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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.

Legacy Comments6

You are accusing Mr. Cilley and Ms. Cochran, who feed and neuter feral cats, of contributing to the proliferation of downtown Concords feral cats. Feral cats that are fed don't hunt much because, due to living outside, they have to conserve energy and they don't need animals as food. Pet cats hunt far more because they are have warm homes and are bored. If Mr. Cilley and Ms. Cochran get all feral cats in Concord neutered and pet cats aren’t allowed to create more litters, there won't be any more feral cats in Concord within a relatively short time. You suggest that licensing and leashing is "a bridge way too far." Don't place controls on cat people owners and kill ferals as they proliferate from the pet cats of irresponsible owners? Do you see dog packs running around Concord? The reason you don't has largely to do with licensing, increased licensing costs for non-neutered dogs and fines for retrieving dogs that are impounded. It is legal for pet cats to run free but not dogs. We have no feral cats in our neighborhood and yet our yard is filled with pet cats preying on birds and animals and getting into fights. The way to stop the proliferation of feral cats is through neutering ferals and responsible pet ownership. Without licensing and fines that isn't occurring. This editorial proposes continue doing the same thing that isn't working now and killing ferals as they proliferate. That is not only inhumane, it's crazy.

Feral cats can be a problem and there are more now than when I was a child being raised in NH. My mom feeds a feral cat which has had litters almost every year since I can remember. My present cat is from that litter and I know plenty of others around town who have taken in these litters. My mom takes in the litter and gives the cats away. It works well. By the way, she insists that the kittens be neutered and often has them neutered. That also takes care of the proliferation of feral cats. You are correct that so many cats run free, mine has never been outside, escaped once and was scared so he came back in. The editorial is cold and chilling......they want to kill ferals as they proliferate.....well that is the liberal/progressive way.......they love birth control, in humans and animals.

I'm reminded of the same mind set in the town of Occoquan in Virgina where they complained about the cats and their predatory habits. The end result was they had all the cats trapped and killed. Well guess what all those mice and creatures your editorial claims are "killed" by cats every year ended up overrunning the entire place. The town is on the river and has multiple restaurants along the waterfront. Within a years time businesses where closing down because the rats and mice were overrunning the entire area. Birds nested every where in the trees and crapped on people when they tried to eat. They then reintroduced cats and did a spay and neuter system instead with yearly health checkups and shots for all the cats. The end result is the population stabilized and that rat and mice troubles along with birds nesting everyplace disappeared. Years ago the National Park service had complaints about mountain lions killing Bambi on the North rim of the Grand Canyon so they killed all the mountain lions. The deer population exploded and they girdled all the trees looking for food and killed the trees and the deer population grew so rapidly they had mass die offs. The Feds reintroduced the mountain lions and nature balanced itself out. Why do you think all farms have barn cats?

What would the ACLU think?

Good editorial. That closing statement about keeping cats indoors or enclosed needs to be enforced. Feral cats, as invasive species, are a major ecological problem. Owners that let their pet cats out are an equally disastrous problem. These owners take no responsibility for the destruction, and even think it is cute when their little beast kills native animals that have no defense. Round up every unattended cat, and either destroy them, or fine the owner a couple hundred dollars. Strange that a 'round-up' of pythons in Florida is ok, but harming the equally destructive cat is a crime. Sorry folks, but if you love your cat, keep it inside. Once outside, they should be destroyed before they kill.

Thank you editorial board - for this excellent answer to the feral cat question.

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