Letter from Our Co-Presidents
Dear Friends of the SF SPCA,
There has been a lot of discussion lately about feral cats and their place in our community. We've seen many news stories about how feral cats can decrease the local wildlife population, and we've seen just as many rebuttals questioning those statements and defending feral cats' rights to live in our neighborhoods.
Many of these discussions were sparked when the New York Times published an article about a new study by the Smithsonian Institution and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which claimed that feral cats are responsible for the deaths of billions of songbirds each year.
As explained in the HSUS blog Cats and Wildlife: An HSUS Perspective, the conclusions drawn from Loss, Will, and Marra's study are based on numbers and other research that is, at best, highly dubious:
"There are, indeed, tens of millions of domesticated cats who spend time outdoors, and many of these cats exhibit predatory behavior toward wildlife. But it’s virtually impossible to determine how many cats live outside, or how many spend some portion of the day outside. Loss, Will, and Marra have thrown out a provocative number for cat predation totals, and their piece has been published in a highly credible publication, but they admit the study has many deficiencies. Their work is derivative of what others have done on the topic, and they have essentially rolled up what they could find in the literature and done their best to attach some numbers. We don’t quarrel with the conclusion that the impact is big, but the numbers are informed guesswork."
As animal welfare advocates, we of course want to know the true impact that feral cats have on wildlife. To do that, more research needs to be done. Until that happens, let's not allow one questionable study to paralyze or reverse all of the progressive we've made toward advocating for and protecting feral cats.
As Dr. Jennifer Scarlett describes in her Huffington Post blog on the topic, there are only a few possible options for managing feral cats:
- Do nothing; watch populations explode and animals suffer.
- Round up and kill 30 million to 80 million cats; the extermination option almost everybody rejects and which no scientific study suggests would even work.
- Employ aggressive spay/neuter campaigns for both companion and unowned animals--the only option that suggests a solution.
At the San Francisco SPCA, we believe that aggressive spay/neuter campaigns are the best option, and the results that we've seen over the last few years suggest the same.
Last year our Community Cats Department provided free spay/neuter surgeries for nearly 2,000 feral cats in the Bay Area, which is twice as many surgeries as three years ago. As a result, San Francisco has seen a corresponding decline in cat intake: an impressive 31% drop between 2008 and 2012. Furthermore, every cat that we sterilize is examined while under anesthesia. Of the nearly 2,000 ferals we examined last year, fewer than 4% were found to be unhealthy and untreatable.
Our Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) efforts are working, and we're already seeing the positive effects of our aggressive spay/neuter campaigns. TNR is the best and most humane option for managing and ultimately decreasing the feral cat population.
In recent years we've made incredible progress toward managing the feral cat population, keeping those cats healthy, and encouraging San Franciscans to get involved with our spay/neuter efforts. We need your help to keep that momentum going. If you see community cats in your neighborhood, please contact us so we can help them get spayed/neutered, and ensure that they're cared for. And please tell your neighbors to do the same. With your help we can make San Francisco a safe place for both cats and wildlife.
Jennifer Scarlett, DVM