I have always supported the Humane Society of Harlingen because of their many good and kind works and because of the seemingly tireless, and unpaid, dedication of their CEO.
However this new policy of “TNR,” trapping, neutering and then releasing feral cats back into city neighborhoods as a means of population control is a woefully misbegotten idea not based on any scientific study I know of.
Cats are not like tsetse flies or the zika virus. They do not breed once and die. If a male alley cat occasionally encounters a sterile female, I’m sure he can find a receptive female nearby – often in my back yard.
Neutering a few cats will never control cat populations, and might actually have the opposite effect by reducing their competition for food.
I believe many feral kittens starve to death. Twice in the last year, I found abandoned kittens crying for their mama in a field on East Harrison, but when they saw me, they hid and fell silent. One desperate little guy made it a block to South 17th Street, but was still not approachable.
Though I wasn’t certain he was even weaned, I put out food and water for him, but he apparently starved before taking any.
No responsible parent would allow his children to run free in traffic, but this is what ‘cat lovers’ see as a solution. Not surprisingly, feral cats have greatly reduced life spans, not just from car strikes, but from other injuries and common curable diseases like mange.
In fact, cats are the only domesticated species that is allowed to roam freely. Chickens are kept in coops, cattle and horses behind barb wire, pigs in sties and dogs behind fences or on leashes.
The National Audubon Society reports that feral, free-ranging cats are the main cause of the extinction of 33 species of birds in North America and in the reduction by 68 percent of some of the birds the Society has tracked since 1967.
I have seen feral cats in my yard swat hummingbirds from midair and climb to the top of a thorny ebony tree to kill white wings still in their nest. And most sadly, kill a chachalaca I had been feeding for years, only moments after I turned by back. Their panicked shrieks brought me running back outside, but it was too late.
Chachalacas were here before my neighborhood was built in 1952, but we are now down to a single pair, and it is highly unlikely they will manage to raise another chick successfully. That means that feral cats will have extirpated a species that has been in this neighborhood for over 64 years!
Incidentally, that wretched cat had no interest in eating the chachalaca it maimed in my front yard. It is simply in a cat’s unalterable nature to kill, whether hungry or not, and uneaten kills are proof that even well-fed cats cannot resist their primal urge to kill.
In the fractured environment of the Valley, cities serve as islands of refuge for a number of species which have no other place to light. During this mild winter, our neighborhood has served as home to eleven American Cardinals, mainly because we have managed to keep feral cats in check. During fall migration, we often see a dozen species of warblers darting through.
Making Harlingen a ‘Sanctuary City’ for feral cats ignores the plight of a number of dwindling species still found here. The success of predatory species like starlings and grackles, and newly-arrived tree ducks is no measure of a safe environment for other birds.
Wildlife concerns aside, we all have the right to be free from the nuisance of feral cats, whether ambushing native species drawn to the water and cover of our South Texas yards, or tracking filth across our cars on a nightly basis.
The solution to the problem is incredibly simple, yet it is never addressed: Keep cats inside where they can’t breed!
Only when supposed ‘cat lovers’ recognize they are responsible for feral cats’ miserable existence will the problem be addressed. In the meantime, concerned voices like mine are dismissed out-of-hand, and a local birding group with no affiliation with the National Audubon Society, even when queried by the Star, refused to address the killing of a mama Mockingbird and then her nestlings for trying to shoo someone away from her nest.
M. Dailey Harlingen