Editorial: How to cope with Concord’s feral cats
Randy Cilley and Carla Cochran have spent years and sacrificed much time and money to improve the living conditions of downtown’s feral cat community. While we respect their dedication and sacrifice, the right number of feral cats in Concord is zero. Despite their attempt to capture and neuter as many of the cats as possible, the assistance they provide may be making matters worse, not better.
The existence of a trap and neuter program may also encourage the abandonment of even more domestic cats by their owners, since some will believe that the cats they abandon will be cared for. And as with any other creature living in the wild, providing the cats food, shelter, hay for bedding and other assistance helps the feral cat population increase and, with it, the damage the felines do to native species, especially songbirds. Cats, and by that we mean felis catus, the domestic cat, in the wild are an invasive species that needs to be controlled.
Last month, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute published a peer-reviewed study that for the first time documented the horrific impact domestic cats, particularly those who have turned feral or were born to feral parents, inflict on wildlife. The estimated death of birds to the paws of cats, both house cats allowed to roam outdoors and feral cats, is between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion. For mammals, mice and rats to be sure, but also rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels and other creatures, researchers place the death toll at more than 13 billion. That count doesn’t include the frogs, snakes, insects and other creatures the highly effective hunters kill in vast numbers. The majority of the damage is done by feral cats, but house cats do their share and should not be allowed to roam and return.
Even with assistance, feral cats lead lives that are nasty, brutish and short, lives filled with danger, suffering and disease. Another study, published in the American Journal of Veterinary Medicine, found that female feral cats, on average, have 1.4 litters per year, with a median litter of three cats. Feral cats provided food and shelter are probably more fecund. But the study also found that of the 169 kittens born during the study, 127 died or disappeared within six months of birth. Yet feral cat numbers continued to increase. One estimate places the national population at 80 million, enough to have a serious impact on the ecosystem.
Cats are beautiful, their relationship to humans ancient, their popularity (as millions of views of cat videos attest) unquestioned. But in the wild, or allowed to roam as house cats, they are highly efficient killers that have become one of the single biggest reason for the decline in songbird populations. Leash laws, licensing and other requirements have become common for dogs, but cats have been given a free pass. Requiring that Concord residents license their cats or leash them if allowed outdoors strikes us as, at this point, as a bridge way too far.
But feral cats are not part of the natural environment, and whose numbers should be reduced by every humane means possible. That includes feeding bans and the euthanization of those that can not be neutered and adopted by owners who will agree to keep them indoors or, when outdoors, in an enclosure they can’t escape. Only that will end the enormous toll cats take on wildlife.