Published in The Press of Atlantic City on August 12, 2017

Alley Cat Allies is deeply disappointed in the Aug. 7 editorial, “A.C. cat killings another reason to ban managed feral colonies,” that criticized our organization’s program of supported feral cat colonies. We’re devastated by the loss of three Atlantic City Boardwalk cats and are doing everything we can to bring the perpetrators still at large to justice, including working with investigators and offering a $5,000 reward. But promoting misconceptions about feral, or community, cats also endangers their lives. Banning community cat colonies, as the Press suggests, is an ill-advised idea that would lead to cats being killed.

What is particularly shocking about the editorial is that evidence of how cats can live worthwhile lives outdoors is right in front of us at the Atlantic City Boardwalk. Atlantic City is an innovative model for our Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program, along with Chicago, San Antonio and Colorado Springs, to name a few. Mayor Don Guardian and other New Jersey municipal leaders have embraced TNR. The cats of our Alley Cat Allies Boardwalk Cats Project have healthy lives as a result of our TNR program, with many living well into their teens. Since community cats aren’t socialized to humans and can’t live indoors, they are also in the best place to ensure their happiness.

Cats have lived outdoors alongside people for more than 10,000 years in virtually every landscape on every continent where people live. Only in the past 70 years, with the invention of kitty litter, have they become popular domestic pets. The idea that all cats should “stay in their caregivers’ homes and on their properties,” as the Press said, is unrealistic and unreasonable. As anyone observing the Boardwalk cats can see, their home is the outdoors and their families are the cats in their colonies.

Community cats are as natural to the outdoors as birds, mice and rabbits. The biggest threat to such wildlife aren’t community cats, but rather human-led activities like climate change and habitat destruction. In a report by the World Conservation Union surveying 1,173 threatened bird species, habitat loss was the biggest threat, affecting 89 percent of all threatened birds and 83 percent of the threatened mammals sampled.

Likewise, cats are often wrongly accused of potentially passing on disease when, in fact, community cats have equally low rates of disease as owned cats. Most cases of toxoplasmosis are from undercooked food, not cats. Foxes, bats and skunks are more likely to give humans rabies than cats.

Since Atlantic City began its work with the Boardwalk cats 17 years ago, there hasn’t been a single complaint about feral cat bites or scratches at the Boardwalk. What officials have noticed is that the cats draw much love and attention from caring and compassionate volunteers, residents and tourists. If Atlantic City were to follow the editorial’s advice, it would lose a beloved and revenue-increasing tourist attraction that local businesses also support.

The Press has offered only one approach to community cats: Put them inside. This isn’t practical or humane for cats that have spent their entire lives outdoors and that aren’t socialized to humans. Furthermore, each time cats are removed from an area they consider home, surviving or neighboring cats move in to take advantage of the available food and shelter. The result is a costly, endless cycle of trapping and bringing cats inside, leading to certain death for the cats that can’t adjust.

The only effective, practical and humane way to stabilize community cat populations is TNR. There are nearly 90 community cats that live under the Boardwalk, and they have all been humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated, ear-tipped, and returned to the home they know. Since we started TNR at the Boardwalk, the cat population has naturally declined by more than 72 percent. It’s completely stable no new kittens have been born for years.

Misinformation costs hundreds of thousands of cats their lives every year. People shouldn’t let the Press of Atlantic City’s editorial make up their minds about community cats.