It’s been almost two years since I reported an attempt by the American Bird Conservancy to convince mayors in 50 large American cities that programs to provide for feral cats, referred to as TNVR (trap, neuter, vaccinate and return), were contributing to the deaths of hundreds of millions of wild birds and other animals each year, including endangered species.
I knew it would start a firestorm, and I was right. It didn’t take long for feral cat advocates to strike back.
Although I repeatedly claimed to be as neutral as Switzerland on the issue, people on both sides attacked me personally for being a cat lover/hater or bird lover/hater. I was blamed for being responsible for the “deaths of hundreds of thousands of cats or birds,” depending on whose holy grail they perceived I had stepped on by reporting the story.
Some of the people who called from around the country were more vicious than a frightened feral cat or a blue jay protecting its nest.
Melodrama aside, the argument didn’t end for several months and I received dozens and dozens of emails and phone calls with each side claiming the higher moral ground.
Call me crazy, but I am going to poke the bear again.
In July, representatives from three national organizations — the American Bird Conservancy, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture — released an online report titled the Rabies Prevention and Management of Cats in the Context of Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release Programmes in the scientific journal, Zoonoses and Public Health.
In a recap of the report, the authors refute claims made by TNVR advocates that say it is possible to reduce the number of feral cat colonies by management and prevent them from transmitting rabies to the general public.
“TNVR has not been shown to reliably reduce feral cat colony populations because of low implementation rates, inconsistent maintenance and immigration of unsterilized cats into colonies,” the report reads. Furthermore, feral cat populations in the United States, estimated to be between 60 and 100 million free-roaming felines, are a national health concern with the potential to spread rabies to humans and especially children who approach them.
The authors advocate the outright extermination of feral cats.
“Therefore, these populations (of feral cats) must be reduced and eliminated to manage the public health risk of rabies transmission,” according to the report.
As you can well imagine, the report has animal advocates baring their bicuspids in anger, including Best Friends, one of the leading animal welfare organizations in the country that denounced the published report.
“No community has killed its way out of the so-called ‘feral cat problem,’” Peter J. Wolf, Best Friends’ cat initiatives analyst, said on the group’s website. “To imply that lethal roundups are the answer is not only irresponsible, it ignores reality.”
Wolf noted that the CDC’s own data contradicts the report citing that since 1960, there has been only one case of a human contracting rabies from a cat.
Indeed, the report itself notes that cases of rabies in dogs as well as cats have dropped since 1946 when “8,384 dogs were found to be rabid compared to only 455 cats. In 2011, only 70 dogs were documented as being rabid compared to 303 cats.”
Wolf points out the irony in all of this.
For the record, the CDC does not currently have an official position on trap-neuter-vaccinate-release. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) neither endorses nor opposes properly managed cat colony programs.