“How to Make a Problem Way Worse” by the Portsmouth Humane Society Board President

Nearly four years ago, the former executive director of the Portsmouth Humane Society, Christie Chipps Peters, started a TNR program for the feral cats received at the VA shelter. The program was a success in that it saved the lives of feral cats and the staff maintained the colony created by the release of the neutered, vaccinated cats in the woods behind the shelter. The problem was that the records for each of the cats involved in the TNR program were intentionally miscategorized as “adopted” with the adopter in each case being a shelter employee. In addition, the state of Virginia does not have a law on the books that officially addresses the practice of TNR:

The law dictates that animals brought into shelters can either be adopted, returned to their owners, transferred to another agency or euthanized.

To complicate matters further, it seems as if the city, which contracts with the Portsmouth Humane Society for animal control, views the obligation to accept feral cats differently from the HS board president, Rebecca Barclay:

The city’s contract with the Portsmouth shelter remains in question. City officials believe dealing with feral cats was part of the deal.

“We’re disappointed,” City Attorney George Willson said.

Barclay contends the animal shelter was never equipped to handle feral cats and that its staff should never have accepted them.

“Because feral cats are unadoptable,” Barclay said. “They do not have the potential to become pets.”

When shelter officials worked out the contract with the city, Barclay said, it was made clear the shelter would not accept feral cats.

Willson and City Manager John Rowe could not confirm that, but noted that the shelter has been accepting them from the beginning of the five-year contract, in 2010.

It appears that the city and the HS board president have been operating under opposing assumptions for years.  And that the executive director of the HS was given free reign to address the issue as she saw fit.  When Jenn Austin took over the ED position at the shelter in February 2013, she continued the existing TNR program.

On May 31, 2013, a former Portsmouth HS employee filed a complaint with the state about the miscategorization of records for cats involved in the TNR program.  The state investigated and issued a fine:

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has handed Portsmouth a $1,250 fine for several “critical failures to provide adequate care” at the shelter located at 4022 Seaboard Court.

In response, the city reacted in a reasonable manner:

Portsmouth City Manager John Rowe said Friday that he wasn’t aware of the shelter’s practice, but is reserving judgment on the matter. He said he plans to let the shelter and the state resolve it.

“They’re saying they’re in compliance with the law,” he said. “I’m not a judge.”

The HS board president however, claiming she was “shocked and appalled”, went Matrix on the shelter, firing the executive director, ordering the staff to stop accepting feral cats immediately and hiring a team of lawyers to defend the HS.  Amidst this kind of hysteria, PETA was bound to smell blood in the water and their spokesman inserted herself into the melee in order to promote their Yay for Killing Cats agenda.  PETA, which actively seeks out homeless cats and dogs and kills nearly every one they get their hands on, supports TNR – when it’s for deer.  But the practice they call a “humane alternative” for controlling deer populations somehow doesn’t apply to wild cats.  Cats must die.  All die!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11!!!

I hate to bring reason back into the picture here but I’m wondering if this whole issue couldn’t simply be solved by the city putting an ordinance on the books that addresses TNR.  (Virginia is a home rule state.)  Then the city could still have a place to bring its feral cats and the shelter could provide care for them while correctly categorizing the cats’ records as TNR.  The board president lady and PETA can still have their pearl-clutching tea party where they can hyperventilate to Polly Prissypants about the horror of community cats being neutered, vaccinated, and allowed to live.

In the meantime though, the Portsmouth Humane Society staff will still be allowed to maintain the colony established in the woods behind the shelter.  Recommendations on how to remove the colony without killing the cats are reportedly being sought.

(Thanks Clarice for the links.)

Hillsborough Co TNR = WTF?

When Hillsborough Co Animal Services in Florida gained official political support for its new Trap Neuter Return program in May, the news was widely celebrated. But this week Janet Gill, a caregiver in Hillsborough Co who maintains a colony of TNR’d cats, sent me two of three notices she says she’s received from Hillsborough Co Animal Services in recent weeks. Read them and weep.

First notice received by colony caregiver in Hillsborough Co:

1st notice hillsborough co

Third notice received by colony caregiver in Hillsborough Co:

3rd notice hillsborough co

If the Hillsborough Co pound’s plan is to have a TNR program and then beat compassionate TNR colony caregivers over the head with their citation book, I’d say their plan sucks.  Like some other things at the pound.

New Study Indicates Vasectomies Might Reduce Feral Cat Populations Most Effectively

We have discussed tubal ligations and vasectomies for dogs and cats on this blog before with a focus on the potential benefits for puppies in shelters.  National Geographic published an article yesterday on a recent study showing the potential benefits of using vasectomies to control feral cat populations.

If you are unfamiliar with tubal ligations and vasectomies for pets, here is an excellent primer.  Basically they are surgical procedures to render pets incapable of reproduction and are far less invasive than traditional spay-neuter.  The procedures allow pets to keep their gonads, and their hormones, and therefore do not affect breeding behavior.  As such, Dr. Khuly notes that tubal ligations and vasectomies for cats are not likely to offer much benefit for owners:

They’re just not behaviorally amenable to in-home living when their ovaries and testicles hold such aggressive sway over their behavior.

But for feral cats, the implications are different:

Using a computer model, the researchers found that colonies of feral cats that were trapped, given vasectomies or hysterectomies, and released (TVHR) shrank faster than colonies that were trapped, neutered, and released (TNR), a method of feral cat control promoted by many cat advocates.

Feral cats live in groups that are controlled by a dominant male. A vasectomy cuts the tube that carries sperm without removing a cat’s testicles, so a vasectomized cat retains its sexual hormones. Thus, it can also keep its dominant position in the colony, so it’s able to mate with females without producing kittens.

Neutered feral tomcats who are returned to their colonies lose their position and another intact male takes over.  Intact females are also impacted because, after mating with a vasectomized male, the female comes out of heat for 45 days which reduces the amount of time she has to become pregnant.

The study’s authors caution that the theory needs to be tested in live cat colonies to see if the computer model’s projections pan out.  And there are some potentially negative ramifications as far as behavior goes – specifically tomcat spraying and fighting – which has been a selling point of traditional TNR.

My thinking is that vasectomies could be another tool in the toolbox in managing feral cat populations.  TVHR might work better in rural colonies where the tomcats’ behavior is unlikely to cause complaints from residents than in urban colonies.  And that’s if the computer model’s success translates to real life results.

PA Township Plans Weekend Cat Killing Spree

In Cumberland Co, PA, a toddler was reportedly attacked by a rabid feral cat.  The local ABC affiliate reports the kid “is expected to be fine”.  In response, the South Newton Township contracted a company called The CritterGetter to trap and kill cats within the township on September 7 and 8, 2013.

South Newton Township is advising all residents to keep their pets indoors during the two trapping days.

No kidding.  But if your beloved pet does get out and end up in a trap?  Sucks being you I guess.  Sucks even more being your cat since he’ll be killed by some method not stated in the news piece.

In addition to the inevitability of killing owned pets during the planned two day kill-fest, feral cats have a right to live and should not be killed in a misguided response to an unfortunate and very rare incident.  If the township is going to the trouble of trapping them, why not vaccinate the cats for rabies, neuter them and return them in order to make a meaningful contribution toward protecting public health and reducing the cats’ numbers over time?

After public outcry, The CritterGetter has backed out of the job.  And pressure is mounting for local community leaders to cancel the killings and come up with an alternative plan.

Alley Cat Allies, claiming to be the nation’s largest advocacy group for cats, has offered a free rabies vaccination clinic for all animals in the township if supervisors rescind their order to catch and kill feral cats.

Volunteers are also trying to put together a TNR program in the township.

If anyone sees an update on this story, please share.

(Thank you Arlene for the link.)

North Ridgeville, OH: A Layer Cake of Absurdity

Humane Officer Barry Accorti works for the city of North Ridgeville in Ohio, under the police department.  On Monday, a resident called in a complaint about a family of feral cats living in a woodpile on her property.  The homeowner reportedly complained that the cats had fleas.  Humane Officer Accorti responded to the call:

The homeowner and mother of four said Accorti told her the shelters were full and the cats would go to “kitty heaven.” That’s when he shot the five, 8 to 10-week-old kittens, with the woman standing nearby and her children watching from inside the house.

She said her children, ages 5 months to 7 years, were screaming and crying at the sound of the gunshots. The mother cat ran away and was not killed.

That’s one account.  The story quickly blew up online and the public backlash was scathing.  The police department had to temporarily take down its Facebook page due to comments from outraged citizens.  Police Chief Mike Freeman has already cleared Humane Officer Barry Accorti and issued a statement:

The homeowner […] told Accorti the feral cats were causing flea problems within the residence, a foul odor and leaving dead wildlife in her yard, Freeman said. The officer told the woman that because of her concerns, including concerns about diseases feral cats can develop and the proximity of the wood pile to her house, assistance could be rendered, but the cats would be euthanized, Freeman said.

“The complainant agreed to accept assistance and the officer started to dismantle the wood pile,” Freeman said. “The cats were located within the wood pile and euthanized.”

That’s another account.  The flea complaint cited in the first article has now mushroomed into dead wildlife, general stinkiness and the infamous feral cat diseases, so well loved by cat killers, even if they lack scientific merit.  Oh and the Glock spree carried out against the baby cats trapped in the wood pile?  That’s now “euthanasia”.

The statement continues:

“The NRPD recognizes the concern of those who believe feral cats should not be killed for simply trying to survive but also acknowledges other research that recognizes the risks associated with these animals and the need to manage feral cats,” Freeman said. “Research and other animal organizations accept shooting as an acceptable means of euthanasia.”

And by “need to manage feral cats” apparently the police chief means “it’s totally necessary to gun kittens down on sight”.  Shooting indeed is considered an acceptable means of euthanasia for animals but only in rare cases.  A deer being hit by a car in the middle of the night in a remote area when there is no reasonable expectation of veterinary assistance or expectation that the animal will survive – that would be an instance where many animal organizations accept shooting as a last resort and the only alternative to allowing the animal to suffer until death.  Baby cats trapped in a woodpile?  Not so much.  More from Police Chief Freeman:

“At no time does this agency condone or allow the indiscriminate killing of animals, but we will continue to assist residents when there is a safety or nuisance condition.”

A lie coupled with what sounds like a threat.  Gee, that’s swell.  I guess that will teach residents to call in nuisance complaints to the city’s “humane” officer.

The public reaction against the killings has been widespread and at least one rally has been announced.  I hope that anyone who contacts the North Ridgeville PD or attends any protest event will make a point to speak, politely and firmly, in favor of the right of feral cats to live.  That seems to have been lost amidst all the outrage.  The homeowner was upset because her kids started screaming when the kittens were being killed.  She was fine with killing them, just not so loudly and not in her yard.  The “humane” officer mentioned “kitty heaven” because the shelter was full.  Feral cats do not need space in a shelter, unless it’s temporary housing to neuter and vaccinate them before release back into the community.  Feral cats can be relocated, with the assistance of colony caretakers.  Kittens born to feral mama cats can be tamed and placed as housepets.  The options for life are numerous – and I would argue, the only options which could ethically be considered.  Instead Humane Officer Barry Accorti chose death.  And the police chief backed him up while implying killings of this type will continue in the community if others call in nuisance complaints.  This is not only absurd, it’s barbaric.

(Thanks to everyone who sent me links on this story.)

Cat Hating Sickos Rejoice: The Orlando Sentinel and The Audubon Society Have Your Fix

One of the most consistent and disturbing search terms I get on the blog involves cat killing and specifically, how to do it.  One good thing about this otherwise depressing issue is that anyone who comes here is going to find nothing but love for our feline friends.  Another good thing is that it continually reminds me that there are deranged individuals in the world who, for whatever reason, target cats.  As such, I try to be careful not to feed the crazies by giving them a voice here.  Comments about cat killing do not get approved and the commenters get banned.

I was deeply troubled to read that The Orlando Sentinel recently published an op-ed by Ted Williams, editor-at-large for Audubon Magazine, in which he calls TNR a failure and suggests that feral cats should either be poisoned with Tylenol or trapped and killed (presumably by some means other than Tylenol).  Isn’t the Audubon Society a wildlife advocacy group?  And yet they allow Ted Williams to submit for publication a piece calling for the killing of feral cats, who are a form of wildlife themselves? And The Orlando Sentinel printed it?  Shame.

Feral cats have a right to live.  For those deemed medically hopeless by a veterinarian, euthanasia by injection is the preferred method to relieve suffering.  Poisoning would never be recommended.  And the killing of any healthy/treatable cat is immoral and unacceptable.

Needless to say, the cat killing sickos of the world have delighted in the Ted Williams piece.  And they are gleefully spreading the news that the Audubon Society says giving Tylenol to feral cats is yay.  I wonder how many pet cats or other animals are going to be poisoned with Tylenol as a result of this irresponsible piece in the Sentinel?

Vox Felina posted about this outrageous op-ed piece yesterday.  (There is a link to the op-ed in the Sentinel at Vox Felina, if interested.  I won’t be posting that link here.)  Alley Cat Allies has an action alert here.

TN City Enacts Pet Limit Law and Targets Cats for Killing

The city of Rockwood, TN recently enacted what sounds like a terrible anti-pet ordinance.  I wanted to read the actual ordinance but was unable to find it online so had to rely on the summary provided by an area news outlet:

Pet owners and advocates in Rockwood said they are upset over a new city ordinance that limits the number of animals they can have to five, and allows animal control to trap feral cats and stray cats, and euthanize them after three days.

The local news spoke to a woman who cares for 11 cats, seven of whom are feral.  She has trapped, neutered and vaccinated all but 2 of the ferals already.  But under the ordinance, she will have to choose which ones she wants to live (up to 5 total) and even then, the feral cats she cares for will still be at risk for being trapped and impounded by AC.  The only way for a Rockwood resident to own more than 5 pets is to obtain a kennel license and keep the animals on property in a commercial zone.  She told the news she is going to move out of the city.

“Our goal is not going out and trying to roundup all the cats in Rockwood,” said [Mayor James] Watts. “I hope people don’t think the city of Rockwood is an animal hater. We’re not. We’re trying to put the responsibility back on the citizens.”

The city of Rockwood should be trapping, neutering, vaccinating and returning feral cats.  They aren’t.  Instead private citizens are doing it for them.  Now the city wants to punish them and kill their cats.  This is putting the “responsibility back on the citizens”?

Watts reassured people who take care of their animals properly would not be targeted.

Really?  How can the mayor possibly reassure anyone of that?  The lady with 11 cats is taking care of her animals properly but she would be targeted under the ordinance.  As will any cat who walks into a trap set by AC, regardless of who owns or feeds him.  Traps don’t know whose cats to target.

Punitive legislation doesn’t work.  I hope the citizens of Rockwood demand that the city abolishes this anti-pet ordinance.

(Thank you Peter M. for the link.)

The Dangers to Birds and Small Mammals

If you read recently about the Smithsonian study that stated free roaming cats kill up to 24 billion birds and small mammals annually, you probably had questions.  Some of those questions may have been:

  • WTF?
  • Where can I buy whatever the Smithsonian researchers are smoking?
  • Are there 24 billion bird and mammal skeletons weighed down with wee cement shoes at the bottoms of every river in the United States?

Thankfully, Peter Wolf at Vox Felina has answers to all these questions and more (well, not the second one actually).  His post entitled Garbage In, Garbage Out looks at the research in detail and brings to light various flaws.  Serious flaws.  For example, he notes that the studies referenced in the paper are, in various cases, outdated, imprecise, misrepresented and counted more than once.  Using these studies to extrapolate such things as the number of cats with access to prey and the number of birds and small mammals killed by these cats results in even greater imprecision.  Thus the title of Vox Felina’s post.  And then there is the issue of agenda, specifically to undermine TNR, and the authors’ apparent bias:

[Peter] Marra (a vocal critic of TNR) served as Nico Dauphiné’s advisor at the Smithsonian until October 2011, when she resigned after being found guilty of attempted animal cruelty. And [Tom] Will, also an outspoken critic of TNR, helped Dauphiné land her post-doc fellowship there with a letter of recommendation.* (Her position was funded by USFWS, just as [Scott] Loss’ is today.)

While I am grateful there are smart minds like Peter Wolf willing to put in the work to debunk this study, I think many people will simply apply the common sense test to the outrageous claims made in the paper.  Which is to say, a quick glance at the sky, the trees and the ground reveal that indeed, bird and small mammal populations are thriving.  And cats are not the wildlife mafia.

As one commenter put it on Gawker (Warning:  bad language alert):

right. it’s not fucking encroachment by archer-daniels midland, or death by monsanto poisoned seeds or bayer or ortho pesticides and herbicides, oh no, it couldn’t be those things. it couldn’t fucking be from air, water and soil pollution, fuck no; everyone knows those things are *good* for billions of birds.

it’s frisky the cat. only cats. cats are to blame.

+1 for common sense.

How a cat goes from being doomed to Superdoomed

When this photo of a cat in Orange Co, FL was posted on Facebook, some people complained about it and others offered to help. I snipped out some of the comments to give you the gist of the overall discussion.  (Click any image to enlarge it.)  I don’t know what happened to the cat but if this was the only group advocating for him, I imagine he’s in the landfill.

Action Alert Regarding Community Cats

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) hates feral cats.  As such, they are opposed to the only proven program – Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) – aimed at eliminating feral cats over time while minimizing costs.  That does not make sense, but then The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service isn’t exactly known for applying common sense to feral cat management.

In November, The Wildlife Society will hold its annual conference in Hawaii.  Among the workshops will be this one:

Influencing Local Scale Feral Cat Trap-Neuter-Release Decisions
Organizers: Tom Will, USFWS, Fort Snelling, MN Mike Green, USFWS, Portland, OR

In short, the USFWS is sending two staffers to Hawaii to conduct an all day workshop on how to combat compassionate citizens who are advocating for TNR in their communities.  If you pay taxes in the U.S., you are paying for this.  If you don’t like how your tax dollars are being spent here, Best Friends has an action alert all set up for you.