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Feral and Outdoor Cats Have Major Impact - November 29, 2015

    
    In almost any major city or town there is a silent killer, a hunter that prowls the streets and yards looking for prey. They have claws, tiny dagger like teeth, muffled paws and unending patience when watching their prey. So what are these dangerous creatures? Although it may surprise some people, these creatures are not exotic animals but instead domestic or previously domestic pets, specifically feral and outdoor cats. 


    It may not seem like a major issue, however the rise of feral and outdoor cat populations has become a huge problem. In almost any major city, town or community there are at least a few outdoor or feral cats, and often times there are much larger feral cat colonies that go unseen by the general public. According to surveys, there is an estimated 60 million feral cats in the U.S., with that number consistently growing. These feral cats and their colonies come about in a variety of ways including when pet owners release their cats into the wild, through natural breeding of feral cats and when people feed or encourage large groups of feral cats. Currently, most cities and towns use a trap, neuter, release (TNR) or trap, neuter, vaccinate, release (TNVR) method to try to curb feral cat populations, however it has not proven to be as effective as they had hoped. 


    Thus far, there has yet to be any major success with the TNR or TNVR methods for reducing feral cat colonies, for a variety of reasons. The first and foremost is that TNVR methods can cost upwards of $100 per cat to trap, spay/neuter, vaccinate and transport. Therefore, if you happen to have upwards of 100 cats that need to go through TNVR, than thats approximately $10,000 of tax payer money just for getting rid of feral cats. Another reason why the TNVR and TNR methods have been shown to be ineffective is that it is impossible to trap, spay/neuter and vaccinate all the cats in an area. Because they are feral, these cats do not generally have micro-chips or other devices that would allow workers to find them, so many of them can go un-detected or un-caught. 


    While indoor and house cats are well cared for and protected, feral cats are generally on their own. This means that most feral cats have never been vaccinated, never receive proper medical care after injuries or fights and have to catch their own food. Even though they may look cute and cuddly, feral cats are exposed to other wild animals with diseases and infections. This means feral cats also carry diseases such as cat scratch fever, plague, rabies, and toxoplasmosis, which can be transferred to other feral cats and even domestic pets like house cats. 


    Apart from carrying diseases, feral cats also have to fend for themselves to eat. This means that they rely more on their natural hunting techniques and less on hand outs from people. Being natural hunters, feral cats do not discriminate in what they will eat; they can hunt down and feed on almost any animal smaller than them and unlucky enough to be around like frogs, toads, rats, mice, lizards and especially birds. Feral cats worldwide are credited with killing over a billion birds each year are are partially responsible for the extinction of at least 33 avian species. In the U.S. and U.K., studies have shown that feral and outdoor cats can make upwards of 10 kills a month of local birds and small mammals and that number is probably still on the low side. 


    In order to help combat this problem, cat owners and advocates have invented some interesting devices to help curb hunting by domestic outdoor cats. The two inventions of biggest merit thus far are the “Catio” and the “BirdsBeSafe” collar. The “Catio” is a semi enclosed patio made specifically for outdoor cats. The patio attaches to your house and can be accessed by dog doors or other similar openings. The “Catio” then allows your cat to still be outside while not being able to leave the “Catio” to go off and hunt for local birds or small mammals.


    The “BirdsBeSafe” collar provides more freedom for the cats, however it still limits hunting. The collar is made of bright materials, is big and fluffy and is also reflective. This means that many songbirds, who can see color extremely well, can spot a cat in a tree and fly away without getting eaten. The collar also helps keep the cat safe because its reflective material makes the collar and cat much more visible to cars at night, so drivers can avoid running over them. 


    While outdoor and feral cats can greatly impact our local ecosystems, indoor cats make excellent home companions. This year the Maryland Coastal Bays Program is excited to start our spokes cat campaign! In the past we have done a similar search for a spokes dog, however this year we are switching over to our indoor feline friends. Starting later this month and into December, the MCBP will be looking for charismatic and photogenic cats to be our spokes cat. The winner will have their cats picture on display and will get the honor of being named the Maryland Coastal Bays Program spokes cat for the year of 2016. Please check our website for more details and information at www.mdcoastalbays.org.


Harrison Jackson is the Education Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

 



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