When the Wild Things Aren’t

Seth Victor

Here’s the situation. You have several domestic cats in a neighborhood from different houses. For one reason or another, a couple of these cats leave their homes and wander the neighborhood and breed, becoming more or less feral. This goes on for several generations. Does there come a point when these cats are no longer domestic animals, but should be considered wild?

I pose the question concerning cats because feral felines occupy a middle ground in our society’s ever complicated definitions when it comes to animals. Cats are cute and cuddly and are one of the primary “pet” animals; though probably just a juicy and tender, it’s faux pas to eat them, and even the dumbest cat is more lauded than the smartest pig. Cats are also noted for their more independent behavior. Ask a “dog person” why he likes his dog better, and you will inevitably hear some mention of loyalty and companionship that he doesn’t see in cats (though the “cat people” will vociferously disagree). But can that make cats more wild, and if so, what does that mean? When are animals wild, and can they cross or re-cross that line?

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Feral cats with Rabies

Eric Chiamulera
On December 1, 2011, the Westchester County Department of Health issued a rabies alert to residents of New Rochelle, N.Y., who may have come into contact with a rabid cat. The cat, a red tabby, had been observed acting aggressively towards other animals and people. There are reports that the red tabby cat may have come into contact with a colony of feral cats in New Rochelle. Similarly, Westchester health officials had to issue a rabies warning to Ossining residents when a rabid calico kitten, who had been in contact with other feral cats, had attacked an adult cat before being captured. This problem of feral cats being exposed to rabies is occurring in other parts of the country as well. For instance on November 23, 2011, city officials in Fort Worth, Texas warned residents that a woman was attacked by a rabid feral cat. Continue reading

Trap Neuter and Release Programs (TNR) Lead to Hoarding

Sarah Kelland

Organizations such as PETA and The Humane Society of the United States believe that the trap neuter and release programs for feral cats are not beneficial when their caregivers do not feed them or tend to their medical needs. A recent NY Times article “The Pathological Altruist Gives Till Someone Hurts”, supports this view.

The “someone” refers to a feral animal escaping the possibility of being euthanized in a pound. Hoarders think they are rescuing these animals, but they are unable to see that they are causing more harm than good. Their desire to save feral animals from death ironically leads to having more animals than they are able to care for which results in their death. Walk into a hoarder’s home and “you can’t breathe” and “there are dead and dying animals present.” This becomes a safety issue to the animals, those that live in the home, and the humane officers who come to rescue them.  This is selflessness gone awry. Continue reading

Spay/Neuter Redux

The spay/neuter question came up in my animal law class the other night and I continue to ponder its many facets.  Perhaps some more public wrestling is in order (I previously raised the issue here) .

If forced to make a general distinction between animal and environmental advocates on questions relating to animals, I would say that environmentalists tend to concern themselves more with species and ecosystemic integrity whereas animal advocates focus more on individual animals.  If one accepts this distinction while also accepting that no animal volunteers or consents to be sterilized, then one finds oneself (or at least I do) in an ethical morass.

It seems to me that the rights perspective must acknowledge individual animals’ claims to bodily integrity.  After all, rights adhere to the individual, not the collective.  The fact that you have a right to vote does not mean I do, and vice versa.  Causes of action arise when individual rights are trampled even when the rights of the majority remain intact.

Professor Francione maintains that since the institution of pet ownership is morally wrong, it is permissible to sterilize animals because failing to do so perpetuates the wrong of pet ownership.  But I have to ask: regardless of the morality of pet ownership, do not those animals alive now have a claim to membership in the moral community?  And if so, how then can their respective rights to bodily integrity be ignored?

One might respond that sacrificing individual rights for the greater good is sometimes necessary, and that may well be true.  However, I remain unconvinced that those forfeiting their rights would agree that the greater good is being served.  This is particularly true, for example, with feral cat colonies and the policy of trap/neuter/return (TNR).  In the case of the cats, the overall goal is the eradication of the colony.  That goal seems more attuned to human needs than those of the cats.

Let me state for the record that I recognize the necessity argument here.  Companion animal overpopulation is a terrible problem and many animals suffer and die in shelters because of it.  I am also all too aware that TNR is by far the most humane option available for feral cat management and that those who manage the colonies often go to heroic lengths to save these cats from otherwise grisly fates.  Nevertheless, recognition of this reality need not preclude a full exploration of the ethics involved in the practice and I invite your thoughts as we continue this dialogue.

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