Trap-neuter-release works to control feral cats

March 08, 2013

Op-ed writer George Fenwick's assertion that trap, neuter and release programs (TNR) lead to an increase in the number of uninoculated species is unfounded. He obviously does not understand how TNR works.

TNR is a program that allows a cat caretaker to trap their feral cat, bring it to a facility to be spayed/neutered and vaccinated for rabies and then released back into the colony. This caretaker will care for the cat the rest of its life. This caretaker feeds the cat, which results in less predation on the bird population. To say that TNR will cause an increase in the number of uninoculated species is completely wrong. The TNR cats are fixed and inoculated which, in turn, reduces the population of the colony!

TNR programs have been the focus of great criticism concerning the impact of feline predation on wildlife species. The main decline of birds is due to urban sprawl, habitat loss, drought and pesticides, not free-roaming cats. When considering this controversial issue, it is important to understand that free-roaming cats are not the only predators of songbirds. Owls, hawks, falcons, raccoons, squirrels and snakes are predators of songbirds. Birds are killed by other causes, too. Birds are killed by flying into windows, cars, wind turbines, communication towers and high tension lines.

Studies have shown that the majority of a free-roaming cat's diet is human garbage, rodents and to a smaller extent, birds. These free-roaming cats are providing a valuable service to the community. They are eating the rats and mice, which in high numbers can pose a public health risk to humans.

In your article, you state that free-roaming cats spread zoonotic diseases. Rabies can be transmitted by cats, but is more commonly spread by wildlife: bats, foxes and raccoons. According to the article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, approximately 92 percent of reported rabid animals were wildlife: 36.5 percent raccoons, 23.5 percent skunks, 23.2 percent bats, 6.9 percent foxes, 4.9 percent cats, 1.1 percent cattle and 1.1 percent dogs.

The primary problem with the overpopulation of cats (feral and free-roaming) is irresponsible pet ownership. Some irresponsible owners do not get their cats fixed or vaccinated and then abandon them outside to breed and spread disease. Euthanasia (extermination) is not the solution. Trap and remove, the traditional technique exercised by animal control, is simply ineffective! We need low cost statewide spay/neuter and vaccination clinics to help reduce the overpopulation of the cats.

There is recent legislation for a spay/neuter bill. The Spay/Neuter Fund legislation has been filed in the Maryland Senate (S.B.820) and House of Delegates (H.B.767) by Sen. Joanne Benson and Del. Barbara Frush, co-chairs of the Spay/Neuter Task Force. The purpose of the Spay/Neuter Fund bill is to reduce shelter overpopulation and cat and dog euthanasia rates. Please check out to sign the petition and get involved.

Would reducing the free-roaming cat population reduce the destruction of the song birds? If the decline of the song birds is due primarily to urban sprawl, habitat loss, drought and pesticides, reducing the cat population may not help. Bird and cat advocates need to work together. Cat owners can help reduce the predation of song birds by keeping their cats indoors. Cat owners need to make sure their pets are sterilized, vaccinated and micro-chipped.

In his article, Mr. Fenwick suggested treating cat owners like dog owners and enforcing anti-abandonment laws, requiring leashes and enclosures for cats. How could this even be enforced? Do you have any idea how much taxpayer money this would cost for animal control officers to enforce such restrictions? Cat owners are not going to abide by these laws. This is completely unreasonable! Reducing the population through spay/neuter programs, TNR programs, requiring a license and rabies vaccination is a more feasible option for cat owners.

Amy Hubbard

The writer is a veterinarian and Jarretsville Vet Center and a member of the Harford County Humane Society board.

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