The Outdoor Cat Conference
On December 3-4, 2012, the Humane Society Institute of Science and Policy, a program of Humane Society University (HSU), organized "The Outdoor Cat” conference in partnership with the Found Animals Foundation and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. The aim of the conference was to identify and explore the elements of practical solutions to reduce the impact of outdoor cats on wildlife. Outdoor cats include: owned cats that are free-roaming, abandoned, lost and feral cats. Feral cats are those who live essentially “wild” lives, with little or no dependency on people. Feral cats differ from stray and other outdoor cats in that they haven’t been domesticated and have had limited contact with people over the course of their lifetime.
The outdoor cat issue is the source of much controversy globally. In the United States and in the Los Angeles region in particular, conservation biologists have challenged the practice of Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) as a solution. TNR has been used to improve the quality of life of feral cats and reduce the birth of unwanted kittens. The conference explored various management options for outdoor cats, including TNR and lethal control.
Although these management approaches can be locally effective, they only reach a fraction of the population of cats at risk – the unowned, abandoned and stray pets are left outside to breed and produce kittens. It is clear that effective solutions will have to include innovative and newer approaches. Prioritizing additional research, advancing the development of new contraceptive tools, optimizing existing management options, and expanding public education campaigns, especially in relation to encouraging responsible pet ownership, will need to be considered in an effort to prevent further escalation of this issue.
The conference featured subject-matter experts such as Dr. David Macdonald, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit of Oxford University who did his doctorate work on the ecology and behavior of barn cats, Dr. Dennis Turner, a world authority on cat behavior, and other notable attendees who presented on cat demographics, outdoor cat management and a range of related issues.
It is essential that the road to a viable solution be collaborative and taken in the context of a scientific and ethical consensus between those with expertise in animal welfare and wildlife conservation. This conference marked a “hoped-for beginning” of a necessary dialogue between cat advocates and conservation biologists. Cats continue to suffer, and wildlife species continue to decline in the face of multiple threats. Bridging the gap between the multiple stakeholders and perspectives in the conservation and scientific communities will be essential to improving the length and quality of life for both cats and wildlife.
For more information on TNR, register for the ongoing HSU online course, Trap-Neuter-Return: How to Manage a Feral Cat Colony.