In a New York Times op-ed printed on March 23, Richard Conniff wrongly dismisses Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), the only way to stabilize and reduce feral cat colonies in size. He makes no distinction between unsocialized outdoor cats, who cannot be brought indoors or adopted, and pet cats, some of whom are allowed outdoors.
Alley Cat Allies is setting the record straight.
Killing Cats Won’t Save Birds
Conniff repeats the propaganda spread by anti-cat groups. He fails to provide critical information about unsocialized cats and TNR and sees cats as simple and black-and-white—suggesting there should be zero cats outdoors. Conniff leads readers to believe that all cats should be kept indoors, when in reality, he is implicitly suggesting that unsocialized outdoor cats should be rounded up and killed. There have always been outdoor cats and always will be.
Killing cats is never the answer, and it definitely won’t help protect birds. We are a compassionate, cat-loving society. Cats are the number one pet in the United States—there are more cats in U.S. households than dogs. Americans do not want their tax dollars to be spent killing cats. They want humane approaches.
There’s good news. We don’t have to choose a species. We can protect both cats and birds—but to do so we have to recognize what (or whom) the real threats are. The facts are indisputable. The environmental impacts of habitat loss and pesticide use are the real culprits behind the decline of bird populations. And we can’t blame bird collisions into windows and cars on anyone but ourselves.
If we want to protect birds—and cats—we have to change our behaviors. See our Save the Birds campaign for ways to protect both cats and birds.
Cats have lived outdoors near people for more than 10,000 years. They are a natural part of the ecosystem. They survive—and thrive—in every landscape.
For decades, outdoor cats have been caught and killed in huge numbers—without success. Catch and kill is not a new idea. It’s inhumane, and it creates a vacuum effect. Populations rebound quickly. When Newburyport, Mass., killed 30 cats in a colony, 30 more joined the colony within two years. Then, the city turned to TNR—and the 300-cat colony was reduced to zero over time.
TNR is the only option for outdoor cats—it benefits the cats and helps educate communities about compassionate, humane approaches. TNR is mainstream in the United States and practiced by millions of people—including hundreds of municipalities and veterinarians. TNR is at the forefront of animal control and sheltering approaches. For over two decades, there has been a nationwide movement toward TNR, and the number of municipalities that endorse this program has increased tenfold in the last decade. It started as a small grassroots movement, and is now practiced by animal control departments everywhere from New York City and Washington, D.C., to Spartanburg, S.C.
A colony in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C. was eventually reduced to zero as a result of TNR (this colony inspired Alley Cat Allies President and Founder Becky Robinson to found the organization). TNR works as a large-scale, city-wide approach, too. In Chicago, TNR reduced the size of cat colonies in 23 zip codes by 41% in just five years. Read more case studies showing that TNR works.
Through TNR, the breeding cycle ends and colonies naturally diminish—there are no new litters of kittens. TNR can decrease colony size in just two years, according to a 2004 Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association study.
Not a Public Health Threat
Outdoor cats are not a public health threat. TNR also includes rabies vaccinations—rabies prevention has already been a resounding public health victory and TNR helps even more. There has not been a single case of a human contracting rabies from a cat in the past 40 years in the U.S. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that cats are rarely the source of toxoplasmosis in humans, and people are much more likely to get it from eating undercooked meat.
Facts are Facts
This shift toward humane approaches to outdoor cats is clear. TNR is the only humane and effective approach to outdoor cat populations. Catching and killing cats is cruel and ineffective, and it will never help birds. To help save birds, we must face the real threat of human impact on the environment.