Revisiting “Reassessment”

“Reassessment: A Closer Look at ‘Critical Assessment of Claims Regarding Management of Feral Cats by Trap-Neuter-Return’” has been revised and expanded!

Image of "Reassessment" Document

This paper, a brief review and critique of the essay “Critical Assessment of Claims Regarding Management of Feral Cats by Trap-Neuter-Return” by Travis Longcore, Catherine Rich, and Lauren M. Sullivan, now includes sections on Toxoplasma gondii, the mesopredator release phenomenon, and more. In addition, links and downloadable PDFs have been added to the list of references.

Over the past year, “Critical Assessment” has gotten a great deal of traction among TNR opponents, despite its glaring omissions, blatant misrepresenta­tions, and obvious bias. “Reassessment”—intended to be a resource for a broad audience, including, wildlife and animal control professionals, policymakers, and the general public—shines a bright spotlight on these shortcomings, thereby bringing the key issues back into focus.

Act Locally
Politics is, as they say, local. This is certainly true of the debate surrounding TNR. Policies endorsing TNR, the feeding of feral cats, etc. typically begin with “Town Hall” meetings, or even meetings of neighborhood associations. “Reassessment” provides interested parties with a rigorous, science-based counter-argument to those using “Critical Assessment” as a weapon against feral cats/TNR.

So, once you’ve had a look for yourself, please share generously! Together, we can—in keeping with the mission of Vox Felina—improve the lives of feral cats through a more informed, conscientious discussion of feral cat issues in general, and TNR in particular.

Download PDF

Conversation Killer

Over the weekend, a comment (criticizing, once again, the recently released University of Nebraska-Lincoln “report”) I posted on Audubon magazine’s blog, The Perch, drew fire from Travis Longcore.

Longcore, of course, is the lead author of the widely circulated paper, “Critical Assessment of Claims Regarding Management of Feral Cats by Trap-Neuter-Return” and Science Director for the Urban Wildlands Group, the lead plaintiff in the case that led to the TNR-related injunction in Los Angeles earlier this year (under which City-funded spay/neuter vouchers for feral cats and shelter-based TNR promotions have been halted; TNR, however, continues), a decision currently making its way through the appeal process (I heard just this afternoon that “Round 2” was decided in favor of the plaintiffs).

After a weekend of back-and-forth debate about the science surrounding the UNL report and, more broadly, feral cats and TNR, I posed the following question to Longcore:

You’ve been very straightforward about your desire to see TNR and the feeding of feral cats outlawed. But then what?

I’ve yet to hear from you—or anybody on your side of the issue—spell it out. We all know the cats won’t disappear in the absence of TNR/feeding. We can argue about rates of population growth, carrying capacity, etc.—but let’s keep it simple here. Under your plan, there are these feral cats—an awful lot of them—that no longer have access to the assistance of humans (other than scavenging trash, say). OK, now what?

Will it be like what was done on Marion Island, where—despite being only 115-square-miles in size, barren, and uninhabited—it took something like 16 years to eradicate 2,500 cats? Using disease (feline distemper), poisoning, intensive hunting and trapping, and—if I’m not mistaken—dogs.

And, while we’re at it, who will pay for this unprecedented nightmare?

These are not rhetorical questions. As I say, I’ve heard plenty of arguments against TNR over the past year or so. I’ve yet to hear a single counter-proposal. Not one.

Trap-and-remove? That’s not a proposal—that’s a bromide. I want to hear about how all this would play out. And this seems like an appropriate venue, given the original topic and your role in the L.A. injunction.

So, Travis, what would you do?

Two days later, no word from Longcore. a well-considered reply, but still no answer to the question posed.

A Critical Assessment of “Critical Assessment”—Part 4

The fourth in a series of posts that breaks down my critique of the essay “Critical Assessment of Claims Regarding Management of Feral Cats by Trap-Neuter-Return” (Conservation Biology, Volume 23, No. 4, 887–894) by Travis Longcore, Catherine Rich, and Lauren M. Sullivan.

In the past few posts, I’ve addressed their claims regarding the numbers of birds killed by cats, and alleged wildlife impacts. Now I’d like to focus on some of their claims regarding TNR. While I agree with the authors that there is a need for additional research into the effectiveness and impact (environmental and otherwise) of TNR, I’m not sure any subsequent findings would satisfy the standards—some of which border on the absurd—suggested by Longcore et al.

To begin with, the authors challenge the efficacy of TNR, noting—correctly—for example, that where TNR has proven effective at reducing the size of colonies, success has been “derive[d] in part from intensive efforts to remove cats for adoption as part of the TNR program.” [1] Shouldn’t this appeal to Longcore and the Urban Wildlands Group? Adoptions lead to fewer free-roaming cats, right?

It’s unclear how a successful adoption program lessens the efficacy of TNR; indeed, such efforts are integral to any TNR program. For Longcore et al., however, it’s as if adoptions constitute cheating.

Researchers vs. Volunteers
Another of their assertions, that “programs implemented by researchers are likely to be much more thorough than programs implemented exclusively by volunteers,” [1] could be applied to virtually any conservation effort. Of course the results will be better when the experts are involved directly!

Indeed, while compiling data for the Atlas of Breeding Birds of Maryland and the District of Columbia, researchers found Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) in 46% of the areas surveyed, while volunteers reported only a 14% occurrence of this “secretive species that requires special effort.” [2] Here, the experts “performed” more than three times better than well-meaning volunteers with less experience and/or training. Should we discontinue all efforts that include volunteers, then? Or shut down these programs until the volunteers perform as well as experts? Obviously not.

Anecdotes of Success
Longcore et al. criticize supporters of TNR for their “anecdotes of success” and “assertions of colony declines often… supported only by reference to Web sites.” [1] By calling the data “anecdotal,” the authors dismiss it out of hand. So, what measures of success would be acceptable?

In general, caretakers of feral colonies—as providers of food, water, shelter, and, often, healthcare—know their cats quite well. Yet, Longcore et al. suggest that their reports are not to be trusted—trusted to a lesser degree, in fact, than the reports generated by members of the public recruited to watch and listen for birds. Breeding Bird Surveys “annually engage tens of thousands of participants,” and these efforts are now beginning to leverage the power of the Internet via Web-based programs such as eBird. [3] All of which sounds very anecdotal. So, do the authors question the validity of this work as well?

Prevailing Conditions
Citing a 2006 study from Rome, [4] Longcore et al. chose to focus not on TNR’s rather remarkable success, but on its greatest challenge: “Ten years of TNR in Rome showed a 16–32% decrease in population size across 103 colonies but concluded that TNR was ‘a waste of time, energy, and money’ if abandonment of owned cats could not be stopped.” [1] It must be recognized that TNR is part of a larger mission that includes adoptions (as mentioned above), sterilization of owned cats, and the burgeoning no-kill movement (which may reduce the number of abandoned cats).

In any case, what rescue/conservation work isn’t “a waste of time, energy, and money” when considered in the harsh light of what the authors call “prevailing conditions”? We could, for example, say the same about efforts to save songbirds faced with the elimination and fragmentation of habitat, increased levels of pollution, and the like (indeed, endangered and threatened species are, by definition, the victims of prevailing conditions). Or, to take a very timely example, the work being done to save the wildlife affected by millions of gallons of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico even as I write this.

The fact that such efforts are uphill battles may say something about their underlying moral imperative—but very little about their efficacy.

*     *     *

Common Ground
Essentially, the argument put forth by Longcore et al. in this part of their essay boils down to these three points:

  • TNR can and does work, though not always as well as one would like.
  • Adoptions are critical, as is training and rigorous tracking.
  • Abandonment of pet cats—which is, in any case, illegal—should be stopped.

So, how is this any different than what TNR advocates are promoting? Here at least, we would seem to have some common ground. Apparently, what’s really at issue is not how success is defined, but by whom:

For many TNR advocates, success is not defined by elimination of feral cats in an area, but rather by the welfare of the cats… conservation scientists and wildlife veterinarians measure success of a feral cat management program by the decline and elimination of free-roaming cats. [1]

All of which leaves me wondering: How much time have the authors spent with people who practice TNR? Of course practitioners are interested in the welfare of the cats—just as any animal lover is interested in the welfare of the animals they enjoy. But they’re also thrilled when “kitten season” comes and goes without any new arrivals in their colonies.

More common ground? It would seem so—but if that’s the case, one is left to wonder why the Urban Wildlands Group sued the City of Los Angeles to put an end to publicly supported TNR. (Or at least I am left to wonder, as Longcore has not responded to my inquiries.) One thing that does seem certain: more cats are reproducing as a result of the injunction. And no doubt more are dying, too. Hard to imagine the wildlife and environment being any better off, either. There are lots of losers here—where are the winners?

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.

2. Robbins, C.S. and Blom, E.A.T., Atlas of the breeding birds of Maryland and the District of Columbia. Pitt series in nature and natural history. 1996.

3. Sullivan, B.L., et al., “eBird: A citizen-based bird observation network in the biological sciences.” Biological Conservation. 2009. 142(10): p. 2282-2292.

4. Natoli, E., et al., “Management of feral domestic cats in the urban environment of Rome (Italy).” Preventive Veterinary Medicine. 2006. 77(3-4): p. 180-185.

A Critical Assessment of “Critical Assessment”—Part 3

The third in a series of posts that breaks down my critique of the essay “Critical Assessment of Claims Regarding Management of Feral Cats by Trap-Neuter-Return” (Conservation Biology, Volume 23, No. 4, 887–894) by Travis Longcore, Catherine Rich, and Lauren M. Sullivan.

As I’ve suggested previously, much of the “evidence” that Longcore et al. cite regarding cat predation is rather weak. The links between predation and declining wildlife populations (especially birds) are, not surprisingly, no better. According to Longcore et al., “Comparative field studies and population measurements illustrate the adverse effects of feral and free roaming cats on birds and other wildlife.” Let’s take a closer look at some of these studies…

In canyons in San Diego native bird diversity declined significantly with density of domestic cats (Crooks & Soulé 1999). —Longcore et al.

  • Longcore fail to mention the density of people here—the study site was a “moderately sized fragment (~20 ha) [approximately 49 acres] bordered by 100 residences.” [1]
  • It’s also not clear how sites such as this one, which the authors describe as, “undeveloped steep-sided canyons… habitat islands in an urban sea,” correspond to the environment overall. Don’t forget: when Longcore and the Urban Wildlands Group sued the City of Los Angeles last year, it was to put a stop to publicly supported TNR throughout the city.

In a comparative study in Alameda County, California, a site with a colony of feral cats had significantly fewer resident birds, fewer migrant birds, and fewer breeding birds than a control site without cats (Hawkins 1998). Ground-foraging species, notably California Quail (Calipepla californica) and California Thrashers (Toxostoma redivivum), were present at the control site but never observed at the site with cats. Native rodent density was drastically reduced at the site with cats, whereas exotic house mice (Mus musculus) were more common (Hawkins 1998). —Longcore et al.

Hawkins’ dissertation [2] is so problematic—and cited frequently enough as “evidence” of the impact of cats on wildlife—that it warrants a post of its own. Here, I’ll touch on just a few issues.

  • Hawkins describes the “cat” and “no-cat” sites as being similar enough that a valid A-B comparison is appropriate. But a closer look at the study suggests otherwise. Much of the cat site bordered the park’s lake and marina, not far from a number of picnic sites. Hawkins notes that there were more people in the cat area, but doesn’t even admit to the possibility that their presence may have influenced the numbers of birds and rodents he observed there.
  • In addition, the presence of pesticides may have played a role. According to a 2002 report (the earliest I was able to find) from the East Bay Regional Park District, “The focus of Lake Chabot’s weed control efforts are vegetation reduction within the two-acre overflow parking lot, picnic sites and firebreaks around park buildings, corp. yard, service yard, and the Lake Chabot classroom.” [3] Now, Hawkins’ fieldwork was done in 1995 and 1996, but if there was any pesticide use going on during the study period, it may have affected the results—especially if the pesticide was distributed differently across the two sites.
  • Hawkins writes, “The preference of ground feeding birds for the no-cat treatment was striking; for example, California quail were seen almost daily in the no-cat area, whereas they were never seen in the cat area.” What’s more striking to me, though, is the fact that five of the nine ground-feeding species included in the study showed no preference for the cat or no-cat area—a point Hawkins downplays, and Longcore et al. ignore entirely.
  • Finally, it’s not clear how this study constitutes an experiment at all. Hawkins chose two sites, one where cats were being fed, and another (approximately two miles away) where cats were not being fed. We have no idea what the cat area was actually like prior to the cats being fed there—Hawkins merely assumes the populations of birds and rodents would have been identical to those found at the no-cat site. We also have no idea what effect the feeding had—what if the cats were present but had to fend for themselves? And we don’t know if the cats were sterilized, or what impact that might have had on the study. In other words, Hawkins doesn’t actually know enough about what’s going on at the two sites to conclude, as he does, that “it is not prudent to manage for wildlife and allow cat feeding in the same parks.”

In Bristol, United Kingdom Baker et al. (2005) calculated that the predation rates by cats on 3 bird species in an urban area is high relative to annual productivity, which led the authors to suggest that the area under study may be a habitat sink. —Longcore et al.

  • Also, Longcore et al. fail to mention that Baker et al. concede an important point: “collectively, despite [cats] occurring at very high densities, the summed effects on prey populations appeared unlikely to affect population size for the majority of prey species.”
  • In addition, a subsequent study (also conducted in Bristol) involving two of the authors, suggests that much of the predation observed was compensatory rather than additive. That is, many of these birds would have, for one reason or another, died anyhow, whether the cats were present or not. Specifically, the authors found that “birds killed by cats in this study had significantly lower fat and pectoral muscle mass scores than those killed by collisions.” [6] Baker at al. are cautious about these findings, suggesting, “the distinction between compensatory and additive mortality does… become increasingly redundant as the number of birds killed in a given area increases: where large numbers of prey are killed, predators would probably be killing a combination of individuals with poor and good long-term survival chances.” But once again, their estimates of birds killed by cats are inflated by a factor of 3.3, as described above—thereby raising doubts about any level of “redundancy.”
  • Another study to investigate compensatory vs. additive predation was more conclusive. Møller and Erritzøe compared the average spleen mass of birds killed by cats to that of birds killed in collisions with windows found that, “small passerine birds falling prey to cats had spleens that were significantly smaller than those of conspecifics that died for other reasons,” concluding that the birds killed by cats “often have a poor health status.” [7] In other words, the birds killed by cats were among the population least likely to survive anyhow.

Clearly, this is a complex—not to mention contentious—issue. But Longcore et al. make it out to be remarkably straightforward. The “adverse effects of feral and free roaming cats on birds and other wildlife,” they seem to suggest, are widely accepted common knowledge.

*     *     *

Then, too, there are those—and there are many—who have disputed the broad-brush claims about the impact of cat predation on wildlife. Consider, for example, the following studies:

  • Biologist C.J. Mead, reviewing the deaths of “ringed” (banded) birds reported by the public, suggests that cats may be responsible for 6.2–31.3% of bird deaths. “Overall,” writes Mead, “it is clear that cat predation is a significant cause of death for most of the species examined.” But the relationship between bird deaths and population declines is complex. In fact, Mead concludes that “there is no clear evidence of cats threatening to harm the overall population level of any particular species… Indeed, cats have been kept as pets for many years and hundreds of generations of birds breeding in suburban and rural areas have had to contend with their predatory intentions.” [8]
  • Mike Fitzgerald and Dennis Turner come to essentially the same conclusion. (Their contribution to The Domestic Cat: The Biology of its Behaviour is a must-read for anybody interested in the subject.) “We consider that we do not have enough information yet to attempt to estimate on average how many birds a cat kills each year,” write Fitzgerald and Turner. “And there are few, if any studies apart from island ones that actually demonstrate that cats have reduced bird populations.” [9]
  • Martin, Twigg, and Robinson conclude more broadly, “it is not possible to make any inferences concerning the real impact of feral cats on prey populations from dietary studies.” [10]

Given the scope of their essay, perhaps it’s understandable that Longcore et al. were unable to cover each aspect of this rather broad topic in a comprehensive manner. Nevertheless, the amount of research into cat predation and declining bird populations—a critical piece of the puzzle, to be sure—that was omitted, glossed over, and/or misrepresented suggests a clear agenda. Read carefully, their essay comes across as not as scientific discourse, but as fodder for a marketing campaign. (And, given the number of wildlife conservation/bird advocacy groups that have posted it on their websites—not to mention the L.A. Superior court decision—it’s been effective.)

*     *     *

Many proponents of TNR will acknowledge that the practice is not appropriate for all environments. Crooks and Soulé’s work in San Diego’s canyon country (cited previously), writes Ellen Perry Berkeley, “suggests to even the most ardent TNR advocate that such a landscape might not be the best place for TNR… The world is a complicated place.” [11] Gary J. Patronek, the former Director of the Center for Animals and Public Policy at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, and one of the founders of the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium, goes further: “the release of cats into an environment where they would impact endangered or threatened species, or even into wildlife preserves or refuges, is inexcusable.” [12]

This, I worry, is a slippery slope. Given the current nature of the cat debate, how long would it be before every alley, Dumpster, and abandoned property is deemed a wildlife preserve? And, given the number of endangered and threatened species—and their wide range—would there be any environment left for cats? Nevertheless, Patronek’s larger point is an important one:

I do not believe that this is being advocated by cat protectors who see urban, managed colonies as an imperfect but still preferable alternative to the euthanasia of healthy animals. Abandoned pet cats whose own habitat has been reduced to colonies, and the wild species endangered by clear-cutting or beachfront development, are casualties of the same callous disregard for the lives of animals. I see little justification for shifting the role of cats to that of scapegoat.

For Longcore and the Urban Wildlands Group (and others, too, of course), though, there’s simply no place for TNR anywhere. But there’s something even more troubling with their argument: they’re asking the wrong questions. As Patronek puts it so eloquently:

If the real objection to managed colonies is that it is unethical to put cats in a situation where they could potentially kill any wild creature, then the ethical issue should be debated on its own merits without burdening the discussion with highly speculative numerical estimates for either wildlife mortality or cat predation. Whittling down guesses or extrapolations from limited observations by a factor of 10 or even 100 does not make these estimates any more credible, and the fact that they are the best available data is not sufficient to justify their use when the consequence may be extermination for cats… What I find inconsistent in an otherwise scientific debate about biodiversity is how indictment of cats has been pursued almost in spite of the evidence, and without regard to the differential effects of cats in carefully selected, managed colonies, versus that of free-roaming pets, owned farm cats, or truly feral animals. Assessment of well-being for any is an imprecise and contentious process at best. Additional research is clearly needed concerning the welfare of these cats.

In a future post, I’ll get into the ways Longcore et al. would have us measure the success of TNR.

1. Crooks, K.R. and Soule, M.E., “Mesopredator release and avifaunal extinctions in a fragmented system.” Nature. 1999. 400(6744): p. 563.

2. Hawkins, C.C., Impact of a subsidized exotic predator on native biota: Effect of house cats (Felis catus) on California birds and rodents. 1998, Texas A&M University.

3. Brownfield, N.T., 2002 Annual Analysis of Pesticide Use East Bay Regional Park District. 2003, East Bay Regional Park District.

4. Baker, P.J., et al., “Impact of predation by domestic cats Felis catus in an urban area.” Mammal Review. 2005. 35(3/4): p. 302-312.

5. Kays, R.W. and DeWan, A.A., “Ecological impact of inside/outside house cats around a suburban nature preserve.” Animal Conservation. 2004. 7(3): p. 273-283.

6. Baker, P.J., et al., “Cats about town: is predation by free-ranging pet cats Felis catus likely to affect urban bird populations? Ibis. 2008. 150: p. 86-99.

7. Møller, A.P. and Erritzøe, J., “Predation against birds with low immunocompetence.” Oecologia. 2000. 122(4): p. 500-504.

8. Mead, C.J., “Ringed birds killed by cats.” Mammal Review. 1982. 12(4): p. 183-186.

9. Fitzgerald, B.M. and Turner, D.C., Hunting Behaviour of domestic cats and their impact on prey populations, in The Domestic Cat: The biology of its behaviour, D.C. Turner and P.P.G. Bateson, Editors. 2000, Cambridge University Press. p. 151–175.

10. Martin, G.R., Twigg, L.E., and Robinson, D.J., “Comparison of the Diet of Feral Cats From Rural and Pastoral Western Australia.” Wildlife Research. 1996. 23(4): p. 475-484.

11. Berkeley, E.P., TNR Past present and future: A history of the trap-neuter-return movement. 2004, Bethesda, MD: Alley Cat Allies.

12. Patronek, G.J., “Letter to Editor.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 1996. 209(10): p. 1686–1687.

A Critical Assessment of “Critical Assessment”—Part 1

The first in a series of posts that breaks down my critique of the essay “Critical Assessment of Claims Regarding Management of Feral Cats by Trap-Neuter-Return” (Conservation Biology, Volume 23, No. 4, 887–894) by Travis Longcore, Catherine Rich, and Lauren M. Sullivan.

How many birds are killed by cats? It’s a fair question. And if Longcore et al. are to be believed, we actually have a pretty good handle on this issue:

Feral and free-roaming cats are efficient predators, and their abundance results in substantial annual mortality of wildlife. Churcher and Lawton (1987) concluded that cats were responsible for 30% of the mortality of House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) in an English village. May (1988) extrapolated their results to an estimated 100 million birds and small mammals killed per year in England. Although this extrapolation is often criticized for the limited geographic scope and number of cats studied, Woods et al. (2003) confirmed and refined this result with a larger sample size and geographic area that included England, Scotland, and Wales. From a survey of cat owners that documented prey returned by 696 cats, Woods et al. (2003) estimated that the 9 million cats in Britain kill at least 52–63 million mammals, 25–29 million birds, and 4–6 million reptiles each summer. In North America Coleman and Temple (1996) developed estimates of cat densities in Wisconsin and associated mortality of 8–217 million birds per year.

The relationship between cat predation and bird populations is highly complex, and our understanding quite limited—something Longcore et al. only hint at. It doesn’t help matters that results of small, isolated studies are often extrapolated from rural to urban environments, from one region to another, and so forth. In 1995, Churcher himself cautioned against making such leaps: “I’d be very wary about extrapolating our results even for the rest of Britain, let alone America,” he told Catnip, a newsletter published by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

Actually, Churcher went much further: “I don’t really go along with the idea of cats being a threat to wildlife. If the cats weren’t there, something else would be killing the sparrows or otherwise preventing them from breeding.” [1] Although Longcore et al. seem eager to cite Churcher and Lawton’s now-classic work as “evidence” of the damage cats can do, they make no mention of Churcher’s later comments (just one of many examples of their tendency to “cherry pick” from the literature only the bits and pieces that fit neatly into their argument).

But back to the number of birds killed by cats. Many of the studies on the subject—including those cited by Longcore et al.—are quite flawed. Among the numerous issues that call into question their estimates are assumptions regarding the number of cats that actually hunt, the number of cats allowed outdoors, the number of cats that live in a particular area, and so forth. And then, of course, there are the risks inherent in estimating population numbers and characteristics based on a small sample size.

(In fact, Woods et al. go to some lengths to emphasize the limitations of their study, conceding, for example, that they “may have focused on predatory cats.” [2] This is just one of many reasons the authors cite for requesting that their work be treated “with requisite caution”—a request apparently ignored by Longcore et al.)

By referring uncritically to such studies, Longcore et al. give far greater importance to this work than is warranted. Repeating—and therefore reinforcing—figures known to be erroneous and/or misleading is simply irresponsible.

The fact that the “English village” study and “Wisconsin Study” have been so thoroughly discredited (see, for example, the comments of Nathan Winograd, director of the No Kill Advocacy Center, and a report by Laurie D. Goldstein, Christine L. O’Keefe, and Heidi L. Bickel) raises some unsettling questions about their inclusion in a paper billed as a “critical assessment.” For example: Are the authors interested enough in rigorous scientific inquiry to look beyond “the usual suspects” in their assessment of the key issues?

One might also wonder: Given the important literature that Longcore et al. choose to overlook, ignore, or dismiss (to be addressed in detail in future posts), what is their motivation for writing the essay in the first place? Actually, this question was answered in January, two months after the paper’s publication, when L.A. Superior Court Judge Thomas McKnew decided in favor of an injunction against publicly supported TNR in Los Angeles (LASC BS115483). The Urban Wildlands Group (for which Longcore serves as Science Director, and Rich as Executive Officer) was the lead petitioner in the case.

If “Critical Assessment” is any indication, the case had much more to do with politics, PR, and marketing than with science.

1. n.a. (1995). What the Cat Dragged In. Catnip, 4–6.

2. Woods, M., Mcdonald, R. A., & Harris, S. (2003). Predation of wildlife by domestic cats Felis catus in Great Britain. Mammal Review, 33(2), 174-188.

Works cited in “Critical Assessment” excerpt:

• Churcher, P. B., & Lawton, J. H. (1987). Predation by domestic cats in an English village. Journal of Zoology, 212(3), 439-455.
• Coleman, J. S., & Temple, S. A. (1996). On the Prowl. Wisconsin Natural Resources, 20, 4–8.
• May, R. M. (1988). Control of feline delinquency. Nature, 332, 392-393.

The Things People Say (or Don’t)—Part 2

Like the Urban Wildlands Group, the Los Angeles Audubon Society seems eager to spread the word about the “threat” of feral cats. But, just like Urban Wildlands Group, what they’re saying doesn’t always add up.

The L.A. Audubon Society was (along with the Urban Wildlands Group) a petitioner in the case (LASC BS115483) that eventually led to an injunction against publicly supported TNR in Los Angeles. So it was no surprise to see a representative quoted in the Los Angeles Times:

“At San Pedro’s Cabrillo Beach, a feral cat colony resides near where snowy plovers nest, said Garry George, conservation chairman for the Los Angeles Audubon Society. At San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, George said, feral cats have wiped out the California quail population. And in San Diego, feral cats roam free near a habitat for the California least tern, which officials are trying to monitor and protect, he said.”

I’ve yet to look into George’s claims—and will reserve judgment until I have. That said, I think there’s reason to be wary. In February 2009, George had an article published in the online version of Los Angeles Magazine that raises questions about his ability to serve as a trustworthy spokesperson on the subject of feral cats. In “How to Make Your Yard a Bird Magnet,” George writes:

If feral cats are destroying your property, including your birds, you can use a Hav-a-Heart trap with a permit from Animal Services. They will spay or neuter the cats you trap and offer to find them a home.

To start with, it’s not clear that George’s bit of advice (including a link taking readers to the American Bird Conservancy’s Cats Indoors! campaign, a topic all its own) belongs in the article all. Then there’s his choice of words (to hear George tell it, you’d think real estate values in L.A. would be suffering for all the destruction wrought by feral cats!).

The real issue, though, is George’s assertion that L.A. Animal Services will sterilize and help find homes for the feral cats you trap. I’ve spoken with a representative at L.A. Animal Services, and was told—in no uncertain terms—that this is simply not the case. And it wasn’t true when George wrote it, either.

It’s hardly surprising—given how overcrowded L.A.’s shelters are with adoptable cats—that they’re not offering to find homes for feral cats (which often make for “difficult” adoption candidates). For George to suggest that these cats were headed for a happy ending is highly irresponsible. Either he didn’t know any better, or he intended his statement to be misleading and deceptive (he failed to respond to my inquiries on the subject). In either case, George had no business writing what he did. The fact that he did write it raises unsettling questions about his integrity and that of the organization he represents.

All of which begs another rather unsettling question: Do supporters of the L.A. Audubon Society fully understand what they’re supporting?