“The only sure way to protect wildlife, cats and people is for domestic cats to be permanently removed from the outdoor environment,” argues American Bird Conservancy president George Fenwick in a Baltimore Sun op-ed published earlier this week.
“Trap-neuter-release programs that perpetuate the slaughter of wildlife and encourage the dumping of unwanted cats is [sic] a failed strategy being implemented across the United States without any consideration for environmental, human health, or animal welfare effects. It can no longer be tolerated.”
“Evidence” of the slaughter, Fenwick suggests, can be found “in a long line of scientific studies”—among them the Smithsonian/USFWS “killer cat study,” Rick Gerhold and David Jessup’s “Zoonotic Diseases” paper, Peter Marra’s gray catbird study, and Kerry Anne Loyd’s “KittyCam” research. The trouble, of course, is with the quality of Fenwick’s evidence—or in the case of Loyd’s work, how badly it’s been misrepresented by Fenwick and ABC.
But let’s face it: a witch-hunt is a much easier sell when you can put some “science” behind it. And, although too few Sun readers probably realize it, that’s exactly what Fenwick’s up to:
“Local governments need to act swiftly and decisively to gather the 30 million to 80 million* unowned cats, aggressively seek adoptions, and establish sanctuaries for or euthanize those cats that are not adoptable.”
Now Fenwick’s been at this far too long not to know what typically happens when local governments “gather” these cats. As Kate Hurley, program director of the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at the University of California, Davis, and Julie Levy, Professor of Shelter Medicine and director of Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida, explained in a recent essay:
“Feral or very fearful community cats have historically been euthanized either immediately or at the end of a holding period at most shelters. Friendly cats will commonly be offered for adoption or transferred to rescue groups, if available. However, because the number of community cats entering most shelters is significantly greater than the number adopted, even friendly community cats are sometimes euthanized.”
And sanctuaries are astonishingly expensive to operate—again, as Fenwick surely knows.
So what is it he’s really proposing here?
“I detest the killing of cats and dogs or anything else,” Fenwick told USA Today last October. “But this is out of control, and there may be no other answer.” Now Fenwick’s going further—though he’s still hiding behind the same disingenuous “solutions” ABC’s been “offering” since their Cats Indoors! program was launched in 1997.
As one of my colleagues suggests, Fenwick’s op-ed looks like an act of desperation: ABC’s struggle for relevance in a culture increasingly fed up with the culture of killing.
* Just a couple years ago, the figure was “60–120 million,” according to The American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird Conservation. In fact, none of these estimates can actually be traced to a survey of the population of unowned cats.