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U of Nebraska is Dangerously Wrong about Feral Cats

  • by
  • December 16, 2010
  • 10:00 pm
U of Nebraska is Dangerously Wrong about Feral Cats

Alley Cat Allies has been raising awareness about feral cats and Trap-Neuter-Return in America for 20 years, and after all of this time, it’s rare in this day and age that we come across a publication that is as backwards and poorly researched as “Feral Cats and Their Management,” a recent report from The University of Nebraska. 

This publication not only makes egregiously inhumane, inaccurate, and inflammatory assertions about cats, but it also promotes illegal animal cruelty by recommending shooting cats as an acceptable approach for feral cats.

Let us set the record straight:

It is illegal to intentionally kill a cat—any cat—in all states, including Nebraska.

Domestic cats—which encompass all members of the felis catus species, feral cats included—are protected under Nebraska’s animal anti-cruelty law, which states that it is a crime for a person to “knowingly and intentionally kill, maim, disfigure, torture… or otherwise inflict harm on any animal” (Neb. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 28-1008 – 28-1009 (2010)). Anti-cruelty laws protect cats in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, making the recommendations made in this report not only cruel and unethical, but entirely illegal.

The entire report is based on a compilation of flawed research.

Many figures in this report, such as “a single cat can produce 400,000 cats” have been debunked or refuted—for instance, according to the Wall Street Journal article “Trying to Herd a Cat Stat” (October 2006), the Humane Society of the United States no longer uses this figure because it is so flawed. Other numbers have even been disavowed by the original authors. Dr. Stanley Temple, one of the authors of the Wisconsin study referenced in the University of Nebraska Report, was quoted in the Sonoma County Independent article “The Accused” (March 1994) saying, “Those figures were from our proposal. They aren’t actual data; that was just our projection to show how bad it might be” (Emphasis in original).

Other data is similarly skewed. Statements that cats can have “up to five litters per year” of “2-10 kittens” grossly distort scientific understanding of cat reproductive biology. A 2004 study of 625 female free-roaming cats in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found the average litter size to be just three kittens with a mean of 1.4 litters per year.

Trap-Neuter-Return is the humane, effective approach for feral cats.

In claiming, erroneously, that TNR doesn’t work, the report entirely ignores the existing body of research which proves that Trap-Neuter-Return is an effective method of stabilizing and reducing feral cat populations—including studies of TNR programs on college campuses. Not surprisingly, the report says nothing of the additional benefits of TNR: improving the cats’ lives and improving their relationships with the people who live near them.

Within the school’s own community, people already recognize the effectiveness of Trap-Neuter-Return. The University of Nebraska is home to an award-winning volunteer feral cat caregiving group that has been lauded by the university in its own press room:

“‘Husker Cats’ volunteers have successfully developed a program for caring and feeding UNL’s feral cat population… A healthy feral cat population is important for the campus,’ said Chris Jackson, vice chancellor for business and finance.”

People are the number one threat to birds.

The report drags out retired data from the bogus cat-versus-bird debate—such as the predation numbers from the discredited Wisconsin study—to justify illegally shooting cats. Yet it ignores the number one threat to birds: humans. Experts agree that habitat loss, pollution, collisions with building and cars, and other human-led activities account for far more bird deaths than cat predation.

To even suggest that killing birds is a reason to kill another animal goes against the humane ethic of most Americans, 81% of whom believe that leaving a stray cat outside to live out her life is more humane than having her caught and killed.

Alley Cat Allies has contacted the University of Nebraska to inform them of their dangerous mistake and requested that the University issue a retraction to correct the damage it has done.

The public looks to our educational institutions for accurate, well-researched information. For a University to publish and disseminate blatantly wrong and illegal recommendations is extremely dangerous and irresponsible. The public expects more from the University of Nebraska—they expect the truth. 


Becky Robinson is the founder and president of Alley Cat Allies, a national advocacy organization dedicated to transforming and developing communities to protect and improve the lives of cats. 

Related Stories: 

BYU Taking the Wrong Route for Feral Cats

NYC Mayor’s Officer Steps in to Save Cats

Rhode Island Veterinarian Says Euthanasia Best for Feral Cats


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Photo credit: Alley Cat Allies
by Becky Robinson, founder and president of Alley Cat Allies

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12:05PM PDT on Sep 18, 2011

if a cat fends for it's self in "the wild", they do not live 20+ years.

it is so sad, so humans kill more birdies than cats? If I had a cat that gave me a bird a week, but the window kills a bird every 3 years. it's my house that is "bad"?

a cat that kills birds and does not eat them, its innocent. it is the nature of the beast. the nature of the human beast is to live in a mud hut, or nest of twigs. not a sky scraper(you animal lib people, why are no not living in bushes?)

so befuddling.

7:45AM PST on Feb 14, 2011

It doesn't remain clear why cats, neutered or not, would enjoy living out in the cold, heat, rain, and snow,dealing with ticks,and other diseases they may leave for other cats, or humans, as in Toxoplasmosis. Kitties are wonderful, however, is our affection, and kindness, causing them more suffering than we care to admit?

9:59AM PST on Feb 3, 2011

Thanks for setting the record straight.

My daughter volunteers in DE at Forgotten Cats, a feral rescue-neuter-release organization. They do great work, with volunteers!

5:35PM PST on Feb 1, 2011

There is another way. Make spaying compulsory and enforced for pet dogs and cats. Require a special license for qualified breeders. This will protect both the cats and the birds. Support this if your beliefs have any integrity and guts.

12:50PM PST on Jan 5, 2011

i want to make clear when i say a paint ball gun you should not shoot the cat with it but just near enough so the cat hears and sees the paint spatter thats enough to keep the cat away at least in day time hours at night you won/t be feeding birds anyway cats are very wary and anyting like that they can see and hear will keep them away its better than say a bird lover trapping your cat and releaseing it far away or even a feral cat far away is not good as they can get killed because they are not aware of hidden dangers in a strange place also shelters have been know to kill stray animals too soon with out looking for the owner should a shelter get it

12:43PM PST on Jan 4, 2011

if these jerks shooting cats kill one that is someones pet they themselfs might get shot sooner or later cats are free spirets and hunting sharpens their surviel skills if they are targeting your birdfeeder as a last resort you can throuw a firecracker near them to scare them or maybe a low power paint ball gun but you should never hurt them i only say this because its an unnataral temptation that you are putting up which can get too many birds killed unfairly but thats as far as a home owner should go and only a feral cat not someones pet i try to be fair as possible and look at both sides

3:09PM PST on Dec 29, 2010

I'm on the fence here. I can't see myself killing a stray cat, but I would probably bring it to the shelter (where it would likely end up being killed anyway since ferals aren't "adoptable"). At the same time, I think TNR works, but only to a certain extent. While it keeps the cats from multiplying out of control, it still doesn't get rid of the cats. My husband and I just bought a house, and I'm a big bird watcher. I haven't seen any cats, but I see their tracks. They may be my in laws' cats from next door (they have indoor-outdoor cats) or it may be a stray. Either way, I don't want them by us. If I start finding piles of feathers, my first instinct will not be to get the cat fixed. My first instinct will be to get a live trap and take it to the shelter. Yes, I'm sure humans are much more responsible for the decline of bird populations than cats are, but at the same time, it's also peoples' fault that there are so many cats running around. Cats shouldn't be left to run around outside to be hit by a car, or to become deathly ill. My in laws have had many cats get hit by cars, and they still let them out! I don't get it. This is irresponsible, and if you're going to put your cat outside to fend for itself, you probably shouldn't have a cat. Be humane enough to get your pets fixed so that if they accidentally get out, they don't end up increasing the feral cat population. Otherwise, take them to a shelter.

12:40PM PST on Dec 27, 2010

Linda D. Your argument is merely anecdotal. I could use the same rationalization by saying: "What do you know about killing cats? Have you ever done it? I have and I know it works, the numbers have gone to near zero."

You can wish me all the bad Karma you want but it doesn't change the facts. A neutered cat still kills. A cat with bells still kills. A declawed cat still kills. The removal of each cat from the environment saves hundreds of lives over a year.

The bottom line is the lives of native wildlife is much more important than the life of a non-native, invasive species.

12:35AM PST on Dec 27, 2010

Where's the petition???

Sadly the statistics for survival rate of feral cat is not very long. Seems if every Tom, Dick and Mary pet owner would be responsible and spay AND NEUTER every pet, combined with TNR would solve the issue.

We have a program near me but I've heard the will only handle cats that have a human who has agreed to feed and water them. While this is a nice thought, it doesn't make sense - non-human-fed felines reproduce at the same rate as fed.

6:30PM PST on Dec 26, 2010

UN has such a good rep as far as animals and agriculture are concerned...i'm guessing that does not extend to feral cats...didn't we just have this issue in new jersey a few months ago??? has someone slipped stupidity into the water? perhaps, but i am very surprised and dismayed that UN didn't do their homework and that they have put this stupidity in writing... usually, they are a very good and reliable school....i used to live in the midwest and UN was a school to be proud of....they need to rethink this idiocy and perhaps have a chat with the individual who put it together.... fact checking is a part of the college experience and college employees are not exempt from getting their facts correct.

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