Why So Many Feral Cats in America?
by Elisa Black
Feral cats NY, USA. Photo by amalthya (Flickr)
There is an out of control problem with feral cats in America. I'm going to throw my personal opinion into this one a lot and hopefully offer a few solutions. I'm not going to put blame on any one person or cause as this doesn't seem to change things. I don't know the extent or situation of feral cats in other countries so I'll keep my opinion centered on the United States where I live.
I personally believe a lot of the problems with feral cats stem from loving owners who for one reason or another have to give up their pet. There are growing problems with unemployment, government funded cutbacks and the high cost of pet care. Everyone in America is being affected by one form or another unless they're very rich.
Let me explain. The unemployment issue has put our economy in the worst condition we've seen since the Great Depression of the 1930's. People lose their jobs, their vehicles and their homes. As heartbreaking as it may be, this is the reason a lot of pets end up homeless.
Government cutbacks are also causing a lot of animals to be abandoned. When funds are cut to fields such as medical assistance jobs are lost. Benefit criteria are changed so people who once had assistance with medical, food or housing are left without funds. When food assistance programs are cut, it puts a pet owner in a bad situation. They must now feed themselves and often there isn't enough of an income to feed a pet. One may ask why this person has a pet in the first place. Many went from a good financial situation to bad in the span of less than a year. It doesn't take long for money to run out once a family is hit by hardship.
People needing minor medical treatment are now overcrowding our emergency rooms when a doctor's office would suffice. The problem is money for a doctor. It's just not there. So the emergency room treats a patient and the patient doesn't pay. Ever! This gives the hospital the legal right to take their money out of a federal or state tax refund. This is the one time of year many Americans look forward to either to catch up on bills or put a down payment on a vehicle. Now it's gone.
The high cost of pet care is also a concern. Pet insurance is great. Medical advances in helping pets live longer lives are a blessing. Until you have a seriously ill pet requiring thousands of dollars in treatment. Running a vet practice is a business. The issue of malpractice is always out there and this has increased fees. But at what point does a beloved pet become a dollar amount? I remember the day when the average vet bill was under $50 and that included the antibiotics. Euthanizing an animal is also getting more expensive. All of these thoughts go thru a persons head when they have an aging pet.
Let's backtrack to the financially strained cat owner. I believe there is a lower amount of ferals in the vicinity of a no kill shelter. For a list of no kill shelters in the U.S. see Fluff Net. Personally I live in the area of kill shelters. Shelters in my area are regulated to the point a picture ID must be presented to leave an animal. This prevents citizens from outside the county cannot turn in an animal. The animal must be left at a shelter in the county of the owner. I don't agree with the logic behind what I'm about to discuss because I've always had good results with ads offering my rescues to a good home with a vet reference. These ads are run free of charge by most local newspapers.
Many cat owners convince themselves it's beneficial to the cat to just drive out into the country and dump the cat off in a "good neighborhood." They try to rationalize that the kill shelter would give their cat 3 days but in the wild it could find "a good life." A "better home." I understand their misguided logic but it really burns me up to think about this. Can you imagine what this must be like for the poor cat. It is left without food water and a comfortable place to sleep. Picture the mental anguish. It's heartbreaking. Again-RUN AN AD! With a vet reference you're ensuring the cat a decent chance. How do "dumpers" live with the guilt?!!
Trap, neuter, return answer to feral cats is a great idea. IF a person has the funds to do this. Often food and water are all that can be offered to a feral because, again, the money isn't there for a lot of people. Even the clinics in my area charge $80 for a male and $100+ for a female to neuter and give all of the tests and shots. I may be wrong but I believe the feral problem has to start with people getting the message that abandonment is not an option.
Many future cat owners don't want a shelter cat because they're under the impression the animal was turned in due to behavior problems. This is entirely untrue. Check out this link for the real reason behind many deserted animals and why they were left at a shelter. The Myths of Sheltered Pets. Most are turned in because of pet costs, moving, or death of it's human.
The National No Kill Advocacy Center has the best approach I've found. Their research shows that if all kill shelters adopted their policies it would save close to 4 million cats and dogs who will die each year in a shelter. This agency is staffed only by people who have worked in a no kill shelter environment. It is also the first to embrace the concept of a No-Kill nation. For more on their work please see No Kill Advocacy Center. This site also has advice on how to change the status quo by reforming animal control . This is site worth surfing. It gives me hope that one day kill shelters will all be replaced with this organizations compassionate plan.
My online friend Katie Faulkner is an example. Check out her site at FurrButts Photography
She does pet photography as a business and does a LOT of work with shelters in her area. She is one of the ANGELS we talk about on this site. I admire her more than anyone I've ever known in how she has turned her talent into a way of helping animals. I've never met her but greatly admire her talent.
I hope everyone has learned from this article, especially those living abroad who don't understand the feral cat problem in America. I must end the story here. My cats are calling for their dinner.