Wrong plan for Yuma cat problem
As the president and founder of Alley Cat Allies, the only national organization dedicated to humane treatment for feral and stray cats, I am stunned every time I hear animal shelter officials insist that they "have no choice" but to kill feral cats - or worse, when they regard this killing as an act of kindness.
To make it more palatable for themselves, their workers and the public, they call this killing "euthanasia." But make no mistake, "euthanasia" and killing are not the same. Euthanasia is the practice of ending a life because of a terminal illness or an incurable condition. It is an act of last resort.
Yet the vast majority of feral cats being killed by the Humane Society of Yuma - and others like it across the country - are healthy, not sick.
These are cats who have never known any other kind of life than the one they have outdoors. They can't be adopted into homes - indeed, they don't want to live indoors. They live among their own, in family groups called "colonies," and are quite adept not just at surviving, but at thriving. Credible scientific studies show they are just as healthy as pet cats.
These cats are not a new phenomenon. Outdoor cats have lived outdoors among people for 10,000 years, and it's a bit naive to think that will ever change.
Enlightened communities have discovered simple and humane ways to ensure that cats and people co-exist. At the top of that list is ending the cycle of breeding. With no more kittens, the population is immediately stabilized, and the cats become better neighbors. Behaviors associated with mating - like yowling, roaming and fighting - stop.
In fact, this kind of program is the only effective means of helping any population of cats, regardless of the environment. Known as Trap-Neuter-Return, it is also the only way to stop a documented phenomenon called the vacuum effect, in which intact cats who evade capture in "catch and kill" schemes breed prolifically, starting the cycle all over again.
Catch and kill is very costly, as the Humane Society of Yuma has found, and not only in terms of dollars. It is the very reason the shelter's leaders say workers are suffering from "compassion fatigue" - another euphemism that hides the true cost of a system built on killing.
When a system is so broken, a fix seems almost impossible to imagine. But it is very possible. Communities across the United States have long realized that Trap-Neuter-Return and accessible, affordable neuter services for all cats - whether pet or feral - is the most effective and humane course of action.
This humane program also largely reflects what the public really wants. Alley Cat Allies recently commissioned a survey by the respected research organization Harris Interactive, and asked American adults, "If you saw a stray cat in your community and could only choose between two courses of action - leaving the cat where it is outside or having the cat caught and then put down - which would you consider to be the more humane option for the cat?"
The vast majority - 81 percent - said they would prefer to let the cat live out her life outside.
We urge leaders at the Humane Society of Yuma to explore a new direction, one that respects and affirms life, and more closely mirrors our society's values and humane ethic. We know from experience they will be more than satisfied with the outcome.