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

2012 No Kill Conference Wrap-Up

Three brief take-aways from the 2012 No Kill Conference, held this past weekend George Washington University’s Law School.

The No Kill movement has, in a few short years, achieved a great deal. Today, 50 community shelters across the country (representing, if I’m not mistaken, more than 200 cities and towns) have achieved no-kill status, each saving the lives of at least 90 percent of animals brought in.

What’s more, there’s an enormous amount of momentum in the movement, as was demonstrated by the number of success stories shared by speakers and attendees alike—as well as the unmistakable energy in the air. The times, they are a changin’.

Tools for Success
One sign of a successful conference is when attendees are frustrated that they’re missing one great workshop by attending another. That was certainly the case this weekend. Clearly, there are certainly worse problems to have. And I didn’t hear a single complaint that any of the workshops was a disappointment.

Participants are now headed back to their communities equipped with the tools necessary to bring about change—from becoming more media savvy and more politically effective to creating a bottle baby program for saving unweaned kittens. (See previous Dylan quote.)

Push for TNR
My presentation, Witch-Hunt: How TNR opponents have co-opted science to target free-roaming cats, was very well received. Approximately 50 people attended Saturday’s session, and another 80 or so (standing-room only!) were there on Sunday. No small feat, considered I was “competing” with John Sibley (the man behind the In Dog We Trust blog), whose workshop focused on advocacy blogging. (See previous comment about there being too much great stuff going on all at once.)

The number of questions, and subsequent conversations, about TNR over the course of the weekend demonstrate a strong desire for additional resources (e.g., programs, education, etc.) and protections (e.g., policy, legislation, etc.) designed to put an end to the killing of stray, abandoned, and feral cats. Fed up with the cruel, costly, and ineffective trap-and-kill approach—practiced for generations now—people are demanding more of their local shelters and politicians.

Cue Dylan.

•     •     •

The No Kill Advocacy Center, No Kill Nation, the GW Law School’s Joan Schaffner and her team, and many others are to be commended for a job well done! Looking forward to 2013…

Today: Just One Day

Hundreds of animal shelters across the country have pledged to end the killing of any healthy or savable* animals, even if only for one day. And that day is here!

The Just One Day campaign, a collaborative effort of the No Kill Advocacy Center, Animal Ark, and Animal Wise Radio (all of whom have been great supporters of Vox Felina!), had a lofty goal: to “change everything for 10,411 companion animals,” making June 11th “a day that can change the world.”

“For Just One Day, ‘Euthanasia Technicians’ will put down their syringes and pick up cameras. Instead of injecting animals with lethal doses of sodium pentobarbital, they will photograph them and post them on the Internet, on Facebook, on twitter. On June 11, 2012, they will market their animals to the public, they will reach out to rescue groups, they will host adoption events with discounted rates, they will stay open for extended hours, and they will ask their communities to help them empty the shelter the good way.

Instead of going into body bags in freezers, the animals will go out the front door in the loving arms of families. At the end of the day, the shelters will be emptier than when the day started. And, no one will have had to die in order to make that happen.”

Success stories are pouring in on the Just One Day Facebook page, and Animal Wise Radio has scheduled a special live broadcast at noon CDT “to celebrate what could turn out to be the safest day for Animals in U.S. History.”

My sincere thanks to all those who’ve helped make this happen—the campaign’s promoters, the numerous shelters that have taken the pledge, the hundreds (thousands, maybe) of rescues working in concert with shelters near and far, and the community leaders who’ve made proclamations and pushed no-kill policy. And of course all those who are using the opportunity to adopt.

Today is a very good day.

* Those animals that have not been diagnosed with a terminal, incurable condition, or dogs have been determined by a credentialed behaviorist to be unmanageably aggressive, and beyond hope of rehabilitation.

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.