They Tried to Make Me Go to Rehab

In what I can only imagine was intended to be a dramatic headline, the Washington Post announced last week: “A wildlife rehab center confirms that cats are killers.” Did we really to confirm that domestic cats are, just like their wild relatives, predators?

Apparently so.

What’s next? A Sunday magazine feature investigating the presence of gravity, perhaps? Or a three-part series, complete with online photo gallery, on heliocentrism? We can only hope. In the meantime, what exactly did this wildlife rehab center learn about the hunting habits of outdoor cats? Read more

L.A. Audubon President Puts Wildlife at Risk

Below is a letter I wrote in response to a recent L.A. Weekly story. Unfortunately—especially since I learned this only after compiling and submitting my comments—the paper doesn’t seem to publish any letters, despite providing an online form for precisely this purpose.

Seems a shame to let it go to waste… Read more

Recent Research Demonstrates the Effectiveness of TNR


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

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

Rabies in Cats Continues to Decline

Well, this must be awkward—for some, anyhow. In particular, the people who continue to overstate the threat of rabies, leveraging whatever fear they can muster in their ongoing campaign to undermine community cat programs and TNR efforts.

Awkward or not, though, it’s a fact: the number of cats testing positive for rabies in the U.S. declined for the second year in a row.

The 2013 data, compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published November 15th in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association, show a decline of 10 cases (3.9 percent) from the 257 cases reported in 2012—which represented a rather dramatic decline of 15.2 percent from 2011’s total of 303 cases. Read more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Say Anything

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

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

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

Canine Citizens and Community Cats

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

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

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

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

American Bird Conservancy “Encouraged By” Government Overreach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dare we ask—which government agency will ne next?

You Can’t Get There from Here: A Response to Lohr and Lepczyk

The following comments were submitted by Frank Hamilton, president of the Animal Coalition of Tampa, Martha Girdany of the Kauai Community Cat Project, and myself, in response to Conservation Biology’s publication of “Desires and Management Preferences of Stakeholders Regarding Feral Cats in the Hawaiian Islands.”

Unfortunately, our critique of this badly flawed work was rejected by the journal. As editor-in-chief Mark Burgman explained, “the reviewers and handling editor have substantial concerns … the reviewers noted important and consistent concerns, the most significant of which is that the methodological issues raised in the comment were not sufficient to warrant publication.” Not surprisingly, my co-authors and I strongly disagree, and regret that Cheryl Lohr and Christopher Lepczyk were not required to defend their work (a trivial undertaking if, as the reviewers suggest, our concerns were off-base or overblown).

One often hears that science is self-correcting. The present case, however, supports the assertion, made in a 2012 Atlantic article, that self-correcting science is largely a myth.

•     •     •

In “Desires and Management Preferences of Stakeholders Regarding Feral Cats in the Hawaiian Islands,” authors Cheryl Lohr and Christopher Lepczyk [1] report, based on their analysis of survey results, that “live capture and lethal injection was the most preferred technique and trap-neuter-release was the least preferred technique for managing feral cats” in the Hawaiian islands. As we will demonstrate, however, a variety of flaws with the authors’ survey, sampling, and analysis undermine these claims. The study’s shortcomings, both technical and philosophical, are too numerous to address here; we will focus our attention, therefore, on the factors that contribute most significantly to Lohr and Lepczyk’s results, conclusions, and recommendations. Read more

Killer App

A couple months ago, I heard about a slick browser plugin (sadly, available only for Chrome) that replaces the word literally with figuratively for websites, articles, etc. I (literally?) cannot describe just how appealing this is to my inner (and sometimes outer) language bully. Indeed, the thought of the enormous satisfaction sure to follow was almost (but not quite) enough to get me to switch browsers.

More than anything else, though, the story got me thinking of a plugin not yet (so far as I know) developed: Euthanasia. Read more

Faith Misplaced?

Old news: Richard Conniff’s March 23rd op-ed in the New York Times, in which he used his experience of losing a cat he cared for as an opportunity to misrepresent TNR, and vilify animal welfare organizations that support it. Although Conniff’s piece lacks the kind of focus one expects from an op-ed in the Times, it’s clear to anybody familiar with the issue: he’s using all the familiar “science” and scaremongering to justify lethal roundups.

And like so many others who have taken the same position, Conniff is happy to talk about anything except the evidence that lethal methods can do the trick.

The reason, of course, is because such evidence doesn’t exist. Read more

The Call for More Killing

By the time readers had the print version of last week’s Washington Post Magazine in their ink-stained hands, the online version of its cover story, “Is it more humane to kill stray cats, or let them fend alone?,” had already been revised.

Julie Levy, director of Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida,” reads the original, “estimates between 71 percent and 94 percent of the cat population must be neutered to bring the birth rate below replacement level.”

“In addition to TNR, she says, caregivers need to stop feeding free-roaming cats and keep pet cats inside for there to be ‘a humane, gradual reduction in cat numbers.’ At one university campus she studied, the feral cat population was reduced from 155 in 1991 to 23 in 2002 through a combination of adoption, euthanizing sick cats, natural attrition and neutering ‘virtually all resident cats.’” [1]

Sometime between Thursday, when the online version was posted, and Sunday, the second sentence disappeared from the Post website. Read more

Haters Gonna… Love?

Earlier this week the American Bird Conservancy launched a series of short public service announcements created in collaboration with the Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation, “calling on cat owners to care for their pets using ‘Cats Indoors’ approaches that are demonstrably better for cats, better for birds, and better for people.”

That same day, on the organization’s Facebook page, ABC declared, “We love cats! That’s why we want to keep them inside.”

Love? Read more

JAVMA Letter: A Trojan Horse

TNR opponents’ recent letter to the editors to JAVMA was just an excuse for promoting their witch-hunt agenda—supported, as has become their habit, with the kind of bogus “research” that fails to stand up to even moderate scrutiny. (And, I would bet, probably hasn’t actually been read by most of the letter’s co-authors.)

A recent letter to the editor, published last month in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (PDF available here), reminds me of one of the reasons I’ve never enabled comments on this blog: the likelihood that some commenters would surely hijack the conversation—pretty much any conversation, however marginally relevant—to take up their own agenda. Although I’m a proponent of open dialogue (the name of this blog is no accident), I have neither the time nor the patience for people intent on making my platform their platform.

Luckily, the JAVMA editors—dealing, as I’m sure they do, only with the most conscientious professionals—aren’t subject to such hijack attempts. Right?

Guess again. Read more

Reductio ad absurdum

Results of a new computer model suggest that sterilization via vasectomy and hysterectomy is more effective than traditional spay/neuter at reducing the population of community cats. But the work raises several questions about the model’s validity—and more troubling ones about its implications for animal welfare.

Since starting this blog a little more than three years ago, I’ve been describing TNR as a compromise—but the best option we’ve got in most circumstances. But what if there’s a better option, a non-lethal method for managing the population of stray, abandoned, and feral cats that reduces their numbers more quickly?

Intriguing, right?

According to a team of researchers at Tufts University, the answer is trap-vasectomy-hysterectomy-release, or TVHR. By eliminating the possibility for reproduction while leaving the cats “hormonally intact,” this method takes advantage of biological and behavioral characteristics not found in cats subject to traditional spay/neuter surgery,* thereby outperforming TNR in reducing colony size.

Or at least that’s what their computer model predicts. Read more

A Commitment to Lethal (Non) Control

The reason the American Bird Conservancy, National Audubon Society, The Wildlife Society, and others oppose TNR is, explained chief Animal Control Officer for Pompano Beach, Florida, David Aycock, during a barn-burner of a City Commission meeting Tuesday night, “that these animals are not safe out there—on their own, by themselves.

I was reminded of that famous line from Forrest Gump: “My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’” Read more

Common Sense for Cats

Have you seen the just-launched Common Sense for Cats website yet? It’s an Alley Cat Allies initiative that the organization describes as “an online resource to educate about outdoor cats and Trap-Neuter-Return, the only humane and effective program to stabilize—and reduce—outdoor cat populations.”

The site serves as a useful primer—courtesy of some very nice visuals—for those not already familiar with TNR and the larger “cat debate.” It’s easy to share via Facebook and Twitter, and there’s even a petition you can sign “to help ensure that humane policies for cats are a major take-home message for local policymakers across the country.” Signatures will be presented “at the upcoming meetings for the National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, and the United States Conference of Mayors to let them know that Americans want humane policies for cats in their communities.” (Just last week, Alley Cat Allies delivered more than 55,000 signatures to the Smithsonian Institution in response to the publication earlier this year of agenda-driven junk science produced by researchers at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.)

Thank you, Alley Cat Allies!

Hillsborough County Commissioners Approve TNR Plan

It doesn’t happen often enough—but every now and then, common sense, reason, and compassion win the day. Today is such a day.

This morning Hillsborough County commissioners voted 6-to-1 in favor of Hillsborough County Animal Services’ recently announced TNR pilot program—part of director Ian Hallett’s proposal for reducing shelter killing (PDF).

This is a huge victory for TNR supporters (who, as I understand it, packed today’s meeting), especially in light of the no-holds-barred campaign waged by opponents from the Hillsborough County Veterinary Medical Society and Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation. In the end, it seems, all the misinformation and scare-mongering—and their lack of a feasible alternative to TNR—failed to impress county commissioners. (One wonders what sort of impression the campaign made on their clients.)

As I understand it, HCAS’s program would be modeled on the successful Feral Freedom programs underway in Jacksonville, FL, or San José, CA. However, it’s clear from people already involved with TNR in Hillsborough County that some key aspects of the program still need to be worked out.

•     •     •

To my friends and colleagues in Hillsborough County, whose tireless efforts made this victory possible, congratulations! And thank you for all you’re doing on behalf of your community’s stray, abandoned, and feral cats!

PETA Threatens Florida’s Community Cat Act

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

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

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

Natural Selection, Pronto!

Cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonata) in Cayucos, CA. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Marlin Harms.

Swallows evolve shorter wings to avoid cars, study suggests.

Over the past few years, I’ve grown increasingly skeptical of such headlines. Still, sometimes the research really does live up to the media hype. This would seem to be the case here, in an NBC News story about the recently published work of Charles Brown and Mary Bomberger Brown.

Collecting and studying the “salvageable specimens” of cliff swallows killed along the roads surrounding southwestern Nebraska’s Cedar Point Biological Station over the past 30 years, Brown and Brown found the numbers of road-killed birds “declined sharply.” [1] And the trend couldn’t be explained by the population of swallows living nearby (which increased over the study period), traffic volume (which “either did not change significantly or increased, depending on the metric used”), or the number of avian scavengers in the area (“as none showed significant increases in our study area”).

“Thus, none of the obvious factors that confound most road-kill surveys applied to our study,” explain the researchers in the most recent issue of Current Biology. [1]

So why the decrease in swallow mortalities? Read more