Jonathan Franzen versus Nathan Winograd

I feel I need to briefly discuss the battle between Jonathan Franzen and Nathan Winograd. Nathan Winograd is the prime mover and shaker and founder of the American No-Kill movement, which has saved the lives of probably hundreds of thousands of shelter cats. He is a highly committed animal advocate and the most knowledgeable man on the planet about how to save lives at animal shelters.

Franzen versus Winograd a battle over cats and birds
Franzen versus Winograd a battle over cats and birds Image: MikeB. The Franzen image is from Wikipedia. The Winograd image is from his website. I hope he is okay with me using it.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Jonathan Franzen is an author and a bird lover. He writes for The New Yorker from time to time. He dislikes TNR i.e. the trap-neuter-release programs organised by hundreds of thousands of volunteers across America to help limit the number of feral cats in many communities in a humane way. It is the only humane method of limiting feral cat numbers. I can’t read his full article published in The New Yorker because I’ve got to subscribe to that newspaper to read it and I don’t want to subscribe. But let’s just say that he doesn’t like TNR and he loves birds and therefore I would guess that he has a problem liking cats because, in his mind, they kill millions even billions of birds.

He’s probably been indoctrinated with the idea that domestic cats allowed outdoors kill billions of birds when in fact the bird is the least preyed upon animal by the domestic cat after rodents such as mice and reptiles where there are reptiles. Or insects. Birds are harder to catch for obvious reasons. And cats often kill sick and dying birds. Have you seen a dead bird in your neighbourhood? You never see them. Except when a flock of migrating birds fly en masse into a skyscraper at night and are killed in their thousands. All big statements on cat predation of birds are based on local studies and extrapolated upwards. A dangerous formula.

RELATED: Great. Bird lovers work with cat lovers to get accurate data on feral cats preying on birds

Franzen says that TNR policies have “troubling consequences for city residents, local wildlife and even the cats themselves”. He, in some regards, is repeating what PETA has said about TNR. The basic argument is that you don’t put feral cats back on the street to continue praying on birds and other wildlife while also allowing the cat to continue to suffer. The argument is that feral cats live miserable lives and they prey upon birds. That’s the negative aspect of TNR and it is, I believe, misleading. I’ll come back to that later.

Nathan Winograd in his newsletter to me criticises Jonathan Franzen. These two high-profile gentlemen are certainly fighting each other with words on the Internet. They seem to have diametrically opposed viewpoints about cats and birds.

Winograd says that Jonathan Franzen is a “self-proclaimed bird fanatic”. Franzen has described TNR as a “fate worse than death”. Franzen also has said that shelters “should re-evaluate their preoccupation with shelter kills”. In that statement I presume he means that animal shelters should be open to killing cats and dogs and the concept of No-Kill is not a good one from the standpoint of both cat and wildlife.

Nathan Winograd strongly disagrees. At this point I’d like to quote Nathan Winograd directly if I may because if I use my own words, I will dilute what he is saying and he says things eloquently. He says this about Franzen’s opinions on TNR and the No-Kill movement:

“Aside from the political cover it will give policymakers who want to turn millions of cats and kittens into ash, the great tragedy of the Franzen piece is that The New Yorker saw fit to publish it. It rehashes arguments debunked in the 1990s and early aughts. It relies on other ideologues determined to kill cats, like the fanatics at PETA, who put to death 99% of cats. And it comes after universities, shelters, communities, health departments, and even states embraced a community cat sterilization program as an alternative to “catch and kill” because the evidence shows it is a good, humane, and effective policy — for cats, birds, and people; conclusions that the last three decades of experience have confirmed.”

Nathan Winograd

Note: I disagree with Winograd on PETA with whom he fights as well. I support PETA.

Winograd has very strong views in support of the No-Kill movement and he does all he can to ensure that animal shelters do all they can to minimise the killing of shelter animals. There’s nothing wrong in that at all. It’s all good. And TNR is also all good. It’s a compromise and is imperfect but above all it deals with feral and community cats humanely. Nobody has yet devised a better system of controlling feral and community cat numbers than TNR. Above all it must be humane because humankind put the feral cats on the street in the first place.

Finally, a word about feral cats in colonies managed by TNR volunteers. I can distinctly remember one volunteer saying that her cats live good lives. Sometimes, arguably, they live better lives than some full-time indoor domestic cats. The idea that all feral cats are miserably unhealthy with a lifespan of three years is inaccurate. A good and well-run feral cat colony under TNR which includes feeding is often a happy group of cats. The feeding should be controlled because feeding feral cats can annoy people as it can attract wildlife. This means putting the food down and taking it up after meal time. TNR should be done in conjunction with the agreement of local residents and local authority ideally. That way you have their support and you avoid conflict because some people hate TNR because they hate feral cats, because they hate cats which possibly might apply to Jonathan Franzen.

Conclusion: Winograd is right. He has a strong humane approach to animal welfare. Franzen does not. He suffers from speciesism as far as I can tell. He loves birds. Bird lovers should not write about cats. Period. Their opinions are bound to be biased.

RELATED: Trap-neuter-release has worked well for the stray cats occupying four ancient temples in Rome, Italy. TNR needs to be well organised and as widespread as possible to be effective. Community support is more than helpful.

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2 thoughts on “Jonathan Franzen versus Nathan Winograd”

  1. China is a hell for cats and dogs, the pet market has never been regulated, animal cruelty is legal, and because of the research of American ornithologists, killing stray animals is even a righteous act

    • Thanks. Yes, China is hell on earth for millions of companion animals. There are many good cat and dog caregivers in China however. They are drowned out by the ten million cats killed annually in China cor the skin on their backs or their whole body to be consumed. Many are stolen pets. For dogs it is the same story. A hell hole for animals.


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