Feeding Bans: Policy Hungry for Science

A recent news item from Alley Cat Allies reports “a disturbing and increasing trend of feeding ban proposals as a way to ‘eradicate’ cats from their outdoor homes.” Among the reasons cited for opposing such bans:

  • Cats don’t magically disappear when you stop feeding them—there’s an abundance of garbage available (from households, restaurants, supermarkets, etc.) as an alternative food source. Wherever you find people—and their trash—you’ll also find cats.
  • TNR requires regular feeding schedules. No feeding means no TNR—and no sterilization means more cats, not fewer.
  • Punishing concerned citizens is bad policy, and bad for communities.

I’d like to add one more: The concerns that prompt such proposals are, more than likely, based on erroneous, exaggerated, and/or misleading claims—all made in the name of science.

I’ll bet if I contacted officials in Brookhaven, NY, Wheaton, IL, and Benzie County, MI (communities listed in the Alley Cat Allies story), they’d tell me all about the numerous “threats” posed by free-roaming cats—wildlife killed and injured, rabies, toxoplasmosis, etc. And if pressed, they would almost certainly produce the Travis Longcore/Urban Wildlands Group article from Conservation Biology, some reference to the Wisconsin Study, a clipping of the L.A. Times story from January, or some comparable (read: dubious) bit of “evidence.”

Which is precisely what Longcore et al. are pushing for:

Conservation scientists and advocates must properly identify the environmental implications of feral cat management and actively engage this issue to bring scientific information to the attention of policy makers. [1]

I’ve got nothing against scientists getting involved with policy making—on the contrary, I think we need more of it. But from what I’ve seen, too many scientists involved in feral cat/TNR research are putting the cart before the horse. They’re shaping public policy before properly identifying any environmental implications. Too much interest in active engagement, not enough interest in active science.

1. Longcore, T., Rich, C., and Sullivan, L.M., “Critical Assessment of Claims Regarding Management of Feral Cats by Trap–Neuter–Return.” Conservation Biology. 2009. 23(4): p. 887–894.