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When Cruelty Comes Masked as Animal Welfare

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 5, 2013

Cute but killers (Photo: Richard Conniff)

Cute but killers (Photo: Richard Conniff)

My latest for TakePart:

A few weeks ago I wrote an article, The Case for Culling Stray Dogs, arguing that one of the most important things we can do to protect wildlife is to get homeless dogs off the streets. The feral life is, of course, bad for the dogs and cats themselves. They often end up starved and sick, with painful, festering wounds.

But it’s even worse for other species. House cats alone have caused the extinction of 33 bird, mammal, and reptile species. Stray animals are also a threat to people. Estimates of the number of feral dogs worldwide run upwards of 200 million, and the World Health Organization says 50,000 people die of rabies every year.

Despite the outcry of concern from the animal welfare community about the treatment of strays, relatively few families step up to give these animals homes. (The outcry also generally doesn’t come from the poorer neighborhoods that often have to live with the problem.) That makes euthanasia the only practical way to protect ourselves and what’s left of our wildlife.

My article was about the campaign to control the stray dogs that are overrunning Bucharest, Romania—an effort that began after a stray mauled and killed a four-year-old boy out playing with his brother. The reaction to it was predictably colorful, and I got called some ugly names. Though this emotional response hasn’t changed my mind, I did hear one criticism that’s worth exploring.

A number of readers remarked that the methods used to catch and kill feral animals in Romania and many other countries are often brutal, including bludgeoning, gassing, poisoning, starvation, and even burning. If this is true, it’s inexcusable.

The response from decent people everywhere should be to push for the money, the training, and the anti-cruelty laws to change that. I phoned up Kelly Coladarci, a program manager for the Humane Society International, to ask about that organization’s approach to the feral dog and cat problem.

She made a number of points I agree with: It requires mass media education campaigns to help people understand responsible pet ownership. That should include proper laws for licensing, vaccination, and sterilization. It also means proper sanitation for the entire community, so there’s no garbage lying around to attract and support feral animals.

To my surprise, though, Coladarci opposed creating shelters as an alternative to euthanasia. The campaign in Romania involves holding dogs for 14 days, so they have some small chance at adoption rather than going straight to euthanasia.  But Coladarci said those dogs often end up being starved and kept in isolation. I mentioned that actor Mickey Rourke has responded to the feral dog problem in Romania by pledging $250,000 toward a $2 million goal. He hopes to build a holding facility for up to 100,000 stray dogs.

“What’s going to happen when they’re there?” Coladarci wondered. Conditions will inevitably become overcrowded, and the dogs will be stressed. Judging from past experience, funding—and food—may run short. In such conditions, violence and even cannibalism are not unusual.

In the Humane Society’s view, euthanasia—the word literally means “a good death”—is a better last resort. The Society supports “euthanasia by injection” in certain circumstances. The accepted method is an overdose of sodium pentobarbital, which anesthetizes the dog or cat, puts it to sleep, and then painlessly stops its heart.

But the Humane Society’s preferred alternative is trap-neuter-release (TNR)—a method that detains a feral dog just long enough to neuter it and give it the necessary vaccines. Then it goes back out onto the streets. If that approach can reach 70 percent of the feral animals in an area, Coladarci said, the population will begin to decline. Killing stray animals just creates a “vacuum effect,” she said, drawing in other animals to replace those euthanized.

I tried out these ideas on Grant Sizemore of American Bird Conservancy, which is deeply concerned about the devastation feral cats inflict on bird populations.

The first problem, he said, is that no one in the real world manages to trap and neuter 70 percent of any feral animal population. So TNR never achieves the promised population decline. And if the “vacuum effect” is going to draw in replacement strays for animals removed by euthanasia, that’s no less true for animals dying naturally in a trap-neuter-release scenario. “We call it trap, neuter, and re-abandon,” Sizemore said.

Once they are back in the urban wild, he added, those feral animals return to their daily business of mayhem. It may seem as if they are doing what comes naturally. But early this year, researchers from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute analyzed the numbers just for feral cats in the lower 48 United States. They calculated the deaths caused by both feral cats and free-roaming cats (i.e., those that irresponsible owners let wander outside). Those cats kill an estimated 2.4 billion individual birds, along with 12.3 billion mammals, 478 million reptiles, and 173 million amphibians each year. It’s a feline silent spring.

The birds and other creatures they kill die out of our sight. They also die without our direct intervention. That makes it easier to pretend it isn’t happening. But for the victims meeting bloody, agonizing deaths at the tooth and claw of predators we have introduced into their world, this is no comfort whatsoever. For the good of the wildlife, the stray animals, and ourselves, animal welfare activists should work to get proper methods for prevention and control—including humane euthanasia—into the hands of the people struggling to deal with this problem around the world. The alternative of simply refusing to take feral animals off the streets isn’t animal welfare at all.

It’s just animal abuse by a different name.

16 Responses to “When Cruelty Comes Masked as Animal Welfare”

  1. A. Warwick said

    As an ex-animal control officer I appreciate this. I am a fan of TNR, but I think it works in the affluent neighborhoods who advocate it and value individual animals “more” (more isn’t the best word but its what I can come up with right now).

  2. Rather than clutter up the comments section with the TOMES AND TOMES of information I’ve been posting on the net about “The TNR Con-Game” (a searchable string, btw), I’ll just say thanks for posting this. (Anyone can search for Woodsman001 or NatureAdvocate (underscore or space between words sometimes used), and “feral cats” to find most of what I’ve posted online about this issue.

    However, here’s one link that pretty much reaffirms most everything you’ve stated:

    notesfromadogwalker D0T com SLASH 2012/07/21/how-i-failed-as-a-rescuer-lessons-from-a-sanctuary/

    Cat-lickers’ delusional “No-Kill” religion (conceived of, based on, and fueled by their own relentless fear of death) is the DIRECT CAUSE of the most heinous, widespread, and longest lasting animal abuse in the history of humanity. There’s far worse things than death.

    What happens in EVERY town or county with “no kill” policies? People from all surrounding towns, counties, and even states now dump their unwanted pets into the new “no kill” zone. Their shelters rapidly fill then people just dump them everywhere. Now MORE pets get to suffer to death.

    Case in point, here’s an excerpt from my much lengthier post that starts with “Licensing and laws do nothing to curb the problem.” (also a searchable string, and’ed with “feral cats”). Immediately killing their unwanted animals for them stops them from dumping them! The exact opposite of the effect that “no kill” creates and it stops the problem completely!


    … I don’t see anyone dumping cats where I live anymore. They don’t even adopt more than can be kept under lock & key 24/7. When driving through the area I don’t see even one cat on anyone’s doorsteps anymore. I always keep an eye out to see if there are more free-roaming cats that will have to be shot. And if I’ll have to leave fish-oil trails on all the roadsides again, leading right to my IR surveillance system and laser-sighted rifle. (You can read some of the most effective methods I invented to rid my lands of hundreds of these vermin in only two seasons, posted here: The eradication so complete and effective that cats are non-existent from my area for over 3 years now. Not seen a one.

    Leaving ANY of their invasive species cats outside in my area means certain death for that cat, their further existence can be counted in hours. You’d think everyone else could learn from this simple lesson. The quickest way to solve an unwanted animal and irresponsible pet-owner problem is to let everyone know that you will quickly and humanely destroy every last one of their unwanted, uncared-for, or unsupervised animals for them. They either grow up fast or, far more plausible, dump their animals elsewhere to become someone else’s problem.

    You just can’t be an enabler of criminally irresponsible spineless and heartless idiots — or they remain that way. (At least where you live, anyway.)


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  4. DvanR said

    I do not agree culling of animals in any way constitutes society taking responsibility for this problem, unless the animal in question is severely ill or fatally wounded.

    How long before society starts serving the poor like this, for the sake of humanity?

  5. DvanR said

    Doesn’t mean I think the problem shouldn’t be addressed, but why do we feel the need to literaly kill all of our problems?

    • The fundamental point is that we have no other way to address it. No one has come up with a peer-reviewed study showing that TNR actually reduces the number of feral animals in a habitat.

  6. DvanR said

    animals cannot commit murder

  7. DvanR said

    they do not have such concepts

  8. […] about irresponsible pet ownership included a photo of what happened when my own cat got out one day… […]

  9. Not only are these demented invasive-species house-cat “animal lovers” now killing off all Big Cats in all wildlife reserves around the world.

    And they’ve already made their ONE AND ONLY native cat species EXTINCT in the UK (the inventors of that TNR insanity).

    “A report, produced by the Scottish Wildcat Association, reviewed 2,000 records of camera trap recordings, eyewitness reports and road kills, and concluded there may be only about 40 wildcats left in Scotland in the wild today. ‘However you juggle the figures, it is hard to find anything positive,’ says Steve Piper, the association’s chairman. ‘The overwhelming evidence is that the wildcat is going to be extinct within months.'” … “However, it is not the loss of habitat that is causing the current cat crisis in the Cairngorms. It is the spread of the domestic cat.” … “‘Essentially the Highland wildcat is being eradicated by an alien invasive species: the domestic cat.'” (report quoted from last year, they are no-doubt extinct by now)

    As well as killing off all their inland River Otters in England with their cats’ parasites.

    As well as cats’ parasites killing off all rare and endangered marine mammals on all coastlines around the world (worse than any oil-spill that has ever existed or could even be imagined).

    But now these cat-licking “animal lovers” are also killing off all the Mountain Lions (Cougars, Puma, Endangered Florida Panther, etc.), and all other native cat species in the USA.

    Let’s thank these psychotic cat-lickers for all the fine work they do for being such fantastic “animal lovers”, shall we? THEY JUST LOVE CATS SO MUCH! So caring! So thoughtful! So FULL of love for living things!

    I’d love to thank them all, each with a gift of a solitary-confinement prison-cell — FOR LIFE. Better yet, for their VAST ecological crimes and sins against all of nature and all of humanity, hanged-until-dead would be a far more fitting “gift” for them AND the whole planet.

    Why hasn’t The National-Guard and United Nations and all police-forces on earth stepped-in with lethal means to stop them yet? As we all know now, educating them won’t stop them — trying to educate the Toxoplasma gondii brain-hijacked ineducable is a fools’ game. They’ve all proved that, beyond any doubt left in the universe, for decades now.

  10. I think it would be interesting for someone to analyze recent findings to deduce just how many native predators that HSUS and SPCA has killed each year, by starving them to death by the use of their domesticated invasive species cats.

    Recent studies ( ) prove that cats senselessly destroy anywhere from “between 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds lose their lives to cats each year in the United States” and “between 6.9 to 20.7 billion small mammals succumb to the predators” (i.e. cats).

    If we take the average body-weight of all those species that cats destroy for their tortured play-toys each year, and convert that to how many pounds of predator it could have sustained, we’d have a very good approximation of how many native predators that HSUS & SPCA members and donors have destroyed with their values and goals in life.

    For example:

    For the sake of argument, let’s presume that the average body-weight of all those animals combined comes in at about 9 ozs. each. (0.56 lbs.).

    This would mean that anywhere from 8.3 billion X 0.56 lbs. to 24.4 billion x 0.56 lbs. of animal-protein biomass was senselessly wasted by an invasive species cat EACH YEAR that could have sustained our native predators.

    So 4.67 to 13.66 billion pounds of pure animal-protein biomass did not end-up where it naturally belonged — feeding native predators.

    I’m sure there’s studies on this somewhere that show how many pounds of animal protein are converted into another animal when eaten, but let’s play with a simple ratio of just 1:10.

    So this would mean that 467 million to 1.37 billion pounds of native predator have now gone unfed (starved to death).

    If we take an average weight of all native predators (owls, hawks, fox, eagles, raccoons, oppossum, snakes, etc.), and again just for fun let’s assume that comes in at, oh, I don’t know, what about 3.5 lbs. average predator weight?

    This means that HSUS’ & SPCA’s invasive species cats have effectively destroyed anywhere from 133 million to 391 million native predators EACH YEAR. (Not counting all the billions and billions of prey-animals that HSUS & SPCA members and donors senselessly tortured to death each year with their cats for their cats’ play-toys, as well as the now starved-to-death or never-born offspring of ALL those animals combined.)

    Hunters and all others would have a long way to go to try to catch up to that rate of predator deaths and total animal deaths that HSUS & SPCA beliefs and policies have directly caused.

    Would someone like to do this with real numbers instead of my rough-gut-estimates? I think we’d ALL be surprised with how many native animals, prey AND predator, that HSUS & SPCA is senselessly and wastefully torturing to death every year with their cat-lickers’ bambi-cartoon educations.

    Again, why aren’t they all wasting away in some unknown solitary-confinement prison-cell somewhere? They deserve having done to them EXACTLY what they’ve done to all other life on earth.

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