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Published December 14, 2012, 12:00 AM

Pet Care: Should cats roam free?

Dear Dr. Fox: I was disappointed in your recent response to G.L. in Washington, D.C., the feral cat colony caretaker. Instead of providing him with a link to Alley Cat Allies (alleycat.org), a nonprofit group dedicated to helping cats, you persisted in providing antiquated arguments for the death of cats. The website has an entire section that would have answered G.L.’s questions much better than you did, which was to advocate he euthanize his cats.

By: By Dr. Michael Fox, INFORUM

Dear Dr. Fox: I was disappointed in your recent response to G.L. in Washington, D.C., the feral cat colony caretaker. Instead of providing him with a link to Alley Cat Allies (alleycat.org), a nonprofit group dedicated to helping cats, you persisted in providing antiquated arguments for the death of cats. The website has an entire section that would have answered G.L.’s questions much better than you did, which was to advocate he euthanize his cats.

You also maintain that cats kill birds and other wildlife. My feral cat takes out the moles that destroy my yard, kills copperhead snakes and keeps down the mouse and other rodent population. Take out the cats through your plan, and these creatures have no natural predator and their populations explode.

I would suggest you educate yourself before giving the public outdated information. You have lost credibility with me for perpetuating stereotypes. I hope you can inform the public in a future column that there are better ways and better answers than what you wrote. – M.D., Labadie, Mo.

Dear M.D.: While I appreciate what Alley Cat Allies is doing to help increase public awareness about the plight of free-roaming lost and feral cats, I am not alone in my opinion. Many in the veterinary profession, as well as other wildlife biologists, question the wisdom and humaneness of TNR (trap-neuter-release) and people maintaining colonies of feral cats. Your statement that I advocate only euthanasia is incorrect.

By your own admission, your cats are killing wildlife. The moles are part of the natural environment you occupy, and I, for one, welcome them. They were here on Earth long before we humans became an infestation, and in many cases, they benefit the soil. Copperheads and other snakes are natural rodent controllers, which helps control the viruses rodents transmit, such as the hantavirus.

According to the American Bird Conservancy, only about one-third of the 77 million pet cats in the U.S. are kept indoors exclusively, while free-roaming cats kill an estimated 500 million birds annually – a staggering figure. Fledglings who have just left the nest are especially vulnerable to these domestic and feral predators.

Domestic cats have no place outdoors, and our compassion for these homeless animals should not trump common sense and sound science.

My home is enriched by two feral cats my wife and I trapped and saved from Minnesota winters. One took six months to venture out from a safe corner he chose as his refuge. Neither shows any desire to go back outdoors, and both are now wonderful companions who I can kiss on their tummies and play wild games with at night. Trap-neuter-rehabilitate is my TNR mantra, with release through euthanasia being the very last option.


Dear Dr. Fox: We, too, have taken in outdoor cats (more or less feral) who, once given the opportunity to be indoor cats, never wanted to run wild again. For years, my wife and I had a brother and sister from the same litter, Oberon and Titania, who had been outdoor cats for the first six years of their lives. (My wife fed them, but we didn’t have the opportunity to take them in at first.) Once our situation changed and we brought them inside, they would frequently sit by the sliding-glass door and watch the outside for hours on end. If the front door was left open, they might slip outside just for a sniff, but they never left the front steps, and if the door closed behind them, they’d immediately scratch at it and meow to be let back in.

We now have a little cat, Oliver, who was found as the neighborhood stray when he was not quite fully grown. He, too, loves to sit on the window ledge and watch the outdoors, and if the door is opened, he gets excited and will investigate, but if it’s held open for him he will rarely venture out. If he does, he never goes more than a few feet from the door. I think all three of these cats remembered what it was like to be an outdoor cat and had no desire to revisit that cold, wet, lonely experience. – J.Y., St. Louis

Dear J.Y.: Thanks for confirming just how sensible cats are when it comes to knowing life indoors is better than having to fend for themselves outdoors! Some people forget their ancestors came from the deserts of North Africa.

As I have shared with readers, our two formerly feral cats never want to go outdoors, but one of them loves to watch the creatures around our bird feeders through the screen door and from various window ledges. It’s his TV!

Making provision for indoor cats to look out from an extended, carpeted window ledge or cat condo placed beside the window, ideally with a bird feeder outside in full view, is the kind of environmental enrichment most cats really enjoy.


Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s Web site at www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.

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