Feral cat solutions rest with humans

Published 9:12 pm Wednesday, January 20, 2016

By Eileen Gizara

Recent articles and opinion pieces appearing in the Suffolk News-Herald indicate the public’s concern about feral cats and their lives, as well as their impact on personal property and community welfare.

As an educational and animal advocacy entity, the Suffolk Humane Society’s primary objective is to provide research-based information and data to help produce long-term, beneficial solutions for both animals and humans.


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In response to the current dialogue, the humane society’s goal here is to share information that will help frame solutions to an enduring and vexing problem in Suffolk.

We believe the plight of homeless animals is determined by the public’s and city officials’ responsibility to first acknowledge the magnitude of the issue and support existing spay/neuter programs.

Equally important is the need for the public to talk to each other, listen closely to all sides of the argument and then find solutions that work best for everyone.

We are certain there are ways to protect both the cats’ lives and people’s personal property; however, solutions do not happen overnight. They require patience, compromise and working toward the end goal of reducing the number of cats.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are millions of abandoned and feral cats in the United States. These homeless animals are the result of human irresponsibility, and the cats should not be punished for this error.

It is safe to assume that locally, there are thousands within the 430-square-mile area of Suffolk. Many of these cats will live short lives due to starvation, disease or trauma.

Cats can be opportunistic predators and can impact the populations of wild birds, small animals and reptiles. Feral cat colonies, when not properly managed, impact the environment significantly. They can harbor diseases, such as rabies and other bacterial and parasitic diseases.

Properly managed colonies comprise sterilized and vaccinated free-roaming cats. This allows the colony to remain healthy until the number of cats is reduced naturally, decreasing the spread of disease and the impact on wildlife.

It is a foregone conclusion that spaying and neutering will have the largest impact on the feral population. There are several low-cost options including the Virginia Beach SPCA Neuter Scooter, PETA’s Snip Van and the Norfolk SPCA.

Removal of healthy kittens from a colony, socializing them and then placing them for adoption will also help to reduce the number of feral cats.

Responsible colony management requires vaccination of healthy cats and euthanasia of sick or debilitated animals, spaying or neutering, and ear tipping (removal of the tip of one ear is a visible sign that the cat has been spayed or neutered).

Recognizing that the feral cat problem is a polarizing issue here in Suffolk, interested parties must be willing to talk to each other and move beyond the current narrative of opinions and rhetoric.

To that end, the humane society recommends that the city form a task force or focus group to respond to public concerns.

The collective support of all concerned parties will lead to better enforcement of preventive and proactive steps that prohibit abandonment of owned cats, require spaying or neutering for all cats, and require vaccination to prevent disease.

Humans are both the cause of and the solution to the problem.

Eileen Gizara is the executive director of the Suffolk Humane Society. Email her at executivedirector@suffolkhumanesociety.com.