Magical Thinking: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

When a representative of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife proposes—apparently in all seriousness—that “permanent closed catteries” are a feasible solution to managing the country’s population of unowned, free-roaming cats, a number of questions come to mind. What evidence led to such a conclusion? How much funding is ODFW willing to allocate? What is the agency’s drug testing policy? Etc.

Let’s start with that first question. 

In their recent letter to the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, ODFW veterinarian Colin Gillin and co-author Mark Drew, president of the American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians, “argue that assisting with feral cat colony management is not beneficial either to the cats themselves or to wildlife in the area.” [1]

“Argue” is, I think, too strong a word here. After all, compelling arguments require compelling evidence—and Drew and Gillin fail to deliver. They recycle the tired assertion (largely a red herring anyhow) that TNR constitutes abandonment, for example—in stark contrast to the American Bar Association’s recently approved resolution in support of TNR.

From there, it’s just more of the usual: predation estimates discredited long ago and the “results of several studies” suggesting that TNR is ineffective.  [2,3] Meanwhile, they conveniently ignore the growing body of evidence from computer modeling [4] and empirical studies demonstrating the efficacy of targeted TNR programs. [5–9]

None of this is entirely surprising, of course. What is surprising, though, is their economic angle.

“The costs of managed feral cat colonies (e.g., for food, shelter, vaccines, surgical services, and personnel time) are high 10. Thus, it may be more prudent and possibly more cost effective to trap feral cats and maintain them in permanent closed catteries that can optimize their welfare.”

So “permanent closed catteries” are (possibly) less costly than “the costs of managed feral cat colonies”? Does anybody really believe that?

In fact, the very source cited by Gillin and Drew suggests that the “total trapping cost (bait cost plus labor cost)” was at most $7.57 per cat. Granted (and contrary to what Gillin and Drew suggest in their letter), there’s no mention of the costs associated with food, shelter, vaccines, or surgical services. However, other studies have investigated these costs in the context of TNR programs (not including ongoing care) and put the figure at roughly $65 per cat for sterilization and vaccination (and, in some cases, a microchip and flea treatment). [11–13]

So, we’re up to almost $73 per cat, plus ongoing care. Still, to anybody even remotely familiar with the issue, it’s difficult to see how “permanent closed catteries” can compete.

In 2011, Gillin referred to “recently initiated efforts” from The Wildlife Society, Wildlife Disease Association, and American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians (for which Gillin then served as president) as “a monumental step toward combating an invasive species on the landscape.” [14] Yet nearly eight years later, the best he and his colleagues can come up with is “permanent closed catteries.”

One can only wonder what the next eight years might bring—an abstinence-only program, maybe?

Literature Cited

(1)        Drew, M. L.; Gillin, C. Reducing Numbers of Homeless Dogs and Cats (Letter). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 2018, 253 (11), 1383.

(2)        Foley, P.; Foley, J. E.; Levy, J. K.; Paik, T. Analysis of the Impact of Trap-Neuter-Return Programs on Populations of Feral Cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 2005, 227 (11), 1775–1781.

(3)        Longcore, T.; Rich, C.; Sullivan, L. M. Critical Assessment of Claims Regarding Management of Feral Cats by Trap-Neuter-Return. Conservation Biology 2009, 23 (4), 887–894.

(4)        Miller, P. S.; Boone, J. D.; Briggs, J. R.; Lawler, D. F.; Levy, J. K.; Nutter, F. B.; Slater, M.; Zawistowski, S. Simulating Free-Roaming Cat Population Management Options in Open Demographic Environments. PLoS ONE 2014, 9 (11), e113553.

(5)        Levy, J. K.; Gale, D. W.; 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), 42–46.

(6)        Nutter, F. B. Evaluation of a Trap-Neuter-Return Management Program for Feral Cat Colonies: Population Dynamics, Home Ranges, and Potentially Zoonotic Diseases, North Carolina State University: Raleigh, NC, 2005.

(7)        Natoli, E.; Maragliano, L.; Cariola, G.; Faini, A.; Bonanni, R.; Cafazzo, S.; Fantini, C. Management of Feral Domestic Cats in the Urban Environment of Rome (Italy). Preventive Veterinary Medicine 2006, 77 (3–4), 180–185.

(8)        Spehar, D. D.; Wolf, P. J. An Examination of an Iconic Trap-Neuter-Return Program: The Newburyport, Massachusetts Case Study. Animals 2017, 7 (11).

(9)        Spehar, D. D.; Wolf, P. J. A Case Study in Citizen Science: The Effectiveness of a Trap-Neuter-Return Program in a Chicago Neighborhood. Animals 2018, 7 (11).

(10)      Nutter, F. B.; Stoskopf, M. K.; Levine, J. F. Time and Financial Costs of Programs for Live Trapping Feral Cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 2004, 225 (9), 1403–1405.

(11)      Hughes, K. L.; Slater, M. R.; Haller, L. The Effects of Implementing a Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Program in a Florida County Animal Control Service. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 2002, 5 (4), 285–298.

(12)      Hamilton, F. E. Leading and Organizing Social Change for Companion Animals. Anthrozoös 2010, 23 (3), 277–292.

(13)      Johnson, K. L.; Cicirelli, J. Study of the Effect on Shelter Cat Intakes and Euthanasia from a Shelter Neuter Return Project of 10,080 Cats from March 2010 to June 2014. PeerJ 2014, 2, e646.

(14)      Gillin, C. The Cat Conundrum. The Wildlife Professional 2011, 5 (1), 10, 12.


In the News


It never ceases to amuse me how you keep spewing this same litany of falsehoods despite the fact that they’ve been repeatedly debunked–most recently be Loss, Will and Marra’s point-by-point of your and Alley Cat Allies’ frantic nonsense published last June.

Conveniently, you haven’t attempted a response to this. I’m sure it’ll be entertaining if you ever become foolhardy enough to try. But then you’ve always resorted to the Josef Goebbels school of debate–repeate a lie enough times, and people will believe it. Ultimately that’s your ownly hope.

Congratulations—you’ve really checked all the boxes here. I don’t suppose you have a specific point to argue…?

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