Abductions, the Feral Cat Underground, and Eugenics

“Our cat vanished without a trace a couple of days ago. Then as mysteriously as he had disappeared he reappeared nearly forty-eight hours later at the kitchen door with a plaintive meow. He was dehydrated, malnourished and abused. His face was scratched, his belly shaved as if for surgery, and his left ear mutilated. He acted as if he were drugged or coming off anesthetic.”

Thus begins Mark Derr’s most recent post, published Friday, on Psychology Today’s Dog’s Best Friend blog. Malnourished? Hungry is probably a more accurate description. And mutilated? Well, ear-tipped.

Having ruled out both Santeria and Voodoo, Derr concluded that his cat, McDude, “had fallen prey to cat fanatics who reportedly were trapping and neutering cats in our Miami Beach neighborhood, then returning them to their little piece of paradise.”

As I mentioned in my comment, I’m sympathetic—no guardian wants his or her cat to go through what McDude went through. And I understand people’s reluctance to putting collars on their cats. (Microchips, however, ought to be a no-brainer for people with outdoor cats—as microchip scanning is standard practice for many, if not most, TNR programs and shelters.)

His bizarre account, however, badly betrays the title “expert” bestowed on him by Psychology Today. Indeed, Derr makes some the flat-out strangest assertions I’ve come across on the subject of TNR.

Let me assure you: that’s an accomplishment.

Derr questions the efficacy of TNR—nothing new there. But goes off the rails when he questions whether action of any kind—TNR or shelter killing—is necessary because “hard evidence of cat overpopulation is seldom if ever produced for any given region or area.”

“…I have not seen a reasonable estimate of the number of feral cats on Miami Beach, an island, or of its carrying capacity for cats, much less the considerably larger Miami-Dade County.”

And yet, the “cat fanatics” persist, apparently. And not just the officially sanctioned ones, either.

“In a way McDude and we are lucky, I am told, that he was brought back because there are also private entrepreneurs who trap, neuter, and send desirable cats and kittens elsewhere for adoption, always an iffy proposition with wild cats. A neighbor told me she had to beg these cat fanatics to leave alone a group of cats she feeds and is having neutered at her expense.”

Is Derr really suggesting that TNR is lucrative—that finding homes for “wild cats” is some underground profit center? Or that the people trapping in his neighborhood have so little to do that they are eyeballing his neighbor’s colony? (More than likely comprised of “mutilated” cats.)

Derr’s most outlandish claim, however, has nothing to do overpopulation, ear-tipping, or some imagined underground market for feral cats.

Derr has, he explains, “always had problems with” TNR programs “primarily because they are patently eugenical—the reproductive freedom of the cat is taken away for no reason other than that a group of people has decided they are too low born and too abundant to be allowed to reproduce.”

That’s right: according to Derr, sterilizing stray, abandoned, and feral cats is done neither to improve their lives nor to diminish their numbers, but for the purpose of improving the genetic stock of Felis catus. As I say, I’ve heard a lot of off-the-wall claims about TNR, but this one’s nearly as incomprehensible as some of the comments his post attracted.

Again, I take no pleasure in hearing what McDude or the Derr family went through. Neither, I’m sure, would the person who trapped him or the vet tech who apparently mistook the sterilized male cat for an unsterilized female. But for Derr—who, according to his bio, has written for The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times—to publish an account so plagued with misinformation and hyperbole?

That, I’m having a much more difficult time understanding.


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