Veterinarians involved in TNR under attack within their own profession?

Dr John Bradshaw in his book Cat Sense writes that some veterinary surgeons who are involved in managing the welfare of feral cats by neutering and vaccinating them and then returning them to their original territory (under TNR programmes), have come under attack by other veterinarians. Some experts argue that this practice constitutes the abandonment of cats and is therefore illegal. They also argue that it neither benefits the cat nor wildlife.

Feral or Stray Cat Being Spayed. Photo: by Rocky Mountain Feline Rescue

A charitable organisation which calls itself the Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation, based in Florida, USA, also argues that the “deliberate release or abandonment of feral or domestic cat is not sanctioned under Florida’s conservation and cruelty laws”.

They claim that the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty and the Endangered Species Act creates the possibility that legal action could be taken against veterinarians engaging in TNR (also known as TVNR). They say that, “the legal risk is substantial for veterinarians participating in TVNR”.

They also say that the insurer for veterinary malpractice in the USA has concluded that many “aspects of TVNR are illegal and cannot be insured against”.

Pamela Jo Hartley – MBTA

They refer to Pamela Jo Hatley who has written and published an article about feral cat colonies in Florida. It is a large body of work which also touches on the legal implications. For instance, she argues that under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) a person may be in violation of this act if they release a cat into the wild and that cat kills a migratory bird. To quote:

It is quite obvious that cats can be lethal to birds, and if the death of a migratory bird can be traced to a cat, or cat colony, which can be further traced to an individual or organisation, there maybe strict liability for that person under the MBTA.

Comment: She’s claiming that people involved in TNR, including veterinarians who provide sterilisation services, may be violating the MBTA and are therefore liable for, I guess, a criminal charge. It must be a minor offence but a criminal offence nonetheless. However, I have never seen any reports of anybody involved in TNR being charged with a crime under this act or in any way criticised or reprimanded by the authorities under this act. And TNR is, as far as I know, widespread in Florida. She is looking for arguments and stretching plausability. The police and prosecuting authorities don’t want to be involved in these sorts of fancy arguments.

Photo: Uni of Florida

Endangered Species Act

Pamela Jo Hatley also refers to the Endangered Species Act which she says is interpreted strictly and literally. She says that the act is designed to protect endangered species on a strict and prioritised basis. She claims that, “persons who release cats into the wild or who maintain feral cat colonies could be found liable….under section 9 of the ESA if maintenance of feral cats in the wild is found to kill or injure wildlife by degrading habitat”.

Florida’s animal cruelty laws

Further, she refers to the animal cruelty laws of Florida. She argues that volunteers engaged in TNR have taken possession or charge of the feral cats under their care and are therefore the owners of those cats under Florida law. Therefore, when they release them back after vaccinating and sterilising the cats, they are abandoning them. She argues that this might be a first-degree misdemeanour punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 or imprisonment because the TNR process places cats back on the street where they came from “without providing for the care, sustenance, protection and shelter of the animal”.

Comment: I think she is incorrect. TNR volunteers do provide sustenance and shelter for these cats. Therefore they are not being abandoned. I have never seen reports of TNR volunteers being prosecuted under this act in Florida. I think her arguments are too fancy, too fine and over-engineered. She is looking for an argument under the law to support what she wants which is to stop TNR activities taking place. She believes that TNR leads to a crisis in terms of predation on wildlife and public health problems.

Three associated pages

My thoughts

We all know that there are TNR advocates and there are those that do their utmost to criticise TNR and stop it taking place. They argue their case in local authority councils across the USA. As mentioned, I’ve never seen any veterinarian or TNR advocate and participant being prosecuted for their activities under the laws mentioned by Pamela Jo Hatley. On my reading of newspaper reports the balance is in favour of TNR amongst city and county administrators. It is these local authorities who play the major roles in whether TNR is supported or not. My belief is that the greater the support they provide the greater the chances of success for TNR which is the only way to deal with feral cats humanely. There have been many alternative proposals but none of them are as effective as TNR and they are always inhumane or less humane.

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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