Monday, December 24, 2012

And a Merry Christmas to you all

In case you somehow have managed to miss this. May you have a holiday filled with music...and cats.

Bullet is still here

Bullet has been around lately. I almost didn't recognize him as he no longer looks like a teenager. He stopped by for some catnip in the front garden and he has been eating the cat food in the barn. There is also a new black and white cat, and a black cat, who have been recently dumped here, so I'll be setting traps. If I catch Bullet, I'll take him in for booster shots. I'm glad to have it verified that he's still around. From a distance, one tux cat can look very much like another.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Merry Christmas

Watch this and you'll wonder why anyone could ever ask you "Why do you like cats so much?"

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Day off coming up and Gracie adopted

It turns out I have a bit more vacation left so I put in for a vacation day tomorrow. I am absolutely exhausted, mostly my own fault, for not getting to bed early enough. I did manage to drag myself out to the store to pick up baking supplies. The last time I baked for Christmas was 2010. How do I know this? Because everything I pulled out of the baking cabinet had "11/10" written on it in black marker, and expired dates stamped on them.

My grocery bill was higher than it might have been because I have an aversion to that candied fruit that normally goes into the kind of things I bake. I replace most of it with dried fruit: apricots, raisins, cranberries, dates, and the like. I considered starting tonight but I realized I would be making yet another late bedtime out of it, should I start pulling out bowls and pans. So I'll get up tomorrow morning and make a mess of the place.

Perhaps I shall even blog my fruitcake. ;) Yes, there is edible fruitcake in the world. Real fruitcake is so good that I don't understand why the store-bought stuff even sells for anything other than a joke.

Here's some good news: Gracie was adopted!

I took her out to Endicott Saturday. She'll be sharing her house with three bouncy dogs (very sweet ones) and another cat, so I hope she fits in soon. Right now she has the quiet of the bedroom to get used to the sounds outside.

I'm far too sleepy to post anything creative, so we'll let Gracie's cute little face speak for me.

Walter Lamb's comments on the Outdoor Cat conference

You can find them here. Thanks to Barb of the Feral Cats in the News blog.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


It's not just for dogs anymore.

Vox Felina's wrap up of the Outdoor Cat conference... here at this link. After reading his notes, some different things present themselves to me that hope to blog on down the road.

Holiday pet scams

Interesting article here.

Feral cats: is it "crazy" to care for them...or "crazy" to ignore them?

I deleted a diatribe from the comments by a gentleman who calls himself "Woodsman." I delete his comments because they are rude, not because of the questions they contain.

He sent a link to this article here, about an apartment complex whose expansion/renovation has been put on hold due to the presence of two-score of cats. It's an interesting article, and I have some sympathy for the landowner as I do for most landowners who have bought the "just leave them alone and they'll go away" line.

However, I've run into 70-year old rural homeowners who have bigger things to worry about who nonetheless realize there's an issue to be dealt with when they have ten cats running around. They pick up the phone and call for help. Someone who lets the numbers rack up to a hundred has pushed the envelope a bit. I've handled situations with 80-150 cats. The people involved aren't stupid by any means. It was just really low on their too-do list compared to other things that were taking up their time and money.


A) It appears from the article that the landowner has in fact received thousands of dollars in free cat control services. The population allegedly was over 100, and is now 20-35. Had the landowner taken responsibility and put the personal effort into trapping the cats originally (for the cost of traps, time, and gas), or hired a trapper (at probably $60-100 a cat), the cats would have been gone before any cat advocate moved into the picture. Had this landowner taken responsibility for the problem, the cats could have been removed. However, the problem appears to have been ignored until it reached the swarming level. Now that there is profit in the picture or at least needful maintenance (instead of just a nuisance: the status quo plus cats), and now that the problem is now more affordable/manageable (60-80 fewer cats than before) the landowner wants the cats gone.

B) The people who have actually taken on the task of managing the cats have invested thousands of dollars--dare I suggest over ten thousand dollars if you take into consideration the cost of caring for the adoptable cats until they found homes--of their own money, to reduce this nuisance and humane issue. The landowner has had the benefit of 60-80 fewer cats. That's a lot of cats, and a lot of money.

C) The decision is being made in the court system--a system upon which legal decisions in this country are commonly made.

The deleted comment on this blog said in part "This is precisely why everyone is learning to destroy all cats on their properties as quickly and quietly as possible. Telling nobody beforehand about the cats even being there."

The fact is, landowners don't take this upon themselves which is why there is a problem to begin with. It takes money and work--money and work the landowner did not care to invest when the problem started. If a landowner notes a cat or two upon his property and traps and takes them off to a shelter, chances are pretty good no one would notice. However, landowners ignore the problem until there are scads of cats---which is why TNR got its start to begin with.

The solution many anti-cat people offer for cat control-- "Just don't feed the cats" -- actually causes the problem of growing cat numbers. They don't trap them. They don't kill them. They just want them to magically go away.

Then there's the "just shoot 'em" suggestion. While the commenter likes to boast about how many cats he kills, the fact is that most landowners want someone else to do the dirty deed, or they are in an area where they can't discharge firearms. So it's useless to suggest that anyone with a cat problem should just pull out a .22. The majority of so-called nuisance cats are in residential areas. There wouldn't be a nuisance wildlife control industry if people HAD .22's, let alone knew how to shoot them, or lived in an area where they could shoot them. In NYS a landowner can shoot a common wild critter that is causing damage, yet most don't. They open their wallets to have someone else do it with traps, catchpoles, or exclusion devices.

If the commenter attended cat control conferences, like the recent Outdoor Cat conference, he might learn that in fact cat management programs are multi-tiered. Cats in some areas may in fact have to be removed, while others can remain (sterilized). Just like nuisance wildlife control, one has to look in one's toolbox and choose the tool that is best suited for the situation, given the resources available.

There certainly are people who "shoot, shovel, and shut up" but they do so with the awareness that they are breaking the law, and they keep their heads down. There is a reason "Woodsman" won't use his own name, and that's because there would be a knock or two on his door if he did.

We aren't going to manage a few million cats via a the one or two people per community who are willing to slink around shooting cats.

So to landowners who don't like cats, please do go ahead catch that friendly stray as soon as she shows up and take her to a shelter if your only other option is to ignore the cat. (Please check with the shelter in advance to be sure they accept cats) Maybe she will find her way back to her owner or into a new home. But if the landowner ignores that stray because "it's not his problem" and lets that cat and those that follow her breed into a hundred shy and feral cats, he should not be surprised if someone else notices them, puts out some food, and starts shelling out their own bucks to try to solve the problem in a humane way that doesn't involve dumping 100 cats on the local underfunded shelter.

Please keep comments civil and to the topic of cat management, thanks!

Update: I note on Facebook that Stray Cat Alliance is trying to find placement of at least some of their cats, so they are not sitting on their hands counting on the courts to support them. They are trying to get the cats to a safer place without the need for them to go to a shelter.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Should shelters who are unable to find placement for cats take them in at all?

Earlier I shared Dr. Hurley's suggestion that if shelters are not succeeding at what they hope to accomplish (humanely sheltering cats even if they were to be killed, and finding a good number of cats homes), in the absence of a local or state mandate to accept cats perhaps they should not be taking them in. An article of a shelter that divested themselves in this manner can be found here.

The shelter will take lost/stray cats and injured/sick cats, but not otherwise healthy, and likely unadoptable, street/feral cats.

However, I know myself how difficult it has been on me when there is no option for cats other than myself. My local shelter is frequently full, and the shelter in the nearby county does not accept feral cats.

When there is non-injured but suffering cat and it needs help, what are we to do? Who defines whether or not a cat with no visible injury is suffering. If people are harassing her, if her source of food has been taken away, if the place she is sheltering is about to be bulldozed, who is going to take on that responsibility?

We have been raised to believe that it is the obligation of the local shelter to accept these animals, and for them to accept the cumulative damage of killing them if need be.

The fact is, if this is not the case, a responsible and humane society needs to provide an option.

In the face of a lack of services, many individual citizens and private cat-services groups have chosen to offer spay/neuter. Grants have been born of Maddie's Fund, the ASPCA, Petsmart Charities, and PETCO Foundation, specifically to help groups fill this need. Individuals beggar themselves to help other people with cat "problems." I sat next to two women from a cat rescue in Kansas who were there on their own dime, to learn more.

Are there enough of these people to fill the need, especially if some shelters step out of the picture? I would say that at this point there is not.

To this end, some shelters who no longer want to accept the cumulative damage of killing cats for free have turned to a spay/neuter program called Feral Freedom.

Here is a .pdf of a PowerPoint presentation on the subject.

And from this article:

City Animal Care and Control workers still will pick up feral cats when they receive complaints or spot roamers in neighborhoods. But instead of taking the cats to a shelter, where they run the risk of catching or spreading diseases, they end up at First Coast No More Homeless Pets. Jacksonville Humane Society also helps with transportation.

Once they reach the No More Homeless Pets facility, the cats are spayed or neutered, their ears clipped for identification purposes and a microchip is inserted under their skin so they can be tracked. Once the animals recover from surgery, they are returned back to where they were found.

People living near where feral cats are returned are left literature that explains Feral Freedom and how homeowners can keep unwanted feral cats away from their property.

The idea is that once sterilized, the cats will stop exhibiting the behavior that is most bothersome: fighting, mating, roaming and spraying. And the city says there are many residents that welcome the tamer animals: One University of Florida professor estimates that 12 percent of households feed feral cats.

The feral cats will no longer be able to mate and rapidly grow their ranks. The city hopes that the population will decrease as they die naturally.

Initially I objected totally to this program. (I have real concerns about the young cats in the video, newly released, who follow along at the feet of the person who brought them back. Aren't those kittens adoptable? Wouldn't a foster program suit them better?). However, in cities where shelter killing is high, who is to say that it is that shelter's "obligation" to kill those cats, if that is not their mission, and the offered funding (if any) does not cover the cost? So while I too would like to have some magic place where I can take any cat in need, I know that I myself get angry and resentful at people who contact me with a statement that I "have to" help them. Sometimes my anger is dependent on how overworked I am, how broke I am, and whether I have space. On a day when I have some cash, have gotten plenty of sleep, and have empty cages, I might actually feel positively about the request.

What about these shelters that are always overfull, always underfunded, and always tired? Do they "have to" kill these cats when past experience has shown they have failed at releasing a significant number of them alive to new homes?

An interesting aspect of Feral Freedom is their three strikes rule. If a cat is trapped three times, animal control has the option of not sending it back into the Feral Freedom program. The rationale for this is that if the cat has been three times trapped, there is an underlying issue that might indicate that cat is either a danger to itself, or a repeated public nuisance at his current location. This does not mean the cat must be killed (he could go into a Barn Buddies program, etc.) but the cat will be evaluated more seriously if it ends up in a trap three times, and putting the cat down might be the final decision, based on that evaluation.

Also vital to the program is micro-chipping. Many feral cat advocates hesitate to microchip cats because it may reveal the location of their colony, or make them legally responsible for any damage. This program takes the stance that cats must be tracked. We need the knowledge. Is this program succeeding or failing? Do the cats move around? How long do they really live? How many highway killed cats are unaltered versus altered?

Some cities are not willing to divest entirely of the outdoor cat issue, even if they cannot house the cats. If every person who sees a feral cat at least has the option of getting it fixed, that is better than ignoring the cat, which is often what happens if people know the cat will be killed in the shelter.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in cities using the program. I would suggest we need more than shelter intake numbers to determine if the program is successful. Even fewer complaints may not be a true indication of success. If people know the shelter will only fix and return cats, they may not bother to call the shelter at all if they don't want that option.

Previously people who didn't mind a cat being killed received service. Those who were worried the cat would be killed did not. Now the coin has flipped, and those who will accept spay/neuter over death have an option, while those who only want death do not. Not because one person is right and the other is wrong, but because death, so far, has failed to improve the situation.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Outdoor Cat conference. Breaking new ground, forging new relationships

Conference: The Outdoor Cat, Science and Policy from a Global Perspective. December 3-4, 2012.

While I was in Texas, my supervisor sent me an email: Would I like to go to this conference? Quite frankly, I was tired. The Texas conference was to be my last travel for the year, and I was counting on a period of rest for December and January, before I boarded yet another plane in February--back to Texas once again. When I opened the conference schedule, I saw old friends Robert Schmidt (Utah State) and John Hadidian (HSUS)from my wildlife control days. What were they doing on a cat conference schedule? BIOLOGISTS at a cat conference? It was like opening a Christmas present that contained your most dreamed-of gift, that you did not-at-all expect to receive, because it was too expensive for your family to afford. Also speaking was Kate Hurley, whom I knew from Adoption Options. There were a number of conservation professionals on the schedule as well.

I had to go. It was as if my boss had said "Here, I found this conference just for you. Merry Christmas."

Old colleagues, my favorite subject, new ideas, and sunny California. You couldn't ask for better.

Well, three out of four ain't bad. I disembarked to a cold, rainy southern California while temperatures in the New York I had left spiked to the high 60's. My usual weather curse had struck again. Oh well. On to the conference...

Kate Hurley, DVM, is my new rock star. It was she who pulled out stats that illuminated the fact that in some cities where the number of street cats brought in to shelters is high, and adoption rates are therefore low, the adoption rate by average citizens who have found a cat and were wait-listed is higher than the shelter's adoption rate. In other words, in some areas, a cat is more likely to be re-homed or returned to her owner if she remains on the street or is taken in by an average citizen, than if she was taken to the shelter---the place where we are all told we should take a stray cat to best save her life.

When people/cats on the wait list were called back, a significant number had already found a new home for the cat, found the owner, or had chosen to keep the cat, while they were on the wait list. This percentage was higher than the adoption rate at some shelters.

(I am requesting presentations, and hope to have data in hand down the line).

This led Dr. Hurley to ask the question, in communities where there is no legal mandate requiring shelters to take in cats (most have a legal mandate to take in dogs), should shelters be stepping into the role of a cat shelter if for the most part what they are doing is warehousing and killing them? Is this the role of a cat shelter?

It was a new way of looking at data. I had seen the data before, but I had never compared high-volume shelter adoption rates to the success rates of the public itself.

This is not to say that every cat should be left on the street. We don't necessarily want to create a larger generation of cat hoarders. It does however raise a serious question: Are cat "shelters" actual shelters? What real impact do they have that justifies this level of killing? What other options might there be? If we don't recognize our failures, we won't look for other options. Kate challenged us to keep our minds open to other options.

Most shelters succeed very well at balancing human safety and dog control welfare. You don't, in general, find packs of dogs roaming the streets. Return-to-owner numbers and adoption numbers for dogs are significantly high, and are increasing. Those shelters that are not succeeding have tools to improve. They have other shelters they can look at as templates.

Can large municipal shelters expect similar success with cat control, or are we just throwing millions of dollars down a black hole of failure? Is killing hundreds of thousands of cats that have no real chance of adoption improving the situation? No. Are we at least maintaining the status quo? Is killing cat responsible for fewer numbers of cats killed nationwide each year, or is instead that due to spay/neuter and creative adoption? Does mass killing have any real impact other than destroying the reputation of shelters, increasing staff turnover, and turning remaining staff--originally conscientious, sensitive people--into robots who are increasingly insensitive to the suffering of their charges?

These were the themes of the conference, in my experience:

DATA, where data had not been available before in cat-centered conference

NEW QUESTIONS, that had not been raised to the cat and conservation community on a conference level.

ILLUMINATION OF PARTNERSHIPS between conservationists and cat welfare people, when we traditionally are treated to polarization of issues between so-called "bird lovers" and so-called "cat people." The media, and hard-line advocates on both sides, tell us we can't possibly work together. One speaker mentioned he had been contacted by the media for comment, and was told by the reporter that his comments likely wouldn't be used because he was too moderate (i.e., not crazy-sounding enough to bring in those on-line clicks and links due to preferred sensationalism). This conference was about working together to benefit both wildlife and cat populations and to bring about that shared goal of reducing outdoor cat numbers.

The audience appeared to be composed primarily of animal welfare advocates, which disappointed me. There was a respectfully large contingent of males, which was heartening (more than I have seen at any conference dedicated to cats only), and a good representation of animal control people--which might account for the male presence. When I saw the men, I hoped that this meant the conference had brought out biologists and concerned skeptics from the conservation field who were looking for answers, or at least looking to understand this complicated issue of how to manage outdoor cats. I didn't necessarily hope for converts. I did hope for answer-seekers. Yet from my questioning, it appeared this had not happened. Certain people had in fact been invited outright, but they elected not to come.

Perhaps at some point, those who view themselves as conservationists first and foremost, will come to experience the willingness to at least listen to new ideas, as animal control professionals (often criticized as a field that kills animals) clearly were willing.

Therefore, my first question to anyone "high-up" in the anti-cat audience out there will be: WHERE WERE YOU? Did you stay away just because HSUS was a sponsor? Did you not look at the speaker list and see the quality and diversity there? Were you not at least interested in seeing what the "opposition" was saying if you did in fact view this conference as "opposition?" You ought not have. There were welfare advocates enough in the audience who were uncomfortable when programs were outlined, in Hawaii and New Zealand, that included an aspect of acknowledged killing (while also including non-lethal components). There were hard--but fascinating--control ideas to be heard on both "sides"---if one must take sides.

I raise a similar question for certain cat advocates. Alley Cat Allies was not on the speaker list, nonetheless they sent four people. Good for them! I hope that I just missed representatives from certain other animal advocacy groups (after all, it's not like we have our affiliation branded on our foreheads) however there was one advocate in particular I expected ought to be there who was conspicuously missing. Let's hope he sent a representative in his place.

To the speakers, you have my hearty bravo. It took guts to stand up there and say hard words about the state of outdoor cat issues today. It takes guts to voice that new idea that seems to be yours alone, and share it with a large audience of people who might find that idea shockingly new. It takes guts to say "I used to believe X, but then I listened to other people and now I believe X+Y. Maybe tomorrow I will have learned even more and will amend that to Z." I hope by the rapt faces of your audience, you found it worthwhile. There were filled chairs for every speaker. Those who walked out for a break returned. Only a handful of people left before the end and most likely due to commitments. The last presentation (among two days of presentations) was as full as the first.

I'll have more to say on this, but I worry if I don't get this down, life in general will steal the moment from me.


For some reason I get a ton of hits when I neglect my blog....

I logged into Blogger after weeks of inactivity, only to discover a huge spike in traffic today. I'm not sure why. If anyone notes a new link to The Owl House somewhere online before I have time to sift through my stats, please let me know.

I have been traveling for work, and my blog has been neglected. I've also been obsessing about refinancing the farm, and it looks like this may finally come to be. So while I write a post I thought I'd leave this LOL as a signal that I am still alive. Be back soon!