Saturday, January 20, 2007

Here is some information about the true cruelty of TNR.

I believe in Zero Tolerance in the wild, but this interview shows some of the cruelty of the (mal)practice of TNR.

Re Cats Indoors! Campaign of American Bird Conservancy (Nov/2006):
Several years ago, Mr. J.R. Yeager contacted them to say that in his experience, Trap/Neuter/Release or TNR was not working to eliminate San Francisco’s feral cat population, nor was it humane. The following is a recent interview with Mr. Yeager, who also serves on the San Francisco Commission of Animal Control and Welfare. His first-hand experience and recommendations are enlightening.
(LW is Linda Winter, former director of the Cats Indoors Campaign.)

LW: I understand you were at one time an active participant and strong advocate of TNR, and now you no longer support it. What got you involved with TNR in the first place?

JR: About six or seven years ago the plight of homeless animals, particularly cats, entered my consciousness from several awareness-raising experiences that happened all at about the same time. One of the “nudges” I received came while walking home from work one evening down a residential street in San Francisco. By chance, I came upon five or six sickly, emaciated homeless cats. They looked wretched and near death. It was a very disturbing sight to me. I often think of that evening and how it has changed my life.

LW: What happened?

JR: The next day I started making calls trying to find help for these animals and learned that the San Francisco Department of Animal Care and Control did not handle stray/feral cat issues. Instead they passed me over to the feral cat program at the SPCA. The SFSPCA seemed willing to help. They had (still have) a program called Feral Fix, and I was told I could borrow their traps and if I brought the cats in to them, they would spay/neuter and vaccinate them for free. And their literature said that they had volunteers that would care for the cats, once returned from where they were trapped, for the remainder of their lives. Wow! How could I go wrong? I threw myself into the project in the evenings and after about a month I trapped most of the cats. After that success, the SFSPCA called me and asked if I would help out in another part of town. And so I did.

LW: And you stated that was about six years ago. What have you learned in all that time about feral cats, and why are you no longer a supporter of TNR?

JR: The other part of town I was asked to trap in was along the waterfront, on the piers, and in warehouses. It was teeming with stray/feral/homeless wretched cats. It was heartbreaking and I began trapping there in earnest, and since that time I have trapped hundreds of cats in San Francisco. But as the feel-good rush of “helping” these animals fell into perspective, I realized that for every animal I returned to a pier, street, alley, warehouse or junkyard, I had another feline mouth to feed. There were not enough volunteers to feed all these animals as the SFSPCA literature had led me to believe, and I felt it was morally irresponsible to simply put sterilized cats back on the street and let them starve to death. Where would be the compassion in that? How does starvation qualify as a “humane” solution to the feral cat overpopulation?

LW: Why didn’t you take the cats to the city shelter, SF Animal Care and Control (ACC), to be humanely euthanized if you knew they were just being put back on the streets to starve?

JR: I tried. But the city shelter in San Francisco has some kind of “pact” with the SFSPCA regarding feral cats, and they simply turn the cats surrendered to their facility over to the SFSPCA to be sterilized and released. It is extremely frustrating, if not illegal. And what kind of message does it send to the responsible person who took the time to trap the cat and take it to the city shelter, if it simply shows up again in their back yard a week later with a tipped ear? And believe me; I know first hand that SFSPCA volunteers drop cats off in the dark and drive away and never return. I believe some jurisdictions call that animal abandonment.

And it was not only that these cats were left with no “lifetime” caretaker, but I was forced to put cats back into some of the worst conditions imaginable. Can you imagine putting 6 month old kittens or one-eyed cats back into a grease-filled industrial animal rendering plant to spend their short lives dodging dump trucks and other heavy equipment? That is the practice exercised here in San Francisco, and I have subsequently found the dead bodies of these same cats killed by trucks or dead from some other cause, with their tell-tale clipped ear indicating they were previously “rescued” by TNR. I now firmly believe that euthanasia is a far more humane solution for some of these cats than the additional suffering that the TNR advocates put them through just to make themselves feel good.

LW: You know that at ABC we are concerned about the impact of feral cats on birds and other wildlife. What have you observed in the field relating to this side of the issue?

JR: Dead birds, dead mice, dead rats. The cats I have been feeding leave me dead gifts in their food dishes. The cats are not hungry, but they still kill. There is no denying it.

Beyond that, I realize now that I have been adding yet another human imbalance to the natural world. For instance, the amount of rats in one area where I feed seems to have increased dramatically, and they now eat the food I leave for the cats at an accelerated rate. And at another spot, I find a fair number of small doves are now congregating every evening near certain cat feeding stations, making them especially easy prey for the cats. But a recent experience with a family of raccoons has left me rethinking TNR from even a broader perspective.

LW: Can you tell me more about that?

JR: Late this summer I began observing an adult raccoon and four offspring traveling from one feral cat feeding station to another eating the cat food I put out, sometimes even before the cats had a chance at it. My first thought was: quit eating my cat food. But then one evening at a particular location where I had seen them most often there was just one of the offspring, all alone, and it dawned on me then that the way its mother had taught it to fend for itself was from an artificial food supply that I had created. And if I withdrew that food supply what would happen to that small animal? And then of course I wondered if the cat food I was putting down every night was possibly responsible for an unnatural reproduction rate of at least this raccoon family? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that my actions are most likely having a disruptive impact on the natural order of the wildlife in this area.

LW: So what do you think should be done to address the deficiencies of TNR from your perspective?

JR: First, the solution to feral cat overpopulation has to be driven by logic and science and a real humane concern for these cats, not by emotion alone as it is now here is San Francisco. I acknowledge that there are people out there willing to do the TNR work, but there are not enough of them (as they would lead you to believe) to make TNR the only permitted solution (as they would like it to be).

All TNR programs need independent oversight and guidelines specifying that where the cats are returned is safe for them and that property owners are in agreement with their return. And there has to be a real guarantee that the cats will receive care for the rest of their lives; which requires a time commitment that will span years. And there should be proof of financial ability of a caretaker to take care of 20, 30 or more cats for 10 or more years. And caretakers should be responsible for a back-up plan for when they are absent for whatever reason. And if a caretaker drops out and leaves their cats unattended, then I feel strongly they should be charged with animal abandonment. I think if the hardcore TNR folks were actually required to sign commitments and required to report on all the cats they “manage” and were actually held accountable, you would see a very real reduction in force.

I also think that TNR colonies should not be allowed in wildlife sensitive areas. TNR advocates will argue that “we don’t make the colonies; they exist wherever we find them”. But that is not true. Colonies are formed wherever there is a consistent and reliable food source, otherwise the cats move on until they find those conditions. They go where the food is, and if it is moved, they will follow. But feral cat caretakers like wildlife areas because they are out of sight of most prying eyes.

At the same time, I feel the wildlife community could do more to help resolve the problem than they currently are offering. That assistance could be in the form of organized volunteer groups helping trap cats and assisting in finding/making available suitable and sustainable relocation areas where possible. Getting in there and getting their hands dirty along with the TNR folks would do a lot to help bridge the differences between the two parties. There is a lot of work to be done.

And as opposed as some people are to euthanasia, it is an unfortunate fact of life until a miracle birth control solution drops from the sky. My experience has taught me that euthanasia is a far more humane end for some of these cats than the ends through which I’ve seen them suffer as a result of TNR.

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