Dr. Michael W. Fox

Outdoor Cats, Wildlife And Human Health
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To Kiss Salamanders and Stones

                                                         

                                      INHUMANE SOCIETY REVISITED:

                            OUTDOOR CATS, WILDLIFE & HUMAN HEALTH

                                   By Dr. Michael W. Fox & Deanna L. Krantz

Many advocates of trapping, neutering, vaccinating and releasing cats (TNR) claim that this saves these cats’ lives because they are too wild to be adopted and would otherwise be euthanized. They go on to argue that these cats adapt and find their place in the environments/ecologies where they are released. They also contend that cats play a vital role in controlling rodents that can carry diseases harmful to people, such as the plague or Black Death that in the mid -1300s wiped out one-third of Europe’s population.

This deep scar on the human psyche, passed on from generation to generation is one of the justifications used to rationalize releasing cats into our communities for our health’s sake to control “vermin”. Another justification, according to one (pro-life?) advocate of the “No Kill” animal shelter movement is that “We really need outdoor cats because in most places there are no natural predators to control wildlife.” Yet we have owls, hawks, red foxes and coyotes in our neighborhood, now competing with TNR cats released by our local humane society to fend for themselves through Minnesota’s harsh winters. Many may become food for coyotes.

This same No Kill advocate also asserted that “These cats killing birds like sparrows and starlings that were introduced here from Europe will help native birds recover.” Does this mean cats know the difference in their catch-as-catch can survival mode between native and non-native species?

Outdoor cats compete with wild predators such as foxes and hawks for the same prey while feeding outdoor cats attracts raccoons & other wildlife. Photos all in same location by the authors.

Cats were once blamed for causing the plague and were exterminated in several European communities, yet this did not stop the plague’s spread just as their presence made no significant difference in stemming the pandemic and pandemonium. TNR cats are not likely to help prevent a potential pandemic disease like the Black Death because many cats are not efficient rat killers and prefer to kill and consume smaller rodents and song and ground-nesting birds, reptiles and insects. And, more significantly, the Black Death, the plague caused by Yersinia pestis, most probably came not from infective rat fleas but from human fleas and lice transmitting the disease from person to person, rats and cats having little if any involvement.

Cats can get the plague and potentially carry infective fleas from rats (and rabbits), to humans, especially if they are indoor-outdoor cats. Would a colony of TNR cats really play any significant beneficial public health service in any community this regard, or actually pose public health concerns from other diseases transmissible to humans such as rabies, visceral larva migrans and toxoplasmosis? Indoor-outdoor and feral cats can also harbor ticks which can cause Lyme disease, babesiosis and other potentially fatal human diseases. Cats can certainly help control rodents around grain and feed storage areas but there are none in most places where TNR cats are being released, including the suburban residential community of Golden Valley, MN where the authors live and where wildlife are at risk from outdoor cats

Advocates of TNR and organizations like The Animal Humane Society (AHS) in Minneapolis which calls its TNR program a Community Cat program of “RTF” (Return to Field) also insist that releasing vaccinated and neutered cats helps reduce the cat population by keeping other cats in the surrounding area away from where the TNR cats are being released. There is no scientific evidence to support this hypothesis beyond relatively isolated sites like a college campus. With massive cat-catching drives coordinated municipality by municipality, suburban community by community, city-block-by-city-block and industrial “park” office and warehouse complex-by-complex and releasing large numbers of neutered cats close around the same time (otherwise resident cats will simply relocate and become a multiplying problem elsewhere) this would obviously mean fewer cats being born in a given area. Also problematic is that these RTF cats are not tested and treated for parasites which could be a public health risk and are not tested for feline leukemia and immunodeficiency virus infections which could put other cats at risk.

There are no large-scale inter-municipal efforts in most parts of the U.S. today and failure is inevitable without cat-owner education and strict enforcement of laws prohibiting owned and non-neutered cats being allowed to roam free and breed. Regardless, many cat owners are firm in their belief that their cats do best as indoor-outdoor animals, a belief as self-serving and harmful as the unconditional advocacy of TNR which causes much suffering, probably worse than death, for those poor “unadoptable” cats caught up in their own plague and an inhumane society game of outdoor cat exploitation and cruelty. (For earlier examples see Inhumane Society: The American Way of Exploiting Animals by Dr. Michael W. Fox. St. Martin’s Press NY 1990). All TNR programs, releasing cats to roam outside of an enclosed area (wherein they should receive proper care) violate the animal health and welfare, environmental and wildlife protection and public health mandates of bioethics and One Health policy and praxis*.

The Animal Humane Society also informed us that “people in your neighborhood feed our Community Cats who help reduce the cat population where you live” but declined to tell us who does the regular feeding and inspection. These cats are regarded as “wild animals” by the humane society and local police dept. yet the MN Dept. of Natural Resources discourages people from feeding wildlife and some municipalities have ordinances prohibiting the feeding and encouragement of wildlife. Certainly, putting food out for free-roaming, feral and TNR “Community Cats” will attract raccoons, opossums and other indigenous wildlife and provide a food-source of cats for increasingly omni-present coyotes.

 Outdoor cats are prey for coyotes now expanding into urban, suburban & rural communities across the U.S

As a veterinarian and former Scientific Advisor and Vice President of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in Washington DC co-author Fox always opposed TNR on humane grounds for those cats evaluated as “unadoptable” where the alternatives of group-housing in enclosed colonies is preferable, as per those of Pro Animale in Europe, and if not available, then euthanasia for humane, public health and wildlife protection reasons. As we have learned from personal experience, many such cats are amenable to human socialization and testing cats just caught and taken into a shelter will understandably show defensive-aggressive behavior out of fear. This should not lead to their immediate rejection as “unadoptable” and being released back where they were found. Their recovery/socialization for adoptability takes time and patience, and when in group-housing situations they will often lose their fear and come to trust people especially when they see other cats in the enclosed colony enjoying human contact and displaying affection.