Feral house cats undesirable, hard to control

By Jay V. Huner
Journal Correspondent

Want to get yourself into a corner quick? Take a position on the feral cat controversy. So, before I continue, I confess that my wife and I have had several pet cats - Catnip, Kiisa, Kaiki, Piku, and Siili. Kittens Aiiti and Lapsi were strays that showed up and Siili didn't like them so we didn't keep them. All have been neutered and properly cared for. My wife always had pet cats. I grew up without cats and have slowly come to appreciate cute, furry creatures which, when excited, have a mouth full of sharp teeth and 20 sets of switch blades on their feet!

We have a feral cat problem because many people dump unwanted cats away from their homes or refuse to take care of cats around their homes. The numbers of feral cats in the USA alone totals in the millions.

So, what's wrong with feral cats, don't they kill unwanted vermin like rats and mice? Sure, but all those rats and mice include very large numbers of "desirable" native rats and mice as opposed to the truly unwanted non-native house mice and Norway ("sewer") rats. And, this doesn't begin to address the millions of birds that the cats kill.

And, what about the diseases and parasites that feral cats can carry and transmit to properly cared for cats and even people? CATS DO TRANSMIT RABIES! Feral cats are not vaccinated. Make sure YOUR cat/cats is/are vaccinated.

What is life like for feral cats? According to reliable studies, most kittens die within several months. Survivors rarely last more than 6 years. In our home, our healthy pets have all lived more than 10 years.

Guess what? Feral cats are "prey" for other predators especially Great Horned Owls. Owls do live in urban areas and catch feral cats! Although not all that common, Bald Eagles also eat feral cats. You can bet coyotes love tasty felines!

So, how do we control unwanted feral cats? The most effective method is to kill the unwanted cats before they are released to fend for themselves. Or, of course, kill feral cats wherever they are found. For many cat lovers, this is completely unacceptable.

A popular way to address feral cats is called TNR - Trap - Neuter - Release. The idea is to capture feral cats, sterilize healthy cats, euthanize unhealthy cats, inoculate them, and release and feed the sterilized cats. The theory is that such cats will occupy space and not reproduce. A number of studies suggest that this may not be very effective. But, even if the concept works as its proponents say it does, the well fed pussy cats continue to hunt and kill birds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and large invertebrates. After all, what does a cat do for a living? It hunts no matter how well fed it is. Cats don't practice catch and release although they sometimes bring live prey home to their owners.

Folks who oppose killing feral cats to control them generally contend that the studies showing how many creatures, especially birds, they kill are simply small scale studies that cannot be extended throughout the USA. Bless them. I believe the studies. I've been around cats too long. Of course, there are some cat owners who do keep their cats indoor.

I really hate to be pessimistic but our society is currently in such a state that I doubt the feral cat problem will be properly addressed in my life time. Those who love feral cats will make life miserable for those who advocate killing them. If you doubt this position, use your favorite internet search engine and search the topic "control of feral cats". Will such a review or this short report change the minds of those who advocate TNR? No.

Ironically, there isn't much of a feral cat problem in southeastern Asia. Folks in the rural South often eat raccoons from the fur trade but insist that the carcasses have their feet on them. Readers can probably figure out why the Asians don't have a feral cat problem!