Friday, 31 October 2008

ICAWC 2008 Presentation: Making the Best for Feral Cats - Becky Robinson

Previous presentation: Vision / Mission / Strategy - Adrian Burder

Becky is President and co-founder of Alley Cat Allies.

10:35: Becky gives an overview of Alley Cat Allies, the programmes it carries out and Feral Cat Day. She points out recent research that found evidence of a mummified cat buried metres from mummified human remains almost twice as long ago as we might expect. So for longer than any of us have realised, cats and humans have had a very special relationship.

10:45: Feral cats exist everywhere, in every climate and with the most varied diet of any species of cat. It is natural for cats to live outside, and only 62 years ago, with the invention of cat litter, did domestic cats start to live indoors with humans instead of around humans. Strays and kittens who have not been handled by humans early on can become unsocialised.

10:50: Cats hunt alone, but live communally in colonies. They are content and are not waiting to be socialised; they might adapt or make the choice to live with us, but many cats prefer to live outside. Feral cats might have kittens that can be socialised to humans and there are degrees of how feral a cat is.

Feral cats are not impossible to socialise, but it's difficult. Trap, neuter, tame is not recommended by Alley Cat Allies, but feral cats can become very attached to their carers. Many shelters handed feral cats by well-meaning helpers put down the animal within hours; is it better and more humane to leave the cat outside or hand it in to be put down?

10:55: Looking at statistics concerning dogs, killing ferals and strays is not productive. It does not solve the problem and it is not based on fact, but fear. Even rabies is a vaccine preventable disease. It's the reproductive process that increases the problem. Removing feral cats from an area also just invites others to move in. A 'vacuum effect' is created. We do not have the choice to elimintate cats, we have a choice between unvaccinated, breeding cats or vaccinated, neutered cats.

11:00: Many cultures teach us to treat animals responsibles. Alley Cat Allies has conducted research in the US that shows evidence of great sympathy for ferals, especially following the advice of Bob Barker, who closed his programmes with "spay and neuter your pets". A mating pair of cats can produce maybe 50,000 cats in five years. Viruses such as FIV and feline leukaemia are discovered in less than 4% of studied colonies, but neutering reduces these numbers further by preventing the spread to offspring.

Becky says "there are million cats and sanctuaries are not the answer. Removing cats is not the answer... socialising the cats is impractical, difficult, time-consuming and not humane. The number one way to improve the lives of cats is introducing... Trap, Neuter, Return."

The stages that are followed are feeding, providing vet care and neutering, and also providing education for the local community. Not only does neutering improve health and reduce the population, it also reduces behaviour that can attract cruelty and fear, such as fighting, caterwauling etc.

With planned, targetting trapping, hundreds of cats can be identified, trapped, treated and returned within a short space of time. Two months of planning might mean a whole area or colony targetted and treated within a week.

It's helpful to trap as early in life as possible, and to make the most of one holding period for neutering, vaccination, ear tipping and any other treatment. The vast majority are perfectly healthy, and only need to be held for one night in most cases.

11:10: With education, ACA has seen gated and local communities help support trap, neuter, return in their area, and in very successful areas the remaining helpers outnumber the cats and fight to have the chance to feed them! As a result, ACA has expanded its mission. They know that the most successful programmes come from institutional change and are paid for and supported by municipalities and are free for caregivers and volunteers to access. The new mission has to tackle the number one documented threat to cats in the US: institutional euthanasia. In the US, 73% of rescued cats die in shelters (according to ACA numbers) and all feral cats are put down by many shelters as a matter of course. ACA's new course of action is to stop this happening.

Becky concludes with a video of a high volume spay-neuter clinic.


Next presentation: Vision: the What, the Why and the How - Andy Ashcroft

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