It is the elephant in the room. The elephant has been there for centuries and only a small number of people want to see it and deal with it truthfully. People often address the feral cat problem as a cat problem, a nuisance which originates in cat behaviour but this is fundamentally incorrect.
The estimated 250 million and more largely struggling feral cats around the world are a reminder that we have broken our contract with the cat. The cat was originally ‘enlisted as a highly valued pest-controller and then gradually devalued until we are prepared to abandon it in huge numbers, leaving it to fend for itself as a wild animal, after we had made it tame’ (Dr Desmond Morris).
There is or was a social contract between human and cat and we have broken that contract a billion times. When you break social contracts like this you should hold up your arms and admit failure because breaking the contract is a failure by humans.
That does not taken anything away from the millions of successful homes in which live a happy domestic cat but we have to counter that with far too many feral cats. It is estimated that there is an equal number of feral and domestic cats in the USA. Sadly, we don’t know the numbers for sure which is another problem because we should know (NY is trying to work it out in a massive project, so good for them).
If people stepped back a bit and looked at the feral cat problem as a whole and how it originates in human behaviour in breaking this ancient contract they’d take a different attitude to the presence of feral cats in neighbourhoods.
For the sake of clarity, the contract is as below:
It is a clearly a contract of mutual benefit. It used to be about cat pest-control and has advanced to companionship but the same terms and conditions apply. When domestic cats are abandoned over decades by people in breach of the contract, we are storing up big, almost unmanageable problems for ourselves. America’s feral cat problem is bad enough. Their presence has occupied the minds of countless city administrations for thousands of hours and the answer to the problem is often something that they don’t want to hear.
Australia’s feral cat problem is worse than America’s. At least that is what the Australian authorities believe. They neglected the problem for decades while destroying wildlife habitat at the same time to accommodate commercial expansion to increase the nation’s wealth. When they realised that the numbers of certain native species were diminishing dramatically they blamed the feral cat.
Rather than try and adhere to this ancient cat-human social contract by operating humane methods to lower feral cat numbers the Aussie authorities, in their arrogant ignorance, exacerbated their breach by the mindless slaughter of the cats by any means possible including shooting and poisoning. The Aussies have committed more than a breach of contract, they have degenerated into legalised criminal behaviour.
The answer to the feral cat problem is to restore the social contract by keeping up our side of the bargain to a higher standard (through legislation) and preparing the damage by treating feral cats humanely for the next century. This can only mean throwing resources at widespread TNR problems. Yes, give it a hundred years to rectify the problem by creating a situation in the kindest possible way where there are very few feral cats.