I read an article this morning about Australia declaring war on feral cats. The feral population has grown so large that their government is worried about the impact that the cats have on other species. They have started putting a bounty on the cats.
Australia is not alone with this problem. In the United States, we have been fighting this problem for years. At one time or another large communities have discussed methods to reduce the feral cat population. Many community begin by trapping, neutering, and releasing the cats back where they were found. TNR programs are considered a humane way to deal with the surplus problem.
The idea behind TNR is to create a community of infertile cats. It is believed that every area has a maximum carrying capacity for a specific species and that by loading up an area with cats that cannot reproduce will eventually lead to reduction of the cat population. In theory, it looks good on paper.
The problem is that people caused the problem of feral cats and humans continue to undermine the success of feral cat programs. Although Mother Nature has a specific carrying capacity for any species, that does not keep us humans from messing it up by leaving food out for the cats and increasing the capacity for an neighborhood to support more cats.
In Jacksonville Florida, we had a problem in which groups of citizens took it upon their selves to set up shelters and feeding stations for feral cats throughout the city’s parks. Some engaged in TNR, but many only had the funds to just buy food. The Parks Department was not very happy with the increasing amount of feces deposited where children were playing.
One neighborhood in Jacksonville took on the challenge of removing all of their feral cats, only to discover that rats moved in. Clearly the art of dealing with feral cats needs to be balanced.
Our government created food pellets that could vaccinate raccoons for rabies. I had always wished that someone would create food pellets that would vaccinate and sterilize cats. This sounds like such a simple solution to our feral cat problem, until you begin to worry about non-target species, for example: children picking up the pellets and eating them. Kids do stupid things like that.
TNR is part of the solution, but we are still dealing with the pet owners who moves out of town abandoning their fertile cats. Differential licensing fees work in many area where infertile pets are licensed are a ridiculously low fee and fertile pets are licensed at a much higher fee. In Gainesville Florida, the owners of impounded fertile pets had a choice to pay a lower reclaim fee if they allowed us to sterilize their pet. After all, animals that are running at large are the problem.
We have a lot of citizens who just refuse to do the right thing. We create laws, in hopes of regulating their bad behavior. Unfortunately, these folks don’t care very much about following rules or laws. It is because of people like this, that Australia had to declare war on cats because people along the way failed to do the right thing of controlling or sterilizing their cats. Australia is proof that many people do not have what it takes to be a responsible pet owner.
In Salt Lake City, we had an education program in which we went into all of the elementary schools to teach humane education to 3rd and 5th graders. One of the favorite parts of my job was to listen to parents complain to me that their child came home from school and pointed out that they were bad pet owners. It gave me an opportunity to remind them of their responsibility to set a good example for their children. We hoped that this program would create a whole new change in pet ownership for the next generation.