Have you noticed that every time a new piece of research related to “feral” cats is released, there’s a flurry of pouncing? It reminds me of the current political climate where both sides are seizing on just the slice of information that suits their argument. The whole story, of course, is a whole lot more complicated.
After a recent flurry, I turned to Dr. Margaret Slater, who’s been studying and thinking about free-roaming cat issues for more than two decades. I wanted to know the truth about the impacts of free-roaming cats. But the good doctor set me straight: “It doesn’t matter,” she said, “because all of this hubbub is about the symptom. What we really need is to focus on the problem: where all these cats come from in the first place. We’ve got to shut off the source.” Don’t you just love epidemiologists?!
Of course! Prevention. Spay/neuter. Ensuring all cats are neutered by five months old would go a long way to shutting off the spigot. But what about all of the free-roaming cats who already exist? Rounding them up and killing them is simply not an option. Period.
Dr. Slater suggests that much like the things politicians sling rhetoric about, really addressing the complex issues surrounding free-roaming cats is going to require local focus that takes a broad look at the situation from multiple stakeholder perspectives.
So let’s set the table – who should be there? A public health official, a veterinarian, a bird/wildlife conservationist, a cat advocate, an animal shelter administrator, and a representative of local government. And, to be really effective, Dr. Slater suggests we invite a marketing expert – you know – somebody with the kind of talent that it takes to get us to eat foods that are hideously bad for our health. Once the stakeholders develop a comprehensive, localized plan for ending influx, safeguarding public health, protecting wildlife, reducing nuisance complaints and caring for existing animals, the marketing expert can help get the rest of the community on board.
Simple, right? Well, think of it as our version of the peace talks. And if you’ve already made some headway with these peace talks in your community, please share for the benefit of all of us – and the free-roaming cats we care about.
Cat photo: Jesse Oldham