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More killing is never the answer

In my previous blog, I commented on an op-ed piece by Audubon Magazine contributor Ted Williams in the Orlando Sentinel in which Mr. Williams advocates poisoning free-roaming cats and names a readily available over-the-counter human medication as his preferred option. I want to thank all of our readers who took the action recommended in that post and sent a message to the relevant folks. Our collective voice was heard.

To say that Mr. Williams “set the cat amongst the pigeons” is an irresistible understatement. Immediately following publication of the Sentinel piece, the flap raised by his comments set off a series of outcries and CYA reactions by the Orlando Sentinel and the National Audubon Society:

 


  1. The Orlando Sentinel edited Williams' op-ed piece to remove the poisoning recommendation or the named medication.

  2. Williams' byline was changed from “Editor at Large for Audubon Magazine” to “Independent journalist.”

  3. The National Audubon Society, in a Facebook post on Saturday, stated, “Ted Williams is a freelance writer who published a personal opinion piece in the Orlando Sentinel. We regret any misimpression that Mr. Williams was speaking for us in any way: He wasn’t. Audubon magazine today suspended its contract with Mr. Williams and will remove him as ‘Editor at Large’ from the masthead pending further review.”


  4.  


The Audubon post goes on to disclaim any advocacy for poisoning cats, which we appreciate, but its attempt to distance itself from Williams, whose views have been published elsewhere for years and should have come as no surprise to the Audubon Society, rings hollow.

Let’s be clear. We want to see the numbers of free-roaming cats reduced as much as the National Audubon Society does. There is common ground, but serious engagement is elusive. Our counterparts (with the exception of Mr. Williams) continue to shy away from declaring the details of their plan.

It would be helpful to the national conversation regarding free-roaming community cats if Audubon and other conservancy organizations would actually own their position on the issue, and elaborate a coherent strategy that they can stand behind. As things stand, they only differ in the method of killing advocated. Trapping feral cats and taking them to the local animal shelter so that someone else can administer the poison is a distinction without a difference – they, like Mr. Williams, advocate killing as a solution.

Best Friends does not advocate killing.

Suggesting more killing as a solution to anything is a symptom of the arrogant mindset that is at the root of human alienation from nature, continuing habitat loss, and the eradication of species worldwide. And, whether we kill via waterway pollution from factories, deforestation to support cattle grazing and hamburger sales, clearing tracts of land for home development, or knocking off community cats with a poison pill or a one-way trip to the shelter, it comes from the same place. Suggesting more killing — the heavy-handed domination of everything in our path and everything weaker than ourselves — is just a perpetuation of the disastrous ethic that has brought us to the edge of our own extinction. I would have thought that conservation organizations, above all, would want to move as far away as possible from policies and practices based on the human subjugation of other species and the environment.

Prior to trap/neuter/return’s formal codification as a humane strategy in this country by Alley Cat Allies in the early 1990s, the standard approach to community cat population control was, for many decades, the catch-and-kill policy advocated by conservancy groups. As a policy, it did nothing to limit the growth of free-roaming cat populations, and where it is still practiced, it simply puts animal control at increasing odds with a cat-loving public. It is inhumane, ineffective and unsupportable. You can’t just scale up cat killing by municipal agencies; the public won’t stand for it.

The other oft-repeated management technique put forward by conservancy groups is that Best Friends should take all the ferals to Utah or other sanctuaries around the country if we don’t want them to go to shelters to be killed. While everyone concerned knows that this is a nonsense suggestion, I will dignify it with a quantitative reply. If Best Friends, which looks after roughly 1,700 animals on any given day, were to swap out all of our non-cat residents for feral cats, even at a three-to-one exchange rate, we would only be able to accommodate a few thousand cats, which would not be significant when tabulating the total of community cats out there.

It is, however, an inarguable fact that a sterilized animal cannot reproduce, and so that is a sound first step to limiting community cat numbers. The sterilizing of community cats can be scaled up without public opposition because it is humane and is powered by volunteers. Opposition from Audubon and similar organizations to volunteer efforts to humanely limit and ultimately reduce outdoor cat population numbers by organizations does not come across as pro-bird or pro-wildlife. It comes across as adamantly anti-cat and doesn’t make sense if their goal, like ours, is to stabilize and reduce outdoor cat numbers.

Since there is a shared goal, there is common ground and a basis for discussions between organizations such as the National Audubon Society and Best Friends on the topic of free-roaming cats. We would welcome such a rational conversation. However, the best way to kill them cannot be on the topic list. More killing is never the answer.

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Francis Battista, Co-founder, Best Friends Animal Society Francis Battista
Co-founder
Best Friends Animal Society