Feral cats – Support needed for Cook County’s TNR program

This next week will be a big week for cat advocates in Cook County and beyond as two battles hit a boiling point in the feral cat versus bird debate. Locally, there’s the hearing in Chicago Tuesday on the county’s successful managed care of feral cats ordinance. On the national level, the spotlight is on a major official from the Audubon Society that has advocated poisoning cats with Tylenol in a very negative story filled with inaccuracies about TNR programs.

Cook County’s feral cat program

For nearly 5 ½ years, feral cat numbers in many areas of Chicago and Cook County have been on the decline. A big reason is the managed care of feral cat ordinance.

Many communities in the Chicago-area have successful Trap-Neuter Return programs for Feral Cats.

Many communities in the Chicago-area have successful Trap-Neuter Return programs for Feral Cats. (Spay & Stay)

Under the Cook County ordinance, non-profit organizations Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) feral cats in their community. Once the feral cats are returned, certified colony caretakers provide some food, shelter and monitoring of the community. As support grows for these programs, feral cat numbers have dropped off or stabilized in these areas.

The program is also good news for taxpayers. Stray cats that are trapped in the program don’t head off to taxpayer supported animal controls. They end up with non-profit shelters and rescues that spay or neuter them and find them homes. (See more here.) It's also great news in areas with rodent issues because rodents tend to disappear from areas with managed colonies.

The debate

Where’s the problem?

Bird advocates from Cook County’s Northern suburb have latched onto a recent report issued by the Smithsonian blaming cats - feral cats and free roaming pets -  for the death of billions of animals. The report used old data, some of which has been debunked.

The bird supporters are blaming cats – not the environment, other predators or man – for the decline in the number of songbirds in the area. They’d like the county to change the law so that individual communities could outlaw TNR programs or to prevent colonies around forest preserves.

Support needed Tuesday

Cats are returned to their colony and monitored by colony caretakers.

Cats are returned to their colony and monitored by colony caretakers.

I’m active on several cat groups and TNR groups on Facebook. If the buzz there is any indication, it will be standing room only for the debate on Tuesday. Tree House Humane Society, one of the sponsoring organizations of the ordinance, will be one of the presenting organizations. There also will be support from the Feral Feline Project in Wheeling, CatVando in suburban Cook County, and Triple R Pets. Colony caretakers will be out in force.

The meeting is set for 10 a.m. next Tuesday at the county building – 118 North Clark Street. Whether you’re able to go or not, your support is needed to write Cook County Commissioners to keep this successful program moving forward. Go here for information about what to write and who to send the emails too.

The Audubon debacle

As this debate has been brewing in Cook County, a high-ranking official with the Audubon Society has shown a nastier side. Ted Williams, the editor-at-large for Audubon Magazine advised readers in an Orlando Sentinel editorial rife with misinformation about the impact of TNR programs that Tylenol is a “completely selective feral cat poison.” (He's also in favor of killing off all feral cats - period.)

Here’s someone from a national animal advocacy group encouraging people to poison other animals. It’s irresponsible, illegal and very disturbing. While the Op-ed piece is still up – the most offensive parts of that original article have been removed (here’s the original - here’s the new story).

Alley Cat Allies, the only national organization advocating for feral cats, has now started its own campaign. They are asking for the Audubon Society to denounce Williams’ article. They are also asking supporters to email the National Audubon Society CEO David Yarnold and Chairman B. Holt Thrasher to remove Williams from his office immediately.

This is so sad. When I posted a story in another forum earlier in the week, so many people asked - "why can't we all get along." Animal advocacy organizations should be combining energies against other issues. However, it's very hard to picture how TNR advocates would ever be able to be on the same page after situations like this. The silence from the Audubon Society speaks volumes.

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    Raining Cats and Dogs

    I am a crazy cat lady and puppy mill warrior that blogs to advocate and educate about pet issues. In American animal controls, millions of pets are abandoned each year and an estimated 4 million die just because there are not enough homes. It truly seems like it’s Raining Cats and Dogs.

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