you have to be a member to read it but heres the articleNY Times article
Bird Lovers Hope to Keep Cats on a Very Short Leash
Gary Bogdon for The New York Times
By JAMES GORMAN
Every afternoon that she can make it, Dorothy May rolls her wheelchair down the road to a big thicket at the boundary of her condominium complex in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Then the cats come running.
"I'm just meals on wheels," Ms. May said. In fact, she is a lot more. She takes the cats to a veterinarian for spaying, neutering and vaccinations. She tries to find homes for them and offers unlimited ear scratches. She is well aware that many people, including some neighbors, disapprove. But, she said, "I'm taking care of them and I love them."
Dr. Christine Storts is the vet who treats the strays because she sees what they mean to Ms. May, but she is dead set against maintaining such colonies. She is also dead set against letting house cats roam free.
Dr. Storts wants to see all cats indoors or on leashes all the time, and no feral cat colonies, even if that means trapping and removing strays, many of which will inevitably be killed in shelters. The environmental damage the cats cause and the diseases they can spread are too important to ignore, she said.
Her views have brought her personal attacks and accusatory leaflets. "It's been a struggle," Dr. Storts said.
Ms. May and Dr. Storts are on opposite sides of the debate, but they are unusual in that they can talk to each other. More often, the serious disputes break out when cat lovers square off against bird lovers, environmentalists against animal defenders and veterinarians against veterinarians. Town meetings erupt in shouting, and otherwise mild suburbanites trap neighbors' cats and drop them at shelters.
The problem, or one problem, is that cats are killing birds, perhaps in the millions, perhaps in the hundreds of millions. Cats that roam free can also spread rabies, feline leukemia and other diseases.
So a movement has begun to stop the comings and goings of America's favorite pet. The goal, in essence, is to take the final step in taming Felis catus, the domestic cat, and confine it to a life that is truly domestic.
The United States has 73 million pet cats with homes of their own, according to a survey in 2001 and 2002 by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. Many "owned cats" spend some time running free, and millions more un-owned cats prowl urban alleys, rural fields and suburban yards. Estimates of the feral cat population run up to 100 million, but can hardly be relied on. Counting cats is only slightly less difficult than herding them.
If cats spent all their hours stretched on divans, licking their paws and manipulating their owners, the numbers would not matter much. But cats love to hunt as much as they love to preen, and they are good at it. The American Bird Conservancy and the National Audubon Society want them stopped.
For those groups, the cat is no mere pet, but a dangerous invasive species, a non-native predator that is creating havoc for certain native species. The bird conservancy, after noting that no one really knows how many birds are killed by cats, puts the number of cat-killed birds, based on "reasonable extrapolations from scientific data," at hundreds of millions a year.
A vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, Martha Armstrong, said other estimates were as low as seven million. "I don't think it's well documented," Ms. Armstrong said.
Dr. Julie Levy agreed. She is a veterinarian who teaches at the University of Florida and runs a program to trap, neuter, vaccinate and release stray cats. But she has no interest in joining a numbers argument. "It is somewhat unproductive to see what number we put on how many birds cats kill," Dr. Levy said. "If we can stipulate it's probably a lot, then let's see what we can do about it."
Six years ago, the bird conservancy started a campaign, Cats Indoors, with the goal of keeping all cats indoors all the time. Linda Winter, who started the campaign and still directs it, said feral cats should be trapped and removed to adoptive homes, one of the rare sanctuaries for feral cats or to shelters. That approach is sometimes called "trap and kill," by critics, because when it is carried out many of the cats that go to shelters are killed.
Ms. Winter has cats that she keeps indoors. Cats should not run free, she said, and they are "not wildlife, not native to North America."
But unlike other invasive species, cats have political teeth, as well as real ones. They have their own foundations, lobbyists and grass-roots support. The Humane Society supported Cats Indoors at first, but has begun its own campaign, Safe Cats, to urge owners to keep cats confined and controlled. The society does not endorse trapping feral cats.
The group supports, in some cases, volunteers' managing feral colonies, an approach that has been promoted for 10 years by Alley Cat Allies in Washington, a group that says it has 80,000 members dedicated to the welfare of feral cats. Colonies, which can range from a handful of cats to hundreds, are maintained by volunteers, sometimes officially, sometimes surreptitiously.
Like Ms. May, the volunteers feed the cats, search for adoptive homes, arrange for neutering and vaccinations and return the cats that are too wild to keep to where they came from. That approach is called Trap, Neuter, Release or T.N.R.
"The ultimate goal is that there should be no more feral cats," said Donna Wilcox, executive director of Alley Cat Allies. As cats are neutered, she said, the colonies decline.
As with everything else involving cats, others disagree.
Though some studies show colonies that have declined in numbers or even disappeared, others show they just keep going. Harold Mitchell, a biologist with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, who spends much of his time trying to protect endangered beach mice and birds like the piping plover from free-roaming cats, said trapping and neutering cats worked in theory, but not in practice.
"If it were a closed system," Mr. Mitchell said, "definitely it would work."
But, he added, new cats keep arriving, and "people use state parks as a dumping ground for unwanted pets."
Florida has some of the biggest feral colonies and some of the most emotional fights. In the summer of 2002, a woman who was feeding feral cats on Singer Island in Palm Beach County was bitten by a feral cat that was found to be rabid. For public health reasons, the county decided to eradicate all the stray cats on the island, causing an uproar. The woman who had been bitten was one of the cats' most vocal defenders.
In another part of Florida, at the Ocean Reef Club on Key Largo, a feral colony, more than 500 strong, lives next to the habitat of the endangered Key Largo wood rat.
Florida has a particular problem, because a number of wild species are in trouble. Natural land is dwindling, often abutting residential development (read: cat habitat), and a large population of transient northerners, the snowbirds, may abandon pets when they go home for the summer.
Dr. Lorna Patrick, a biologist with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in Panama City, works in coastal environments on the recovery efforts of endangered species like sea turtles, beach mice and shore birds. Because of the popularity of houses near the coast, she said, "We are starting to see lots of feral cats and free-roaming pet cats in the beach and the dune system, mostly in the dunes."
The cats will, of course, prey on the birds and mice and baby turtles. Dr. Patrick does not blame them. "The cats aren't the problem," she said. "It's people."
The cats themselves often suffer, from illness, automobiles and predation. Coyotes are particularly attracted to cats. There are even studies suggesting that in certain canyons in San Diego coyotes help native birds because they prey on cats and other small predators.
Of course there have always been free-roaming cats, and they have always hunted birds. One reason for the intensity of the current debate is dwindling habitat for wild creatures. Dr. Margaret Slater, a veterinarian and an epidemiologist at Texas A&M, spent a year traveling around the country talking to people about cats and produced a pamphlet, "Community Approaches to Feral Cats," for the Humane Society. The biggest problems occur where cats move into wilderness areas or parks, she said, "especially places where things are already fragile."
Another factor, she said, is "a fundamental shift in the way people view nonhuman animals." Not only are many more people concerned about the fates of birds and beach mice, but also trapping cats and taking them to shelters where they are killed offends many people.
Dr. Slater said many laws were on the books for dogs, but fewer for cats. "Cats are not dogs," she said. "They don't run in packs and kill livestock. They don't run across the street and bite your child."
In parts of the world where feral dogs are still a problem, nobody worries about cats. "Once you get rid of the dog problem, then you get into this cat thing," she said.
Dr. Harriet Ritvo, a historian at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has studied the relationship of people and domestic animals, said: "The habits of cats have always been perceived as less vulnerable to human control" than those of dogs. "It would have been unheard of in 19th century to imagine a cat under constant control."
Even now, Ms. Ritvo said, the idea meets resistance, adding: "It is perfectly easy to keep cats inside. But people haven't processed that."
Everyone involved in the debate over cats agrees on the fundamental importance of teaching pet owners that cats cannot thrive on their own and should not be abandoned. The lesson has not yet been learned.
"People think there's all these cats here," Ms. May said of the Cape Canaveral colony. "Why don't we just leave our cat here when we go back north? For some reason, people still think that cats can handle themselves out there, and that's just not the case."
Until human behavior changes, Ms. May's goals are small. There is one particular cat that she thinks is ready to be adopted. "If I could just find a home for Teddy," she said. "I really would like to find him a home."