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The Impact of Lethal Cat Control on Human Wellbeing
Why community cat sterilization is also a human rights issue
In a recent article, I made the case that when self-proclaimed “conservationists” who are pursuing a “native species” agenda call for the killing of cats, they are not motivated by saving birds. Instead, they are motivated by a hatred of cats, as killing cats is sadistic, unscientific, hypocritical, and unworkable.
Sadistic, because the methods they employ are ruthless: blunt-force trauma, hunting with bows, hanging and disemboweling, cutting off their heads while alive, suffocating them, and poisoning that causes diarrhea, lethargy, and massive internal bleeding leading to a slow, painful death over several days.
Unscientific, because it seeks to keep nature in a state of stasis when the geographic and fossil records tell us that natural selection, artificial selection, migration, adaptation, and evolution are inherent to all life on Earth.
Hypocritical, because they force standards on cats they refuse to follow even though human animals are also “non-native,” belong to a species that is the most “invasive” the planet has ever experienced, and cause virtually all environmental destruction, including the decimation of wildlife populations.
Unworkable, because they can never achieve the ultimate goal of eradication. As such, it is a slaughter with no end and no potential benefit: the scientific evidence is clear that removing one species to help another does not work.
In that article, I also argued that nativists school children in their approach, with detrimental impact:
‘School children have been and are continued to be encouraged to hunt, trap, and drown [animals], and then to humiliate their corpses.’ Given that the link between animal violence and human violence is well-known and well-established, it is not surprising that killing animals in the name of ‘conservation’ imprints children for using violence to solve perceived problems.
But it is not just their indifference to the impact on people, even children, that fails to give nativists pause. A new study, The Impact of Lethal, Enforcement-Centred Cat Management on Human Wellbeing, determined that rounding up and killing cats results in profound human suffering.
Study authors found that caregivers are motivated by “considerable concern regarding the health and safety of the cats,” “feel responsible for improving their health and welfare,” and “commit substantial time and finances to their needs, despite existing legal and financial difficulties.” In other words, they love cats and often go to great lengths to protect them: “Caregivers often provide not only food and water, but also first aid and (self-funded) veterinary attention for cats within their care, including neutering.”
Study authors further found that the bond between caregivers and cats was “as strong as the bonds with their own pets” and that “the cats looked to them (the caregivers) to keep them safe and fed.” All the cats “had their names and personalities.” So it is not surprising that caregivers suffer when officials kill the cats.
That suffering was “significant,” leading to grief, trauma, poor physical health, and long-term psychological distress, including profound guilt, loss, and inability to eat.
Caretakers described physical illness: “I couldn’t eat for weeks… when the stress of the cull happened, I literally couldn’t eat.”
Others told of a profound loss: “we want[ed] at least to say goodbye to them… We want[ed] their bodies. We want[ed] to bury them.”
And still others talked of feeling immense guilt: “Just the feeling that we let them down because… We put them back… Maybe if we hadn’t have let them go back there, they wouldn’t be dead now. But they weren’t tame enough to rehome.”
As Carl Jung, the father of analytical psychology, argued, if you want to understand why someone is arguing or doing something, look at the consequences, and you can infer the motivation. If this is true, nativists seek to harm cats and those who love them.
Given this and other evidence1, study authors not surprisingly called for an end to lethal methods and recommended that “authorities identify and assist caregivers to implement neutering and, if possible, adoption. This would improve cat welfare, minimize public complaints, and reduce psychological hazards to caregivers.” In other words, community cat sterilization as an alternative to killing is both an animal rights and human rights issue, with wide-ranging benefits to both.
Such an approach would see healthy cats who are social with people adopted into homes, cats who are not social with people neutered and allowed to live out their lives outside of homes, and caregivers “afforded the physical and psychological benefits of maintaining a bond and mutually beneficial relationship with the cats.” It would also protect birds by reducing the number of cats, cat home ranges (and therefore, the chance of contact with birds and other wildlife), and hunting. It would spare cat suffering, caregiver suffering, and teach children how to solve challenges without resorting to the infliction of harm.
But nativists will not allow that. And they will not allow it because they trade in violence to animals and people, not environmentalism.
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A review of the scientific literature by the study authors determined:
1. Community cat sterilization is effective:
[A] trap–neuter–return (TNR) approach, whereby free-roaming cats are trapped, neutered, and then returned to the site from which they were captured, is increasingly being used to manage cats in cities and towns, as well as on farms. Typically, in TNR programs, kittens and, when possible, friendly adults, are rehomed. When applied with high intensity and purposefully targeted, these programs are documented to reduce cat-related complaints, cat admissions into municipal animal facilities (pounds) and animal welfare shelters and, therefore, decrease the killing of cats. For example, a reduction of 64% in the number of complaints, 32–66% in the number of admissions, and 60–95% in the number of cats killed have been reported over 2 to 3 years.
2. Killing “feral” cats also results in the killing of scared pet cats, causing further human harm:
[I]t is not possible to distinguish between feral and domestic cats or their adoptability based on behavior. Many cats are fearful and stressed in local government animal facilities (municipal pounds) and animal welfare shelters where trapped cats are taken, and appear aggressive or timid, resulting in high kill rates for healthy cats. Even owned pets can appear fearful and stressed when trapped, resulting in incorrect classification.
3. Feeding bans do not work:
Attempts to ban feeding of these cats have had little success, perhaps because… it is difficult to ban compassion, and is costly and difficult to enforce.
4. Lethal methods likewise harm pound workers tasked with killing the cats:
The impact on shelter workers of animal euthanasia (killing) is well documented, with participation in this process being associated with negative psychological effects, including depression, traumatic stress, suicide, and substance abuse.