National Feral Cat Day 2015

Today is, as I assume most readers know, National Feral Cat Day. And, as Alley Cat Allies (which launched the annual celebration 15 years ago) explains on the NFCD website (where you can find events in your area, by the way), this year’s theme is “The Evolution of the Cat Revolution.”

Among the most recent phases in that evolution are return-to-field (sometimes called shelter-neuter-return, or SNR) programs, in which healthy cats brought into shelters as strays are sterilized, vaccinated, and returned to where they were found. RTF programs can be very effective at reducing shelter deaths—for obvious reasons—but have also demonstrated dramatic reductions in intake, too.

And where these programs result in a lower intake of young kittens, there’s good reason to think they’re reducing the overall number of community cats.

Through its innovative public-private partnerships, Best Friends Animal Society (in partnership with PetSmart Charities™) operates more RTF programs than any other organization in the country. And today, in celebration of NFCD, Best Friends is unveiling our* Community Cat Programs Toolkit, a comprehensive online resource covering a broad range of relevant topics, from humanely trapping cats and caring for them during post-surgery recovery to marketing and public relations.

Have a look and please share the news with others—and happy National Feral Cat Day!

* Full disclosure: I’ve been employed full-time by Best Friends since May 2013.

Thanks a Million (Cat Challenge)!

Maybe I’m being naïve, but yesterday’s launch of the Million Cat Challenge felt like something historic—as if we’ve entered into a new era of animal sheltering where cats are concerned. This ambitious campaign promises to be a game-changer not just for the million cats it aims to save (over the next five years), but for sheltering itself.

As I say, maybe I’m being naïve,* but there’s good reason to think the Million Cat Challenge will fulfill its promise. To begin with, just consider the people behind it: Dr. Julie Levy, director of Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida, and Dr. Kate Hurley, program director of the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at the University of California, Davis.

These two women are, simply put, rock stars in their field. Which helps explain the funding and other support** the campaign attracted even before yesterday’s big announcement. Read more

It Takes a Village

After spending nearly all of Saturday “on standby,” it had become clear by late afternoon: the mother cat, though she’d carefully relocated two siblings, wasn’t coming back for this little one. So, after a quick trip to PetSmart to stock up on supplies, I drove to the home of a former colleague who’d been keeping watch over the family for the previous few days, and, just like that: I had my first bottle baby.

Here’s this tiny kitten, three weeks old at most, in the hands of a complete novice. What could possibly go wrong? I didn’t even want to consider the possibilities. Read more

Book Buddies

No doubt some of you have already seen this photo—an adorable shot of young boy reading to a shelter cat nearly as big as he is—that lit up the Interwebs last weekend and into the early part of this week. It wasn’t until yesterday, though, that I learned of the story behind the picture. Read more

10 Most Important Community Cat News Stories of 2013

It’s that time of year again—time to take stock of the year’s milestones. Check out Rolling Stone’s 50 Best Albums of 2013, for example, or Fresh Air’s book, TV, movie, and music picks.

Not to be outdone, I’ve compiled a list of what I see as the year’s 10 most important community cat news stories—a number of which even the most avid readers may have missed. (Indeed, I’ve blogged about only a handful.)

Suffice it to say, others will disagree with my choices. In fact, I’d be very surprised if anybody agreed with the entire list.

That’s fine. Better than fine, actually—if it means my selections will spark a conversation, or even a debate. Maybe even inspire others to set to work on their own list for 2014.

Without further ado, then, my picks for the 10 most important community cat news stories of 2013… Read more

In Search of Answers

Image courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society

I suppose I was looking for a sign of some kind, lingering as I was at Angels Rest on Friday afternoon, the final day of All Staff Week. Just a glimpse of a bobcat, say, or, if that’s asking too much, then maybe one of the blue-black crows I sometimes see here could drop out of the sky onto the hand-wrought gates. Or even an “unexplainable” rush of activity from the hundreds of wind chimes that provide the meditative sound track to this magical place that made such a big impression on me five years ago.

If any such sign was present, I missed it entirely.

Perhaps I was simply lacking the cognitive bandwidth to recognize (never mind process) the paranormal after an intense week—my first as Best Friends’ cat initiatives analyst—of equal parts business and pleasure (the two being, more often than not, seamlessly integrated). I’d spent the previous four days meeting new colleagues, catching up with old friends—surrounded by some of the most welcoming, inspiring people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. At the same time, I was also made acutely aware of the numerous challenges that lie ahead.

As I say, it was a pretty intense week.

Still, I’d like to think I was present enough to have noticed if some mystical force had answered the most pressing question on my mind: Was this what I was put here* for?

I might still be there had I waited for the canyon to answer. But as it turns out, I already knew the answer. I just needed to slow down and listen—not to the wind chimes, but to that quiet but persistent voice inside. The same one that prompted me to write about the Great Kitty Rescue, and, two years later, to launch this blog. And, most recently, to join Best Friends.

Lucky for me, Angels Rest is the perfect setting for slowing down, for listening—for rediscovering what we’ve known all along. Is it any wonder I’m already looking forward to my next trip?

* I’m not terribly comfortable with the idea of being “put here,” but am, at the moment, unable to come up with an expression that better describes a natural alignment with one’s deep sense of purpose.

Twenty-Three Years and Counting

The definition of insanity, it’s often said, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. As it happens, this isn’t actually the definition of insanity. And it’s unlikely that the pithy quote actually originates with Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, or Mark Twain, though it’s often attributed to one of the three.

Legal and historical quibbles aside, the central point is a valid one: repeating a behavior or action that’s yielded one result in the hopes of achieving a different result… well, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

And yet, this is exactly what’s going on in Hernando County, Florida, where county commissioners recently voted 4-to-1 “to retain the 23-year policy of loaning out cat traps to catch feral felines.” [1] This is no TNR program; cats caught—especially those that aren’t socialized—will, more than likely, be killed by Hernando County Animal Services.*

And, according to Commissioner Diane Rowden, who cast the sole dissenting vote, the policy isn’t working out well for the community, either. “We’ve been doing this over, and over and over for years and years and years and it doesn’t seem to be really accomplishing anything,” she told Hernando Today. “They just keep multiplying out there.”

“Lisa Centonze, managing veterinarian of animal services, has called the process of lending out traps ‘inefficient, costly and inhumane.’” [1]

Twenty-three years. Let that sink in for a moment.

The changes to animal sheltering—and companion animal welfare in general—in this country over the past 23 years have been nothing short of revolutionary. Attitudes about stray, abandoned, and feral cats have undergone a radical shift as well. Indeed, it was 1990 when, as an article in the January/February issue of Best Friends magazine (from which the illustration above is borrowed) explains, Alley Cat Allies “[gave] voice to feral cats on a national stage and introduces trap/neuter/return as the most humane and practical method for relating to community cats.” [2] (Just one year earlier, reports Nathan Winograd in Redemption: The myth of pet overpopulation and the no kill revolution in America, “the first battle flag of the No Kill revolution was symbolically being raised” at the San Francisco SPCA. [3])

Meanwhile, in Hernando County, the budget for Animal Services has been slashed 45 percent over the past three years, and the number full-time employees cut nearly in half since 2011. [4] None of which bodes well for the cats in its shelter system—“some 280” of them last year, according to the story in Hernando Today, the majority of which never made it out alive. [1]

In fact, the statistics are probably far worse. In nearby Hillsborough County, for example, Animal Services impounded 10,635 cats in 2012; only about 20 percent made it out the front door. Granted, the human population of Hillsborough is about seven times that of Hernando County, but that doesn’t explain intake numbers 38 times greater. Perhaps “some 280 cats” were brought in via loaned traps. Unfortunately, Hernando County Animal Services doesn’t post such data online (another sign of an agency in need of reform).

Whether we’re talking about 280 cats—or, as I suspect, maybe 10 times that many—it’s troubling to see Hernando County continue, for 23 years now, its endorsement of lethal (non) control methods. As Rowden points out, they don’t seem to be accomplishing anything.

Maybe it’s not insanity, exactly—but it still doesn’t make any sense.

* As stated in Article III Section 6-41 of Hernando County Code of Ordinances: “The animal shelter may adopt out or release impounded cats after three (3) days and may euthanize impounded cats after five (5) days, measured from the date of impoundment. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the county veterinarian or his/her designee may euthanize an impounded cat if such animal is in imminent danger of death from disease or trauma or is determined to be feral. Euthanasia of cats to prevent overcrowding will be conducted using the following priorities, to be determined by the county veterinarian or his/her designee: (1) Sick, diseased, or injured; (2) Feral; (3) Unadoptable.”

Literature Cited

1. Bates, M.D. (2013, May 7). Cat traps here to stay. Hernando Today, from

2. n.a., “A brief history of the no-kill movement.” Best Friends 2013. January/February. p. 16–17.

3. Winograd, N.J., Redemption: The myth of pet overpopulation and the no kill revolution in America. 2007: Almaden Books.

4. n.a., Hernando County, Florida, Fiscal 2013 Approved Budget. 2012, Office of Management and Budget: Brooksville.

Meet Best Friends’ Cat Initiatives Analyst!


In the end, my decision to join Best Friends Animal Society (which became official last week) came down to that one factor: impact. As a member of their National Programs team, I’ll have the opportunity to improve the lives of stray, abandoned, and feral cats on a scale I could only dream of three years ago when I launched Vox Felina.

My position—Cat Initiatives Analyst—includes a broad range of responsibilities, but most of my attention will be focused on the intersection of science, policy, and communications. In other words, using the relevant science to strengthen Best Friends’ legislative and outreach efforts on behalf of the country’s community cats.

Clearly, this is a job made for the “feral cat nerd.”

And, in a way, it’s also the culmination of a journey that began with Best Friends. As regular readers will recall, it was my involvement five-and-a-half years ago with the Great Kitty Rescue that introduced me to feral cat management and TNR. And set in motion a series of events that led to the creation of this blog.

Speaking of which: What happens to Vox Felina now?

From our very first conversation about joining the team, the people at Best Friends have made it clear that they admire, and see a need for, what I’m doing with Vox Felina—and that they want me to continue that work. I, therefore, don’t envision any substantive changes at all.

As I say, it’s all about impact.

I’m incredibly excited to begin this next chapter, and enormously grateful to Best Friends for the opportunity. Grateful, too, for the community of Vox Felina supporters; without your encouragement and engagement, the opportunity may never have come my way.

Thank you.

May 2013
Phoenix, AZ

Florida Veterinary Medical Association Opposes TNR-Friendly Bill

Among the “values and objectives that are still revered” by the 85-year-old Florida Veterinary Medical Association is “to further the education of its members.” So why is the organization going out of its way to misinform them about House Bill 1121, “The Community Cat Act”?

The bill, authored by Best Friends Animal Society and supported by Alley Cat Allies and the Humane Society of the United States, made it through the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee with unanimous approval last week—despite opposition from, among others, Audubon Florida (which was trying to make the most of the Smithsonian/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service paper before too many people start asking questions).

Then came the FVMA with their “concerns.” Read more

Hope, Kansas?

Wellington, Kansas, rings in the new year by introducing a pet limit law aimed at reducing the number of free-roaming cats. The likely outcome? More cats—and more of them killed.

According to a news report Monday, the city of Wellington, Kansas (8.19 square miles, population approximately 8,057), recently modified its animal ordinance to include a provision that “no person or household shall own or harbor more than four cats of more than six months of age or more than one litter of kittens.”

“We were picking up, compared to years past, a couple hundred cats per year,” Wellington Police Chief Tracy Heath explained. “We’re hoping that this new ordinance may lower that number.”


Well, OK. I suppose that’s all Tracy’s got in this case. There is, after all, no reason to think the four-cat limit will lead to fewer intakes. Read more

The Outdoor Cat Conference: Wrap-Up

Putting on any conference is a tremendous undertaking. But the challenges involved in pulling together The Outdoor Cat: Science and Policy from a Global Perspective went far beyond the logistics of wrangling 20-some speakers and 150 or so attendees. For starters, there was deciding who should (and should not) be invited to present. (More on that shortly.) And then there’s the fact that, no matter what happens, you’re bound to be criticized.

There’s simply no way to get something like this completely right, no matter who’s in charge or how much planning goes into it.

And so, I give a lot of credit to the people involved—who knew all of this, and did it anyhow. Those I know of (and I’m sure to be leaving out many others, for which I apologize) include John Hadidian, Andrew Rowan, Nancy Peterson, Katie Lisnik, and Carol England from the Humane Society of the United States; and Aimee Gilbreath and Estelle Weber of FoundAnimals. Many of you told me, very modestly, that this conference was “a start.”

Fair enough, but it’s a very important one. Five or 10 years from now, we might look back and call it a milestone.

Here, then, are some snapshots of the various presentations (in the order in which the they were given). Read more

Special Guest: Walter Lamb

Readers who follow online discussions about free-roaming cats and TNR will likely recognize Walter Lamb’s name. His comments stand out in such forums for their well-articulated, insightful, and refreshingly rational quality. Walter brings a unique perspective to these discussions, too—a bird watcher who’s used TNR to manage his neighborhood’s stray, abandoned, and feral cats.

Walter and I have communicated by e-mail for nearly 18 months now, sharing research notes and offering commentary on various news stories and research studies. In June, he contacted me with an intriguing idea for a Q&A blog post—which, I’m pleased to say, finally made it to the top of my to-do list.

Thank you, Walter, for your patience and your ongoing, thoughtful correspondence!

WL: As you know from our previous communications, I am an avid bird watcher who also used a sterilize and return approach to successfully reduce the number of homeless cats in my neighborhood from about 20 unsterilized (and reproducing) cats down to 2 remaining sterilized cats. I have been very disappointed that some wildlife conservation organizations, and many of my bird watching peers, have taken a dogmatic and moralistic approach to universally vilifying non-lethal methods of control rather than objectively analyzing all of the available science to devise pragmatic policies that can achieve the best results for wildlife in various settings.

However, I also believe that many cat advocacy groups are similarly guilty of focusing too much on talking points at the expense of objectively evaluating how they can maximize the impact of their efforts not just for cats, but for our native wildlife as well. While I understand that your blog is dedicated to protecting cats, you have always demonstrated an open mind and a willingness to consider differing perspectives. I’m hoping that you will publish the four points outlined below on your site along with your responses to them.

Population Reduction

My neighborhood project was successful because our local mentor was very blunt about the need to aggressively trap all of the unfixed cats. She didn’t sugarcoat anything or lead us to believe that just catching one or two cats was a noble effort in its own right.

I find it troubling that an organization like Alley Cat Allies doesn’t even mention population reduction in their mission statement, vision statement, or list of core values. One gets the sense from their web site that merely choosing a non-lethal approach to the problem is sufficient. I’m interested in your perspective as to why measurable and documented population reduction doesn’t seem to be more ingrained in the culture of organizations like Alley Cat Allies (or if you think it is and I’ve just missed it).

PW: Obviously, I can’t speak for Alley Cat Allies—let me see if I can address your concern from my own perspective. I am, as I think you know, a proponent of the kind of intensive sterilization effort you and your neighbors achieved. That said, I would argue that sterilizing just one or two is better than the alternative. From a population-control perspective, it’s unlikely to make a difference (unless the colony is no bigger than three or four cats), but then again, neither is having animal control haul them away to be killed. And, as you know, this is typically how such roundups go: cats are trapped only until complaints subside. At which time the remaining cats—very likely unsterilized—will continue reproducing.

And I think there’s another factor that we shouldn’t overlook or discount: people are much more likely to participate in, and support, life-saving efforts. While I agree that it’s critical to get as many cats as possible sterilized—and that this message is conveyed to anybody involved in TNR—I worry that an all-or-nothing approach will only serve to hamper any efforts to get started. In which case, the only option will be taxpayer-funded roundups—and we know how well that’s been working.

“No More Homeless Cats” vs. Homeless Cats as Critical for Ecological Balance

WL: This strikes me as an example of conflicting talking points. On the one hand, the Best Friends’ slogan seems to highlight a goal of getting cats out of the environment and into loving homes. On the other hand, defending cats’ place in the outdoors as critical for ecological balance, namely in the form of rodent control, seems to run counter to that goal.

I realize that there are examples in which the removal of cats did have unintended impacts on island ecosystems, but I’m not sure that translates to other ecosystems, especially on the mainland. I worry that this sends the wrong message to colony managers who might actually be able to achieve zero population but are given the impression that zero population is not actually a desirable goal. What is your take on this seeming contradiction?

PW: Just as I can’t speak for Alley Cat Allies, I can’t speak for Best Friends.* But, again, I’m happy to share my own thoughts. As you know, many outdoor cats are simply not adoption candidates. Many of us—including the folks at Alley Cat Allies, Best Friends, and myself—think that a fearful or unsocialized temperament is not sufficient cause for lethal control. One of the few remaining options for these cats, then, is as “working cats”—in barns, warehouses, or other environments where rodent control is desired.

Now, some argue that cats don’t actually keep down rodent numbers, and I have no first-hand experience with this myself. But as you know, cats have served this function for thousands of years now. (I’ve heard anecdotally of instances in which business owners complained of the rats and mice following the removal of cats from a particular area.)

To your more general point about cats and the environment, though—I don’t know that we’ll ever reduce the population of outdoor cats to zero across a large area (for a number of reasons). But I also don’t know that any colony managers are reducing their efforts if and when they have the opportunity to sterilize/adopt/re-home their way to zero population for a particular colony.

Feeding vs. Sterilizing

WL: It is always interesting to me that the most controversial aspect of TNR isn’t even represented in the acronym itself. I think the very different actions of sterilizing a cat and feeding a cat should be thought of separately, even if both are considered important from an animal welfare perspective. Telling someone that they shouldn’t attempt to trap and sterilize a group of cats unless they are also willing and able to feed and care for them indefinitely seems destined to suppress overall sterilization rates.

I won’t get into a detailed discussion of the pros and cons of feeding as I know you have delved into those issues in depth on your blog. What I will say is that I think that both the pros and cons of feeding are getting lost in the polarization of the discussion. I find the defense of feeding stations to be far less solid scientifically than the defense of sterilize and return itself. I was very interested in your quote of Animal People editor Merritt Clifton articulating why he opposes feeding and I hope that could be the grounds for a more thoughtful discussion of the pros and cons of various feeding practices in different settings. [Full disclosure, we fed some of our neighborhood cats on our back porch, but only after we had achieved a virtual 100 percent trap rate.]

PW: You’re absolutely right about the controversy surrounding feeding. And I agree that making sterilization efforts contingent upon a long-term caretaker commitment is counterproductive.

I know some people who, as Merritt recommends, feed only for the purposes of trapping and sterilizing. Once the cats are returned, they’re on their own. While I understand the arguments for such an approach, I think it overlooks or ignores some key advantages of ongoing feeding:

1. Regular feeding allows for ongoing monitoring for “new arrivals.” I’ve seen this first-hand, when I started feeding only one or two cats on my patio—only to have their siblings turn up soon thereafter, along with three kittens. I was able to trap and sterilize all but one adult. (I haven’t seen this cat in many months.) The kittens were all adopted. Without the daily handouts, these cats would have remained essentially invisible—and would have contributed further to the neighborhood’s population. One of my own (indoor-only) cats is another case study—had I not been feeding a small colony nearby, I never would have found, sterilized, and, ultimately, adopted him.

2. For some caretakers, regular feeding provides the opportunity to bond with the cats (even if they’ll never be able to actually touch them, as is often the case). While this factor is often dismissed by TNR opponents, I think it’s incredibly important to the ongoing effort to bring down the population of stray, abandoned, and feral cats. I think for many people, it’s this bond that keeps them involved with TNR. Take away the feeding, and you’re likely to deter such participation—and, as I think you’ll agree, we need “all hands on deck.”

[One common objection to feeding is that the food attracts wildlife that might carry rabies. In some contexts, it’s a very valid point. But again, on the whole, I think the benefits outweigh the risks. In areas where rabies among cats is more common—here in Arizona, it’s virtually unheard of—vaccinations are an integral part of most TNR programs. So the feeding and monitoring leads not only to sterilization, but also vaccination—which then serves as a kind of protective barrier between rabies in raccoons, for example, and humans.]


WL: I am aware of the herculean efforts of many cat advocates to tame and adopt the cats that they trap. Adoption to indoor only homes is the same as permanent removal from a wildlife conservation perspective and is one the best ways to achieve immediate population decline. However, when reading news coverage from different areas across the country, I very often hear the blanket statement that “these cats aren’t adoptable.” I realize that is indeed true of many feral cats, even those who may seem tame in the presence of their caretakers. However, I worry that in some cases the assumption is made that the cats aren’t adoptable when that may not be the case.

Our neighborhood cats certainly seemed unadoptable when we first trapped them. It took a good deal of time and effort, following the advice of our local mentor, before we discovered that these cats were actually semi-domesticated and adoptable. I’m wondering if this isn’t another case of one overly simplistic talking point (i.e., “these cats should be put in homes instead of returned to the outdoors”) being countered by another overly simplistic talking point (i.e., “these cats aren’t adoptable”) instead of trusting new volunteers to understand a deeper level of complexity (i.e., whether cats can be adopted depends on many variables, such as availability of homes, resources for fostering the cats, how feral the cats have become, etc.). I’d be curious to know whether you think more can be done to encourage greater rates of adoption of trapped and sterilized cats prior to return to the outdoors.

PW: I suppose the message that “these cats aren’t adoptable” is intended not so much for the folks willing to put in the time (as you and your neighbors have done), but for the various stakeholders who so often misunderstand and/or misrepresent the fate of cats rounded up. It’s not uncommon for a shelter to have a live-release rate of 50 percent or less for cats. (Some, like Polk County (FL) Animal Control, kill more than 90 percent of cats brought in.) If the cats aren’t very adoptable from the moment they arrive, they’ll almost certainly be killed. And, when these cats are taking up precious cage space, it means more of the adoptable cats will be killed as well.

In my experience, it’s not so uncommon for colony cats to warm up to caregivers—charming their way into homes the way a couple of mine did. But it takes more time than most rescues/fosters would be willing to give. And unless they’re kittens, these cats don’t seem to do well indoors, anyhow. That said, there will certainly be exceptions. And I think adoption is a valuable aspect of TNR—better lives for the cats and some happy endings for their caretakers, too. And, fewer of them outdoors, of course.

•     •     •

When Walter first contacted me with his Q&A proposal, it was, he explained, with the “hope that we can set a better example of how to have a civil dialogue on this important topic than what you and I have encountered elsewhere.”

Indeed! Thank you, Walter, for the invitation.

* Full disclosure: I support Alley Cat Allies and Best Friends—financially (at a very modest level) and in terms of their overall missions—and I communicate with various individuals in both organizations on a regular basis. I’m also incredibly grateful for the support they’ve shown me (e.g., profiles in their publications, the opportunity to present at the recent No More Homeless Pets Conference, etc.).

National Feral Cat Day 2012

It’s National Feral Cat Day—what better occasion to recognize some of the positive developments in feral cat/TNR advocacy I’ve observed over the past two-and-a-half years since launching Vox Felina?

Alley Cat Allies

National Feral Cat Day debuted in 2001, created by Alley Cat Allies “to raise awareness about feral cats, promote Trap-Neuter-Return, and recognize the millions of compassionate Americans who care for them.” As of yesterday, ACA had registered 368 events for this year’s celebration, and they were still hearing from activists eager to get on board. All 50 states are represented, and events are going on in other countries as well.

Nearly 300 groups applied for National Feral Cat Day Community Impact Awards; 22 winners received $1,000 each, while 16 runner-ups received $500 each. For additional details, check out the ACA website.

Best Friends Animal Society

It was just about two years ago that Best Friends (wisely!) hired Laura Nirenberg as legislative attorney for their Focus on Felines campaign. I’m honored to be joining Laura, along with Lisa Tudor, Director of Development and Outreach for the Foundation Against Companion-Animal Euthanasia (FACE), at the upcoming No More Homeless Pets Conference as we present Taking It to the Street (Cats): Grassroots Advocacy for Community Cats.

The Humane Society of the United States

Another reason I’m looking forward to this year’s conference: meeting Katie Lisnik, director of cat protection and policy for HSUS. This, of course, was the position that Michael Hutchins, former executive director/CEO of The Wildlife Society, referred to as “wild bird executioner” in his August 16, 2011 blog post. While Katie and I have yet to officially meet, it’s difficult not to like—automatically—anybody whose hiring got Hutchins so agitated.

National Animal Control Association

Although TNR is still not endorsed by the entire animal control community, there seems to be a significant shift in that direction at the National Animal Control Association. The September/October 2011 issue of NACA News, for example, featured an article by Lynne Achterberg, founding board member of Santa Cruz, California’s Project Purr, highlighting the benefits of TNR. In “Paradigm Shift: Return to Field,” Achterberg explained that for communities interested in increasing their shelters’ live release rates, “TNR and inclusion of feral cats is key.”

In the January/February 2012 issue, NACA president Todd Stosuy cited TNR as one “proactive animal program” that “can help reduce the number of animals coming into the shelter, and thus reduce euthanasia in the long-run.”

TNR Going Mainstream

It’s no surprise, really, that people support TNR over lethal control methods—we are, after all, a nation of animal lovers. But it’s another thing for TNR to become a more integrated part of the culture. Here, too, there’s good news to report.

Witness, for example, two recent books on the subject: Taming Me: Memoir of a Clever Island Cat (released today to correspond with NFCD, and which I reviewed for Moderncat) and Fairminded Fran and the Three Small Black Community Cats.

And it seems the rest of the world has figured out what some of us have known for a while now: it’s hip to be tipped. Check out the specially-designed pillowcases and tote bags by Xenotees (whose founder is donating all related profits to Four The Paws, a Philadelphia area rescue). Additional “ear-tipped” items are being featured today at Moderncat (where, by the way, you can get in on an NFCD giveaway).

Vox Felina Supporters

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge my many readers. I know from the e-mail I receive, and comments posted on the Vox Felina Facebook page, of your tireless support for TNR, and feral cats in general. “Regular folks” concerned for the welfare of feral, stray, and abandoned cats who are engaging their government officials and neighbors; “freelance” colony caregivers sharing their hard-won knowledge with others; and various well-established organizations shaping policy at the state and national level—I am humbled by your commitment and compassion.

Thank you for your support, and for all that you do on behalf of the cats!

Best Friends Co-founder Francis Battista Calls B.S. on TNR Opponents

The next time I see Francis Battista, I’m buying the man a drink.

It’s the least I can do after his post on the Best Friends blog Thursday. In it, Francis, one of Best Friends’ founders, took TNR opponents to task for their indefensible position.

“Despite the inescapable logic that fixing free-roaming cats in a given neighborhood will reduce the ability of those cats to reproduce, the dogma of those opposed to trap/neuter/return (TNR) protocols prevents them from acknowledging the mathematical effects of spay/neuter on population control.”

The position of TNR opponents, Francis argues, is supported neither by the science, nor by public opinion.

“Setting aside—if indeed that is possible—the ugliness of such a plan, who would they propose undertake the campaign and how would they sell it to the cat-loving public? Municipalities certainly don’t have the resources to deploy hundreds of trappers who would, in any event, quickly become the target of animal activists’ ire. Are the bird groups planning to do it? The idea is as unworkable as it is cruel. Catching and killing stray cats was standard operating procedure for decades prior to the rise of TNR, yet catch-and-kill policies were notably ineffective in controlling community cat populations.”

He then goes on to point out that prohibiting TNR is, in fact, likely to be detrimental to the very species opponents claim to want to protect (a point I’ve made previously). “I suppose their logic goes that it’s better to let cat populations go entirely unchecked rather than open the door even a crack to TNR.”

Unfortunately, it’ll be nearly four months until I have the opportunity to buy Francis that drink—when we see each other at the 2012 No More Homeless Pets Conference, at which I’ve been invited to speak. (For a $25 discount on your registration fee, enter the discount code “Wolf” when asked for payment information.)

Until then, Francis, keep those blog posts coming!

2012 No More Homeless Pets National Conference

Have you registered yet for Best Friends’ No More Homeless Pets National Conference? Vox Felina readers can save an additional $25 off the early-bird rate of $275!

Simply visit the conference website, and click on “Register Now.” When asked for payment information, enter the discount code “Wolf.”

Among this year’s speakers are Becky Robinson, co-founder and president of Alley Cat Allies, Christi Metropole, founder and executive director of Stray Cat Alliance, and Ellen Jefferson, executive director of Austin Pets Alive!.

Oh, and yours truly.

Laura Nirenberg, legislative analyst for Best Friends’ Cat Initiatives, and I will be presenting Taking It to the Street (Cats): Grassroots Advocacy for Community Cats Sunday morning.

Hope to see you there!

When: October 25–28, 2012
Where: Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas
$275 early-bird rate ($325 after September 19)

For updates and additional information, check out the conference Facebook page. Questions?

Who’s Your (Cat) Daddy?

If you’re in the Phoenix area, please join me on Thursday, May 17th when Cat Daddy Jackson Galaxy will be here for two special events promoting his new book Cat Daddy: What the World’s Most Incorrigible Cat Taught Me About Life, Love and Coming Clean.

Lunch with Jackson: Special Fundraiser for Spay/Neuter Hotline’s TNR Program
Duck & Decanter (1651 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ) is hosting a lunch (vegetarian and vegan options) from noon until 2:00 pm. Tickets are $50 per person (includes lunch and a copy of Cat Daddy). The event will be held in a private area and limited to just 60 attendees. Jackson will be signing books and greeting guests.

Jackson is a huge supporter of TNR, and was impressed by how many other supporters he met during his February visit. So, a portion of each ticket sale will be donated to the Spay/Neuter Hotline’s TNR program. Last year, this program—one of the largest in the country—sterilized more than 10,000 community cats, and it’s on track for 12,000 this year. Since its founding in 2009, the Spay/Neuter Hotline has sterilized more than 30,000 of the area’s free-roaming cats.

Reserve your tickets now by calling Duck & Decanter at 602-274-5429. This event is sponsored by Changing Hands Bookstore, Duck & Decanter, and Vox Felina.

Book Signing at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe
Thursday evening, Jackson will be at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe for a book signing. Anyone who purchases a copy of Cat Daddy from Changing Hands (pre-order online) will be issued two tickets for the book signing. Doors open at 6:00 pm for people with tickets. At 6:45, any remaining seats (don’t count on it!) will be open for general seating. The event starts at 7:00.

The book signing is sponsored by Changing Hands Bookstore, Tarcher/Penguin Books, and Moderncat.

Pre-order Cat Daddy and help shelter cats
Only one day left! Order your copy of Cat Daddy before May 10th, and Tarcher/Penguin will donate $1.00 to the cause of saving shelter cats. To make your pre-order count, simply e-mail a photo or scan of your receipt to:

Donations will go to Best Friends Animal Society, Stray Cat Alliance, and Neighborhood Cats.

• Read my review of Cat Daddy for Moderncat.
Cat Daddy book tour details.
Cat Daddy audio book info.

Terrible Twos

Where were you two years ago today?

I was, as I am now, typing away on my laptop well into the night—compelled, as I wrote on the blog’s About page, to speak out on behalf of stray, abandoned, and feral cats. Two years—and 147 posts—later, it’s clear that people are listening.

In the past year alone, 213 additional readers have become subscribers, bringing the total to 370. And the Vox Felina Facebook page is up to 1,239 “Likes,” double what it was on the one-year anniversary.

And word continues to spread.

Over the past 12 months, Vox Felina has been mentioned in Animal People, Conservation magazine and The Washingtonian. In addition, I’ve been profiled in Best Friends magazine, interviewed on Animal Wise Radio, and invited to speak at the 2011 Animal Grantmakers conference.

And the next year is already shaping up to be at least as busy, with, for example, speaking commitments at the No Kill Conference in August and the No More Homeless Pets National Conference in October.

Although there’s already plenty on my to-do list, I’m always interested in hearing from Vox Felina readers. What can I do to help you advocate for stray, abandoned, and feral cats? Send me a note: peter[at] (Please be patient—none of my “assistants” has opposable thumbs.)

And, as always, thank you for your support—and for all that you’re doing on behalf of our community cats!


2011 No More Homeless Pets National Conference

I’m off to Las Vegas for the 2011 No More Homeless Pets National Conference! Not sure I’ll have time (not to mention the typing skills) for any live blogging, but I’ll be posting photos and occasional updates on the Vox Felina Facebook page.

Looking forward to the informative workshops, inspirational speakers, and—best of all—catching up with friends and colleagues I don’t see often enough. If you’ll be there, please track me down and say hello.

Demanding (a) Better Service

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under fire for proposed roundups of free-roaming cats in the Florida Keys, an out-of-control burn on National Key Deer Refuge land, and participation in anti-TNR workshop.

Many U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel are, I suspect, looking forward to October—or at least putting September behind them. For those involved with USFWS’s “war on cats,” this month’s been a tough one: too much of the wrong kind of attention.

Camera (en)Trap(ment) Project
September got off to a rocky start with readers (myself included) responding to news of camera traps being used in Florida’s National Key Deer Refuge “to document the number of cats stalking prey in the refuge.”

According to Key West Citizen reporter Timothy O’Hara, cats appeared on 5 percent of the “nearly 7,000 [photos] snapped so far,” whereas the endangered Lower Keys Marsh Rabbit appeared on just 3 percent. (Deer and raccoons topped the list, though specific percentages weren’t mentioned.)

Future plans include “a more in-depth study to get a better handle on the number of cats,” which, says USFWS biologist Chad Anderson, who was interviewed for the story, “will give us better insight into the predator management plan [of which I’ve been highly critical]. We want it to be as effective and efficient as possible.”

Five days later, Big Pine Key resident Jerry Dykhuisen took USFWS to task in a letter to the editor calling O’Hara’s article “our quarterly puff piece about how great it’s all going to be when feral cats are trapped and removed from Big Pine Key.” Dykhuisen, vice president of Forgotten Felines, pointed out the incredible expense associated with the proposed roundup (a “government boondoggle that is nothing more than a waste of our tax dollars and job security for U.S. Fish and Wildlife”) and the risk of skyrocketing rodent populations if eradication efforts were actually “successful,” and challenges the “‘best available science’ of which they are so proud” (which “is not really very good science at all, being decades old, using statistical methods that are highly suspect, and not even being conducted on Big Pine.”).

Tax dollars are at a premium in this economy,” wrote Dykhuisen, “and the idea of spending more than $10,000 per cat on a project that has no chance of success is mindless government at its worst.”

The following week, a letter to the editor from Forgotten Felines volunteer Valerie Eikenberg called the camera trap project a lame-brain experiment,” criticizing Refuge personnel for baiting the cameras with cat food. “Why spend thousands of taxpayer dollars to figure out a question that any second-grader could answer,” she asked.

Refuge Manager Anne Morkill disputes Eikenberg’s claim: “extremely small amounts of bait were used at only two camera trap sites located at unauthorized cat feeding stations, where the cats were already lured by food. The purpose was to get the animals to stop and pause for a clear photo for identification purposes.” (I received a similar explanation by e-mail from Anderson.)

Note: I’ve tried to contact O’Hara, who badly misrepresented the science in his story (for example: “Research indicates that cat predation accounts for 50 percent to 77 percent of the deaths of Lower Keys marsh rabbits and Key Largo woodrats.”), but he’s not responded to my e-mail requests.

(Mis)prescribed Burn
Just two weeks later, Refuge personnel once again found themselves defending their actions, this time for a prescribed burn that grew quickly out of control, scorching about 100 acres—five times what was originally planned.

For some, at least, this was the last straw. “Morkill has to go!” read one particularly harsh comment to a Key West Citizen story about the fire.

“Not tomorrow, not next week, not at the end of the fiscal year, NOW!! She is completely over her head and needs to transfer somewhere else. From the complete mishandling of the feral cat situation [to] the out of controlled prescribed burn that threatened both residents AND sensitive wildlife… Ms. Morkill is a complete and total failure at her position. What a travesty. Go back to wherever you came from Anne, you’re a failed experiment in the Keys.”

Earlier this week, USFWS officials met with residents to explain the results of an internal investigation into the fire.

According to USFWS Fire Ecologist Vince Carver, “The review team came up with three findings: One, it was too dry to burn. Two, the [fire] crew that did it, the majority of them did not have enough experience for this type of burn. And three, after they did screw up, they did a fantastic job.” [1]

Refuge fire management specialist Dana Cohen “repeatedly apologized to residents, saying, ‘We made a bad call’ in deciding to burn, but most appeared unmoved.” [1] The “unhappy audience,” as Citizen reporter Adam Linhardt describes them, were short on patience, “speaking out and lambasting” USFWS officials. “One person described the burn as a ‘fiasco’ and called for Cohen’s firing.” [1]

National Feral Cat Policy
A day after the blaze on Big Pine Key, USFWS was trying to tamp down another fire of its own making. This one, too, had gotten out of hand—but on a national scale.

In a post on its Open Spaces blog, USFWS responded to “many expressions of interest and concern regarding participation by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees at an upcoming Wildlife Society conference.” This, of course, is a reference to Informing Local Scale Feral Cat Trap-Neuter-Release Decisions, the day-long workshop being presented by Tom Will, Mike Green (both of USFWS), and Christopher Lepczyk (University of Hawaii).

As part of that conference, two Service biologists are presenting a workshop designed to help wildlife biologists and other conservationists effectively communicate the best available science on the effects on wildlife from free-ranging domestic cats. The Service has no national policy concerning trap-neuter-release programs or feral cats.

If there’s no official policy, it’s not for lack of effort.

In his 2010 presentation to the Bird Conservation Alliance, What Can Federal Agencies Do? Policy Options to Address Cat Impacts to Birds and Their Habitats, Will is pushing for a “Firm policy statement—clear, definitive, easily available—as a tool for partners.” In fact, it looks like he’s suggesting that such a policy already exists, citing, for example, a 2007 “response to inquiry” from the USFWS Charleston Field Office:

Is it still FWS policy to promote legislation banning feeding of wildlife? Yes. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) stands firmly behind its recommendations promoting legislation banning the feeding of wildlife, especially nuisance species such as feral cats. Local governments are better equipped than are Federal and State agencies to regulate feral and free-ranging cats since most local governments have ordinances in place to address domestic animal issues as well as animal control services and personnel to implement those ordinances.

Is it still FWS policy opposing free ranging cats and establishment of feral cat colonies? Yes. The Service continues to oppose the establishment of feral cat colonies as well as the perpetuation and continued operation of feral cat colonies. As an agency responsible for administering the regulatory provisions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), the Service’s position is that those practicing Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) could be subject to prosecution under those laws.

Is it still FWS policy opposing TNR programs? Yes… the Service’s New Jersey Field Office correctly states that “a municipality that carries out, authorizes, or encourages others to engage in an activity that is likely to result in take of federally protected species, such as the establishment or maintenance of a managed TNR cat colony, may be held responsible for violations of Section 9 of the ESA.”

Will goes on to cite several more passages from the letter quoted above, sent in November 2009 from the New Jersey Field Office to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Division of Fish and Wildlife “in support of the New Jersey Fish and Game Council’s Resolution on Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) and free-ranging domestic cats, passed June 19, 2007.”

The Service strongly opposes domestic or feral cats (Felis catus) being allowed to roam freely within the U.S. due to the adverse impacts of these non-native predators on federally listed threatened and endangered (T&E) species, migratory birds, and other vulnerable native wildlife. Therefore, the Service opposes TNR programs that allow return of domestic or feral cats to free-ranging conditions.

Migratory birds are Federal trust resources and are afforded protection under the MBTA, which prohibits the take of a migratory bird’s parts, nest, or eggs. Many species of migratory birds, wading birds, and songbirds nest or migrate throughout New Jersey. Migratory birds could be subject to predation from State municipality, or land manager-authorized cat colonies and free-ranging feral or pet cats. Predation on migratory birds by cats is likely to cause destruction of nests or eggs, or death or injury to migratory birds or their young, thereby resulting in a violation of the MBTA.

All of which looks a lot like a “national policy concerning trap-neuter-release programs or feral cats.” Which might explain why the American Bird Conservancy has the NJ Field Office letter posted on its website (PDF). (ABC and TWS were among the signatories to a letter sent earlier this year to Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, “urg[ing] the development of a Department-wide policy opposing Trap-Neuter-Release and the outdoor feeding of cats as a feral cat management option, coupled with a plan of action to address existing infestations affecting lands managed by the Department of the Interior.”)

To hear USFWS tell it, Will and Green don’t even speak for USFWS.

In order to protect the independence and integrity of their work and the quality of the scientific information generated, the Service does not review or edit their work based on its potential policy implications. Any findings or conclusions presented at this workshop, as well as other scientific papers and presentations by Service employees, are those of the organizers and do not necessarily represent those of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

How exactly does that work? Are taxpayers (who are, like it or not, supporting TWS’s conference: “the Service is a sponsor of the conference as a whole”) expected to believe that Informing Local Scale Feral Cat Trap-Neuter-Release Decisions wasn’t put together “on company time,” using agency resources? Like me, commenter “Mrs. McKenna” isn’t buying it:

“I find it very strange that there would be not be an edit or review of the presentations done by employees/consultants (personnel on your payroll.) Quite frankly, I know of no organization that would allow taxpayer paid employees to present at a conference of this magnitude without a screening of materials to be presented. In fact, one could deem this type of policy quite irresponsible… If there were no interest in presenting a specific viewpoint supported by U.S. Fish & Wildlife for current or upcoming policies, one can be quite certain no such presentation would be sponsored.”

Mrs. McKenna and I are, it turns out, not the only skeptics. At last check, there were 50 comments on the USFWS post (not all of them critical of the Service, of course), a record for the Open Space blog (which, since its inception in late April, has attracted just 140 comments across 97 posts—including the August 2 post about “a recent incident where the Service inadvertently issued a citation in Fredericksburg, Virginia,” which attracted 46 comments).

Although USFWS is, according to its Office of External Affairs, “committed to using sound science in its decision-making and to providing the American public with information of the highest quality possible,” recent events suggest otherwise.

Actually, past events tell a similar story.

In its Migratory Bird Mortality fact sheet (PDF), published in January 2002, USFWS offers this prediction: “Many citizens would be surprised to learn that domestic and feral cats may kill hundreds of millions of songbirds and other avian species each year.”

“A recent study in Wisconsin estimated that in that state alone, domestic rural cats kill roughly 39 million birds annually. Add the deaths caused by feral cats, or domestic cats in urban and suburban areas, and this mortality figure would be much higher.” [2]

In this case, the Service’s “best available science” can be traced to the infamous Wisconsin Study, [3] and—eventually—to “a single free-ranging Siamese cat” that frequented a rural residential property in New Kent County, Virginia. [4])

Nearly 10 later, Migratory Bird Mortality is still available from the USFWS website. So much for “using sound science in its decision-making and to providing the American public with information of the highest quality possible.”

USFWS is right about one thing, though: many citizens are surprised—just not in the way the Service imagined. The public, to whom USFWS is ostensibly accountable, is surprised at the way their tax dollars are being used to fund a witch-hunt. And, judging by the overwhelming response to the USFWS/TWS workshop (see, for example, Best Friends Animal Society’s Action Alert, blog posts from Alley Cat Rescue and BFAS co-founder Francis Battista, and the Care2 petition), the public has had enough.

With access to both information and “broadcast” technology more accessible than ever, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for USFWS to continue with business as usual. The people the Service is supposed to—well, serve—are demanding better science, more transparency, and greater accountability. People are paying attention like never before.

Think of it as “the new normal.”

Literature Cited
1. Linhardt, A. (2011, September 29). Residents rage about rogue fire—Fed officials apologize: ‘We made a bad call’. The Key West Citizen, p. 1A,

2. n.a., Migratory Bird Mortality. 2002, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Arlington, VA.

3. Coleman, J.S., Temple, S.A., and Craven, S.R., “Cats and Wildlife: A Conservation Dilemma.” 1997.

4. Mitchell, J.C. and Beck, R.A., “Free-Ranging Domestic Cat Predation on Native Vertebrates in Rural and Urban Virginia.” Virginia Journal of Science. 1992. 43(1B): p. 197–207.

Press Here

I thought I’d use this post—my 100th!—as an opportunity to create a (long-overdue) press page. My sincere thanks to the various writers, reporters, editors and bloggers who have helped spread the word about Vox Felina—your support is greatly appreciated!