2013-03-14 / News

Some say euthanizing cats not humane

Cat advocates, bird lovers quarrel over best strategy

A recent study by the American Bird Conservancy reported that free-ranging domestic cats kill between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds each year. To combat the program, advocates are calling for cat owners to keep their felines indoors, as well as voicing their opposition to the trap-neuter-release program that many communities practice on stray cats.

But now cat supporters are fighting back. Pat Munafo is a longtime Jamestown resident and a co-founder of PawsWatch. The nonprofit organization was started in 1997 with the mission of promoting and administering the trap-neuter-release program as a humane solution for dealing with feral cats. PawsWatch is the only group dedicated to the program, and there are currently six chapters of the organization statewide.

PawsWatch is an all-volunteer network. It has processed about 15,000 feral cats over the years. The procedure involves humanely trapping the cats, bringing them to a veterinary office for sterilization, and then returning them to the wild. While in veterinary care, the cats are given a rabies and distemper vaccination. A small portion of the tip of their left ear is then removed for identification purposes.

“They are returned to the wild providing that we know that they have consistent food and shelter,” Munafo said.

Feeders are often the ones who call PawsWatch. They let the group know of any feral communities. This allows the organization to return the cats to areas where there is food, such as the back of restaurants, a popular destination for stray cats. This allows them to live out their lives in the wild, but without the ability to reproduce. The ultimate goal of the program is to reduce the population of feral cats in a humane fashion.

“If we know they have food there, we can also work with those people to ensure that the cats have adequate shelter,” said Munafo.

PawsWatch raises money through a number of fundraisers each year. Grant money also helps to fund the organization, and a number of people pay for the treatment of the cats as a method of donation.

In a story last month in the Jamestown Press, resident Chris Powell voiced his opposition to the trap-neuter-release program. His resistance of the strategy is based on the fact that allowing cats back into the wild is having an adverse effect on many bird species. Powell, the former head of the Conservation Commission, supports capturing and euthanizing the cats.

The debate has been going on for a long time. Munafo said there are a number of national groups that support the release program: the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of the United States and the National Animal Control Officers Association, to name a few.

Munafo said trap-neuter-release advocates believe strongly that the strategy is the only humane way to reduce the feral cat population. “It’s been proven,” she said. “The whole principle behind it is that cats are allowed to live out their lives not reproducing and will die off through attrition.”

Munafo said there are a number of veterinary studies that say it’s an effective management tool, although she conceded that it doesn’t solve the problem overnight.

“Anybody who says that it’s birds over cats is choosing one species over another, but not promoting any kind of humane solution,” she said. “The reality is that trapping and euthanizing all outdoor cats is inhumane and completely impractical. For one thing, the public won’t stand for it. There are too many cat lovers.”

According to Munafo, the costs of trapping and euthanizing feral cats would be more than most municipalities could handle. She says it’s unlikely that a privately funded organization that supports euthanasia could be created because of the huge public outcry that would result.

Munafo and Powell do agree on one point. Munafo said that in an ideal world, domestic cats would be kept indoors. It is better for the cats, she said, who tend to live longer and healthier lives indoors. Veterinarians and animal welfare organizations also agree.

“No one is going to say that a cat doesn’t hunt, so some wildlife would be saved,” said Munafo. “But we don’t live in an ideal world. You can’t dictate what people do with their cats.”

Munafo expressed skepticism about the number of bird deaths that were cited by the American Bird Conservancy. The release was based on a report written by Nature Communications, a peer-reviewed journal that appears online.

“Every trap-neuter-release group will acknowledge that a cat will kill a bird,” she said. “For every article that Chris Powell can cite listing statistics about the number of birds that are estimated ... to be killed, there are a slew of articles that say that those numbers are unfounded or they’re overestimating.”

According to Munafo, Jamestown no longer has much of a problem with feral cats. She said that in the last several years, calls to PawsWatch from Jamestown residents have gone down signifi- cantly. She credits at least some of this progress with the success of trap-neuter-release programs.

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