set at trap at Cambridge Apartments to pick up animals from there?
ND: No, I haven’t.

JM: Okay. And the website accuses you of having set traps for animals for years. So have you been doing this for quite a while?
ND: No. I’ve only been doing it—I’ve done it at my own home which I own for about two years but I’ve only started helping other people if they need help for about six or eight months, something like that.

JM: Okay.
ND: I’ve also had the police ask me for help because it’s—there is no public service, and sometimes people leave a house with 50 cats. This happened recently. I know a number of people in the same situation.

(A search of the Banner-Herald for the first half of 2008 reveals only one possible incident fitting Dauphine’s description: “Wilford Bradford Sims, 48, pleaded guilty to 51 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty… for leaving dozens of cats to fend for themselves in a house he abandoned” in the fall of 2007. According to the paper, although “investigators at the time called it one of the worst cases of animal neglect they’d seen,” all of the cats “found homes, including several that became barn cats, according to the Humane Society.” [1] Was Dauphine implying that she was somehow involved?)

JM: So do you work for the animal shelter, or you do this on your own?
ND: I work for the Forestry School and so we have access to humane live traps through them and—

JM: You use their traps?
ND: Uh-huh, and I’ve done a lot of volunteer work for Animal Control, and that’s how I learned about the whole situation and problem.

JM: Yeah.
ND: They say they get calls all the time—people concerned about cats and they want them to be picked up so they can be—they can find homes, they can get adopted, they can be reunited with their owners, but there’s no public service to do that.

JM: So are you aware of any cats that you’ve picked up that have been killed by the—because they had too many because—
ND: The—you know—the Athens Area Humane Society has a policy of not—

JM: Euthanizing them?
ND: —they do not euthanize socialized cats, period. So there’s never been a socialized cat that I’ve picked up that’s been killed. In fact, by contrast, I think 24 cats I’ve brought in have been able to find homes—new homes—be adopted because they were strays and they were abandoned.

A few comments are in order at this point:

Dauphine fails to acknowledge that pets brought in to be “reunited” with their owners were taking up the shelter’s limited space, thus increasing the likelihood that cats would be killed. [2, 3]

And she never admits that any cats deemed feral—correctly or not—would almost certainly be killed. Instead, she dances around the issue, playing games with the judge magistrate, who, it’s clear, is unfamiliar with the issue (hence, she never asks what happens to the unsocialized cats brought to AAHS).

In fact, when AAHS backed out of its contract with the county a year later, it was due to “philosophical differences” concerning feral cats, according to the Athens Banner-Herald.

Keeping what is essentially a wild animal in a cage for five business days—the amount of time the county requires for any animal it picks up—is cruel and futile, because they rarely are adopted, [AAHS Executive Director Crystal] Evans said. “We would argue, for a truly feral animal, that’s inhumane,” she said. “These are cats that have had basically no human contact, so basically what you’re doing is scaring them to death for seven days and then killing them.” [2]

There’s an irony to all of this.

I’m told by people familiar with the situation that AAHS’s decision to cancel its contract was, in fact, largely the result of Dauphine’s “community service” activities. She had broken the system. And once AAHS canceled its contract, there was no place to take feral cats—a predicament that the Athens-Clarke Commission resolved, in 2010, by voting 9–1 in favor of TNR. [4]

In other words, Athens’ decision to adopt TNR, which Dauphine herself describes as “a resounding defeat for science—and for wildlife conservation,” [5] got a major push from one of its harshest critics.

As it happens, Dauphine was interviewed for the 2009 Banner-Herald story, arguing, “There’s very little or, arguably, no evidence at all that [TNR is] effective. To me, it’s just a lot about people’s discomfort with death and people not wanting to deal with it.”

Was Dauphine suggesting that she has no such qualms?

Dauphine’s Testimony II
Dauphine wrapped up her testimony by explaining her rationale for trapping the defendant’s cat. (She never explains how long she had the cat; nor does she deny having the cat for 16 days.)

…my friends in the Cambridge Apartments were telling me that it was not the first time that cat was lost. Apparently it happened again, so the cat—there is a leash law in Athens and it applies to all domestic animals.

So all domestic animals are supposed to be under their owner’s control at all times. A lot of people don’t pay attention to that with cats. With dogs—obviously if your dog is running around the Animal Control will pick it up, but this is what they can’t do with cats because they don’t have the manpower.

But some—my friends at Cambridge told me that there have been a number of missing lost cat signs, and that particular cat that the website was about was lost again about a month later…

(I’ve spoken with the defense witness, and he tells me that the cat did not go missing again—and that this is just one part of Dauphine’s testimony that “doesn’t compute.”)

JM: Okay. And so you want me to arrest […] on a good behavior bond because you fear for your safety?
ND: I was told by the Humane Society that this person was going to come and physically hurt me, or that they were talking about it. And also on the websites that they were posting on they said that people were following me or they had people following me. They’re kind of vague. They’re not explicit threats but—

JM: But I have to arrest based on your fear of […], not based on what other people might do.
ND: Right, right.

JM: So tell me why you’re fearful of […]
ND: Well, I don’t know her, but she seems to be obsessed with looking up information about me, with contacting people about me. She created an entire website about—that I’m supposedly evil, and all of these crimes that I’ve supposedly committed, when I have absolutely no relationship with her at all. And when I spoke to the police about it, he said that this pattern of behavior makes him worried that she might come and do something to me, so he advised me to get them to leave me alone.

JM: You didn’t have your lawyer contact her, or anybody contact her? Did the police contact her?
ND: I talked to an officer that said he would have his partner talk with her, but I don’t—

JM: Did you get the result of that?
ND: I wasn’t able—I tried to follow up with the police and I wasn’t able to get a communication from them. I did have—I did speak to a lawyer about a defamation case and he—

JM: That’s civil though.
ND: That’s right, yes, so that’s a separate case—so the lawyer contacted them about the website or about the civil case but not—I did talk to several police officers, and they both advised me to file the bond—the good behavior bond—to keep her from continuing to threaten me.

So I don’t know. It’s hard for me to know because I don’t—I don’t scare easily but I find it very disturbing that somebody is working this hard to create a lot of negative propaganda about me.

JM: Has anything happened since May or April?
ND: Since May—since May 18, I’m not aware of anything further.

JM: Anything else you want to tell me?
ND: Not unless you have questions.

JM: [Addressing the defendant]… Do you have any questions you want to ask her?

Defendant: Did the person on the phone with the Athens Area Humane Society identify themselves?
ND: It was […] the Director who called me…

Defendant: The person [who] made threats indirectly to you to—did they identify themselves on the phone?
ND: The Director of the Humane Society called me… The Assistant Director… took the call, and she told me details about this person.

JM: Did she give the person’s name is the question.
ND: She did not give the name.

Defendant: Who took the call again?
ND: […]

JM: Any other questions?
Defendant: No, ma’am.

Two individuals testified on behalf of Dauphine, essentially agreeing with her account of the telephone call she received from AAHS informing her that the defendant (whose name was withheld) was quite angry with Dauphine.

The Defense
A single witness testified on behalf of the defendant.

Defense Witness: On March 31, 2008 our cat went missing. He was gone for a couple of hours. We went outside looking for him and—there’s a forest around our apartment complex owned by some different properties—and in the course of looking for him we noticed some traps that were set for cats—with cat food in them—in the forest.

And, you know, silly us, being naïve and not knowing that there were people that did this out there, we thought it was a humane organization and that probably our cat—he loves wet food—probably got trapped by these people. So we put some notes on the cages saying, “If you have our cat, please call us back,” and we went to dinner.

We came back about an hour later and, lo and behold, the traps were gone and we never got a phone call from these people whatsoever and, in fact, I had noticed when I was looking at the traps that there’s no identifying markers on the traps at all either. So I started calling around the humane organizations around town that are responsible for trapping cats. We talked to all of them. Every one of them said—we called these different organizations and they—all of them say, No, all of our traps have signs on them, have labels on them, and we haven’t been trapping at your apartment complex. So this is the first time that we really start to get suspicious like, Whoa, something’s happening here, you know, What’s going on?

So we go to the Athens Area Humane Society—well, we put up signs everywhere. We go to the Athens Area Humane Society and they tell us, you know, that there’s what they described as a crazy lady who has been trapping cats for about three years here in Athens, including people’s pets. That was their words, not my words, and, you know, we’re shocked at this.

Actually a couple of nights before, we had been looking online—like, who traps cats illegally in town, and we had read that maybe it was dog catchers. So we spent all night bawling, thinking our cat had met this horrible death, but when we find out that it’s this woman that eventually turns them in to the Humane Society, we were encouraged—but we wanted to get our cat back as quickly as possible because at this point it had been over a week.

And finally about, you know, through the course of this time, some people at the Humane Society and friends of theirs were—they wouldn’t tell us who the person was because of confidentiality reasons—but started telling us some information about where that this person had been trapping. So what we started to do was go to the Wal-Mart parking lot which was one of the places and—that they told us—and the Carmike Theater parking lot, and hoped to catch this person in the act and get some pictures of it so we could prove that she was criminally trespassing, and that—and then maybe we could force her to give our cat back.

… we also had a person […] who was helping us do this, who was also staying at some of these—in some of these parking lots—helping to catch the person. Well, lo and behold, 16 days after our cat is gone, Nico turns in our cat to the Athens Area Humane Society—surprise, surprise, it was trapped.

JM: How do you know Nico does that?
DW: Because we were—well the Humane Society takes the names when she turns them in and I also saw her there when—

JM: You saw her there with your cat?
DW: Yes, well […] was staking out the Humane Society and saw her turn in my cat, and when I got there, she was—Nico was there filling out the paperwork for the cats that she had turned in, and I got my cat back immediately and they said, “Yes, he had just been turned in.”

She claimed that—Nico claimed that she caught him five days prior at Tivoli Apartments. So basically there’s one of two explanations here. One: she caught—our cat wandered for 10 days across multiple, and busy, streets—this cat that hardly ever goes outside—and happened to get caught by the person that we were looking for.

Or, the person knew we were onto them, knew they were trespassing—we have signed statements from both the YWCA and the Cambridge Apartments where we found the traps that she—they have never allowed someone to trap there—knew that they were trespassing, and so freaked out, and kept the cat and didn’t call us. It just, to me, makes sense that she had our cat for 16 days. Either way, she caught our cat.

…We’ve never made any violent, physical threats to her. I contacted the police and asked them if there was enough of a case to get her on trespassing, et cetera, and they said there’s probably not enough for a criminal case but you have a pretty strong civil case.

They said also one of the officers offered to go over to her house and offer her a warning on criminal trespass, which he told me he did, and he said that Nico said, “I’m sorry, and I promise I won’t be trespassing,” or whatever.

JM: Do you know anything about [the blog]?
DW: Yes, we helped form the blog.  The blog is just an account of everything that I have told you here today.

JM: That’s not very nice. Why would y’all do something like that?
DW: Because we think there’s a public right to know that this person—we learned from the Humane Society this person has been trapping people’s pets for three years, many of which get euthanized because she dumps so many off at the Humane Society.

JM: So you think that’s okay to—
DW: I think the public has a right to know that she’s been doing this.

JM: So you think that that’s okay to say that she’s an evil person by putting this on here?
DW: Well, the evil is hyperbole, but everything else on there is our story, is exactly what happened.

JM: You think it’s okay to do this?
DW: Yeah, I think it’s public right to know. I think it’s called freedom of speech, and this is not a libel case.

JM: It’s almost like everybody gets to decide what their own rights are. She gets to decide she has the right to decide that she’s an evil person, and y’all just publicly display the things that y’all just—
DW: Well, this is not a libel case.

JM: Don’t talk when I talk.
DW: I’m sorry.

JM: Okay, because I’m mad at both sides. This is kind of ridiculous—
DW: It is.

JM: —to waste my time with her picking up cats, and y’all saying that she took your cat.  It’s kind of crazy, and I just don’t understand why people think they have the right to just make up their own rules. You get the right to say she’s evil; she gets the right to take cats. It’s kind of crazy to me.
DW: Well yeah, I mean, the evil thing may be—admittedly—is a little exaggerated, but if you read the rest of the blog everything else is exactly what I’ve just said, and I do think that, like you said, there is a reason why what she’s doing would make people mad. I mean, our cat was gone for 16 days.

We cried about it. When we got him back, by the way, he had five days worth of fecal matter impacted in his intestines. We have the veterinary bill. We had to take him to the vet to have the fecal matter removed from his intestines. It was one of the most horrific experiences of my life, where I had to dig poop out of my cat because he had been trapped in a cage for 16 days because of this woman and now we’re the ones on trial?

I mean we’ve contacted lawyers, we contacted the police, we have done this legally and professionally at every step of the way, and now suddenly we’re the ones on trial?  This is ridiculous. I can’t—

JM: So did […] call the Humane Society and threaten Ms. Dauphine? Do you know?
DW: I have no idea—no, I don’t think so.

JM: That’s why you’re here, because the Humane Society said someone threatened her.
DW: When we talked to the Humane Society we didn’t know her name at all.  So this is—

JM: So how did you find out her name?  From […]?
DW: No, we found out her name when she turned in our cat.

JM: Okay. So you don’t know who threatened her?
DW: No, and we didn’t know her name, so if […] did make a threat before when we talked to the Humane Society people, she was threatening a generic person who trapped our cat, not Nico specifically.

JM: Well somehow somebody found where Ms. Nico lived based on her address from somebody […] Do you know anything about that?
DW: No, no, no, no. That’s not true at all. We found out how she lived because I followed her home the day she turned in my cat.

JM: You followed her home? You think that’s okay.
DW: I think when we’re trying to gather evidence for a criminal case about her trespassing.

JM: That’s what the police are for.
DW: The police said we—actually the police officer encouraged me to—he said trespassing, you have to catch them in the act, and he encouraged me to follow her and to try to catch them in the act of doing this and trespassing.

After a short break, the judge magistrate returned with her decision.

JM: …I was leaning toward arresting both of you, because I think there is a reason why the law allows police officers to do certain things that the public is prohibited from doing. Ms. Dauphine, I think your cause is admirable, but I also think it’s dangerous. I don’t think you have the right to go onto other people’s property to trap animals because there is no public service to do that.

Now the [defense] witness […] testified to three agencies that he knew that did what you do on your own, and that they seem to have some protocol for doing that. I don’t know if that’s true or not, and I really—to be honest with you—don’t really care, but what I do know is that if you try to do something on your own that involves other people’s property you get yourself in trouble for doing that, either civilly because you took their animal without consent or criminally because you trespassed on somebody else’s property in order to do what you think is your mission to do.

So I’m not saying that it’s not a worthy cause, and that it shouldn’t be done—because I don’t care that much for stray animals either—but I think you’ve put yourself in a very difficult position by doing something like that, so I’m not going to arrest you for it, but I just think you need to think about what you’re doing and how you potentially get yourself in trouble for doing it.

On the other hand [Defendant], you’re not innocent in all this either. Just because someone does something that you think is wrong, in terms of taking your animal, you don’t have the right to be a vigilante any more than she does.

You don’t have the right to have […] stalk her, or follow her to find out where she lives, or who she is. You don’t have the right to put evil things on the Internet just because you feel like she does things wrong.

There are proper procedures for that. You could have brought her in this proceeding, just like she brought you, to say to me, Stop her from doing this; I think that’s wrong—she’s trespassing on people’s property, she’s taking animals that doesn’t belong to her.

I can stop her. The law doesn’t give you the right to take matters into your own hands and stop her from doing something that she thinks is wrong. So my policy has always been if you both are wrong, and I find legally that you both did what was wrong in the eyes of the law, that I either arrest both of you or I arrest neither one of you.

And I don’t think justice will be served by arresting both of you, so I’m not going to arrest either one of you. But I’m going to warn you as well that this is not the proper way to handle something as a citizen… to make evil comments about people on the Internet just because they did something you don’t like.

There is an application for arrest warrant procedure—you fill out the application, you bring her here, and let me fuss at her or let me arrest her, because you don’t take matters into your own hands… I don’t think that’s the proper way to handle it.

If the police told you that […] should follow her to find out where she lives, you send that police officer to me and I’ll chastise him, because that’s not the proper way to handle proceedings—to follow her to find out where she lives so that you can do whatever you think you ought to be able to do.

So, still, I’m mad at both of you all but I’m going send you on your way…

Civic Duty
Three months after her court appearance—with the TNR debate heating up in Athens—Dauphine weighed in publicly, writing a letter to the editor of Flagpole, Athens’ alternative weekly newspaper.

In it, she touches on all the usual talking points (e.g., cats are non-native, exaggerated predation rates, etc.), and portrays her trapping as a civic duty—done in the best interest not only of the community, but also of the cats. Dauphine also suggests—contrary to what she admitted in court—that her trapping efforts were limited to her own property.

“After reflecting on my responsibilities as a citizen and learning the relevant laws, I began trapping what turned out to be dozens of cats on my property. The vast majority were feral and stray and some of them were suffering from infectious diseases…

I’m all for enjoyment and finding a sense of purpose, but I think we can agree that we all need to do that without infringing on everyone else’s rights and causing mass destruction. If helping feral cats is your thing, that’s great—go out feed them and care for them to your heart’s content in your own house or an enclosure on your own property, where they will be safe from harm and will also not harm other animals or people…

It’s a free country, as the saying goes, but we are also a nation of laws. I do not have the freedom to release dogs, horses, goats, cattle, snakes, tigers or bears on my neighbors’ property. Likewise, I don’t want other people releasing animals, including cats, feral or otherwise, on mine. Cats are beautiful animals that make wonderful pets, but they were domesticated thousands of years ago—they’re not wild, they don’t belong outside roaming and killing native wildlife, and your cats definitely don’t belong on my property…” [6]

In what can only be described as gross hypocrisy, Dauphine closes her letter by arguing that “TNR is not respectful of law, private property, or citizens’ rights.” [6] Had she been more respectful of the law, private property, and citizens’ rights, Dauphine wouldn’t have found herself in court three months earlier.

Or—if the Washington Humane Society investigators are right—once again, three years later.

Literature Cited
1. Johnson, J. (2008, February 2). Man who abandoned cats to serve 20 days. Athens Banner-Herald (GA),

2. Aued, B. (2009, March 28). Feral feline problem now life-or-death issue. Athens Banner-Herald, from http://onlineathens.com/stories/032809/new_415448061.shtml

3. Aued, B. (2009, Auguest 3). Athens Area Humane Society moves to new digs in Watkinsville. Athens Banner-Herald, from http://onlineathens.com/stories/080409/new_475853412.shtml

4. Aued, B. (2010, March 3). TNR approved in 9-1 vote. Athens Banner-Herald, from http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/030310/new_569880708.shtml

5. Dauphine, N. and Cooper, R.J., “Pick One: Outdoor Cats or Conservation.” The Wildlife Professional. 2011. 5(1): p. 50–56.

6. Dauphine, N. (2008, October 15). Letter to the Editor. Flagpole, from http://flagpole.com/Weekly/Letters/FeralCats.15Oct08

Fantasy Islands

Thirty-three: that’s how many species of birds have been driven to extinction by feral cats. At least.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve stumbled across references to this figure over the past couple years. Not once, however, have I seen more than one species (usually the Stephens Island Wren, its story having been twisted into mythology over the years) mentioned as an example.

Which species? From where? Under what circumstances?

I seemed to be the only one interested in these questions. Indeed—as is often the case with such “facts”—the impact of the 33 extinctions reference increases the further it’s separated from its original context.

Recent Sightings
The most recent reference comes from Kiera Butler’s article in the July/August issue of Mother Jones. Domestic cats, Butler writes, are “responsible for at least 33 avian extinctions worldwide.” [1]

The authors of Feral Cats and Their Management, published last year by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, qualified the role of cats somewhat: “While loss of habitat is the primary cause of species extinctions, cats are responsible for the extinction of at least 33 species of birds around the world.” [2]

Nico Dauphine mentioned the 33 extinctions in her now-infamous “Apocalypse Meow” presentation, and in her 2009 Partners In Flight paper, co-written with Robert Cooper: “Historically, cats have been specifically implicated in at least 33 bird extinctions, making them one of the most important causes of bird extinctions worldwide (Nogales et al. 2004).” [3]

In “A Review of Feral Cat Eradication on Islands,” Nogales et al. explain: “Feral cats are responsible for the extinction of at least 33 bird species. Insular endemic landbirds are most frequently driven to extinction.” [4, emphasis mine]

So we’re talking about islands? That’s no small distinction, as Fitzgerald and Turner make clear in their contribution to The Domestic Cat: The biology of its behaviour:

“Cats have become established within the last century or two on many oceanic islands that, by the nature of their origin, had very few if any mammals but possessed avian faunas that had evolved without mammalian predators. In these circumstances, cats have had severe effects, that were often combined with the effects of other introduced mammals and habitat modification.” [5]

In Search Of 33 Extinctions
As their source, Nogales et al. cite a 1994 book by Christopher Lever, Naturalized animals: The ecology of successfully introduced species, which in turn points us to a 1977 text:

“According to Jackson (1977), naturalized predators have collectively been responsible for the extermination throughout the world of no fewer than 61 avian taxa, the principal culprits being feral domestic Cats which have caused 33 extinctions, rats 14, and the Small Indian Mongoose nine. These are in addition to the numerous occasions of local extinctions.” [6]

Now we’re getting somewhere. Jackson provides a bar chart illustrating the “Relative importance of causes of avian extinctions since 1600; data are summarized from Ziswiler (1967).” [7]

Now, a truly thorough search wouldn’t end with Ziswiler’s work—as he cites four additional sources. Nevertheless, Ziswiler provides what I was looking for: the various species that were driven to extinction, their location, and an approximate date.

And—just as important—the various other factors that acted in combination with predation by cats (which Ziswiler lists in what appears to be hierarchical order, though it’s not entirely clear).

That’s right: not only are these extinctions limited to island habitats, they typically involve two or three contributing factors. In fact, of the 33 extinctions tabulated by Ziswiler, only eight are attributed to cats exclusively (and it turns out some of those have been “overturned” in the 44 years since Ziswiler first published his list, as we’ll see shortly).

All of which is pretty difficult to reconcile with, say, Butler’s straightforward indictment: cats are “responsible for at least 33 avian extinctions worldwide.” [1]

Cats and Avian Extinctions
Of the eight extinctions Ziswiler attributes to cats alone, just two have stood the test of time: the Stephens Island Wren and the Macquarie Island kakariki (red-crowned parakeet), as described below.

  • Stephens Island Wren (Xenicus lyalli; Traversia lyalli)
    Location: Stephens Island
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats
    What we know now: “Traversia lyalli is only known from recent times from Stephen’s Island, New Zealand, although it is common in fossil deposits from both of the main islands. It is not thought to have existed beyond 1894… Construction of a lighthouse on Stephens Island in 1894 led to the clearance of most of the island’s forest, with predation by the lighthouse keeper’s cat delivering the species’ coup-de-grace.” (BirdLife International)

    In fact, the story of the “lighthouse keeper’s cat” is only partly accurate.

    Drawing upon “archival and museum records,” Galbreath and Brown found that, contrary to popular accounts, it was not a single cat, but “a small population of cats… preying on the birds and other life of the island.” [8]

    “They had a considerable impact on the land birds of the island: the flightless Traversia lyalli was only the first to disappear. Judging by the numbers of specimens obtained in 1894 and subsequent years, the species was reduced considerably in that first year and eliminated entirely within perhaps a few more years. Extermination was rapid, although probably not as rapid as usually stated, nor by a single cat. But although the extinction of the Stephens Island wren may not have been quite as dramatic as it has usually been portrayed, it was tragic enough. Traversia lyalli was only one of the casualties of human exploitation of Stephens Island, which could, with just a little more care, have remained a safe haven for this and other species now entirely extinct.” [8]

  • Macquarie Island kakariki (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae erythrotis)
    Location: Macquarie Island
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats
    What we know now: “For 70 years following the discovery of Macquarie Island in 1810 the endemic parakeet Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae erythrotis remained plentiful, despite the introduction of cats (Felis catus) and other predators. The crucial factor in the bird’s rapid disappearance between 1881 and 1890 appears to have been the successful liberation of rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in 1879. This led to great increases of feral cats and introduced wekas (Gallirallus australis) and presumably to greatly intensified predation on parakeets.” [9]

    Macquarie Island provides an interesting footnote: A 15-year cat eradication effort on the island, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Site, concluded in 2000 with “unintended consequences [that] have been dire.” In the absence of cats, the population of rabbits and rodents has skyrocketed, prompting the Australian government to commit AU$24 million to further eradication efforts. [10]

Other Factors
Three of the other six cat-caused extinctions described by Ziswiler actually involve a host of factors, as revealed by 44 years of additional research

  • Guadalupe storm petrel (Oceanodroma macrodactyla)
    Location: Guadalupe
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats
    What we know now: “The main cause of its demise is thought to be heavy predation by feral cats, compounded by goats destroying and degrading nesting habitat.” However, “it cannot yet be presumed to be Extinct because there have been no thorough surveys of this difficult-to-detect species in the appropriate season since 1906, and relatively recent reports of unidentified storm-petrels calling at night, plus the persistence of Leach’s Storm-petrel breeding on the island provide some hope that it may survive. Any remaining population is likely to be tiny, and for these reasons it is treated as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct).” (BirdLife International)
  • Choiseul crested pigeon (Microgoura meeki)
    Location: Choiseul Island
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats
    What we know now: “Its extinction was presumably caused by predation by feral dogs and cats, as suitable habitat survives on the island… It has not been recorded since 1904 despite searching and interviews with villagers.” (BirdLife International)
  • Bonin crested pigeon (Comumba versicolor)
    Location: Bonin Islands
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats
    What we know now: “Its extinction presumably resulted from clearance of the islands’ subtropical evergreen forest, and from predation by introduced cats and rats… It was last recorded in 1889.” (BirdLife International)

Natural Disaster
The case of the St. Christopher Bullfinch is intriguing in that cats may not have been involved at all.

  • St. Christopher Bullfinch (Loxigilla portoricensis grandis)
    Location: St. Christopher Island
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats
    What we know now: In 1979, Herbert Raffaele offered an explanation that makes no mention of cats whatsoever, picking up the story where James Greenway [11], one of the sources cited by Ziswiler, left off:

    “The only explanation yet put forward for the extinction of L. p. grandis is that of Bond (1936, 1956), who suggested the bird’s demise resulted from heavy predation by Green Monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops) which were introduced on St. Kitts. Greenway (1958) noted that this hypothesis appears weak because the related Lesser Antillean Bullfinch (L. noctis) has survived disturbance by the same monkeys on Barbados (indeed, L. noctis thrives on St. Kitts itself); he further suggested that “Other unknown factors may have been involved.” Greenway, however, did not propose an alternative hypothesis. I shall examine the often-quoted monkey hypothesis and suggest an alternative explanation.” [12]

    Readers interested in the details of the “often-quoted monkey hypothesis” will want to download the PDF. The short answer is: two hurricanes during August 1899 were “probably enough to eliminate L. p. grandis.” [12]

Extinction Is (Not) Forever
Perhaps the most surprising finding, though, is that two of the species Ziswiler claims were driven to extinction by feral cats—the Aukland Islands rail and the Eyrean grass-wren—turn out not to be extinct at all.

  • Aukland Islands rail (Rallus muelleri; Lewinia muelleri)
    Location: Aukland Islands
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats
    What we know now: “It was once thought to be extinct but was rediscovered on Adams Island (100 km2) in 1966 and Disappointment Island (4 km2) in 1993… Population numbers are apparently stable.  Although both rail-inhabited islands are predator-free, Auckland Island (a few hundred metres from Adams) supports feral cats, mice and pigs, and therefore the introduction of these animals is a possible threat.” (BirdLife International)
  • Eyrean grass-wren (Amytornis goyderi)
    Location: Australia
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats
    What we know now: “Although this species may have a restricted range, it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion… the population trend criterion… [or] the population size criterion… For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.” (BirdLife International)

Plenty of Blame to Go Around
The remaining 25 extinctions, while not as dramatic as some of those already mentioned, illustrate very well complexities generally lost to those who blindly cite the 33 extinctions (reason enough, they seem to argue, to outlaw the feeding of feral cats and TNR programs everywhere).

  • Iwo Jima rail (Poliolimnas cinereus brevipes)
    Location: Iwo Jima
    Cause (Ziswiler): rats and feral cats
    What we know now: “Due to an increasing human population on Naka from 1910 onwards, its habitat degraded, and natural water sources became scarce. Therefore, the birds had to depend on water tanks near houses in the dry season, where they were easily caught by feral or domestic cats. The last birds collected for science were in 1911 (the 12 birds of the type-series of brevipes), and the last bird seen was in 1920–1925 (Greenway 1967).” (Zoological Museum Amsterdam)

  • Bonin night heron (Nycticorax caledonicus crassirostris)
    Location: Bonin Islands
    Cause (Ziswiler): “habitat altered through civilization or monocultures” and feral cats
    What we know now: “The most likely reason for its extinction is predation by rats and feral cats. However, collectors fascinated by its plumes may also have been responsible; birds shot for use in millinery (a burgeoning business in contemporary Japan) would not have ended up in scientific collections… The Bonin Night Heron became extinct only 50 years after its description. The last specimen was taken in 1889 on Nakōdo-jima.” (Wikipedia)
  • Red-billed rail (Rallus pacificus)
    Location: Tahiti
    Cause (Ziswiler): rats and feral cats
    What we know now: “It was flightless, and its extinction was presumably caused by introduced cats and rats… there were reports from Tahiti until 1844, and from the nearby Mehetia until the 1930s.(BirdLife International)
  • Chatham Island banded rail (Rallus dieffenbachii)
    Location: Chatham Island
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats and rats
    What we know now: “Its extinction was presumably due to predation by introduced rats, cats and dogs, and habitat loss from fire… The species was already scarce when the type was collected in 1840, and was extinct by 1872.” (BirdLife International)
  • Samoa wood rail (Pareudiastes pacificus; Gallinula pacifica)
    Location: Samoa
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats and rats
    What we know now: “Cats, rats, pigs and dogs have no doubt contributed to its disappearance, and hunting may also have been a factor as it was formerly a favoured food of the human population… it was last recorded in 1873. In 1984 there were two possible sightings in upland forest west of Mt Elietoga, and in October 2003 a possible sighting of two individuals was made at 990 m on Mount Sili Sili. A recent survey of the island yielded no record of the species.” (BirdLife International)
  • Jamaica Pauraque (Siphonornis americanus americanus; Siphonorhis americana)
    Location: Jamaica
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats and “mongoose forms”
    What we know now: “This species has not been recorded since 1860, and it may have been driven to extinction by introduced mongooses and rats, whose effect may have been exacerbated by habitat destruction. However, it cannot yet be presumed to be Extinct because there have been recent unconfirmed reports, and surveys may possibly have overlooked this nocturnal species. Any remaining population is likely to be tiny, and for these reasons it is treated as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct).” (BirdLife International)

    Note: there is no mention of cats at all.

  • Lord Howe grey-headed blackbird (Turdus poliocephalus vinitinctus)
    Location: Lord Howe Island
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats and feral pigs
    What we know now: “It was quite common in 1906 but its population began to diminish in 1913 due to disturbance by man, cats, dogs, goats and feral pigs. When the SS Makambo was shipwrecked on Lord Howe in June 1918 rats escaped from the vessel and overran the island. With other endemic bird species this ground-nesting bird became extinct within six years.” (Wikipedia)
  • Raiatea thrush (Turdus ulietensis)
    Location: Society Islands
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats and rats
    What we know now: “Raiatea was visited in 1850 by explorer and natural history collector Andrew Garrett, who failed to record the species. Evidently it became extinct between 1774 and 1850, almost certainly as a consequence of the inadvertent introduction of Black or Brown Rats to the island.” (Wikipedia)

    Again, no mention of cats.

  • Kittlitz’s thrush (Zoothera terrestris)
    Bonin Islands
    Cause (Ziswiler): feral cats and rats
    What we know now: “Whalers started to use the island in the 1830s and it was probably driven to extinction by introduced rats and cats shortly after.” (BirdLife International)
  • Hawaiian honeycreepers (16 forms)
    Location: Hawaii
    Cause (Ziswiler): “habitat altered through destruction of the forest,” “habitat altered through civilization or monocultures,” and feral cats
    What we know now: “Some 20 species of Hawaiian honeycreeper have become extinct in the recent past, and many more in earlier times, between the arrival of arrival of the Polynesians who introduced the first rats, chickens, pigs, dogs, and hunted and converted habitat for agriculture.” (Wikipedia)

    Also: “The birds face a host of hungry new arrivals such as rats, cats, and pigs, as well as the age-old problem of habitat destruction. But their main enemy was the arrival of avian malaria in the 1940s.” (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

•     •     •

So, how many avian extinctions have cats caused? I don’t know.

Then again, neither do Butler, the authors of the UNL paper, Dauphine, or any of the others who suggest they do—and then use that “knowledge” to fuel the witch-hunt against free-roaming cats.

It’s funny how the same people who make so much noise about the U.S. population of pet cats tripling over the past 40 years (without acknowledging the increasing likelihood that these cats are indoor-only, of course) have demonstrated no interest at all in updating their island extinctions factoid.

Then again, they only rarely acknowledge the fact that the extinctions occurred on islands, or the fact that feral cats were just one of many contributing factors. In those instances where cats were involved at all—and where birds were actually driven to extinction.

Considering what these people are proposing—the wholesale killing of cats by the tens of millions—is it really too much to ask that they do a little more fact-checking and a little less Kool-Aid drinking?

Literature Cited
1. Butler, K., “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” Mother Jones. 2011. July/August. p. 72–73.

2. Hildreth, A.M., Vantassel, S.M., and Hygnstrom, S.E., Feral Cats and Their Managment. 2010, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension: Lincoln, NE. elkhorn.unl.edu/epublic/live/ec1781/build/ec1781.pdf

3. Dauphine, 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. http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/pif/pubs/McAllenProc/articles/PIF09_Anthropogenic%20Impacts/Dauphine_1_PIF09.pdf

4. Nogales, M., et al., “A Review of Feral Cat Eradication on Islands.” Conservation Biology. 2004. 18(2): p. 310–319. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2004.00442.x/abstract

5. 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: Cambridge, U.K.; New York. p. 151–175.

6. Lever, C., Naturalized animals: The ecology of successfully introduced species. 1994, London: T & A.D. Poyser Natural History.

7. Jackson, J.A., Alleviating Problems of Competition, Predation, Parasitism, and Disease in Endangered Birds: A Review, in Endangered Birds: Management Techniques for Preserving Threatened Species, S.A. Temple, Editor. 1977, The University of Wisconsin Press: Madison. p. 75–84.

8. Galbreath, R., “The tale of the lighthouse-keeper’s cat: Discovery and extinction of the Stephens Island wren (Traversia lyalli).” Notornis. 2004. 51: p. 193–200.

9. Taylor, R.H., “How the Macquarie Island Parakeet Became Extinct.” New Zealand Journal of Ecology. 1979. 2: p. 42–45. www.nzes.org.nz/nzje/free_issues/NZJEcol2_42.pdf

10. Bergstrom, D.M., et al., “Indirect effects of invasive species removal devastate World Heritage Island.” Journal of Applied Ecology. 2009. 46(1): p. 73–81. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2664.2008.01601.x/abstract


11. Greenway, J.C., Extinct and vanishing birds of the world. 1958, American Committee for International Wild Life Protection.

12. Raffaele, H.A., “Comments on the extinction of Loxigilla portoricensis grandis in Saint Kitts.” Condor. 1977. 79: p. 389–390. elibrary.unm.edu/sora/Condor/files/issues/v079n03/p0389-p0390.pdf

If You Build It, They Will Come

Vox Felina logo: one-year anniversary

…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.

…effective public policy… 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.”

I wrote those words a year ago today, thus launching Vox Felina.

A year into this project, the vision and mission remain unchanged. As does my commitment to “illuminate” the bogus claims made by those who continue to promote the shameless witch hunt against free-roaming cats.

This commitment, I now realize, will keep me busy for a very long time. (Imagine: at one time, I actually worried about running out of material!)

Over the past twelve months, I’ve accumulated hundreds of academic papers, theses and dissertations, book chapters, reports of all kinds, and newspaper articles. (Despite the cumbersome nature of the process, I still believe in reading what I cite; this, I’ve learned, is not to be taken for granted.)

Posts frequently exceed 4,000—even 5,000 words. (At 348 words, that inaugural post was easily one of the “leanest.”) And still, the to-do list continues to grow.

But, so does the audience.

Vox Felina has attracted the attention of the San Francisco Chronicle, Best Friends Animal Society, and Animal Wise Radio, among others.

At last check, the blog has 157 subscribers and 621 “Likes” on the Vox Felina Facebook page.

Best of all—and much to my surprise and delight—the blog has attracted a team of die-hard supporters who go out of their way to provide me with news items, background information and material, and invaluable feedback. To these bright, ambitious, and generous souls—many of whom I’ve yet to meet—I am immensely grateful and deeply indebted.

As I say, the task at hand is greater than I anticipated—but so is the collective will to accomplish the task. So, a moment of celebration (e.g., a slice of cake, a toast, etc.), and then it’s back to work.

Year 2 begins…

Operation Sisyphus

The draft environmental assessment (EA) for the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex Integrated Predator Management Plan (download PDF), released last week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), aims to eliminate free-roaming cats in the Keys. Not that this is anything new—FWS (along with USDA, and some state agencies) has been trying to do this for years now.

Plans include the trapping/removal of free-roaming cats—owned and unowned alike—from refuge lands and other public lands nearby, as well as from other land (including private property) where cats may be considered a threat to vulnerable native species. TNR has been dismissed as an option, and FWS proposes to prohibit the feeding of feral cats wherever possible.

Unfortunately, the proposed plan is unlikely to be any more successful than previous efforts. There’s plenty to dislike about the FWS plan—including the risk that it may set a dangerous precedent nationwide. The deadline for public comments (see Plan for details) is February 3.

Justification or Rationalization?
In a section of the document called Justification for Management Action, FWS lays out their numerous grievances against “non-native species and human-subsidized populations of native predators.” [1] As a review of the relevant literature, the sub-section on domestic cats leaves much to be desired is a train wreck.

In fact, if this were a college-level term paper, it would likely receive a failing grade—followed, perhaps, by disciplinary action. (And, if it were allowed under the law, maybe a drug test, too.)

Among the references cited here (about three-quarters of which I’m familiar; the rest I’m still chasing down) is, admittedly, some rather damning evidence. For example:

  • The near-extirpation of rock iguanas from Pine Cay in the Caicos Islands during the 1970s. “The decline, from an estimated adult lizard population of nearly 5,500, was due primarily to predation by domestic dogs and cats introduced to the island simultaneously with hotel construction.” [2] (Strangely, FWS cites Iverson’s paper not as an example of a near-miss, but of a global extinction. This, however, pales in comparison to the “strangeness” of many of their other citations.)
  • On Little Barrier Island, off the coast of New Zealand, cats “were considered to have been the sole cause of the local eradication of North Island saddleback and to have contributed to the extinction of the Little Barrier snipe, and to threaten, by their continued presence, grey-faced, black, and Cook’s petrels. Cats probably also contributed to the decline of tuatara and the 12 lizard species known to be present on Little Barrier Island.” [3]

On the other hand, much of the FWS’s evidence is, at best, circumstantial. Among the studies cited to support their claim that “free-roaming cats have been shown to be a major cause of 33 native species extinction [sic] globally,” is a 1987 paper by Cruz and Cruz, in which the authors, studying Galápagos Petrels, found that cats were hardly the only culprits:

“They are threatened by introduced rats, which attack eggs and young chicks… dogs and pigs which prey on eggs, nestlings and adults. Introduced goats, burros and cattle destroy nesting habitat and trample nests. A different combination of these pests and predators exists at each of the petrel nesting sites, while three of the islands are plagued by all of them.” [4]

And, as with the rock iguanas, the FWS would have the public believe the Galápagos Petrel is among those 33 extinctions. In fact, the birds are still there, though they are listed as Critically Endangered.

The story is similar for the 1986 paper by Kirkpatrick and Rauzon, another purported link between free-roaming cats and species extinctions. Kirkpatrick and Rauzon found that more than 90 percent of the diet of free-roaming cats on Jarvis Island and Howland Island was made up of Sooty Terns, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, and Brown Noddies—each of which is listed as a species of Least Concern.

Another of the papers cited by FWS has nothing to do with extinctions at all. As the authors themselves describe it, their study was an evaluation of “whether a collar-worn pounce protector, the CatBib, reduces the number of vertebrates caught by pet cats and whether its effectiveness was influenced by colour or adding a bell.” [5]

FWS argues that “many of the species impacted by free-roaming cats are federally listed threatened or endangered species and federally protected migratory birds.” While probably true, this statement is also largely meaningless. According to the 2009 State of the Birds report, published by the Department of the Interior (which oversees FWS):

“The United States is home to a tremendous diversity of native birds, with more than 800 species inhabiting terrestrial, coastal, and ocean habitats, including Hawaii. Among these species, 67 are federally listed as endangered or threatened. An additional 184 are species of conservation concern because of their small distribution, high threats, or declining populations.” [6]

That translates to approximately 31 percent of all birds in this country being species of concern. FWS makes it sounds as if perhaps the cats are targeting these birds; in fact, they could just as easily have claimed that many of the species impacted by all forms of mortality are federally listed threatened or endangered species and federally protected migratory birds of these birds.

Hang in there, though—it gets better. I mean worse.

Also listed among the evidence of island extinctions were Coleman and Temple’s 1993 survey of rural Wisconsin residents about their outdoor cats [7], and Churcher and Lawton’s “English Village” study [8]. (While England is an island, it’s quite a stretch to suggest that Felmersham’s House sparrows are at risk of extinction.)

When it comes to the disruption caused by cats to “the abundance, diversity, and integrity of native ecosystems,” FWS turns to, among others, studies by Hawkins [9] and Jessup. [10]

As I’ve discussed previously, Hawkins’ dissertation work was plagued with problems that raise serious doubts about his rather triumphant conclusions—“the preference of ground feeding birds for the no-cat treatment was striking,” [9] for example. A closer look reveals that five of the nine ground-feeding birds showed no preference for either area of the study site. One could, based on Hawkins’ findings, just as easily conclude that more than half of the ground-feeding species studied were indifferent to the presence of cats.

Jessup cites some well-known predation studies, but his concern is the condemnation of “trap, neuter, and reabandon,” [10] as he calls it (“Abandonment of animals cannot be morally justified and is illegal under state humane laws… If it is illegal to abandon a cat once, how can it be legal to do it a second time? How can veterinarians justify being party to abandonment, an illegal act of animal cruelty?” [10])

FWS suggests that “free-roaming cats kill at least one billion birds every year in the U.S., representing one of the largest single sources of human-influenced mortality for small native wildlife,” [1] supporting their assertion with just three sources, one of which is Rich Stallcup’s 1991 article from the Observer, a publication of the Point Reyes Bird Observatory. But “A Reversible Catastrophe” is very light on science—and Stallcup gets most of that wrong. Mostly, the article is Stallcup’s manifesto regarding neighborhood cats:

“If you have a garden, why not proclaim it a wildlife sanctuary and protect it from non-native predators? If roaming cats come into your sanctuary to poach the wildlife under your stewardship, you have the right and perhaps even the duty to discourage them in a serious way.” [11]

Discourage them? Among Stallcup’s suggestions: “…try a B-B or pellet gun. There is no need to kill or shoot toward the head, but a good sting on the rump seems memorable for most felines, and they seldom return for a third experience.” [11]

No feral cat witch hunt would be complete without some public health threat fear-mongering, and FWS’s plan is no different:

“According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), free-roaming cats not only threaten wildlife through direct predation but also serve as vectors for a number of diseases including rabies, cat scratch fever, hookworms, roundworms and toxoplasmosis. Some of these diseases can be transmitted to other domestic animals, native wildlife, and in some cases, humans.” [1]

But the CDC site makes no mention of cats being a threat to wildlife. And humans? “Although cats can carry diseases and pass them to people, you are not likely to get sick from touching or owning a cat.” And, notes the CDC, “People are probably more likely to get toxoplasmosis from gardening or eating raw meat than from having a pet cat.”

There’s even a link to another page on the CDC’s site, called “Health Benefits of Pets.”

And finally, there’s the paper by Sax and Gaines. If the previous examples miss their mark, this one’s a full-blown non-sequitur. Though the authors do mention “the extinction of many native animal species on islands” [12] briefly in their introduction, the purpose of the paper is, as the authors state plainly enough, to “show that the number of naturalized plant species has increased linearly over time on many individual islands.” [12, emphasis mine]

•     •     •

FWS intends to eliminate free-roaming cats from the Florida Keys, and this is the best they can do? If so, well, perhaps they ought to be doing something else. If this is their “justification for action,” then any subsequent action can, I think, rightfully be considered unjustified.

Predator Management
Among the animals to be monitored throughout and/or removed from the four refuges that make up the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex (National Key Deer Refuge, Key West National Wildlife Refuge, Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, and Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge) are non-native reptiles and rodents, native raccoons, and, of course, the cats.

“Presence of exotic non-native iguanas, lizards, and large-bodied snakes will be detected through reports, incidental sightings, and the community-based interagency ‘Python Patrol’ network. Exotic reptiles will be immediately dispatched in accordance with AVMA guidelines for humane euthanasia.” [1]

“Any non-native opossum, armadillo, or rat caught incidentally in the live traps targeted for cats on Refuge lands will be immediately dispatched in accordance with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) guidelines for humane euthanasia. All native species will be immediately set free.” [1, emphasis mine]

“Raccoons trapped incidentally in live traps targeted for cats or other non-native predators will be released alive at the trap location… Raccoons that exhibit severe disease or other serious health issues will receive appropriate evaluation, which may include care by a state-certified wildlife rehabilitator or euthanasia as recommended by a qualified veterinarian or animal control services provider… If field studies and monitoring indicate that raccoon populations are having a negative impact on endangered species, the USFWS will reevaluate the need to implement more direct control by removal of raccoons from sensitive habitats. Removal could include, but not be limited to, transfer to a wildlife park or zoo, a state-certified wildlife rehabilitator, or euthanasia. Any decision by the Service to use lethal control measures on raccoons will trigger additional public notification and an amendment to this EA.” [1]

Free-roaming Cats
But, as I say, the cats are the real focus here: “The USFWS will remove all free-roaming cats found on Refuge lands through live trapping,” at which point, the cats will become of the responsibility of any one of three (currently, two; a third contractor is currently being sought) Monroe County animal control providers.

“The Monroe County animal control service provider will have the authority to determine the final disposition of the trapped cats according to county ordinances and standards, which may include returning to owner, adopting out, relocating to a long-term cat care facility on the mainland, or euthanizing.” [1]

Of course, it’s no secret what happens to the vast majority of feral cats brought into shelters. As Nathan Winograd writes in his book Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America, “there is no other animal entering a shelter whose prospects are so grim and outcome so certain.”

I asked Connie Christian, Executive Director of the Florida Keys SPCA, about this last week. “Every cat brought to our facility is assessed to determine their disposition,” Christian told me via e-mail. “Every attempt is made to return ‘non-feral’ cats to their owners or place for adoption.”

“Unfortunately,” she continued, “we do not have an outlet for feral cats that are brought to us without a request for return.” Which would likely be the case for cats unlucky enough to be trapped by FWS. (Interestingly, FKSPCA is involved with TNR, which FWS wants to eliminate—more on that in a moment.)

What about that “relocation to long-term facilities on the mainland” option? There was some discussion of this option during stakeholder meetings that took place in 2008. And local papers carried stories suggesting the possibility. [13, 14] Now it looks like FWS is dumping this is the laps of Monroe County animal control providers.

I guess they can say they tried.

Expanding Territory
But FWS isn’t stopping at their property line—and the four refuges included in the plan already make up, according to my calculations, more than 28 percent of the Keys’ total land mass. According to the South Florida Multi-Species Recovery Plan (MSRP), FWS has plans to use land acquisition and conservation easements or agreements to protect the endangered Lower Keys marsh rabbit. [15]

The MSRP, excerpts of which are included in the EA, also spells out FWS’s intention to “remove nuisance feral cats” from land “near rabbit habitat” in the Lower Keys. [1] Additional plans include deed restrictions “to prohibit free-roaming cats” [1] in areas where they might be a threat to the rabbits, the Key Largo Woodrat, or the Key Largo Cotton Mouse. And to “enforce deed restrictions of cat control in Ocean Reef Club and other areas.” [1]

The Ocean Reef Club, of course, is home to ORCAT, perhaps the best known—and certainly one of the most successful—TNR programs in the country. According to their website, ORCAT has reduced the island’s population of cats from approximately 2,000 cats, in the early 1990s, to about 350 today, “about 100 of which reside at the Grayvik Animal Care Center.”

Frankly, I’m not sure what FWS means by “enforce deed restrictions” (one of many follow-up items on my to-do list). Other aspects of their plan, however, are straightforward:

“Feral cat colonies and feeding stations on Refuge lands will be identified and removed. The USFWS will also coordinate with county and state agencies to assist in the identification and removal, where feasible and legal, cat colonies and feeding stations on other public properties that are adjacent to or near Refuge lands. Extensive public outreach will be conducted to encourage people who feed free-roaming cats to cease doing so, and to promote trapping and relocating those animals to long-term facilities on the mainland where they will no longer be a threat to Refuge’s wildlife.” [1]

Something else that’s clear: FWS is going after pet cats, too. The MSRP includes plans to “establish a program to license domestic cats, implement leash laws, eliminate cat-feeding stations, implement spay and neuter program, increase awareness through educational material, test diseases, and remove nuisance feral cats.” [15]

Is this mandatory spay/neuter (which has been shown to fail when implemented in the absence of adequate low- and no-cost services)? Does the FWS plan to test pets for, say FIV and FeLV? Lots of unanswered questions here, obviously.

It’s no surprise, then, given their plan for the removal of feeding stations—and cats—that FWS is staunchly opposed to TNR, which, they argue “does little to reduce cat predation on native wildlife.” [1]

Success Stories
“In addition,” argues FWS, “the TNR method has little valid scientific support for claims that it actually reduces cat colony numbers over time and often has been shown to attract people to release new cats into an area.” [1]

Ironically, some of the greatest TNR success stories are right there in the papers cited by FWS. Natoli, for example, reported a 16–32 percent decrease in population size over a 10-year period across 103 colonies in Rome—despite a 21 percent rate of “cat immigration.” [16]

Castillo and Clarke, though highly critical of TNR documented remarkably little predation in the two Florida parks they used for their study. In fact, over the course of approximately 300 hours of observation (this, in addition to “several months identifying, describing, and photographing each of the cats living in the colonies” [17] prior to beginning their research), Castillo and Clarke “saw cats kill a juvenile common yellowthroat and a blue jay.” [17]

“Cats also caught and ate green anoles, bark anoles, and brown anoles. In addition, we found the carcasses of a gray catbird and a juvenile opossum in the feeding area.” [17]

Any TNR program contends with the unfortunate (and illegal) dumping of cats. Still, it’s difficult to imagine that the presence or absence of a nearby TNR program would affect a person’s decision to abandon his/her pet cat(s). (If any studies had demonstrated such a connection, TNR opponents would surely cite them!) On the other hand, cats dumped near a managed colony are far more likely to be adopted and/or sterilized—thereby mitigating their potential impact on the overall population of unowned cats—as well any impacts to wildlife and the environment.

Moreover, FWS ignores the value of population stabilization. Julie Levy, Maddie’s Professor of Shelter Medicine in the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and one of the country’s foremost experts on feral cats, argues that “wildlife benefits when populations of cats that are trending rapidly upwards are at least stabilized” [18].

Among the more perplexing aspects of FWS’s argument is their claim that “TNR practices are prohibited on National Wildlife Refuges, and violate the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) because they may result in the direct harm of protected species.” [1]

This is an argument that’s been thrown around since at least 2003, when Pamela Jo Hatley, then a law student, suggested the possibility. But that’s all it was—and, apparently, is—a possibility.

“It is quite obvious that cats can be lethal to birds,” writes Hatley, “and if the death of a migratory bird can be traced to a cat, or a cat colony, which can be further traced to an individual or organization, there may be strict liability for that person under the MBTA.” [19] Hatley’s argument for violations of the Endangered Species Act is similarly speculative: “…persons who release cats into the wild or who maintain feral cat colonies could be found liable for a take under section 9 of the ESA if maintenance of feral cats in the wild is found to kill or injure wildlife by degrading habitat.” [19]

It’s been nearly eight years now—a period during which TNR has undoubtedly increased substantially across the country—so where are all the court cases? If this were as black-and-white as FWS makes it sound, there wouldn’t even be a discussion about TNR (and the Urban Wildlands Group would likely have taken a very different tack in Los Angeles).

Finally—perhaps in a desperate attempt to appear as though their plan has the support of animal welfare organizations—FWS gives PETA a plug.

“Some animal advocates therefore often agree that traditional TNR programs are not the most appropriate choice, especially where cats are released near designated wildlife areas and at-risk wildlife populations (see the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ Animal Rights Uncompromised fact sheets at www.peta.org/about/why-peta/default.aspx). For these reasons, TNR was considered but dismissed from further evaluation.” [1]

PETA, of course, is also opposed to caged birds, crating dogs, and zoos. When PETA is the only “animal advocate” you can get to endorse your approach, it’s time to rethink it.

Operation Sisyphus
The purpose of FWS’s Plan/EA “is to conserve and restore federally-listed species and protect all native fauna and flora on the [refuges] from population decline and potential extirpation or extinction due to predation by non-native species and human-subsidized populations of native predators.” [1]

Will the plan work? Only time will tell, of course—but there’s plenty of reason for skepticism. If their “literature review” is any indication, FWS either doesn’t have a particularly strong grasp of the issues involved—or they’re not interested in sharing that understanding with the public.

Nitpicking? I don’t think so. In their attempt to focus—however carelessly—on the impacts of cats, FWS overlooks some key factors.

Mesopredator Release
FWS refers to two often-cited papers [20, 21] as evidence of cats disrupting native ecosystems, but fails to acknowledge the larger point made by the authors: the mesopredator release phenomenon. “In the absence of large, dominant predators,” write Soulé et al., “smaller omnivores and predators undergo population explosions, sometimes becoming four to 10 times more abundant than normal.” [20]

In Soulé’s example, coyotes were the dominant predators, while cats were the mesopredators. In other contexts, however, cats have been shown to play the dominant predator role with rats becoming the mesopredators.

Mathematical modeling of the mesopredator release phenomenon illustrates the complexities involved in eradication efforts, even on small islands. As Courchamp et al. explain, “although counter-intuitive, eradication of introduced superpredators, such as feral domestic cats, is not always the best solution to protect endemic prey when introduced mesopredators, such as rats, are also present.” [22] Fan et al. warn of the risks involved with such eradication efforts: “In some cases, it may cause a disastrous impact to managed or natural ecosystems.” [23]

Macquarie Island, located roughly halfway between New Zealand and Antarctica, offers a well-documented example of such a disastrous impact. In 2000, cats were eradicated from this United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Site in order to protect its seabird populations. The resulting rebound in rabbit and rodent numbers, however, has had its own disastrous impact. “In response, Federal and State governments in Australia have committed AU$24 million for an integrated rabbit, rat and mouse eradication programme.” [24]

Could something like this happen in the Florida Keys?

According to FWS, non-native rats are already “prevalent in residential and commercial areas.” [1] Should the removal of cats create a spike in their numbers, FWS suggests that they’re prepared to remove the rats, too: “Noticeable population increases based on reports, road kill, or other specific or auxiliary data may initiate targeted control and eradication efforts in addition to incidental capture…” [1]

But controlling these rats is complicated considerably by the need to protect Lower Keys marsh rabbits. The MSRP warns of these rabbits coming into contact with pesticides and “poisons used to control black rats.” [15]

“In a 1993 Biological Opinion, the FWS investigated the effects of vertebrate control agents on endangered and threatened species and determined that several chemicals (e.g., Pival) would jeopardize the continued existence of the Lower Keys marsh rabbit. Chemicals—such as Pival—a rodenticide used to kill rats, are lethal if ingested. The FWS also concluded that if development in the Keys continues to increase, the potential for these animals to come in contact with such chemicals also increases, as does the potential for their extinction. Based on these findings, the FWS believes the continued use of such chemicals will result in the deaths of Lower Keys marsh rabbits. Given that the majority of occupied habitat is adjacent to urbanized areas, and that urbanization continues to expand into their habitat, then it can reasonably be predicted that the use of such chemicals has had a negative impact upon the Lower Keys marsh rabbit that may prevent its recovery.” [15]

Removing Cats
It’s also not clear that FWS will be able to remove the free-roaming cats from the Keys. For one thing, they have no idea how many are there. Only now—after years of struggling with this issue—does FWS propose to “implement monitoring and conduct further research as needed to determine abundance and distribution of free-roaming cats throughout the Refuge, document effectiveness of management actions taken or not taken on cat populations, and determine the impacts on the ecosystems and native species to aid in the adaptive management process.” [1]

Plus, FWS has a rather poor track record when it comes to actually trapping cats.

In 2007, they “received $50,000 to remove cats from federal refuges on Big Pine Key and Key Largo, and to protect endangered marsh rabbits, silver rice rats and other animals and birds that call the refuges home.” [25] Reports (from what I can tell, nothing official has been issued) suggest that fewer than 20 cats were caught—some of which were returned to their owners (kudos to FWS and USDA)—along with 81 raccoons, 53 of which were released alive. [26]

I think it’s safe to say that the Keys’ wildlife reaped little or no benefit from this effort. Had that same money been used for TNR, on the other hand…

So what’s different this time around?

Déjà Vu
All the while I’ve been doing the research for this post, I’ve been haunted by two quotes I’ve used rather extensively in the past. Actually, the first is not a quote as such, but the title of Merritt Clifton’s excellent article: Where cats belong—and where they don’t. [27]

The second comes from Gary Patronek, who argues that “the release of cats into an environment where they would impact endangered or threatened species, or even into wildlife preserves or refuges, is inexcusable.” [28] Patronek, the former Director of the Center for Animals and Public Policy at the Cummings School, and one of the founders of the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium, continues:

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.” [28, emphasis mine]

Well, isn’t this precisely what I’m advocating? I honestly don’t know.

Here’s what I do know:

There is no doubt that the Florida Keys are immensely valuable for their diversity of animal and plant life, some of which can be found nowhere else in the world. Due to a wide range of factors (most of them human-caused), this habitat has become quite fragile, with some animal and plant species on the brink of extinction. And, in such habitats, it’s been shown that free-roaming cats can have a significant negative impact.

I also know that where cats have been eradicated, the process is a horror. In fact, it’s spelled out in some of the papers cited by FWS (though, understandably, they don’t draw attention to that):

  • Nogales et al., describing the “success” of Marion Island, note, “it took about 15 years of intense effort to eradicate the cats, combining several methods such as trapping, hunting, poisoning, and disease introduction… The use of disease agents or targeted poisoning campaigns hold promise for an initial population reduction in eradication programs on large islands—such an approach may save effort, time, and money.” [29]
  • Cruz and Cruz point out that, of all the non-native mammals there, cats were “the most difficult to control or eliminate on Floreana Island.” Although “hunting with dogs was the single most effective method employed and it gave a sure body count,” the authors warn that “the method was costly and with the limited manpower available was only useful over small areas. Both poisoning and trapping were effective and the combination of the three methods is probably the most effective approach, as well as being the best use of time and materials.” [4]
  • Veitch describes efforts on 11-square-mile Little Barrier Island as “a determined [cat] eradication attempt” involving “cage traps, leg-hold traps, dogs and 1080 poison were used, but leg-hold traps and 1080 poison were the only effective methods.” [3] Four cats were also infected with Feline enteritis, but “because of the poor reaction to the virus no other cats were dosed and none were released… Altogether, 151 cats were known to have been killed before the eradication was declared complete. Important lessons learnt can be transferred to other feral cat eradication programmes.” [3] (By way of comparison, the Keys are approximately 137 square miles in total area.)

I know that ecosystems—especially those as fragile as the Keys—are incomprehensibly complex, and that tinkering with them is incredibly risky. And there’s plenty we simply do not know, and cannot—despite our best efforts—predict.

But I know, too, that time is short. And that we’ll never have all the answers we’d like to have before the need for action precludes further inquiry.

Put another way: I’ve given this issue a lot of thought—and, here’s what I’m afraid will happen in the Keys:

FWS will proceed with their plan, rounding up cats—ferals and pets alike—on and “near” public lands. The pet cats will mostly be returned, but some mistakes—the risk of which will likely increase in an atmosphere of mass trapping—will surely be made. Feral cats will be killed.

Progress will move slowly, as these things often do—far too slowly to keep up with reproduction rates. If feeding and TNR are eliminated (to whatever extent possible) throughout the Keys, the cats will simply “go underground.” No more monitoring—and sterilizing—by the “foot soldiers” who currently care for colonies of cats.

Indeed, it’s quite likely that feral cat complaint calls to Monroe County, FWS, and the USDA would taper off considerably, as it becomes clear that such a call is essentially a death sentence. Thus, the cats become that much more difficult to locate—and sterilize. The population, therefore, increases.

Using a population model, Andersen, Martin, and Roemer have suggested that, in the absence of a sterilization program, 50 percent of cats would have to be removed in order for a colony to decrease 10 percent annually. [30] By contrast, the authors suggest that 75 percent of cats would need to be sterilized to achieve the same result.

This model has its flaws, as I’ve explained elsewhere, but the study is one many researchers are familiar with. And, frankly, it’s convenient for my purposes here.

Even if Andersen et al. are off by a factor of two, FWS would need to “remove” 25 percent of the free-roaming, unsterilized (and once they chase away the colony caretakers, it won’t be long before that’s the norm) cats continuously in order to achieve a 10 percent reduction in overall numbers.

Does anybody really think that’s going to happen? Where’s the evidence to suggest that it’s even possible?

FWS has—it seems—taken off the table the unspeakable methods so often employed on small, uninhabited islands.

“While lethal control is allowed by Refuge System policy, it is not a socially acceptable approach and is inconsistent with the points of consensus developed by the stakeholder group. This alternative would likely not be logistically feasible on a FKNWRC-wide basis and would not allow for adaptive management under a strategic habitat conservation approach.” [1]

But they’ve also taken TNR off the table. So, what’s left? We’re back to doing what we’ve been doing for years now—which, of course, is how we got into this mess in the first place.

From what I can tell, the FWS plan is nothing more than a warmed-over version of old-school trap-and-remove, an approach Mark Kumpf, president of the National Animal Control Association President from 2007 to 2008, describes as “bailing the ocean with a thimble.” [31] (There’s a metaphor that ought to resonate with people in the Keys!)

If so, it’s easy to imagine the losers in the deal—the cats, obviously, but also all of the wildlife FWS wants to protect. And the taxpayers, too, of course—not much of a return on investment for all of us, no matter what our position might be on feral cats, wildlife conservation, and the like.

The question is, where are the winners?

Literature Cited
1. n.a., Draft Environmental Assessment: Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex Integrated Predator Management Plan. 2011, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Big Pine Key, FL.

2. Iverson, J.B., “The impact of feral cats and dogs on populations of the West Indian rock iguana, Cyclura carinata.” Biological Conservation. 1978. 14(1): p. 63–73. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6V5X-48XKN72-1NN/2/bff9bfdeecb8ff6cec68527221b99a97

3. Veitch, C.R., “The eradication of feral cats (Felis catus) from Little Barrier Island, New Zealand.” New Zealand Journal of Zoology. 2001. 28: p. 1–12. http://www.royalsociety.org.nz/publications/journals/nzjz/2001/001/

4. Cruz, J.B. and Cruz, F., “Conservation of the dark-rumped petrel Pterodroma phaeopygia in the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador.” Biological Conservation. 1987. 42(4): p. 303–311. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6V5X-48XKMBP-17J/2/f81b57e317f217802d9aca8b6927a88c

5. Calver, M., et al., “Reducing the rate of predation on wildlife by pet cats: The efficacy and practicability of collar-mounted pounce protectors.” Biological Conservation. 2007. 137(3): p. 341-348. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6V5X-4NGBB7H-3/2/456180347a2c3916d1ae99e220dd329e

6. n.a., State of the Birds, United States of America, 2009. 2009, U.S. Department of Interior: Washington, DC. p. 36.

7. Coleman, J.S. and Temple, S.A., “Rural Residents’ Free-Ranging Domestic Cats: A Survey.” Wildlife Society Bulletin. 1993. 21(4): p. 381–390.

8. Churcher, P.B. and Lawton, J.H., “Predation by domestic cats in an English village.” Journal of Zoology. 1987. 212(3): p. 439-455. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7998.1987.tb02915.x

9. 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.

10. Jessup, D.A., “The welfare of feral cats and wildlife.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2004. 225(9): p. 1377-1383. http://www.avma.org/avmacollections/feral_cats/javma_225_9_1377.pdf

11. Stallcup, R., “A reversible catastrophe.” Observer 91. 1991(Spring/Summer): p. 8–9.

12. Sax, D.F. and Gaines, S.D., Species invasions and extinction: The future of native biodiversity on islands, in In the Light of Evolution II: Biodiversity and Extinction,. 2008: Irvine, CA. p. 11490–11497. www.pnas.org/content/105/suppl.1/11490.full

13. n.a. (2007, March 29). Key Deer Refuge wants to control feral cats: A plan to round up feral cats in the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine and No Name keys has animal-rights groups and area cat owners upset. The Reporter.

14. Busweiler, R. (2008, December 1). Feds begin drafting rabbit protection plan—BIG PINE KEY. The Key West Citizen.

15.  n.a., Multi-Species Recovery Plan for South Florida: Lower Keys Rabbit. 1999, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Atlanta, GA. p. 151–171. www.fws.gov/verobeach/images/pdflibrary/lkmr.pdf

16. Natoli, E., et al., “Management of feral domestic cats in the urban environment of Rome (Italy).” Preventive Veterinary Medicine. 2006. 77(3-4): p. 180-185. www.kiccc.org.au/pics/FeralCatsRome2006.pdf

17. Castillo, D. and Clarke, A.L., “Trap/Neuter/Release Methods Ineffective in Controlling Domestic Cat “Colonies” on Public Lands.” Natural Areas Journal. 2003. 23: p. 247–253.

18. Levy, J.K., Personal communication, 2010.

19. Hatley, P.J., Feral Cat Colonies in Florida: The Fur and the Feathers Are Flying. 2003, University of Florida Conservation Clinic: Gainsville, FL. www.law.ufl.edu/conservation/pdf/feralcat.pdf

20. Soulé, M.E., et al., “Reconstructed Dynamics of Rapid Extinctions of Chaparral-Requiring Birds in Urban Habitat Islands.” Conservation Biology. 1988. 2(1): p. 75-92. http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/2027.42/74761/1/j.1523-1739.1988.tb00337.x.pdf

21. Crooks, K.R. and Soulé, M.E., “Mesopredator release and avifaunal extinctions in a fragmented system.” Nature. 1999. 400(6744): p. 563–566. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v400/n6744/abs/400563a0.html

22. Courchamp, F., Langlais, M., and Sugihara, G., “Cats protecting birds: modelling the mesopredator release effect.” Journal of Animal Ecology. 1999. 68(2): p. 282–292. http://deepeco.ucsd.edu/~george/publications/99_cats_protecting.pdf

23. Fan, M., Kuang, Y., and Feng, Z., “Cats protecting birds revisited.” Bulletin of Mathematical Biology. 2005. 67(5): p. 1081-1106. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bulm.2004.12.002

24. Bergstrom, D.M., et al., “Indirect effects of invasive species removal devastate World Heritage Island.” Journal of Applied Ecology. 2009. 46(1): p. 73-81. http://eprints.utas.edu.au/8384/4/JAppEcol_Bergstrom_etal_journal.pdf

25. O’Hara, T. (2007, April 3). Fish & Wildlife Service to begin removing cats from Keys refuges. The Key West Citizen.

26. n.a., Lower Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Comprehensive Conservation Plan. 2009, U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service: Atlanta, GA.

27. Clifton, M. Where cats belong—and where they don’t. Animal People 2003.  http://www.animalpeoplenews.org/03/6/wherecatsBelong6.03.html.

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

29. Nogales, M., et al., “A Review of Feral Cat Eradication on Islands.” Conservation Biology. 2004. 18(2): p. 310-319. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2004.00442.x

30. Andersen, M.C., Martin, B.J., and Roemer, G.W., “Use of matrix population models to estimate the efficacy of euthanasia versus trap-neuter-return for management of free-roaming cats.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2004. 225(12): p. 1871-1876. http://www.avma.org/avmacollections/feral_cats/javma_225_12_1871.pdf

31. Hettinger, J., Taking a Broader View of Cats in the Community, in Animal Sheltering. 2008. p. 8–9. http://www.animalsheltering.org/resource_library/magazine_articles/sep_oct_2008/broader_view_of_cats.pdf