The (Ig)Noble Pursuit of Public (Dis)Service

Two new public service campaigns from the American Bird Conservancy fly in the face of science, public opinion, and common sense.

For nearly 20 years now, it seems the people at the American Bird Conservancy have been willing to say whatever they thought they could get away with to promote the lethal roundup of “feral” cats. Unburdened by the constraints of integrity, PR ought to be easy for ABC. Two recent public service announcements, however, suggest otherwise.

Indeed, ABC’s latest salvo in their war on cats suggests that the organization’s grasp of effective messaging is no better than their grasp of science. (And this, as every regular reader will understand immediately, is saying something.)

“Protect Cats Like You Protect Kids”

Perhaps it’s merely a coincidence that this PSA is, conceptually, very similar to Best Friends Animal Society’s “Fix at Four” campaign from a few years ago—who knows? But, while Best Friends* is actively saving lives through programming, legislation, and various forms of advocacy, ABC president George Fenwick is calling publicly for millions of “cats that are not adoptable” to be killed. [1]

How’s that for “protection”? Pity the unadoptable… children.

Nevertheless, ABC—which, according to tax records, brought in $10.6 million in “contributions and grants” during 2013—is using this PSA in an attempt to raise $15,000 “to help air this important PSA!”

That’s right: ABC is now fundraising “to protect cats.”

The cats need ABC’s “protection” about as much as they need the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ “management.”

“Cats in Hawaii”

In this PSA, ABC relies on junk science published in 2013 to support their claim that “8 out of 10 residents support the removal of feral cats from our environment.” (As I pointed out in August 2014, the authors responsible for the survey—both of whom oppose TNR—started out with a badly flawed sample, thereby invalidating their findings.)

This “removal” (a cowardly euphemism favored by both ABC and the researchers behind the survey) is, acknowledges the PSA, “a big job” but achievable if people keep their pet cats indoors and “refrain from feeding feral cats.”

So here we have another leap of logic: the same cats ABC claims are killing Hawaii’s birds will, if only residents will stop feeding them, kill… fewer birds. (And somehow also be rendered infertile.)

Setting that obvious point aside for the moment (as ABC surely hopes we will), let’s consider just how big a job this “big job” really is. Eradicating 635 cats from Ascension Island—roughly one-twentieth the size of Maui—took 27 months and cost taxpayers a staggering $1.3 million (in 2013 dollars). [2]

Maybe this is the PSA that should have been tied to a fundraising campaign.

* In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been employed by Best Friends since May 2013.

Literature Cited

1. Fenwick, G.H. House cats: The destructive invasive species purring on your lap. The Baltimore Sun, 2013.,0,6415585.story

2. Ratcliffe, N., et al., The eradication of feral cats from Ascension Island and its subsequent recolonization by seabirds. Oryx, 2010. 44(01): p. 20–29.


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