Western Governors’ Association’s Misguided Inclusion of Feral Cats on Its List of Invasive Species
It was quite a shock to learn that the Western Governors’ Association now includes “feral (or spay-neuter-release) cats” among its “top 50 invasive species in the West.” And, to our knowledge, no animal welfare organizations were involved in the conversations that led to this decision.
Western Governors’ Association invasive species list targeting domestic cats
According to an Associated Press story that’s been picked up all across the country, WGA’s invasive species list was released “in hopes of helping people recognize and eradicate the invaders before they spread.” Is WGA really calling on its 19 member states and three U.S. territories to eradicate this country’s most popular companion animal? It’s difficult to interpret this announcement any other way.
Reducing the number of feral cats with trap-neuter-return
As a national animal welfare organization committed to saving the lives of animals, including community or “feral” cats, we know there’s a better way to reduce their numbers: trap-neuter-return, or TNR. The process is simple: cats are caught (often by volunteers), evaluated by veterinarians, vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and returned to their original outdoor homes, unable to have kittens.
Best Friends Animal Society operates more large-scale, targeted TNR programs than any other organization in the country. As such, we are in a unique position to comment on the positive impact such programs have not only for the cats, but on animal shelters and the communities they serve. The successes we’ve seen, in our own programs and others, echo the findings of numerous research studies demonstrating the effectiveness of targeted TNR programs to reduce cat populations and nuisance complaints. We’ve also witnessed firsthand the broad public support these programs enjoy, confirming the results of national surveys showing that seven in 10 Americans prefer TNR over the traditional approach for managing these cats (i.e., impoundment and, for cats deemed unadoptable, lethal injection).
During 2016 alone, our TNR programs were responsible for sterilizing nearly 40,000 community cats—preventing an estimated 120,000 kittens (whose numbers would likely have snowballed into the millions over just a few years). This doesn’t include the many programs we fund through various partnerships, or the work done by numerous animal welfare organizations and local shelters committed to the same mission.
Cat sterilization vs. eradication methods
There are only two methods proven to reduce, and eventually eliminate, a population of free-roaming cats: intensive sterilization efforts, or intensive eradication efforts, such as those implemented on small oceanic islands using poison, disease, lethal trapping, and hunting. Given the horrendous methods employed, and costs that can exceed $100,000 per square mile, eradication is simply a non-starter in the U.S. Which brings us back to TNR; if WGA is truly interested in reducing the population of unowned, free-roaming cats, TNR is the solution.
Targeting “feral (or spay-neuter-release) cats,” on the other hand, is likely to backfire, impeding the very programs that are essential to reducing their numbers (and at a steep cost to taxpayers, too). And because these cats cannot easily be distinguished from other cats found outdoors, WGA’s listing essentially targets all cats who spend any time outdoors—including barn cats, “working cats” used to deter rodents, stray and lost pets, indoor-outdoor cats, and the millions of cats and kittens who begin life “on the street” before becoming beloved family pets.
As you can imagine, WGA’s classification of domestic cats as one of the “top 50 invasive species in the West” is cause for great concern among our staff, volunteers, members, and animal welfare colleagues. We are calling on WGA to remove cats from its “invasive species” list, and invite their staff to meet with us to learn more about the benefits of TNR.