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How Can Cities Combat Their Feral Cat Populations?

The best responses to this week's The Big Fix.


In this week's The Big Fix, contributor Debra Bruno tackles Beijing's exploding cat population. By some estimates, there are as many as 5,000,000 feral felines in the city. Right now, the most popular strategy is "trap, neuter, release." As Bruno explains:

The philosophy behind the program is that trapping the animals, fixing them so that they can’t reproduce, and then returning them to their established colony is a better solution than exterminating cats or trying to find them domestic homes. But the program is controversial. Some ecologists argue that feral cats are so terrible for urban ecosystems, capable of killing off whole species of native wildlife, that they really ought to be euthanized. And groups like the Audubon Society claim that TNR has not proven to be effective in eliminating the population of feral cats anywhere.

Below, our commenters weigh in on the pros and cons of TNR. Woodsman011 calls TNR ineffective:

There's an interesting study done by the Texas A&M University on TNR practices. They started out with about 12 sterilized cats. At the end of 9 months they had over 30. An increase of more than 200%, all moved in of their own volition. This isn't due to any mythical "vacuum effect" that cat-advocates spread and lie about so often. For that to have happened you would have had to remove cats to create a vacuum for others to replace them. The exact opposite happened in this study. Simple reason being: CATS ATTRACT CATS

LoudRambler argues that TNR failed in Moscow:

TNR programs are a feel-good failure. It never managed to address Moscow's feral dog problem, with people being attacked by the packs of dogs. While killing kittens sounds terrible in theory, in practice, unfortunately, it is the only thing that works.

But Dorian12 wonders whether a cat population can be controlled by killing:

I agree with those who consider TNR the only effective and humane approach to feral cat populations. The former head of the National Animal Control Association likened catch-and-kill to "bailing the ocean with a thimble," and Beijing's experience seems to bear out the futility of this approach. Kudos to Ms. Peng for her pioneering work. Likely her efforts will not only help ferals, but will also gradually spread the word about spaying and neutering of pets in China.

Heidi Holman says the real problem is pet-owners abandoning their cats:

TNR works in my neighborhood. No new kittens being born and the males rarely fight. But what I can't do is stop [anyone] from abandoning their cats when they move which contributes to my colony.

And qpurkey points out that feral cats endanger other animals, like birds:

Perhaps the decimation of native and rare songbirds by non-native and ubiquitous predators creates the moral justification.

And the last word, from theantiantihero:

There has unfortunately been tension between the Audubon Society and others interested in protecting wild birds and advocates of TNR. The important point here is that TNR didn't cause the deaths of the songbirds. The songbirds were killed because there are too many feral cats.

Bird lovers, cat lovers and everyone else who cares about overpopulation have a common interest in working together to reduce the feral cat population in a humane way. TNR seems to be a step in the right direction. The more support these programs get, the sooner we will see positive results. I'm a TNR volunteer in my neighborhood and I hope that others will consider getting involved. It's going to take a sustained effort.

Photo credit: Gleb Garanich/Reuters

About the Author

  • Amanda Erickson is a former senior associate editor at CityLab.