A recent article in The Sun featured advocates who favor a trap-neuter-release program for stray cats in Baltimore County and who would like to see a similar program in Baltimore City. It is important for people to know the other side of the story.
Many members of the groups we represent — the Maryland Ornithological Society and its chapters the Baltimore Bird Club and Howard County Bird Club — love and appreciate cats. However, we do not support a program that fosters returning stray cats to "managed" colonies in urban and suburban communities. The Maryland Ornithological Society certainly applauds the intent to reduce the undesirable expansion of feral cat populations through a spay-and-neuter program. However, we strongly oppose any plans to re-release cats into the wild, which artificially concentrates a non-native population of predators under conditions that diminish their welfare and that of native wildlife populations.
Partners in Flight estimated in a 2009 study that there were 148 million to 188 million cats in the United States, with 57 million of them free-roaming pets and 60 million to 100 million stray or feral cats. Partners in Flight conservatively estimated that a minimum of 1 billion birds are killed by cats annually. The group's study also notes that trap-neuter-release (TNR) colonies are not effective in reducing feral cat populations. They attract additional strays, and they serve as a dumping ground for unwanted cats. (See http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/cats/impacts_of_free_ranging_domestic_cats.pdf.)
Managed TNR colonies of released cats are not a solution to the predation issue because even well-fed cats take prey. In addition, they are a real threat to valuable native wildlife. For example, on Fire Island in New York, TNR cat colonies present a direct threat to nesting piping plovers, a nationally endangered species. In New Jersey, a similar threat is posed by released cats to both piping plovers and least terns, a threatened species.
Domestic cats have not and should not become part of our natural ecosystem. In fact, feral cats are considered to have been primarily responsible for the extinction of 33 bird species since the 1600s.
The Maryland Ornithological Society and its chapters also wish to point out that the release of such cats, even to a "managed" colony, probably violates Maryland law, specifically Title 10, Subtitle 6, which makes it a misdemeanor to abandon a domestic animal on public or private property.
The organizations we represent recognize the difficulty of this issue and commend those people who care about the welfare of felines that have become feral through neglect. However, as advocates of responsible conservation, we support the position of the American Bird Conservancy: If someone wants to help a stray, the humane trapping and spaying or neutering of such cats is fine as long as such cats are then kept indoors and not released back into the wild or a TNR colony. They should be humanely trapped by animal care and control facilities.
We realize that cats, due to their predatory nature, are but one of many threats to birds, including habitat loss, disease, window crashes and other threats. However, this is a threat to wildlife that can be addressed to the benefit of both cats and wildlife. We recommend that cat lovers and bird lovers alike learn about the American Bird Conservancy's Cats Indoors campaign at http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/cats/tnr.html as a responsible solution to this vexing issue.
Kurt Schwarz is conservation chair of the Maryland Ornithological Society and Howard County Bird Club. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Carol Schreter is chair of the Baltimore Bird Club Conservation Committee. Her e-mail is email@example.com.