Categories: trap-neuter-release

Dealing with feral cats is like Brexit!

Trapping feral cats in South Philadelphia. Volunteers from the Stray Cat Relief Fund gather at a colony at 24th and Washington streets with their traps. Photo: Peter Crimmins/WHYY

For my American visitors, who I appreciate tremendously, Brexit is the process by which the United Kingdom breaks away from the European Union after a referendum in which the people decided that they wanted to be free of the European Union and regain their democracy.

The problem is that despite the people being clear on what they want, parliamentarians, the politicians who are meant to represent the people are fighting over how to effect the referendum’s decision. There is a distinct lack of democracy in the UK Parliament. It’s a quagmire of mess and chaos, indecision and poor leadership from the Prime Minister. It’s frankly a disaster. They are all pulling in different directions.

Philadelphia is trying to deal with their feral cats. Firstly, they estimate that there are 400,000 of them but, to be frank, they don’t know (they won’t admit that). The only place in America where they will know for sure how many feral cats there are in their area is Washington DC because they are counting them. They’re not guessing the population size, they are actually counting them. That’s a big task but it is important because to make estimates is a dangerous process e.g. you get the wrong numbers on predation of birds.

The big problem is that you will get people pulling in different directions when it comes to deciding what to do feral cats. On one of the vacant lots in South Philadelphia – 24th and Washington – there are feral cats. It is ideal place for them. And as usual, a group of volunteers from a charity, in this instance Stray Cat Relief Fund, come around to the area to do some trapping, neutering and releasing of the cats.

On the edge of this vacant plot of land there are residents and they have different opinions about the work of these volunteers.

One of them, Shaun Moody, sometimes feeds the cats. He doesn’t like to see his cats being trapped. He likes having a colony of feral cats behind his house because they keep the rodents away. And he doesn’t like the cats to be neutered. He probably thinks that neutered cats are better mousers and in any case they produce more cats. He likes it that way.

“If you haven’t noticed, this is a city [and] cities have rats.”

A few doors down from Mr Moody is a neighbour with a completely different point of view. He wants the cats taken away and not brought back. He regards them as a nuisance. He says that when people leave out food for the cats as Mr Moody does they attract rats.

“You want to know why there are rats? People leave cans of food.”

The volunteers don’t know where to take the cats! But TNR programs, as we know, are based on the fact that the cats are returned to where they came from because that is their territory. It is difficult to relocate feral cats with success.

You will find other people with other opinions. Some people want to simply eradicate the feral cats and they don’t mind how you do it.

These varying opinions are reflected as well in the city leaders, the people who make decisions about ordinances and how to deal with feral cats. You will find among them the same sorts of differences in opinion.

However, you will almost certainly find that despite the opposing opinions, TNR normally comes out on top as the best solution because it is the most humane solution and if carried out in a committed way over a large enough area it is effective in the long term. It is my contention that the majority of residents of any area in America, including Philadelphia, are basically decent people and decent people know that their predecessors created the stray and feral cats that they see out of the back window in the vacant lot and this drives them to one conclusion: that they have to treat those cats humanely whether they like it or not and whether they want to eradicate them or not.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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