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should you spend money to treat feral cats medical needs?

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 
I wanted to share this with everyone..it is from the recent No More Homeless Pets Forum:

Question from Gail:?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

What do you think about spending money on medical care for feral cats? we do a spay/neuter program for ferals and get in a lot that require additional care. Our focus is just on spay/neuter and we really don't want to deviate from that, but this is probably the only care these cats are going to get. Should we spend the time and money to treat if it is removing an eye, or sewing up a wound, or removing teeth?

Nathan Winograd’s response:

For too many years, feral cats have been maligned, relegated to a lesser status, and mercilessly killed and condemned to certain death by the writings, actions, beliefs and advocacy of people within our own sheltering movement. They have been compared to oil spills and poisons in the environment, they have been slaughtered in shelters without a moment's hesitation, and to this day, groups who advocate that "life is sacred" when it comes to chickens, rats, and others--a position which I wholeheartedly agree with as a person who has a personal devotion to veganism and the rights of animals to be free from harm and exploitation mind you--nonetheless still advocate the shelter killing of feral cats as a matter of policy, a contradiction so glaring and illogical it baffles the mind.

If your question is one of philosophy and one of doing what is worthy and what is right, than yes, you should provide that care. Feral cats are every bit as worthy of our compassion and consideration and should be entitled to all the benefits and resources a shelter or group would give a pet cat. Having said that, opponents of TNR are going to make a sarcastic comment about giving them a home. But that is like saying if you get a raccoon in your shelter (and our shelter, like others, does take in wildlife), they should have a home. Or a cat should have the companionship of other cats (some cats, as we know, do not like other cats and will drive them out of the house). All animals are entitled to the same care and consideration. But not all of them need the same things. A feral cat does not need to live under someone's couch. A feral cat needs a barn, a backyard, an alleyway. But in the shelter, a feral cat should be treated like a pet cat in terms of consideration and care, with the limits posed by the ability to treat.

Life is life. If you were going to remove an eye and adopt out a one-eyed pet cat. Remove an eye and release a one-eyed feral cat, so long as you are not compromising a cat. A three legged cat who needs to rely on hunting may be a different outcome than one living in someone's backyard being fed two times a day. That is an open question. But we need not barf out dogma, without ever asking the question at all. And perhaps, struggling with the answer. There is no one-size fits all.

In law school, we used to sit around and endlessly debate whether "hard line rules" were preferable to "standards and guidelines." It is a dilemma faced in every movement, every sector of our society. When you read about "three strikes laws", you are hearing the debate between rules and standards. Should three strikers get life without parole? Or should a judge be allowed to reduce the sentence if the third strike is a theft as opposed to a violent crime? Rules help us navigate the world better. They help us know what is expected and what will be the result. As a former prosecutor, I love rules. The rule of law is what democracy is all about. But they can be overly inclusive. They could lead to draconian punishment that does not fit the crime. Standards, on the other hand, give discretion, and allow for individual considerations. But they can allow people to deviate from policy and put folks at risk (remember, three strikes was implemented because people felt judges were being too lenient in their sentencing discretion and releasing violent felons who were then committing other crimes).

In the world of animal sheltering, the biggest standard we have is the concept of what is an "adoptable" animal? Since it allows for discretion, as everyone knows it is being misused to allow shelters to promulgate statistics that make it seem like they are doing a better job than they are. A dog who gives someone the "whale eye" can be called unadoptable and killed. Rules, on the other hand, protect animals. If a shelter had a hard line rule that all dogs would be given three days to acclimate, temperament tested, retested, and looked at by a behaviorist, and attempted rehabilitation, then we would have a lot less "adoptable" dogs being labeled "unadoptable."

We tried to do this in California under the 1998 Animal Shelter Law. Too many cats were being labeled as feral and killed because they were shy, scared or traumatized when they first came into the shelter. Labeling a cat as "feral" was the ultimate standard-based approach and shelters were misusing it. The law required shelters to evaluate a cat upon intake and then again three days later before the cat could be labeled as "feral" and killed. A rule. It was designed to take away some (not all mind you), but some discretion from shelter administrators whose took a kill first, ask questions later approach to animal sheltering when it came to cats who were not overly friendly and outgoing on intake.

I realize I may be deviating a bit in the discussion, but what I am trying to get across is this: you will never resolve the tension between rules and standards. Each has characteristic strengths and weaknesses. You need to integrate into your work a life-oriented process that struggles with the questions of who to treat and how with every single animal. This is not a movement for easy decisions.

If your question is resource based, I do believe that spaying and neutering should be your primary focus. That is why I am a strong (and was an early advocate) of not testing ferals for FeLV or FIV, since it wasted a lot of resources, created an unfair double standard, and was impacted by neutering anyway. And so if you are a spay/neuter group and that is what you do, that is what you do. You can advise the caretaker on the cat's needs and let the caretaker determine the best cause of action. I don't want to release a cat who has a condition that is really compromising or painful. Since we treat the pet cat in our shelter, we will treat the feral cat.

post #2 of 5
That's a nice discussion of a tough issue. Because I work with very small colonies (5 - 10 cats) in which the ferals are considered part of the family by the caretakers, I wouldn't even think about denying treatment to a wounded feral. However, for those caring for huge colonies on limited budgets, I can easily see that euthanizing the cat would make more sense. I sure would hate to make that decision.
post #3 of 5
In my own, personal opinion, to not treat something as easily repaired as suturing a wound on a feral cat, is akin to cruelty. If the cat is being neutered, they're under anesthesia, they're going to have some sort of suturing done. Whats a few more stitches on a leg/side/etc? You have the needles already threaded, the razor already in use to shave the belly on the female.
post #4 of 5
Brownie was FIV positive, had a major infection running through her and her liver was failing. I had to put her down. It was a hard hard decision. She was the first feral that I made friends with. She would only let me pet her a little bit, always watching me. She would purr immediately when I walked into the enclosure, so I knew she finally liked (maybe loved) me. It broke my heart to put her down. I discussed things with the vet and really there wasn't much we could do to try to treat her. I wish that wasn't the case, but it was. I cried for her for days and I still think about my little Brownie. She was such a beauty.

I think ferals are just as deserving of medical treatment. It just can be harder if not impossible to treat them for some things without trapping and caging them. I have a hard enough time pilling my domesticated cats, I can't imagine pilling a feral.
post #5 of 5
Hi Jnhzoo, and All,

Jnhzoo, what you and your vet did, for Brownie, was what euthanasia really is, IMHO. A good death, when no further healing is possible. What Nathan (my hero!!!) is talking about is killing for space, killing for not having a human owner, and that's way different (again, IMHO). That sure doesn't make it any easier, I know, though.

My hope is that with a lot of TNR programs going and growing, in time, we can see the average size of a feral cat colony shrink. In my area, managed colonies average 8 cats in them. That's pretty feasible, especially with help to fund their maintenance. It's when groups reach 20 to 50 and more, that feral cat care begins to look like it might sink a caretaker. And this is why I feel like it is SO important for there to be well-run organizations helping with the TNR around the world. Because it's not some kind of "fun hobby," doing feral cat work. It may not win you a new job, but TNR and feral cat care are responsibilities and they're as good for our communities as visiting a shut-in elderly person is. And caretakers don't PUT the cats into communities, they're just the people who are first to see the need for care. TNR organizations can help involve the broader community in working to help.
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