What’s going on with feral cats?

Chloe Kim

It is estimated that about 68 percent of U.S. households live with animal (non-human) companions, and there are approximately 94 million pet cats in the U.S. On the other hand, the number of feral cats in the U.S. is estimated as many as 160 million. Although this number is only an estimate, it still suggests that there are almost the same or a greater number of cats living without owners than pet cats who are (hopefully) well-fed and waters by their human companions. 

Feral cats are often used to mean stray cats and vice versa. Under some circumstances, they can mean the same thing. However, they are not entirely the same. Generally, a stray cat is a cat who was once domesticated, then was lost or abandoned and strayed from their home. A feral cat is a cat who was never domesticated or whose interaction/socialization with a human was lost. When a cat is born in a wild state, it is more likely that a cat would become (or remain) a feral cat. Sometimes, when a stray cat is left in the wild too long that his/her interaction with a human dwindles, he/she can become a feral cat. Either way, they both live in our communities, being exposed to a harsh and dangerous environment.

When one finds an unknown cat who seems to belong to no one, there are many things one can do: trying to find the owner first, making sure the cat does not look sick or in dangerous state, taking the cat in for scanning for a microchip and TNR (trap-neuter-return), or calling a local animal rescue center. One simple, easy, and very effective way to help the cat would be feeding and providing fresh water for the cat, and the legal consequences of giving hands for the cat may differ by states. There are only thirteen states that have laws addressing feral cats. In New York State, feral cats are considered as companions rather than as wildlife, and you can freely feed feral cats without violating any law. In Virginia and Delaware, you may feed feral cats, but then specific responsibilities may come along with the action; you may be considered the owner or caregiver after feeding feral cats consecutively, which means that you may have to be responsible for complying specific regulations for providing adequate care for them. Some states, like Connecticut, where each town adopts its ordinance as to keeping and registering feral cats, may impose certain requirements on feral cat keepers such as vaccinating and sterilizing them. New Jersey maintains managed cat colonies where feral cats are cared for by groups of volunteers, and the managed cat colonies should have their cats checked by a vet for public safety purposes. Depending on where you feed and provide shelter for feral cats, you may freely enjoy doing so or be liable for providing necessary services for them, and in extreme cases, may become liable for damages done by feral cats you feed.

Feral cats under anti-cruelty laws also vary by state. In all 50 states and the District of Columbia, one can be charged with a criminal offense, from as light as a misdemeanor to as heavy as a felony, for intentional killing and injuring of a cat. Sometimes a definition of a cat includes a feral cat as well. However, it does not mean that those laws were written with a specific intent to protect feral cats because the laws are generally more focused on pets under personal ownership. In some states, instead, feral cats are expressly excluded from their well-deserved protection. For example, Wyoming treats stray cats as a predatory animal, and therefore, there is no protection for them under anti-cruelty law. In South Dakota, one can be criminally charged under anti-cruelty law by poisoning or killing a cat who actually has an owner; feral cats or stray cats where their owners are unknown – or doesn’t exist –, South Dakota’s anti-cruelty law can’t do much for them.

A number of feral cats are growing every year, and their overpopulation poses various issues in many communities. If they are not well fed and sheltered, they may roam for food in trash and areas where food wastes are, which may develop into public sanitary and safety issues. Recently, researchers raised concern for endangered birds in Hawaii as feral cats become the birds’ predators.

Although their nature now made them difficult to socialize with humans, most of the feral cats (if not themselves at least their parents or grandparents) were once someone’s companions, who deserved nutritious food, fresh water, and a safe home. Once they were lost and abandoned, we started treating them as strangers and, in some cases, as dangers. Without specific guidelines and regulations, most people can only rely on their own resources and private organizations at best to feed and take care of feral cats; it may be challenging to protect feral cats in every aspect of law. However, state and local governments may start addressing the issue of feral cats so that we could better take care of them with what we have. Most feral cats only live less than two years on his/her own, and it is way too shorter than ten to twenty years if they are with their human companions providing them love and care they need. We should at least be able to provide them a healthy life, no matter how short it is, while they are with us.

Chemically Castrate the Swamp

  Alexis Tomaino

Atrazine wreaks havoc on the sex lives of adult male frogs, emasculating three-quarters of them and turning one in 10 into female. The 75 percent that are chemically castrated are essentially “dead” because of their inability to reproduce in the wild. The 10 percent (or more) that turn from males into females – something not known to occur under natural conditions in amphibians – can successfully mate with male frogs but, because these females are genetically male, all their offspring are male. The impacts of atrazine are most pronounced in frogs because they have highly permeable skin that can easily absorb the chemical. Exposure to atrazine at levels as low as 0.1 parts per billion has been shown to affect the development of sex characteristics in frogs. 

            Based on the evidence that atrazine is an endocrine disruptor to amphibians, the EPA should ban the use of Atrazine.  First, frogs are vital to a healthy ecosystem and their disappearance can disturb an intricate food web with cascading effects felt throughout an entire ecosystem. As tadpoles, they eat algae, helping regulate blooms and reducing the chances of algal contamination. As adults, their consumption of insects helps control populations, including adult mosquitoes and their larvae that can transmit diseases including Dengue fever, Malaria, West Nile fever and Zika.  Frogs are also an important source of food for a variety of animals, including birds, fish, and snakes.  But more fundamentally, frogs have existed for nearly 300 million years and have a right to exist unmolested.  As frogs are currently threatened by disease, pollution, habitat loss, invasive species and climate change, their populations have declined dramatically since the 1950s, and it is believed more than 120 species have already become extinct since 1980s.  Failure of the EPA to take action to protect frogs from the harmful effects of atrazine is tantamount to ignoring its mission to “reduce environmental risks … based on the best available scientific information.”

            Instead the Trump EPA has loosened restrictions on atrazine following the tenure as EPA adviser of Jeff Sands, a former pesticide-industry lobbyist for Syngenta.  Sands’s presence at the EPA drew criticism when the EPA scaled back a $4.8 million fine levied against Syngenta during the Obama years for violating pesticide regulations that resulted in the sickening of farm workers in Hawaii. The Trump EPA settled this case for a tiny fraction of $150,000, though the EPA also ordered Syngenta to spend a minimum of $400,000 to conduct worker training on how to use pesticides. Although Sands has asserted he did not influence these EPA decisions, Sands’s connection to Syngenta muddies the water and is in line with other actions from Trump’s EPA, which has focused on reducing regulatory burdens on industry and easing enforcement actions while bringing industry insiders into the administration to the detriment of the flora and fauna it is charged to protect.  

            Sands’s employment was permitted because of an ethics waiver in which the White House allowed Sands to work on issues he dealt with in the private sector because of “his deep understanding of agricultural issues forged through his previous service with Congress, a trade association and a company.” The waiver allowed him to work on issues that could affect his former industry, the agricultural sector, at large. While the waiver request did not expressly ask that he be exempted from rules prohibiting him from being involved with any agency action that would specifically affect a former employer, there is no evidence of compliance with these rules.  And although Sands’s departure from EPA in 2018 (and has subsequent employment as an adviser for Rep. Ted Yoho (Fla.), a conservative Republican lawmaker who sits on the House Agriculture Committee)  predates the November 2019 atrazine policy change announcement, the swampy smell lingers around the EPA’s decision to sacrifice frogs and promote Syngenta’s business.

Denver Stops Bullying the Bully Breeds

Emma Campbell

Pit bulls were banned from Denver in 1989. There have been many legal challenges to the law and in 2004, the Colorado state legislature outlawed breed-specific bans. However, this only lasted about a year because the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that dog breeds were a local issue, and therefore the city had a right to ban pit bulls under their home rule authority.

Fast forward to 2020, Denver City Council passed a bill lifting the ban, replacing it with a registration system. Despite this glimmer of hope for the bully breeds the mayor vetoed the bill citing his uncertainty. The City Council had the opportunity to override that veto on February 24th. However, they were unable to get the votes.

When it comes to breed specific laws there is strong support and opposition from the public. There are outspoken members of the community on both sides, which can be seen in Denver as this law has been a topic of discussion. Two important questions to consider is why do these bans garner so much controversy and do they work?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States, 800,000 of them receiving medical attention, half of them being children. So, dog bites can pose a serious health risk. Denver initially implemented the ban because of two very severe attacks, one resulting in the death of a young boy.

However, the issue is very complex and any dog can bite, regardless of its breed. There are many factors that determine a particular dog’s chance of injuring a person, including their individual history, behavior, size, number of dogs involved, and the vulnerability of the person bitten. Breed-specific bans try to simplify a complex social problem and in doing so these laws divert resources away from actually fixing the problem.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has highlighted several reasons why breed-specific bans and restrictions are not a responsible approach to dog bite prevention:

  • Breed-specific laws can be difficult to enforce because a dog’s breed cannot always be determined by how it appears. “Pit bulls” are the most frequent targets of breed-specific legislation and they are not even a breed.
  • Breed-specific legislation is discriminatory against responsible owners and their dogs.
  • Breed bans do not address the social issue of irresponsible pet ownership.
  • It is not possible to calculate a bite rate for a breed or to compare rates between breeds because the data reported is often unreliable. This is because:
    • The breed of a biting dog is often not known or is reported inaccurately.
    • The actual number of bites that occur in a community is not known, especially if they don’t result in serious injury.
    • The number of dogs of a particular breed or combination of breeds in a community is not known because it is rare for all dogs in a community to be licensed. For example, Denver City Council noted that approximately only 20% of dog owners have their dog registered with the town.
    • Statistics often do not consider multiple incidents caused by a single animal.
    • Breed popularity changes over time, making comparison of breed-specific bite rates unreliable.

The AVMA also highlights strategies for dog bite prevention:

  • Enforcement of generic, non-breed-specific dangerous dog laws, with an emphasis on chronically irresponsible owners.
  • Enforcement of animal control ordinances such as leash laws, by trained animal care and control officers.
  • Prohibition of dog fighting.
  • Encouraging neutering for dogs not intended for breeding.
  • School-based and adult education programs that teach pet selection strategies, pet care and responsibility, and bite prevention.

The AVMA is not alone. There is a long list of groups from varying points of view that voice concern over the implementation of breed specific bans, like the CDC, Humane Society, American Bar Association, State Farm Insurance, and the United States Department of Justice, just to name a few.

Denver is not alone, there are are various municipalities throughout the United States that have breed specific bans. Also, all military bases exclude pit bulls, rottweilers, doberman pinschers, chow chows, and wolf hybrids. There is no evidence that shows that these bans are successful. It is often argued by ban advocates that there is no evidence that it is not successful, and it is better to be safe than sorry. That may sound good, but the issue is that good dogs and responsible dog owners are punished because of an unwarranted fear. The evidence does show that the way people treat their animals has a direct correlation with how their animal behaves. Instead of worrying about the dog in your neighbor’s yard, you should worry about your neighbor.

Animal Mistreatment Causes Environmental Damage

Gabriela Tavarez

Pollution impacts animals just as much as it affects humans.  Human activity (factory farming, waste disposal, etc.) impacts wildlife’s habitat.  In addition, erratic and long-lasting wildfires in California have caused over a billion animals to die.  According to the National Audubon Society, even though pollution affects humans, it severely impacts birds since birds spend more time in the open air as opposed to humans.  Birds become vulnerable to catching diseases when they inhale the air.  Nonetheless, pollution affects aquatic animals when waste is disposed into waterways.  Specifically, water pollution infects the water, along with aquatic animals, which can ultimately be toxic for human consumption.

Furthermore, human activity such as factory farming lead to devastating environmental effects.  Factory farming focuses on increasing productivity and economic efficiency.  As a result, farmers are exempted from animal welfare regulation.  Such devastating effects include the deterioration of topsoil and water quality and quantity.  Meanwhile, factory animals such as pigs and cattle are confined to small spaces where they are prevented from roaming free.  Also, factory animals are forced to undergo unnatural diets.  For example, cattle are fed corn due to its low cost, in order for them to grow faster.  However, their stomachs were not designed to digest corn, so they are given antibiotics to prevent illnesses when they eat corn.  Also, factory farming releases carbon dioxide (greenhouse gases) into the atmosphere.  Particularly, livestock releases methane, which increases temperature. 

Additionally, the quality and quantity of water is dwindling as factory farming increases production.  Factory farming removes trees to create more space to raise livestock and removes other natural wildlife from their habitat.  Factory farms also demolish topsoil.  Humans rely on soil to provide nutrients for food, but factory farms dilute the soil since farmers clear the fields in order to grow crops.  Specifically, they clear fields to grow corn and soy to feed their cattle.  Many animal activists call for stricter regulations on factory farming to decrease production.  This can reduce pollution and its harmful effects on animals.  However, that is not without opposition.  Factory farmers call for minimal regulation since prohibition would lessen economic efficiency and increase the cost in meat production since grass-fed cattle is costly.  Nonetheless, people would be willing to eat grass-fed meat since it is a healthier option.  When an animal is in distress, it causes the meat to darken and becomes unsuitable for consumption.     

Factory animals are confined within lagoons where their waste can trickle into open water and affect aquatic animals.  Aquatic animals are not able to sustain these environmental changes.  The unfavorable tides and changes in water temperature expose them to new predators.  Humans also become vulnerable to diseases from drinking or swimming in the toxic water.  However, humans can choose not to swim or drink the water.  Humans can also change their habits to reduce environmental damage.  Nevertheless, aquatic animals do not have such privilege because they are forced to stay in the water.  The toxic chemicals also lead to an increase in nitrogen and phosphorus, which increases the growth of toxic algae.  Animals die from consuming toxic algae.  Factory farming demonstrates an endless cycle where one effect on a certain species can trickle down to other species.  Furthermore, high levels of mercury found in water causes behavioral and reproductive changes in aquatic animals.  It is important that humans take imperative steps to reduce the damage to wildlife.  For example, humans can stop littering on beaches, seas, lakes, rivers, etc.  When garbage is thrown into the water, it can entrap marine animals.  Most water-dwelling animals such as sea otters, become trapped in the debris and can drown from being trapped.  Water pollution even affects the soil, which humans need to grow crops for food. 

Pollution is caused by overpopulation.  Due to overpopulation, humans continue to consume resources that it forces the animal population to diminish at a rapid rate.  The human population is substantial that it exceeds the resources available to sustain it.  The environment cannot replenish itself before it is conquered by human consumption.  As the population increases, it leads to more factory farming, which increases food production and deforestation.  It also leads to waste thrown into waterways and causes an imbalance within the ecosystem.  When it comes to maximizing production and minimizing costs, the government seems to disregard the suffering of non-human species.  It is important that there are stricter government regulations that would reduce pollution.  That is why it is important that states have the freedom to regulate or prohibit certain conduct pertaining to animal welfare that the federal government disregards.       

How Backyard Breeders are Negating Pet Shop Bans

Elizabeth Burns

Just over a month ago, two pug babies were surrendered to The Pug Queen and Tiny Paws Pug Rescue. Sisters Bella and Sadie were only 3.5 months old, but both had tested positive for canine distemper. The virus begins by attacking the respiratory system before replicating and attacking the rest of the dog’s lymphatic system, gastrointestinal tract, and central nervous system. Canine distemper is usually fatal if contracted, and even if a dog survives the disease, it often has lasting nervous system damage. Sadly, despite all these rescues did to treat and care for these babies, both succumbed to the disease. Distemper, while incredibly deadly, is highly preventable with the distemper vaccination.

Photo courtesy of The Pug Queen (instagram: @thepugqueen)

The Pug Queen and other rescues in Southern California are all too familiar with situations like this. Most of the dogs that these rescues take in come from backyard breeders. Backyard breeders are generally different from puppy mills. Puppy mills are considered large-scale commercial facilities that breed as many puppies as possible to sell to vendors (i.e. pet stores). The dogs are often kept in deplorable conditions with little care. Backyard breeders share some similarities with puppy mills. These breeders are considered to be unethical, and they are often in the business solely for the money. They are usually inexperienced in dog breeding, and they take little consideration of their dogs’ needs, often providing minimal food, water, shelter, and veterinary care. Most backyard breeders also don’t take selective breeding or genetic issues into account. The result is sickly puppies often sold before they are supposed to be separated from the mother. However, backyard breeders are often attractive because they advertise “purebred” dogs.

Despite the purported benefits of owning a mutt, a lot of people are still drawn to purebred dogs. When getting a purebred people know what they are getting, i.e. there are breed standards for each recognized purebred that help inform a potential owner of health issues, temperament, or care requirements. Respectable, reliable breeders also know the history and health of the bloodline of their dogs and can inform potential owners of any issues to watch out for. Breeders also often guarantee the “quality” of their dogs and will even take “returns” of dogs that fail to meet health or other standards. There is also a sense of prestige and status that comes with owning a purebred dog. When buying a puppy from a breeder, the owner is given purebred paperwork that can be filed with the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Many people also choose to buy purebred puppies from pet stores. Before the plight of puppy mills became widely known, people often chose to buy puppies from pet shops. With campaigns against puppy mills, pet stores have tried to rebuild their reputations by showcasing the “breeders” they obtain their puppies from. Putting a face and name to the breeder often helps consumers feel better about buying from a pet store. Puppies still come with paperwork, and it is easy to find the breed you are looking for. There is also a misconception that pet store puppies are well-taken care of as opposed to buying from other sources. However, California, Maryland, and possibly New York have decided to ban the sale of puppies, kittens, and rabbits in pet stores, but pet stores can offer services and allow shelters to showcase adoptable animals. While this sounds like a great way to stop supporting puppy mills and encourage adopting a shelter animal, it also drives people to find other ways to get the specific dogs they desire.

Unfortunately, as with any product on the market, consumers look for the cheapest way to get what they want—maximize benefit at the lowest possible cost. Pet stores and good breeders charge a lot for their dogs, and these prices are not affordable for a lot of people. For example, a purebred French bulldog from a reputable breeder can average about $3,000 depending on the coloration. Why buy a $3,000 puppy when you can get a puppy of the same breed for $800? Backyard breeders are filling in a gap in the marketplace that allows buyers to get dogs at lower prices under the guise of a “family breeder.” People inherently feel better when they buy from a person breeding dogs in their home. The operation is not a puppy mill, and there is an expectation that small-time and hobby breeders take good care of their dogs. But, as The Pug Queen and other rescues know too well, the majority of the dogs they take in come from backyard breeders who neglect their dogs and only breed for profit.

NYC Foie Gras Ban

Amy Allen

          

n October 2019, the New York City Council voted to ban force-fed poultry products, like the culinary delicacy, foie gras, French for “fatty liver.” The ban begins in 2022, which gives establishments and the government a three years preparation period. The fines range between $500 and $2,000, depending on the severity of the violation. The ban does not allow any restaurant or food service establishment to “stor[e], maintain, sell, or offer to sell” any foie gras product. Generally, male Moulard ducks, a hybrid between Muscovy and Pekin, are used for foie gras in the United States. This new legislation brought fierce debate between animal rights groups and chefs who have also partnered with foie gras producers.

            The legislation was initially proposed by animal rights groups for the cruel and inhumane practices of force-fed poultry generally used called gavage. This practice involves force feeding live poultry a corn-based mixture, up to four pounds a day, that rapidly expands the poultry’s liver, sometimes so severely that the liver distends into the abdomen. The poultry’s liver can expand nearly 10 times its normal size. Often, the poultry is unable to walk from the distention and will pluck out its own feathers or attack other poultry due to the increased stress put onto its body. In France, gavage is required if a pâté is called foie gras.

            In France, a prominent group of animal activists, L214, tried to sue foie gras producers for animal welfare violations in 2013. The French activist released graphic videos of the conditions the animals are placed under and filed the first ever foie gras lawsuit. Even though the producer was cleared of all charges, several prominent French chefs vowed to stop using foie gras as part of their menu.

            However, other famous chefs continued to support the use of foie gras, such as Anthony Bourdain who famously commented that people were showing the worst aspects of the problem out of context to scare people and that the cultural history was the important aspect of the luxury item. Another prominent New York City restaurant owner, Ken Oringer, argued that city council members were fighting the wrong battle and factory farmed chickens were far worse than foie gras raise poultry. Oringer further agreed with Bourdain that animal rights activists were showing graphic videos to spark outrange that misrepresented the treatment of the animals. In the end, the city council found that force feeding animals was inhumane and a practice that had to be stopped in New York City.

            Several animal rights activist groups have supported the bill due to the cruelty the practice inflicts on the poultry. The groups point to the fact that foie gras is a purely luxury item for cuisine, but it puts poultry through intense and immense stress. A few days after New York City created the ban, Voters For Animal Rights filed law suit against D’Artagnan, Inc. and D’Artagnan, LLC, foie gras producers based in Union, New Jersey. The suit does not seek monetary damages, but injunctive relief against “deceptive marketing and advertising practices” that suggests their foie gras product do not harm animals.

            Hudson Valley Foie Gras, located about 100 miles north of New York City in Sullivan County, one of the largest force-fed poultry producers with over 400 employees, and its manager, Marcus Henley, continually defends the practice and say that the facility properly cares for the poultry. Hudson Valley Foie Gras is one of two businesses in Sullivan County that provide foie gras for most of the United States. Both Hudson Valley Foie Gras and La Belle, the other Sullivan County Foie Gras producer, sell nearly $38 million in foie gras annually and send around a third of their production to New York City. Hudson Valley Foie Gras has said that it will file a lawsuit against the city challenging the ban as unconstitutional. The ban will place a financial burden on the poorest county in New York state where most of the workers are Spanish-speaking immigrants, many of whom rely on the free housing provided by the farm.

How the 2018 Midterm Election Resulted in Animal Law Victories

Caitlin Ens

The U.S. 2018 midterm election did more than just change the majority party in the House of Representatives. Some local voters brought about significant changes in their state’s animal welfare laws. In California and Florida, two animal rights amendments were passed that, respectively, prohibit dog racing and establish minimum space requirements for calves raised for veal, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens. These laws create standards for other states to follow in future elections.

Florida passed Amendment 13 and became the 41st state to ban commercial dog racing. Amendment 13 states that by the end of 2020, commercial dog racing will be completely outlawed. In states that still allow dog racing, thousands of greyhounds are bred annually to
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