Mews & Views

Mews & Views -- A blog for cat lovers everywhere with a focus on the low-income pet cats of northern and central New Mexico.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

We may not know the impact of Feral Cat TNR, but we do know the impact of not doing TNR.

In 2008, a group of bird organizations in Los Angeles – most notably the Los Angeles Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy -- sued the City of Los Angeles for advocating and/or funding TNR (feral cat trap/neuter/return) without first conducting environmental impact studies in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Last month --without addressing the merits of TNR --Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Thomas McKnew ruled in favor of the bird organizations and issued an injunction against the City of Los Angeles’ participation in TNR until its full effects are studied. McKnew’s ruling is a very narrow interpretation of CEQA -- and it puts an undue burden on feral cat caregivers to document the environmental effects of sterilizing their colonies. It’s feared it may greatly reduce the effectiveness of TNR overall by dramatically reducing the number of individuals and organizations willing and able to put in the added time and cost of conducting these studies. Many TNR organizations have little funding and are thinly-staffed.

We believe that placing TNR programs under CEQA guidelines is inappropriate and shortsighted. TNR programs do not add cats into the environment -- they simply fix and manage the cats that naturally occur outdoors. Even if you accept the premise that feral cats are evil predators – which we do not – TNR sterilization is the only humane and effective way to lower their numbers – and, it respects their rights to live as all other wildlife is allowed to live.

Organizations that single out cats as the cause of bird endangerment are guilty of nothing short of speciesism. A 2005 study commissioned by the Defenders of Wildlife and conducted by scientists from the USDA, Forest Service and The Smithsonian Conservation and Research Center pointed to the destruction of tropical habitats as the major contributor to the decrease in avian species that spend their winters in those warmer climes. They barely mentioned cats in their extensive survey of existing data, equating cat predation to that of dogs, skunks, raccoons, opossums, rodents and human hikers. Yet these bird organizations persist on singling out only cats as the villain. If bird organizations truly want to help birds, they need to give up their irrational anti-cat rhetoric and concentrate on the core issues impacting birds today. Imposing sanctions on cats doesn’t help birds – it only hurts cats.

Without TNR programs, communities lose their best hope at containing cat populations leaving them only with the broken animal control model – killing off the visible layer of outdoor cats while leaving the rest in place and intact to reproduce creating the same problem over-and-over again.

We know from our own TNR work that most property owners are more than willing to care for the occasional naturally-occurring feral and stray cats that take up residence in their yards and barns – but they need front-end help to get the cats fixed. If there is no organization there to fix the cats, the numbers grow beyond what the property owner can manage – and eventually they’ll be dropped at another outdoor location – still able to reproduce – or they’ll be taken to a shelter to be killed. Both of these outcomes are preventable through TNR. And no -- we don’t need an environmental impact study to know that.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Four Paws Up To The Veterinary Community -- 2010 Feline Guidelines Finally Give Cats Their Propers.

If you’re like me, when you take your cat to an animal clinic, you usually feel like you’re in the minority – navigating a waiting room full of dogs. I dislike doing this so much that I go out of my way to frequent cats-only clinics. It’s hard enough just taking cats away from their home without adding the stress of seating them between strange dogs while they wait nervously for the doctor.

But I’ve been curious about this for a long time. Cats are the number one family pet– with dogs coming in a close second. If both were getting equal medical attention, the clinics should have at least as many cats as clients as they have dogs. Yet a 2006 study confirmed my suspicions -- that only 28% of pet cats routinely see a vet while 58% of pet dogs go to the vet. And -- among those dogs and cats that frequent vets -- dogs are taken in 2.2 times annually while cats go in only 1.1 times. No wonder the waiting rooms are always full of dogs – twice as many of them go to the vet twice as often as cats go!

Needless to say, this study triggered a wake-up call for the veterinary associations. They promptly formed a commission to study why cats were losing out on quality health care and to update guidelines for feline veterinary care. The results of their commission are now published on both the AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) and the AAFP (American Association of Feline Practitioners) web sites. Although most of the report is geared to vets, a few things are worth noting.

First they’ve solved the mystery of why cats aren’t routinely taken to the vet. Their caregivers consider them as much a part of their family as they do their dogs but the cats are perceived as not needing medical care because they are self-sufficient. And – even when they are sick – the caregivers don’t seek treatment because cats are so good at hiding illness their caregivers don’t know they’re sick.

Then they redefined the life stages for cats from three ( kitten, adult and senior/geriatric) to six distinct stages – each with individualized veterinary protocols. These are Kitten (Birth to 6 Months), Junior (7 months to 2 years), Prime (3-6 years), Mature (7-10 years), Senior (11-14 years), and Geriatric (15-25 years).

The 2010 Guidelines recommend cats in all life stages have at least an annual wellness exam. For older or chronically ill cats, more frequent vet visits are advised. They’d actually like to see all cats get semi-annual exams but aren’t pushing the envelope. The logic behind semi-annual exams for all cats is to catch health problems early to keep the treatment costs down.

But to me, the most interesting part of the Guidelines has to do with their budding awareness that veterinarians need to be more sensitive to the needs of cats in their clinic design and procedures – that cats are distinct from dogs. Here are my favorites:

• Provide a separate waiting room for cats or at least elevated platforms to place cat carriers on out of reach of dogs.

• Reduce the waiting time before the cat enters an exam room.

• Keep the exam room itself quiet and warm.

• Use an exam table that’s warm and has a non-slip surface.

• Avoid loud noises or sounds that mimic hisses – such as whispering.

• Let the cat stay in the carrier for as much of the exam as possible -- at least through the history-taking phase -- so the cat can adjust to the veterinarian in a “safe” environment.

• When not in the carrier, provide towels so the cat can partially hide and use the towels as a preferable handling tool over scruffing the cat.

• Avoid making eye contact with the cat when possible.

• Conduct the exam in the most comfortable position for the cat – such as on the veterinarian’s lap.

• Keep hospitalized cats away from dogs and out of eye contact with other cats.

It’s great to see this magnitude of veterinary enlightenment coming into feline practice. Whether it gets more cats into the clinics for wellness checks and diagnostics is yet to be seen. But for the cats that do go to the vet, the trip will be a whole lot more pleasant. I give these changes in veterinary protocol Four Paws Up – and I think our cats will too. Now … if only I could find a clinic that follows them in my new community … I’d purr my heart out!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Want To Really Help Cats In 2010? Fund Spay/Neuter

"My parents and I discovered a stray/feral cat in the summer of 08 and have since been feeding him twice daily and have set him up with a shelter under a covered table against the house with a few comfy beds, a covered litter box that houses the deepest bed and a scratch pad (yes he is now very spoiled)."

“We have since discovered that a few other neighbors also feed him twice daily. We have also been noticing a few other little hutches set up around here, although we do not know if he is the only (cat) in the area. We have built up a relationship with him to the point that he lets us pet him, even when eating, and often comes out and insists on being petted.”

“My question is how do we “winterize” him? He disappeared for a few days last winter -- we assumed to a garage but we don’t know – when it was bitter cold. But I’m still wondering if there is a better/healthier way for him. I live near my parents and considered bringing him to may apartment over night and bringing him back during the day – although I don’t want to traumatize him at all. If you have any ideas, or think this would be a healthy option, please let me know.”

What makes this story so unique is that it’s so common. I could easily have scripted the content from the many phone calls and e-mails we’ve received over the years. Although the media broadcasts stories for old-guard animal organizations on how short and miserable the lives of outdoor cats are, the people we hear from paint this very different view. Many outdoor cats – feral and stray – have someone – and many have more than one someone -- providing them with food and outdoor shelter. A special bonding develops between these cats and their caregivers.

Animal organizations would like us to believe that outdoor cats need rescuing – their donations depend on it. Nothing opens up purse strings more than anecdotes about emaciated cats being given to a shelter for loving care and placement in a good indoor home. That’s a simple concept – and who wouldn’t want to contribute money to such a humane cause? But the reality is more complex -- when outdoor cats are given to shelters for “protection and adoption” they all too often killed after being declared “unadoptable”. The majority of shelter adoptions are not of adult stray or feral cats, but of very young cats and kittens that are well socialized to people. Shelter euthanasia is the leading cause of death for stray and feral cats.

It’s more complex to grasp the concept that leaving cats in their outdoor homes is not only more humane but is also more effective -- provided it’s coupled with free -- or at least affordable -- spay/neuter. Because this concept is more complex, donations for cat spay/neuter are much harder to attain than for sheltering.

Without adequate funding, spay/neuter programs aren’t able to pro-actively work on the problem of cat overpopulation. But think of it. If there were free spay/neuter clinics, most caregivers would choose sterilization over relinquishment of the cats that come their way. No one likes to give a cat to a shelter. But, dealing with unsterilized cats – living outdoors or indoors – is doomed to failure. The ongoing litters, the fighting, spraying and yowling of intact cats – are more than even dedicated caregivers can handle long-term.

With free spay/neuter everyone wins – the caregiver keeps their cats, the cats gets three squares a day, and the community gets many fewer kittens to place each year. And those cats that are truly in need of rescue can be adopted out more effective by no-kill cat rescue groups with foster-home networks. So in 2010 if you truly want to help cats, put your money where it will do the most good – into solving the problem of cat overpopulation through pro-active spay/neuter – not trying to simply put a band aid on it.