Trap-neuter-return programs are the only demonstrably effective method for reducing populations of feral cats and have prevented the suffering of millions of cats who would be born on the street with a bleak future. But perhaps it’s time for the humane movement to take a hard look at some of the rather surprisingly dark practices that have become quietly accepted by many humane agencies.
1. Spaying Full Term Cats: Feral cat clinics will spay mother cats who are full term, many of whom are as little as one day away from giving birth. So on Tuesday morning, five kittens would have arrived into the world and rescuers would do anything to keep them safe. Yet on Monday afternoon, at a high-volume “quick fix” clinic, those same five kittens will be cut out of the womb and placed in the garbage. Is this what we as a humane movement really hope to set as a benchmark for progress?
If a medical doctor were to abort a full term baby one day away from the mother’s expected delivery date, both the mother and the doctor would be brought up on murder charges. Yet some, and I emphasize the word some, factions of the humane movement regard any kitten in the womb as fair game.
2. Surgery Without Pain Reliever: Anyone who has ever had his/her pet cat spayed knows that the cat comes home with special care instructions that include limited mobility for several days and pain reliever for at least 2 – 3 days. Yet feral cats who are spayed are frequently given no post-op care.
They leave the clinic in a dirty metal trap and receive no pain reliever whatsoever. The next day, or sometimes that same night, the trap door is opened and they’re sent off to return to their colony. As a trapper myself, I always insist on 48 hours of pain reliever for the female cats I have altered and each rests in the trap (with food and water and a tiny litter box) until they have had time to recover. Particularly here in New England where the temperatures can be well below freezing, this extra step seems so obvious, yet, in my encounters, I’ve found that most trappers don’t ask for pain reliever because it costs a few dollars extra and they seem to buy into the illogical myth that the cats “don’t feel it.”
3. Running Tame Cats Through the Program: Temperament testing is a tricky thing. I’ve spent many nights on the laundry room floor with a closed trap beside me as I gently speak to the cat inside. It takes time, slowly working up to touching its cheek with the eraser-end of a pencil through the bars, searching for any hint of interest.
Does the cat turn to sniff the pencil? Will he sniff my hand it I put it near the cage? Will he respond to slow blinking (a non-verbal indicator cats use to indicate that they mean no harm to one another)? Will he rub his cheek against the cage? Though it’s not always possible to distinguish between a terrified tame cat and a truly feral cat because they will behave similarly in a trap, it is possible to pick out the ones who have clearly been pets at one time and who respond to typical cues for affection. Yet, more often than not, this step is not a part of TNR programs.
Michael Henderson of Kansas recently shared some beautiful photos of his cat Charlie who was run through a TNR program.
“Our dear cat Charlie was a victim, as I call it, of the neuter and release policy of several shelters in Kansas City, Kansas,” Michael explains. “The little guy, not even three months old, had been neutered, with his left ear unnecessarily clipped to show that he had been through the program. A friend of ours spotted him cowering among some trash on an overpass. She turned around and called to him, and he jumped into her car.”
Where Do We Go From Here?
There’s a quiet consensus among some people in the humane movement that these are the topics we’re not supposed to talk about it, the information best kept from the public eye because people simply wouldn’t understand. And, yes, I for one simply do not understand.
I am a trapper. I care for multiple colonies 365 days a year (see photos of some of the feral cats we care for here) and many of my closest friends are also cat trappers. This is not an indictment of the practice of trapping feral cats, but an introspective look at some of the ‘accepted’ casualties of the mission to reduce cat overpopulation.
Is it too much to ask that we don’t spay full term cats? That we don’t cut into cats without any post op pain reliever? That we don’t toss tame cats back out to fend for themselves? Some will say that we’re too busy to do the right thing. It takes too much time to temperament test cats. It costs too much money to offer pain reliever to the spayed females. It’s okay to abort ready-to-be-born kittens with beating hearts and fully formed mouths ready to be nourished by their mothers because that helps ‘cut’ the population and that is our ultimate aim.
Perhaps it’s time we start this dialogue on how we can make improvements to our mission, to set forth the highest in humane standards in every aspect of our work. If not, have we really earned the word “humane”?