Published in the Cape Gazette print version on October 23, 2018

As Lewes considers how to care for its cats, it should be sure to make decisions based on humane compassion and proven science. Keeping both in mind will ensure that the town embraces policies that will save cats’ lives and be supported by the community.

Just like squirrels and chipmunks, community cats, sometimes called feral cats, live in the outdoors. They are unsocialized to people and avoid us when they can. The concept of cats as indoor-only companions is a recent human invention that only became popular after kitty litter was invented about 70 years ago.

The only humane and effective option for community cats in Lewes is Trap-Neuter-Return, in which cats are trapped, spayed or neutered, eartipped (the universal sign that indicates a cat has been through TNR), and returned to their outdoor homes. As sound public policy, TNR effectively and humanely manages the community cat population while reducing shelter intake, “euthanasia,” and calls to animal services, which saves taxpayer dollars in the process. Scientific studies show that TNR immediately ends the cycle of new kitten litters and stabilizes the population of community cats, while improving their relationships with the people who live near them. Thousands of towns and cities conduct TNR programs, with more embracing them every year.

Despite the proven success of TNR, some communities such as Lewes still try a deadly policy of catching and killing cats. It never works. As long as food and shelter are available in the area, they will always attract an influx of new cats, either from neighboring areas or born from the survivors. Killing cats is an endless cycle that drains taxpayer dollars with no benefit.

Furthermore, Americans are compassionate and reject the killing of cats. In a 2017 Harris Interactive poll, 84 percent of Americans said they prefer their community use tax dollars to adopt sterilization as its cat control policy instead of bringing cats found outdoors into shelters to be killed.

The question of rabies has come up in Lewes, but here, too, misinformation is common. There has not been a single case of a human catching rabies from a cat anywhere in the U.S. since 1975. In fact, TNR is often the No. 1 provider of rabies vaccinations in the community, and therefore an important contributor to public health.

Lewes is not the only seaside community to face these questions. The Alley Cat Allies Boardwalk Cats Project in Atlantic City, N.J., has dramatically improved life for cats while also enriching the community and receiving consistent support from the local government. In 2000, Alley Cat Allies initiated a TNR program there with the help of local volunteers to save hundreds of cats at the Atlantic City Boardwalk from being killed.

Every family of cats on the Atlantic City Boardwalk has been completely neutered and vaccinated. The number of cats has naturally diminished more than 70 percent since 2000. Cats have lived long and healthy lives outdoors, proving that cats can coexist with a city and its visitors, and that rounding up and killing cats is not necessary.

Atlantic City’s embrace of TNR makes it a national leader. Lewes has a chance to take on a similar leadership role by rejecting the dark policy of killing cats and embracing a more humane, life-saving alternative that’s better for its cats and better for the community.

Becky Robinson is the president and founder of Alley Cat Allies, the global engine of change for cats, based in Bethesda, Md.