Focus on human behaviour to fix the feral cat problem in America

America has a feral cat problem judging by the news media. The UK does not have a feral cat problem but that is not meant to be a boast. It is a simple fact and it may be down to the weather. Large parts of America are much warmer than the UK making the environment far more amenable for feral cats who live outside all the time. Although the feral cats in California with temperatures in the mid-high 40s Celsius must be find it hard.

Feral cats
Feral cats. Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

I read about feral cats all the time. And most of news media stories about them emanate from America because America is the biggest marketplace in terms of domestic and feral cats. It is the centre of the domestic cat world. There are more domestic and feral cats in America than on any other continent. America has more cat lovers/likers than any other country.

I consistently read about the struggles of administrators either at a federal but normally at a county and state level to control feral cat numbers and bring them down. There is a disconnect between county administrators and individual volunteers on the ground.

The volunteers get on with the work of doing TNR which is trap-neuter-release. These people love cats and they love to help them. We should love them for what they do. They humanely help to control feral cat numbers. Sometimes local governments work with them which gives both them and the cats that they care for a status. This helps to reduce abuse of these cats. It works better that way.

I’ve seen numerous attempts by local governments to fix the so-called feral cat problem. The focus is always on the cats and whether to trap and euthanise them (actually kill them) or to support TNR or the simply kill them as happens in Australia.

But killing feral cats doesn’t work and the authorities know this. This is partly because of the vacuum effect. And partly because it is patiently cruel. The public want a humane response by local authorities because it is people who put the feral cats there in the first place. And so, the local politicians scratch their heads to find a solution.

If local governments had addressed the root cause of the problem i.e. human behaviour 30 or 40 years ago there would not be a feral cat problem in America today. It’s time that they bit the bullet and forced the minority of irresponsible cat owners to become responsible through legislation. Yes, I’m talking about local animal welfare laws on cat ownership. This is a no-no normally in America because understandably Americans like their freedoms which are protected under the constitution.

But if you really want to fix the ‘feral cat problem’ they are going to have to literally force people to behave more responsibly. If every cat owner in America did a top-quality job in caring for their domestic cat there will be no feral cats. Every cat would be spayed or neutered early in their lives. There would be no possibility of domestic cats procreating. There would be no cat abandonment. No cats would be unsterilised wandering around the neighbourhood procreating and creating feral cats.

So, if there was an obligation on cat owners to never abandon or be neglectful of their cats and to always sterilise them backed up by a registration program i.e. a licensing system in order to track and enforce the law there would be no feral cats after a couple of cat generations which is about 30 years.

As mentioned, if they had done this years ago there wouldn’t be a feral cat problem today in America. It’s time to focus on people not the cats. All the effort should be on how to change the behaviour of a minority of people who act irresponsibly with respect to cat guardianship. If that is tackled properly and with confidence and courage the feral cat problem will take care of itself.

Cat-to-cat love
Cat-to-cat love in a feral colony. Photo in public domain.

There are three further points to make about laws. In this instance I don’t think that good cat owners would be concerned about laws which control what they can and can’t do on cat ownership because the laws wouldn’t affect them. I think the kind of laws that I have proposed would be accepted by the general public in America.

Secondly, laws force people to change their habits and attitudes. When something is done differently over a long period of time because the law states that people have to do things differently it becomes embedded into society and it becomes a norm. Laws change human behaviour permanently because they change habits. Eventually you hardly need the law because they profound change attitudes. People should look forward to that almost utopian world where there are very few feral cats. It seems that they’ve become accepted as part of society. However, it needn’t be like that. It will take a change in attitude and the law can make that change.

Thirdly, the presence of feral cats feeds animal cruelty. That segment of society who are inherently cruel and insensitive to animal welfare like to abuse feral cats because they see no value in them. Humanely eliminate feral cats and you eliminate a mass of cat cruelty and abuse at the same time.


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