In America, everybody is entitled to their personal opinion on any given subject. But, I believe that if you are in a position where you have been entrusted by the public to save lives, you need to do your job, regardless of your personal opinion. That includes shelter staff, shelter directors and especially shelter board members. They are supposed to be "steering the ship."
I think it can be compared to a pharmacist who won't fill a birth control prescription because of religious beliefs. I respect that the pharmacist has a right to her beliefs, but they prevent her from doing her job. So she should be relieved of her job. Just as shelter staff and board members who uphold personal philosophies that support killing rather than life-saving, should be relieved of their jobs.
My blog this week has several links to news articles regarding the vastly different attitudes towards Trap, Neuter, Return in Wisconsin. Four counties, four stories. I'm not going to say much - I'm going to let you read and process this information....
All of the national organizations, except PETA, recognize Trap Neuter Return as an effective method to reduce the feral cat population. It saves lives, saves taxpayers' money, and it works.
Here is the link to the Best Friends Animal Society Community Cat Fiscal Estimator, which will help you determine how much money you can save in your community by starting a TNR program. So, even if you don't like cats, but you like money, you can see that Trap Neuter Return will save taxpayer dollars.
"The Town of Greenville and the Fox Valley Humane Association are working together on a trap-neuter-return program as a long-term solution to Greenville’s feral cat problem. Greenville constable Vicki Prey is a key player in a cat population management program. In just the first year of the TNR program, the shelter has seen a 63 percent decrease in the number of feral cats brought in during the first quarter of 2011 compared with the first quarter of 2010. "
My note regarding Outagamie County: A successful collaboration between the town of Greenville and the local humane society is working. The proof is in the numbers.
Wisconsin Humane Society's Jill Kline talks about their feral cat program:
"The Wisconsin Humane Society has participated in the program for 10 years. Since 2005 more than 2,000 feral cats have been trapped and neutered or spayed. We think it's a great community program," Kline said. "About one in eight feral cats brought in to the Humane Society are adoptable. Some are ill and must be euthanized, but most are healthy. Kline said the "trap-neuter-return" program helps curtail overpopulation of cats as well as cuts down on nuisance complaints since the cats no longer fight, spray or howl."
My note regarding Milwaukee County: Great work by Wisconsin Humane Society. Unfortunately for the cats of Milwaukee County, the animal control contract is held by the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC) where they do not have a TNR program. The past Executive Director was not a supporter of TNR and subsequently 68% of cats that entered MADACC in 2010 were killed (or 4763 cats). In 2009, 65% (or 4363 cats) were killed. So you can see that killing cats did not improve the situation. The good work of Wisconsin Humane Society will be negated by the poor decisions at MADACC, unless a progressive director is hired for the vacancy at MADACC.
Lakeland Animal Shelter is the county shelter in Elkhorn. It has neither a TNR program or a barn cat program. BUT.... Walworth County is the home of Community Cat, Inc., whose co-founders, Tammy Neumeister and Lela Schuster are avid feral and barn cat advocates. They believe that every cat has a right to live, and Tammy had this to say:
"There is an important factor that people against TNR seem to miss. The fact that these are healthy cats. The cats we TNR are generally as healthy as house cats, if not healthier. They are in good condition. They have colony caretakers OR they are making it on their own. They have a source for food, water, and shelter. If we found a skinny, injured, non-healthy cat, we would not TNR. It's obviously not doing well where it is. Those we take in, make well, and then try to find a new location with a caretaker, usually on a farm. Some of these are obvious strays. They don't know how to care for themselves out there. These we take in as house cats. Some are closer to "house ferals" but that's OK too. Most of them come around once they are healthy again and see that we help. Then they can be adopted out. The true ferals are fine. They are in great shape. They know what they are doing out there and it's all they know."
My notes: Tammy should know what she is talking about. Her small group of volunteers at Community Cat in Whitewater, Wisconsin has assisted in a TNR program and the spay/neuter of 3000 cats (and 400 dogs) since 2009. Although they work with all cats and dogs, their real passion is the free roaming "community cats".
A recent story in the Washington Post alerted me to the anti-TNR opinion of the president of the board of directors of the Sauk County Humane Society in Wisconsin. Her name is Dana Madalon and her comments in the story are on the second page of the link. The story even mentioned that Ms. Madalon withdrew her financial support from the Washington Humane Society (D.C.) because of their TNR program.
I contacted her and asked if she would like to clarify or defend her position and the following is her response. I agreed to post it in its entirety.
"I realize it’s often difficult to have meaningful dialog about TNR as it is so filled with emotion but we all come from the same place which is love for cats. I personally share my home with 4 cats, all of whom were rescued from the street.
My opinions have been formed from over 20 years of observation and personal involvement, not from some lofty perch on the outside. I have an extensive background in animal shelter and rescue work. I am an animal welfare activist, not an animal rights activist as the reporter wrote in his story. I have been involved in virtually every program available in shelters from cleaning cages to serving on Boards and deployed with the HSUS to New Orleans to help with animal rescue after Katrina. I do respect the opinions and viewpoints of TNR advocates but based on my experience and what I have personally witnessed, disagree that it’s the right approach for most situations. I do recognize there are success stories but those are regrettably in the minority.
I will share with you some of what I have seen through shelter work both in the Washington, DC area and in the Midwest.
Cats are domestic animals. This means they do not have natural defenses or immune systems and thus depend entirely on humans for their medical care. In TNR colonies we see devastating illnesses and diseases that are left untreated because people can’t get close enough to the cats to identify whether a cat is ill much less provide multi-day medical treatment. These cats get severe ear mites, flea allergies, skin conditions, abscessed teeth, upper respiratory infections, conjunctivitis, ringworm, injuries, and frostbite, all of which are untreatable since it’s virtually impossible to identify then trap and treat a specific cat throughout its lifetime. Further, the sick and dying cats and kittens stay hidden while the healthier cats take advantage of any food placed out. I have seen skinny, bedraggled, forlorn looking cats from TNR colonies shivering in the extreme cold with their eyes almost closed filled with gunk. And these are the ones that are healthy enough to emerge. Imagine the ones we find that are near death under a bush or in a car engine. In researching TNR, I have never encountered meaningful discussion on how to address these issues once the cat is released.
In most cases, TNR colonies are not lucky enough to reside in neighborhoods with dedicated, conscientious, and long-term caretakers. In urban and rural settings in particular (as opposed to suburban), we see a lot of horrific abuse. Since these cats are used to hanging around their colony they become vulnerable to incredibly indescribable acts of cruelty. Just seeing one instance is often enough to turn a person into an “indoor only” fanatic. It’s really bad. There are some cases that will haunt me forever.
The mere existence of feral cat colonies, in many cases, actually contributes to more cats. TNR colonies perpetuate the notion that this is a “good” life for the cats, thereby promoting dumping. For example, university and college settings are among the worst problem areas for feral cat colonies. In these settings we see cat colonies actually on the increase. Cats are frequently abandoned by irresponsible students who see a feral cat colony as a reasonable solution to an unwanted cat at the end of school. They wouldn’t think this if the colony didn’t exist in the first place. We also seeing dumping of unwanted pets (which is actually considered abandonment and a crime in many jurisdictions) near cat colonies by irresponsible or ignorant owners, thereby perpetuating the cycle rather than helping to decrease the populations. Again, these misguided (giving them the benefit of the doubt) individuals see or hear about a colony and think it’s a “good” place for their pet because “at least it won’t be euthanized.”
In rural areas, where shelters are scarce and often TNR if done, is not done with the necessary amount of care and dedication required, populations explode and cats live miserable lives. Kittens are everywhere, most of them sick and dying. A friend of mine just recently rescued one from a TNR colony that was near death. She was lucky enough to be able to trap this particular cat and whisked it to a vet. It was less than a year old, missing most of its fur, its eyes were filled with gunk, and she was bleeding. And this was from a TNR colony.
In New Orleans, during the rescue efforts, we encountered colony after colony of feral cats, many of which had notched ears, clearly indicating they were TNR colonies. Wary of humans to begin with, post-disaster they were virtually impossible to rescue. Whatever caretaker there might have been had been forced to evacuate leaving these animals to fend for themselves in a truly inhospitable environment with little to no food or shelter available. I realize disasters are the exception rather than the norm, however, we can plan for our own pets in the event of emergencies but planning for a feral cat colony is a lot more problematic, if not impossible.
One of the arguments espoused by the TNR community is that removing the colony would create a vacuum only to be filled by yet more feral cats. I find this premise to be a “seeing the trees not the forest” mistake. In attempting to preserve the colony, one ignores the plight of those “other feral cats” that are suffering, starving, subjected to cruelty, etc. The sad reality is that until we get the problem of the pet overpopulation under control, we are going to have to make tough choices. Even if all the TNR efforts were successful, there are still millions of feral cats and dumped cats that were once pets that are suffering greatly.
I honestly believe we have a moral obligation to make sure these animals do not suffer (or languish interminably in cages) and are free from peril. That is my priority. We have to make decisions on where to place our limited resources to best help those who can’t speak for themselves. For me, that is in anti-cruelty education, spay/neutering programs, providing larger and better shelters (where cats aren’t warehoused), and whatever programs are targeted toward minimizing animals suffering. I personally could never trap a cat and put it back on the street because I believe if you truly love an animal, you’ll do what’s best for it, not what makes you feel good. I believe TNR falls into the latter category. So, unless these cats can be socialized and until we get the problem of pet overpopulation under control, I believe euthanasia, sadly, is the most humane and loving alternative." - Dana Madalon, President, Sauk County Humane Society
My Notes on Sauk County - Notice, that there is no live-saving solution offered . There is no acknowledgement that EVERY major national animal welfare organization (except PETA) endorses TNR. So, I guess Dana Madalon is the expert and they're not? There is no acknowledgment that TNR saves taxpayers' and donors' money because it effectively reduces the feral cat population. She does not offer any viable solution to help reduce the feral cat population except killing. And we know from experience and statistics that the killing won't solve the problem, but increase it. Sauk County Humane Society - can you really do your job to save lives with this kind of regressive thinking at the helm?
Four cats, four counties. If you were a feral cat in Wisconsin, where would you want to live?