Monday, April 27, 2009

Feeding feral cats is cruel

I have been following recent newspaper articles and letters to the editor about feral cat colonies with some dismay. These discussions seem mostly limited to issues of the feral cats' individual welfare and "humane" treatment, while not sufficiently considering the whole picture — which includes human health and native wildlife conservation.

Although Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) advocates and feral cat colony maintainers have admirable sympathies for fellow creatures (feral cats), I wonder where their sympathy is for the vast number of native creatures that non-native feral cats kill or maim? Where is their sympathy for the children who are at risk of contracting injury, diseases or parasites from roaming feral cats?

In order to return the debate to its proper scope, I offer the following facts. It is virtually impossible to annually capture and vaccinate all members of significant feral cat colonies. This is because after the first time or two they are captured, feral cats tend to avoid traps. It is also due to other causes — including the roaming tendencies of tomcats, as well as the difficulty of capturing some wary individuals even for the first time. For similar reasons, it is also very difficult to capture and spay/neuter 100 percent of the feral cats at any given colony, especially before they reproduce. Feral cat colonies pose human health risks. They are what epidemiologists call "disease reservoirs" — the colonies harbor diseases in unvaccinated members over the long term. Members of feral cat colonies spread diseases and parasites via bites, scratches, and fecal contamination (of beach sand, children's sandboxes, vegetable gardens, and flower beds to name a few vectors). Such diseases and parasites include rabies, toxoplasmosis, roundworm, hookworm, and others. Feral cats also harbor and spread fleas and ticks.

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