Thursday, July 7, 2011

TNR under attack in Mother Jones too

It's always maddening whenever another FERAL CATS ARE KILLING MILLIONS OF BIRDS EVERY YEAR article appears in the print media.  The authors drag out the same old tired "studies" of why cats are to blame for all things bad on the planet:  toxoplasmosis in the ocean killing sea otters, songbirds rapidly declining, eating all the prey so other predators can't compete and so on.  This time, however, was beyond the pale.  I have been a fan of this magazine for over 30 years.  Mother Jones magazine's tag line is  Smart, Fearless Journalism.  From their website, they describe themselves: "Mother Jones is a nonprofit news organization that specializes in investigative, political, and social justice reporting." ( Yet in the most recent issue's back page, journalist Kiera Butler writes another lame excuse for scientific certitude about bad cats and stupid cat people who practice Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR).

A dear friend emailed me about the story.  It wasn't online yet, but I signed up for their email access here: sign-up for free access.  Once you sign up you can either read it online, download it or print it.  I emailed Peter Wolf, the amazing creator of Vox Felina (Vox Felina) and he put up a well researched, footnoted critique.  If you care about cats and want the ammunition to support your TNR efforts, you MUST READ Peter's blog.

I wrote a letter to Mother Jones (, which I'm pasting below.  Feel free to write your own letter and send it off to them.  The more the merrier! 

Dear Ms. Butler,

No, I am not a subscriber to Mother Jones, although I was for many years.  I have stopped all of my magazine subscriptions, primarily to cut costs.  I do, however, frequently read Mother Jones online and remain a fan of the generally well researched journalism contained within.  That is, until now. 

No doubt the so-called crazy cat people have buried you in hate mail by now.  We are renowned for doing that when our beloveds come under attack.  I just wanted to express my disappointment at your failure to, at the very least, talk to even one person with a differing opinion of those you consulted for this story.  Had you done this, your story might have been quite different.  There are some reasonable, highly educated and well-informed folks on the side of the cats.  You could have contacted Becky Robinson, the Executive Director of Alley Cat Allies (, or Dr. Julie Levy, the founder of Operation Catnip (  or Peter Wolf of Vox Felina ( .

As for myself, I’d like to give you a bit of my personal background and experience.  I have a B.S. in zoology and have worked as Director of Operations since 1993 for an environmental organization.  I served as president of a volunteer trap/neuter/return non-profit for 8 years and chair of the Animal Services Advisory Board for 4 years.  I currently share my home with 26 cats and 2 dogs, all of whom were rescued from the streets in my community.  Not unlike myself, many of the women and men who are involved with TNR remove cats and kittens from the street and either find indoor homes for them or welcome them into their own homes.  Not every cat trapped and fixed is returned to the street, a point that is, all too often, overlooked in this contentious discussion.  Adoption, when possible, is part of the process. 

Peter Wolf’s detailed analysis of the studies you cited are the best source for you to consult.  I only intend to add a couple of points, again often overlooked.

·         NOT ALL CATS ARE KILLERS:  while some cats are prolific hunters, not all cats hunt.  And, not unlike human hunters, cats do not always succeed at catching/killing their targeted prey.  A large percentage of outdoor cats are former pets who have been abandoned or dumped.  They never learned to hunt and rarely learn to do that as adults.  Unless they are fed by compassionate, caring people, they will most often die.  Unspayed females are more likely to hunt than other cats.  Kittens, who during the spring and early fall make up the majority of the outdoor cat population, do not hunt.  They rely on their mothers to provide them with food.  It’s estimated that 50% or less of all kittens born to feral mothers survive to breeding age.
·         SHELTER IS HARDER TO FIND THAN FOOD:  It’s a fallacy that if YOU stop feeding a cat, he/she will move on.  Look around, there is trash everywhere.  We humans are slobs, leaving our trash trailing behind us and/or surrounding us.  Animals, including birds/cats/rats, take advantage of the mess we’ve made and feed on our detritus.  However, finding someplace to get out of the rain, cold wind, snow or to be safe from cars, roaming dogs or other predators isn’t as easy to find.  Think about this logically.  If your local grocery store closes, do you sell your home and move somewhere closer to a grocery store?  Not likely.  Cats, and other animals simply trying to survive, will just travel further afield to find food, but they will return to the safety of their “home.”  Of course, this increases the threats they will face and can further endanger their survival. 
·         CATS FALL PREY TO PREDATORS:  Cats are always portrayed as predators.  I haven’t seen any literature addressing the fact that they are also preyed upon themselves.  They fall prey to humans who poison and shoot them.  They are hit by cars or killed when taking refuge in a warm car engine.  They are killed by dogs and in suburban areas they are killed by other predators like birds of prey, coyotes, bobcats, foxes and sometimes raccoons.  Kittens even fall prey to snakes.  Here in Florida where irresponsible people release their boa constrictors and monitor lizards (truly invasive species), cats, small dogs and kittens are food for these animals quite frequently.
·         IT’S LESS EXPENSIVE TO FIX CATS THAN TO KILL THEM: Data collected in Florida shows that it costs animal control agencies between $100 - $150 per animal to capture, house, feed, care for, kill and dispose of their bodies.  Orange County Animal Services estimated it cost them an average of $50 per surgery.  That cost covered not only spay/neuter for cats, but spay/neuter for dogs of all sizes, including females in season and dogs or cats where both testicles had not descended.  If, for the same tax dollars, 2 – 3 animals could be spayed or neutered or 1 animal killed, which would you think is more cost effective?  If put to a referendum, I firmly believe that most people would opt for surgery over death, where their tax dollars are concerned.  This is also an economic question:  no animal control department has enough funds to round up every outdoor cat, indefinitely.  Nor do they have a shelter large enough to hold all of the unwanted animals.  Nor do they have a staff large enough to accomplish this task.  By limiting the SUPPLY (fixing more animals), DEMAND is bound to increase.  With that the value of these precious lives would, no doubt and based upon simple economic principles, increase.

Life on the street is dangerous, frightening and generally unfriendly.  While very little has been or can be done to prevent uncaring individuals from abandoning their cats to fend for themselves, providing food for these victims of heartless humans is the compassionate thing to do.  Getting them spayed or neutered improves life for them and limits the number of unwanted kittens born.  Better yet, providing them with a safe, loving home whenever possible is the right thing to do.  Your kitty deserves your compassion and assistance.  Choose to be humane, instead of misguided and uninformed.

Connie Graham


  1. TNR will work if enough of it is done. Plenty of birds are also killed by pet cats (not feral) who are outdoors, or by other predators, even other birds. Did not see the article (their site is going through maintenance right now), but tired of that old line too. The biggest enemy of wild birds (or any wildlife) is MAN anyway.

  2. Yep, us humans destroy everything in our path & then lay the blame elsewhere. Cats have continued to be villified. I'm waiting for the witch hunts & burnings to begin any day now.