Everyday I come across news articles featuring another city or township that is taking the cruel approach to managing feral cat populations, by imposing ordnances that prohibit residents from feeding feral cats. People think that because food is withheld that feral cats will simply go away and the problem is solved, but we all know this is not true.
It’s in a way the case of “what came first, the chicken or the egg?” Cats tend to gather where there is a food source. Then, people will notice the cats hanging around and start feeding them. So even if laws prohibit people from feeding them, they will still find other sources of food, or they wouldn’t be there in the first place.
Countless biologists have observed that feral cats are more scavengers than they are predators. Their begging and opportunistic behavior “has enabled many feral cats almost to give up hunting altogether,” says Peter Neville, a UK biologist; this behavior has contributed to their being domesticated in the first place over 9,000 years ago. Roger Tabor, also a UK biologist, adds, “Although cats are superb hunters, it is their scavenging ability that allows them to survive as feral-living animals and live with us eating food off a saucer...” Feral cats are very resourceful and have been able to survive on garbage and food scraps for centuries.
“Starving out” cats will only make the situation worse for the community and for the cats. Feral cats are territorial animals who can survive for weeks without food and will not easily or quickly leave their territory to search for new food sources. Instead, they tend to move closer into human habitations as they grow hungrier and more desperate. Their malnourished condition will also make them more susceptible to parasitic infestations, such as fleas and roundworms. Plus, feeding bans do nothing to stop reproduction, so malnourished cats will continue to give birth, resulting in the visible deaths of many kittens. (Feed cats are healthier cats.)
Individuals who feed feral cats should not be blamed or penalized for the problem, but rather encouraged for their acts of compassion. City officials should be assisting them with caring for and sterilizing these animals; this is a “community” issue. Simply prohibiting individuals from feeding cats will not solve the problem. Where there is a large number of people living (food source), there will be cats. However, with proper education and TNR programs, their populations can be humanely controlled, and cats become better neighbors.
Under current laws, individuals and rescue organizations work everyday in a shadow of fear from being persecuted for helping animals, and we are tired of working this way. Feeding bans are rarely effective and are nearly impossible to enforce. Repeated experience has shown that people who care about the cats' welfare will go to great lengths, risking their homes, jobs and even their liberty, to feed starving animals. It makes no sense to penalize people who are trying to improve the situation for homeless animals and for being involved in their communities. Out-dated laws HAVE to change and compassionate people should be encouraged to continue to take care of feral colonies.
Roger Tabor. “Understanding Cats;” Readers Digest, 1997.