Columbia's feral cat ordinance is headed in wrong direction

Monday, July 11, 2011 | 11:00 a.m. CDT

Columbia’s new ordinance is entirely misguided, ignoring decades of science about the nature of feral cats (“City passes new feral cat ordinance,” July 5).  Worse, it points fingers at the very people it should be thanking.  

Feral cat caregivers do not need to be “held accountable” for reaching into their own hearts and wallets to provide a valuable community service. Feral cats are hardly a new phenomenon, in Columbia or anywhere else.  The reality is that these cats would exist with or without caring people to look after them. Outdoor cats thrive in every landscape and have for thousands of years.

Scientific research shows feral cats to be just as healthy as pet cats, but they are not socialized to people and cannot be adopted. Nationwide, more than 70 percent of cats who enter shelters are killed there — at a high cost to taxpayers and donors, and with zero benefit to the community.

As dozens of cities across the country have recognized, Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is the only effective course of action for feral cats.  It makes the cats healthier and stabilizes the population — no new kittens.  And it actually helps the cats be better neighbors by ending behaviors associated with mating, like yowling, spraying and fighting.

By discouraging TNR through this burdensome and restrictive new law, residents can expect a mountain of unintended consequences.  Rather than punish the very people who are to be praised, Columbia city leaders would be wise to take responsibility by actively encouraging and funding Trap-Neuter-Return.  

The community would be far better served for it.

Becky Robinson is president of Alley Cat Allies in Bethesda, Md. 

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Connie Kelly July 11, 2011 | 2:49 p.m.

Misguided is a mild adjective describing the new Columbia feral cat ordinance. As a feral cat caretaker I am completely dumbfounded by how far off the mark the city founders are with this legislative effort. Everyone who has even a modicum of knowledge about feral cats knows it would be impossible to "trap and annually test the cats for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus" as required by the new law, not to mention what a waste of time and caretaker funds it would be. Also, there is a large amount of evidence pointing to the fact that tests for feline leukemia in cats sometimes generate false positives so testing could result in healthy cats being killed due to erroneous test results.

You would think after 2 years of writing and re-writing this ordinance they could have at least done some research on the actual public health risks that feral cats pose. There is no evidence that they pose any higher risk for disease than domesticated cats. The fact that there were only 4 US cases of rabies in humans in 2009 should refute the common myth that feral cats are spreading rabies at an alarming rate.

You are at much higher risk of contracting rabies from raccoons, bats, skunks and other wild animals than any cat, feral or not. I would like to know who is going to TNR the skunks. Do we have any volunteers?

There is no way to estimate the amount of money feral cat caretakers are saving the city by doing TNR and stopping the natural increase that would result from feral cats breeding unchecked. All responsible TNR efforts already include the trapped cat being vaccinated at least once in its short lifetime for rabies and being spayed or neutered. These efforts cost the city NOTHING. The financial responsibility for these actions is being shouldered completely by feral cat caretakers and other not-for-profit pet rescues in our area.

Does anyone understand the point of this ordinance because what is clear to me is that it will increase the burden on the city departments who are tasked to enforce it, using up much needed city revenues and it will handicap the huge volunteer army of feral cat caretakers who reside in and around Columbia. If you don't think there is a large feral cat support community, you are sadly mistaken. The attendance and interest these meetings have generated from cat caretakers cannot be ignored.

The city should repeal this ordinance and get back to spending Columbia tax revenues on matters that would better serve the public. I predict like other hot button topics, this one will fade in to the woodwork because the ordinance has no practical value and it cannot be enforced.

(Report Comment)
Mitchell Moore July 11, 2011 | 5:28 p.m.

Feral cat supporters are misguided. The new city ordinance should be repealed and one enacted banning the feeding of feral cats.

I love cats and have had many as pets. But feral cats are a destructive nuisance and do great damage to the environment.

Feral cats do spread disease and not just to humans. Domestic cats allowed outside at night (or in the daytime, when they should be belled...domestic cats kill songbirds and should either be belled or let out only at night when they will do far less killing) are susceptible to the diseases spread by feral cats. House cats don't catch diseases from other house cats because, by definition, they are kept in a house. Their owners take responsibility for each cat. If a house cat is killing songbirds in the neighborhood, a neighbor can inform the owner of the problem and a reasonable cat owner will take action to prevent their cat from killing songbirds.

The biggest problem with feral cats (which have no natural predators in an urban setting) is that they kill hundreds of millions of songbirds and other avian species each year.

Thousands of Columbians feed songbirds and include bird watching as a hobby. Who among us does not take delight in their songs?

Songbirds are a blessing. Feral cats are an unfortunate nuisance that kill hundreds of millions of songbirds each year.

Feral cat supporters are misguided in their efforts to "manage" the population of these predaceous songbird killers. They are enabling a nuisance.

Most Columbians prefer the delightful sound of songbirds to a city policy leaning towards a silent spring.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock July 12, 2011 | 12:05 p.m.

You are dead on Mr. Moore. Feral cats need to be exterminated as they are detrimental to the wildlife. TNR does not work. Here is a study concluded by UNL.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro July 12, 2011 | 3:33 p.m.

Community Benefits of Feral Cats:

(Report Comment)
Elaine Hartley July 12, 2011 | 6:57 p.m.

When a human being says that cats are so destructive to wildlife they should be exterminated, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Human beings are the single most destructive and rapacious force on this planet. We are in the midst of the greatest extinction event in the history of the planet and it isn't caused by cats.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock July 12, 2011 | 10:25 p.m.

But at least we know what the issues are. We humans can change our behaviors and make choices. Animals are driven by two things. Eating and making more of their kind. Look at the wild horse issue. They are starving in some states and you have to ask yourself it is humane to allow that? Is it humane to allow these cats to be half starved and reproduce more of their kind and contributing to the damage? No, cats in cities do not have natural predators. They are not a part of the food chain. In the country they at least have to deal with the coyotes. Humans are only serving themselves and the feelings they get when they are feeding these cats. They get a connection to these animals on a emotional level and cannot think logically about what is best for the overall ecosystem. Look if all the cats could be persuaded to stop eating the wildlife and reproducing then all would be well but we know that is not going to happen and regardless of how much cat food you put out they will always be hungry and you cannot catch them all. In fact when animals are well fed they are able to reproduce better so you are contributing to the cause by feeding them.

(Report Comment)

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