TNR Public Policy and Law

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TNR Public Policy and Law essay
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Feral cat management is more than a social, scientific, or legal issue, it is also an emotional one. Cats are widely considered one of the most popular pets worldwide. In the United States alone, the owned pet cat population ranges between 74 and 94.2 million cats (Spehar & Wolf, 2017). The U.S. population of unowned, feral cats closely mirrors the owned population with estimates ranging between 60 and 100 million cats (Jessup, 2004). The success of feral cats is due in large part to their ability to adapt to any environment and the care they receive from people. The practice of feeding free-roaming and feral cats is widespread and has proven to be a longstanding tradition throughout history (Francis, 2015). This kind of public participation could arguably make feral cat management one of the most relevant human-animal controversies studied today. It would be a gross underestimation of cats to attribute their global domination to their synanthropic nature. Instead, the very reason domesticated cats have been able to populate every corner of the globe is their domestication itself.

Feline domestication began over 9000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent with the beginnings of human agriculture. Deeply ingrained solitary social dynamics of wild cats had to make a hard about face for cats to benefit from the wealth of opportunities agriculture presented them. Cats had to learn to cope with higher population densities if they wanted access to the burgeoning rodent population grain cultivation and storage attracted. As humans began to take notice of the benefits of having cats around, they encouraged their presence. Close proximity to humans was yet another hurdle for cats to overcome in their domestication process. The domestication of cats, unlike dogs, was a hands-off process. This cat-led domestication preserved many of the wild tendencies that support the adaptive and hardy nature of modern domestic cats (Francis, 2015). Because of these wild tendencies, their capability to scavenge, and their ability to have more than one litter per breeding season, domestic cats are able to proliferate even in the absence of direct human aide. Their synanthropic success is magnified by the relatively common attitude that cats should be allowed to roam outdoors (Smith, 2009). In fact, free roaming has been supported by common law.

In the second restatement of torts cats were said to be “so unlikely to do harm if left to themselves and so incapable of constant control… that they have traditionally been permitted to run at large” (Gorman & Levy, 2004, p.161)” Unaltered, free-roaming cats add to the population of unowned feral cats well beyond the predicted carrying capacity of a landscape (CITE). Despite their ability to hunt and scavenge, free-roaming cats are often provided for by caring individuals. These caretakers range in commitment from casual backyard feeders to organized teams of volunteers (Berkeley, 2004). Because of the range of types of unowned cats from feral to friendly ally cat strays and because of their dedicated following, unowned, free-roaming, and feral cats have recently earned the all-encompassing label of community cats (Schaffner, 2017). The positive nature of the phrase was no doubt intentional given the current contentious climate between proponents of the opposing management strategies. Management of community cat populations dates back well before the 1950s in Europe.

It was in England in the 1950s when the first attempts at the non-lethal management method, Trap Neuter Release, now Trap Neuter Return (TNR) was attempted. Not only did TNR gain community wide support because of the humane outcome, it also was viewed as more successful than the lethal method. TNR spread across Europe with rumored success but only came to the United States in the 1990s (Berkeley, 2004). In the U.S., animal control and the management of unowned cat is left to county level jurisdictions because “[t]he General Assembly through the Animal Control Act, has determined that the issue[s] of animal control… are more effectively addressed at the county level because counties have greater geographical reach and thus can more comprehensively and effectively address feral cat control than local municipalities.” (Schaffner, 2017, p.102). This has led to a variety of management choices ranging from no management to fully legalizing or banning TNR.

The decision one way or the other is left to public policy, where sentiments like “it would be bad for business if Newburyport was known as a place that killed cats” (Spehar & Wolf, 2017, p.3) weighs heavily in the TNR camp while statements like, “[i]t’s conservatively estimated that [cats] kill about 500 million birds a year” (Yoshino, 2017, p.1) land squarely in the anti-TNR camp. Public policy in this instance, refers to the unwritten collective interest and morality of the public, often cited by legal scholars, lawyers, and judges (K. Stewart, personal communication, December 6, 2018). The 2005 case, Akron v. Akron was an unsuccessful legal challenge of a strict trap-and-kill ordinance made contrary to public policy. Under the ordinance, all free-roaming cats were trapped and impounded. The cats were given three days to be reclaimed by their owners before being euthanized. Two years after the ordinance went into effect over 3,000 cats were euthanized in Akron. The Ohio appeals court denied the residents’ claims that the seemingly indiscriminate trapping and killing of free-roaming cats was unconstitutional, finding that the law was “rationally related to public safety and that the city could seize the animals as a legitimate exercise of police power” (Smith, 2009, p.17).

The City of Akron’s public image suffered a major blow as this ordinance became the subject of criticism not only among Akron residents but publically among animal welfare and advocacy groups (Smith, 2009). In some cases, the public policy is not as well defined or not well vocalized. In those cases, opposition from well-organized conservation groups can impede TNR efforts. In 2009, a conservation group sued the City of Los Angeles over the city’s support of TNR. The Los Angeles Superior Court judge issued an injunction preventing the subsidization and promotion of the TNR program by they city until an environmental impact study was completed (Yoshino, 2010). Impact studies are to be based on the “best scientific and commercial data available” which presents a problem because the controversy over TNR has even permeated the scientific literature (Gorman & Levy, 2004, p.165). Biased and flawed scientific methods have trickled into the public sector inviting criticism from lay people who have begun to demand thorough, unbiased scientific inquiry into the subject (Berkeley, 2004; Gorman & Levy, 2004; Schaffner, 2017; Smith, 2009). Both lethal and non-lethal methods have been documented in scientific literature as having been successful at completely eliminating unowned cat populations.

One example of success through TNR was the total elimination the City of Newburyport, MA free-roaming cat population of 300 cats in 17 years, the general lifespan of a healthy outdoor cat (Spehar and Peter, 2017). An example of success using a range of lethal methods was documented on the Antarctic Marion Island where cats were heavily predating the native bird population (Gorman & Levy, 2004). Through the intensive use of trapping, poisoned baiting, hunting, and intentional introduction of distemper into the population, 2,200 cats were exterminated over the course of 19 years (Schaffner, 2017). Both methods take roughly the same amount of time but only the non-lethal TNR offers the opportunity for healthy cats to live out their natural lives. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is regularly cited by conservation groups to oppose TNR efforts. In one such case, the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) filed a claim against the New York Commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for authorizing TNR and management of a feral cat colony at Jones Beach State Park in close proximity to the nesting sites of piping plovers, a threatened species of bird (American Bird Conservancy v. Harvey, 2017).

Under Section 9 of the ESA, a person is prohibited from taking an animal listed as endangered. The term “take” refers to actions that “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, trap, capture, or collect” a protected animal (Schaffner, 2017, p.103). Section 9 of the ESA only prevents a person from taking an animal, not another animal. When the “take” is done by another animal, the claimant must show harm to a protected species through habitat modification. Originally, “harm” was defined as an action that injures or kills wildlife (Schaffner, 2017). An expanded definition was used in the Palila v. Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, decision that was later upheld by the Supreme Court in Babbitt v. Sweet Home Chapter of Communities for a Great Oregon (Babbitt v. Sweet Home Chapter of Communities for a Great Oregon, 1995), that included habitat modification and degradation to the extent that it limited a species’ ability to perform natural behaviors such as feeding, breeding, and finding shelter (Palila v. Hawaii Dep’t of Land and Natural Resources, 1981). With this current interpretation of Section 9 of the ESA, ABC will need show a “critical link between habitat degradation and an actual injury to the species” (Gorman & Levy, 2004, p. 168-169).

In Palila, the population of feral goats found to destroy the habitat of a native bird were being maintained for sport hunting. This is an important distinction in that the TNR and management efforts of the Jones Beach colonies are being carried out in an effort to eliminate the population of feral cats near the piping plover nesting sites (Schaffner, 2017). The removal of an invasive species, even one shown to “take” another animal, isn’t a cut and dry resolution based on the decision in Animal Lover’s Volunteer Association v. Carlucci where the court held the requirement of an environmental impact study to assess whether or not the removal of the invasive species would have a negative impact on the ecosystem. The court noted the invasive fox’s 100 year presence in the ecosystem in their rejection of the assumption that the removal would not have negative consequences on the ecosystem (Gorman & Levy, 2004). Cats have been relocated alongside humans for as long as they have been domesticated , their introduction to United States was well over 200 years ago with the colonization of European settlers (Francis, 2015).

Even if the results of the environmental impact study in the Los Angeles region came back confirming the claims of the conservation advocates, TNR advocates should demand a second impact study in response. It is not uncommon in the scientific literature to find instances where cats have had a positive impact on native species. An Australian study found the 64% of the diet of the cats studied consisted of non-native species (Baratt, 1991). Similarly, a New Zealand study found cats to control non-native rat populations that were known to predate a native bird species (Fitzgerald & Karl, 1979). These findings were later confirmed in another study that found the same rat species in higher densities in areas were the cat population was limited (Fitzgerald, 1988). In yet another study, the predatory behavior of cats on the Antarctic Macquarie Island was found to concentrate on the non-native European rabbit, accounting for 82% of the cats’ diets. The remaining 18% was made up of the native penguin species, but further analysis found the penguins weren’t hunted, but instead, scavenged (Jones, 1977). The distinction between scavenging and hunting is rarely made in many of the studies on the predatory behavior of free-roaming cats most often cited by conservationists (CITE PREDATION STUDIES). The oversight is often cited by TNR advocates (Berkeley, 2004; Schaffner, 2018; Smith, 2009).

TNR Public Policy and Law essay

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TNR Public Policy and Law. (2022, Jun 25). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/tnr-public-policy-and-law/

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