Playing Whac-A-Mole with anti-cat rhetoric

At just about every kid’s fair, carnival or arcade that has a row of game booths, you’ll find Whac-A-Mole. Surely you’ve seen it. The contestant, armed with a mallet, takes a swing at toy moles that pop their heads up randomly through various holes on the game’s deck. I never cared for this game or any other game that uses animals as targets for amusement, for obvious reasons, but imagine instead a version of this where in place of animals, the heads of those opposed to trap/neuter/return (TNR) pop up. I think it’s a wonderful analogy for the game that TNR advocates find ourselves playing with TNR detractors who keep popping up with the same spurious arguments and recycled statistics that were wrong the first time out and which don’t become more accurate with repetition.

The latest mole to pop his head out of the ground is author and science writer Richard Conniff whose recent op-ed piece in the New York Times and personal blog posts attempt to make the case that TNR doesn’t work. He mashes up a re-hash of flawed studies on the effects of free-roaming cats on wildlife with a challenge to those of us who support TNR, stating “organizations that support TNR shouldn’t be considered animal welfare organizations,” because free-roaming cats kill mice, rats, lizards and birds. I wonder what he makes of our rehabilitation of birds of prey, but that’s for another blog. He also suggests that TNR advocates mourn the deaths of individual cats, but only regard birds on a population level. Mr. Conniff should speak for himself. I don’t know of any TNR advocates who are dismissive about individual bird deaths, and who don’t want to minimize predation by community cats, the only question is how.

Mr. Conniff and the other moles popping up with their decrees about TNR’s ineffectiveness offer no alternative solutions, with the exception of one repugnant individual who suggested killing community cats with an over-the-counter poison. Mr. Conniff says that TNR doesn’t work, but conveniently omits the fact that the decades-long policy of rounding up and killing stray and free-roaming cats certainly didn’t work in reducing aggregate numbers of community cats. Catch-and-kill doesn’t work because unsterilized cats simply pump out increasing numbers of kittens to fill the void. Killing stray and free-roaming cats is cruel and unacceptable to a public who regard them as pets and unsustainable since such campaigns invariably kill people’s family pets, which only increases public hostility to the practice.

The moles have no alternative solutions to TNR, although one may suspect that most of them are ailurophobes (Mr. Conniff excepted, as he documented an affectionate, though admittedly irresponsible, relationship to his own pet cat), so rational solutions should not be expected from them.

All joking and poking aside, TNR does work when it’s undertaken in a focused and comprehensive way. As evidence, we offer our shelter-integrated TNR program in the city of Albuquerque, which has seen an 18 percent reduction in the admission of kittens into the shelter since the Best Friends– and PetSmart Charities–sponsored TNR program was instituted two years ago. An 18 percent reduction in kittens suggests that fewer kittens are being born to community cats, which really is the only relevant measure of TNR’s success.


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