Best Friends Blog

More killing is never the answer

In my previous blog, I commented on an op-ed piece by Audubon Magazine contributor Ted Williams in the Orlando Sentinel in which Mr. Williams advocates poisoning free-roaming cats and names a readily available over-the-counter human medication as his preferred option. I want to thank all of our readers who took the action recommended in that post and sent a message to the relevant folks. Our collective voice was heard.

To say that Mr. Williams “set the cat amongst the pigeons” is an irresistible understatement. Immediately following publication of the Sentinel piece, the flap raised by his comments set off a series of outcries and CYA reactions by the Orlando Sentinel and the National Audubon Society:

  1. The Orlando Sentinel edited Williams’ op-ed piece to remove the poisoning recommendation or the named medication.
  2. Williams’ byline was changed from “Editor at Large for Audubon Magazine” to “Independent journalist.”
  3. The National Audubon Society, in a Facebook post on Saturday, stated, “Ted Williams is a freelance writer who published a personal opinion piece in the Orlando Sentinel. We regret any misimpression that Mr. Williams was speaking for us in any way: He wasn’t. Audubon magazine today suspended its contract with Mr. Williams and will remove him as ‘Editor at Large’ from the masthead pending further review.”

The Audubon post goes on to disclaim any advocacy for poisoning cats, which we appreciate, but its attempt to distance itself from Williams, whose views have been published elsewhere for years and should have come as no surprise to the Audubon Society, rings hollow.

Let’s be clear. We want to see the numbers of free-roaming cats reduced as much as the National Audubon Society does. There is common ground, but serious engagement is elusive. Our counterparts (with the exception of Mr. Williams) continue to shy away from declaring the details of their plan.

It would be helpful to the national conversation regarding free-roaming community cats if Audubon and other conservancy organizations would actually own their position on the issue, and elaborate a coherent strategy that they can stand behind. As things stand, they only differ in the method of killing advocated. Trapping feral cats and taking them to the local animal shelter so that someone else can administer the poison is a distinction without a difference – they, like Mr. Williams, advocate killing as a solution.

Best Friends does not advocate killing.

Suggesting more killing as a solution to anything is a symptom of the arrogant mindset that is at the root of human alienation from nature, continuing habitat loss, and the eradication of species worldwide. And, whether we kill via waterway pollution from factories, deforestation to support cattle grazing and hamburger sales, clearing tracts of land for home development, or knocking off community cats with a poison pill or a one-way trip to the shelter, it comes from the same place. Suggesting more killing — the heavy-handed domination of everything in our path and everything weaker than ourselves — is just a perpetuation of the disastrous ethic that has brought us to the edge of our own extinction. I would have thought that conservation organizations, above all, would want to move as far away as possible from policies and practices based on the human subjugation of other species and the environment.

Prior to trap/neuter/return’s formal codification as a humane strategy in this country by Alley Cat Allies in the early 1990s, the standard approach to community cat population control was, for many decades, the catch-and-kill policy advocated by conservancy groups. As a policy, it did nothing to limit the growth of free-roaming cat populations, and where it is still practiced, it simply puts animal control at increasing odds with a cat-loving public. It is inhumane, ineffective and unsupportable. You can’t just scale up cat killing by municipal agencies; the public won’t stand for it.

The other oft-repeated management technique put forward by conservancy groups is that Best Friends should take all the ferals to Utah or other sanctuaries around the country if we don’t want them to go to shelters to be killed. While everyone concerned knows that this is a nonsense suggestion, I will dignify it with a quantitative reply. If Best Friends, which looks after roughly 1,700 animals on any given day, were to swap out all of our non-cat residents for feral cats, even at a three-to-one exchange rate, we would only be able to accommodate a few thousand cats, which would not be significant when tabulating the total of community cats out there.

It is, however, an inarguable fact that a sterilized animal cannot reproduce, and so that is a sound first step to limiting community cat numbers. The sterilizing of community cats can be scaled up without public opposition because it is humane and is powered by volunteers. Opposition from Audubon and similar organizations to volunteer efforts to humanely limit and ultimately reduce outdoor cat population numbers by organizations does not come across as pro-bird or pro-wildlife. It comes across as adamantly anti-cat and doesn’t make sense if their goal, like ours, is to stabilize and reduce outdoor cat numbers.

Since there is a shared goal, there is common ground and a basis for discussions between organizations such as the National Audubon Society and Best Friends on the topic of free-roaming cats. We would welcome such a rational conversation. However, the best way to kill them cannot be on the topic list. More killing is never the answer.

Make sure you never miss the chance to take action on important animal issues. Become part of our Best Friends Legislative Action Center.

Francis Battista
Best Friends Animal Society

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  • H Anne

    I wholly support the idea of TNR and am 1 of 3 feeders of 3 colonies in the small, rural, Southern town where I live, one of which is on a small university campus. We are always short of volunteers, funding for spay/neuter, and community support. Recently I submitted a letter to my campus newspaper asking for volunteers to help us, and the lion’s share of the responses have been very negative, including one response that sounds very similar to the rant below by “I Fight for My Land.” We could so readily reduce the numbers of free-roaming cats thru TNR, and do so kindly, humanely. Yet last evening, not long before one of the other feeders went to one of the colonies to feed, someone showed up and shot and killed one of the old-timers who’d been there for years, neutered, cared for, and not causing any problems to anyone. It’s devastating to all of us. We too also get dumped on…no one wants to help us, but they’re willing to dump their unwanted problems on us, including one cat who was already quite pregnant. Francis, your blog should be on the first page of every newspaper.

  • I Fight For My Land

    You people are deranged. You’re shrieking about killing, but what happens after TNR? The cat goes back to killing wildlife – wildlife being the key phrase – ie. the natural ecosystem to which cats have been artificially introduced and are devastating. Trap, kill, burn. Get yourselves tested for toxoplamosis, your twisted thought patterns are being induced by a brain parasite.

  • Dr. Cartel

    Dear Francis,
    Best blog of the year so far.
    Best Wishes, Dr. Cartel

  • utahan2b

    Knowledge is power.

  • There seems a generalized anti cat thing going on lately. New Zealand for instance has the same attitude as what was expressed in that article by Ted Williams and wants to kill all feral/stray cats. In many states in the USA politicians want to change the statue of feral/stray cats to wildlife to in a sense make it then “legal” to kill cats outright
    In the past in history “doing” away with all cats took place was back in the Medieval Times…back then cats were considered “familiars” to witches and therefore needed to be destroyed. What happened? The rise of the rat population carrying the virus which resulted in the Black Plague…uh, to my mind a bit of karmic justice.

  • Squeakie42

    The National Audubon Society’s Facebook page has no area for for Comments (unless it opens up once one “likes” the page), so it’s hard to let them know my views. But I spent 20 years helping with the TNR effort, managing 2 colonies, getting vaccinations & treatments done for community cats, domesticating and adopting out some, adopting others myself, and monitoring the ones who kept themselves apart except for meals. What constantly worsened the situation were the numbers of people who “dumped” their cats in our wooded area near a historic trail. I love cats — and I love birds. I didn’t see a lot of dead birds around when the cats were fed on a regular schedule — but we had almost no mice or rats near the building, I can tell you that! Everyone has to start taking more responsibility — and maybe we need fines for animal abandonment, not just animal abuse or neglect.

    • On the left where it says write something you can comment on NAS. Facebook, then go to the right, click on see all, to view comments. Many extremists views & they twist everything around.

  • Cats are great invasive species that will survive anywhere there is food and water for their needs. TNR and removal of the adoptable ones are ways to reduce the population but it doesn’t help much when humans keep adding to the population! Use of over the counter medications (most pain relievers) to kill feral cats is not humane. I would much rather see trap and euthanize then slow poisoning.

  • Brit

    Great article. I heard recently that a sterilization product, in the form of an injection, has been re-introduced and will be on the market later this year (was on the market back in 2003, had problems, was removed, now back). I haven’t heard much talk about this. Does anyone know more? Is this the solution we’ve been waiting for?

  • What is needed is more TNR (trap, neuter & release) efforts and bi-laws which require all cat owners to spay and neuter their pets. All outdoor cats should require a license and have visible tags bearing so. And high fines should be garnered on owners who don’t license their cats and on owners who have not spayed/neutered them. How to control that is another question… education maybe?

  • Kalani77

    Good. I let the Audubon Society know that this man was seriously mentally ill, and has no business being an “editor-at-large” of anywhere or anything. Sounds like the Audubon Society has listened to common sense. In this crazed society we live in, the last thing we need is a loon like this spouting off about how people should go around killing feral cats. The man needs a long stay in a securely locked psychiatric facility!

  • mld

    Great Article!! I cannot believe that the National Audobon Society would allow Mr. Williams to write that article unless he did not post that he was connected to them and they were not aware. Anyway, why are birds of more value than cats. How can we possibly decide something like that. It is nature. Of course, cats roaming need to be Trapped, Neutered and then Released and if in the course of their hunting birds are killed, it is sad but it is nature!! WE SHOULD NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO KILL ANY OF THEM!!

  • Toni

    This is beautifully written and its sentiment applies to so much that is wrong with our culture today. We have to start working together at all levels, from all sides, across all viewpoints in order to make positive change. Until we understand that, I don’t think we can really move forward. Thank you to Best Friends for being such a wonderful advocate for animals.

  • Mary

    Well written. Glad someone else feels the same about the disasterous conditions we humans are setting up for ourselves. I think if animals did actually speak ( crazy I know) we wouldn’t have to deal with all these issues, they would tell us to pound sand in some situations. But then again human, ignorance seems to prevail and they wouldn’t listen anyway. Thank you for this article, and thank you for helping all creatures big and small.