TNR Reality Check
Does this mean people want TNR? Heck No. But, that is what they want you to think.
In 2007, Alley Cat Allies (ACA) utilized the services of Harris Interactive to conduct a public opinion poll about the humane treatment of stray cats. There is a document on the website of ACA, titled US Public Opinion on Humane Treatment of Stray Cats, co-authored by a Board Member of ACA and the person who served as the Legal Director for ACA for several years. In the document, comments and interpretations are made about the survey and public opinion, and the results of two questions from the survey are shared. What is written begs many questions. We caution readers to examine carefully the questions, results and implications of this survey, which continues to be referenced by various organizations as a specious attempt to imply that people support TNR.
From the document:
"An overwhelming majority of Americans believes that leaving a stray cat outside to live out his life is more humane than having him caught now and put down, according to a nationally representative survey conducted for Alley Cat Allies by Harris Interactive in April and May 2007."
The actual question asked of those who participated in the survey was this:
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?
81% chose Leave the cat where it is
So what does this tell us?
"Leaving the cat where it is outside" obviously has no relevance to the method of Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) that ACA promotes. "Leaving the cat where it is" indicates no intervention whatsoever - no trapping, no altering, no releasing, and certainly no feeding. Quite possibly, that may be the attitude of most Americans should a stray cat appear in the community.
Just how many folks would make a call to Animal Control? Just how many folks would bother to trap the cat and take the cat to a shelter? Just how many folks would trap the cat, alter the cat, release the cat and feed him indefinitely, otherwise known as TNR? Just how many would begin feeding the cat and do nothing else? Just how many would be apathetic and do nothing at all?
Presumably, that first survey question tells us that most Americans choose to do nothing. Live and let live, so-to-speak. At the very least, that first survey question and the results beg other questions that were either not asked in the poll or the results of which were not shared in the document on the ACA website.
A second follow-up question and results were shared in this document:
If you knew that the stray cat you saw would die in two years because it would be hit by a car, which would you consider to be the most humane option today?
72% chose Leave the cat where it is and let it live two years before dying
While death by vehicle is a common and tragic end for free-roaming cats, we wonder if different results would have been produced had the question focused on other traumatic deaths for free-roaming cats (i.e., mauled by a dog or a coyote, set on fire or poisoned by a cat hater, froze to death, succumbed to a slow and painful death from a fatal feline disease such as feline leukemia virus)?
Furthermore, we wonder if this second survey question would have yielded different results had the question been asked during the harsh temperatures and weather conditions of winter rather than during the height of kitten season and when many felines can be seen lounging in the sun in backyards around the country.
Keep in mind that any free-roaming cat, including a pet that is permitted to roam, is subject to many outdoor hazards. Indoor cats live longer, healthier lives.
If we would not promote one-time veterinary care and outdoor living for our own companion animals, how do we justify this type of life for feral cats that are the same species of domestic cat?
Other questions that were either not asked or the results of which were not shared in the document could include or be similar to the following:
Would people still choose to "leave the cat where it is" if they knew that this particular feline would kill one migratory bird each day?
Would people still choose to "leave the cat where it is" if they knew that this particular feline carried and shed the parasite toxoplasma gondii and regularly defecated in or near the gardens, sandboxes and/or yards of these people?
Would people still choose to "leave the cat where it is" if they were aware of potential health risks to humans by this free-roaming cat?
Would people still choose to "leave the cat where it is" if they were aware of the potential impact to native wildlife, including threatened and endangered species, by this free-roaming cat?
An outdoor cat is not a new phenomenon, but their numbers are. Today, people own an estimated 84 million pet cats, a proportion of which have outdoor access, and there are 30 to 80 million un-owned cats roaming throughout the US (http://abcbirds.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Loss-et-al.-2013-Impact-of-free-ranging-domestic-cats-on-wildlife-in-U.S..pdf). We may think of a cat as one that has been domesticated and around humans for thousands of years, but only in the last several decades has the population exploded to epidemic proportions and why there is a need to prevent the suffering of these homeless animals, as well as the impact they may have on public health and the environment.
So, what was the purpose of this survey?
The survey does not tell us that folks want managed cat colonies taking place in their communities. TNR consists of feeding numbers of cats (from two cats to well into the hundreds) indefinitely. Some of the cats in the colonies may not have been altered or vaccinated against rabies. The food source quite often draws rabies vector species such as raccoons and skunks that dine alongside the cats. Are these things that people want? Are these the kinds of programs that people want tax dollars supporting?
In 2007, the CDC reported that canine rabies has been eliminated in the US and was achieved through implementation of dog vaccination and licensing, and stray dog control. Maybe the time has come for a similar approach for domestic cats.
We may ascertain that people do not want so many animals euthanized at shelters every year. However, changing that does not mean we should implement TNR. Any method to reduce euthanasia at shelters or reduce the number of free-roaming and feral cats should not come at the expense of native wildlife, the environment or public health and should not result in inhumane outcomes for domestic cats. Apparently, the results of this survey tell us that Americans feel that doing nothing is the more humane option.