Archive for March, 2010

Community Cats

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

L to R: M. Moyer, Cynda Crawford, Julie Levy at UF CatNip, Jan 2010

I’ve been involved with feral cat issues in Pennsylvania since 2003, when (as I began ascending the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association’s chairs of office) I initiated “Feral Cat Summits”. All stakeholders to that issue were invited by the PVMA to discuss, debate, and argue the merits and deficiencies of Trap Neuter Return work. For those of you unfamiliar with feral cats, now more properly dubbed “Community Cats”, there are believed to be as many free-roaming cats as there may be pet cats in the United States. That’s a lot of cats. While that sounds unlikely, bear in mind that “domestic” cats have enjoyed a rather free-roaming relationship with humans for thousands of years, and this phenomenon of strictly indoor cats is an entirely man-made construct. These cats can be owned cats, stray cats, abandoned cats, or cats that were born outside, are poorly socialized with people (“feral”), and will spend their entire lives outside.

Enter—TNR. Trap Neuter Return. Very highly motivated, dedicated volunteers Trap, temporarily house the cats until they are surgically Neuter-ed, and then Return-ed them to their original site. They are not creating outdoor cats; they are merely interrupting their reproductive cycle-permanently. They are not “dumping” cats-these cats were there to begin with, and without intervention, would be producing kittens each year. These kittens face very high mortality and a rough first year; those that survive will begin reproducing as early as August or September of the year they were born (typically February/March/April). Despite claims to the contrary, many of these outdoor cats, once past the high risk of kitten hood, can live long, stable, comfortable lives, with overall health, parasitism, and infectious disease issues comparable to indoor/outdoor pet cats.

I describe myself as a reluctant proponent of TNR. Reluctant, because it is unsatisfying to release a cat to its own devices post-operatively. Yes, it is now vaccinated, yes, she won’t reproduce, but still, it isn’t the life I’d want for my cats. The alternatives, unfortunately, are very limited. When I discuss this with my Penn Vet students, I mention the alternatives as 1) Ignore Community Cats or 2) Trap and Euthanize, which is what happens in shelters that accept Community Cats/Feral Cats but do not have a TNR program to release them. Presently, there are no effective non-surgical methods of controlling cat reproduction. So, after years of leading discussions, listening to the back and forth, seeing the TNR clinics in action, and talking with some of the best minds on this subject (Julie Levy of University of Florida, for example), I have moved over to the proponent side of the fence.

This is an incredibly complicated problem, and even the success stories of TNR (Ocean Reef Club, Merrimack River) were successes with a lot of sustained effort. I can tell you that the extermination/euthanasia approach is extraordinarily expensive, does not attract a large volunteer base to sustain it, does not attract private humane philanthropy to support it, and does not invoke warm and fuzzy public relations with members of your community (upwards of 25 to 35% of community members report themselves as feeding outside cats on some sort of basis).

I’ve provided a sampling of links; I particularly love this vague, un-helpful sentiment (in the third link):

We recommend that advocates of cat colonies seek a long-term solution to the pet overpopulation issue by redirecting their efforts toward the underlying problem of managing irresponsible pet owners.

Of the three options extant, 1) TNR, 2) Ignore, 3) Trap and Euthanize, I’ll let you decide which option they’re rooting for. For my part, I’m siding with the option that gives these cats a chance-TNR.

Operation Catnip

Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society

Natural Areas Journal – Trap/Neuter/Release Methods Ineffective in Controlling Domestic Cat “Colonies” on Public Lands

Daily Record Article – Animal groups: Could ruling lead to hunters shooting cats?

Technology updates

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

While I like to write, I am not a blogger by design. This space-the blogosphere—is slightly un-natural for me, but I believe in the incredible power of information, of connection, and hope to provide the occasional odd bit of knowledge in these posts.

So, what great big thought have I got to share today? I had a good day in surgery with the Penn Vet students yesterday (3 dog castrations, one dog spay, two cat spays). The students are in class of 2010—just four months away from graduation, and exactly twenty years after I finished at Penn Vet.

I’m writing this from home, where it used to be impossible to conduct any sort of office work or medical text research (my veterinary library was at my practice); now, I can access journals, texts, veterinary school resources, and veterinary specific networking sites that allow exchange of current clinical information. When I graduated, if I could not find the answer to a problem, I would call a former professor in Medicine or Surgery and ask. Now, from my phone, I can find answers I would have waited days to receive. I am able to connect with specialists and colleagues not just from a practice or two away, but from a coast or a continent away. No longer is absence of information an acceptable state of affairs. We can get to information (the trick remains how to make decisions with imperfect information in a way that is rational, timely, and helpful).

We’re making some leaps in technology at Bridgewater Veterinary Hospital, a new website with exciting new functionality. We’ll be introducing email reminders, web-based medication refills, and other communications enhancements. We look forward to improved accessibility, and improved service to our clients.