DEAR DR. FOX: I have read your recent columns regarding trap, neuter, release (TNR) with interest, and while I do agree that trapping, neutering and returning feral cats to a place where they do not get good care is inhumane, not all TNR is the same.
There are caregivers who provide food, warm shelter (including heated cat houses) and veterinary care for their feral cats. I work in an animal hospital, and I have seen caregivers provide better care for their feral cats than some pets get. You should not lump all TNR advocates into the same boat.
There is also another alternative for these cats that doesn't seem to get much attention. Feral cats make superior barn cats. Anyone who has horses or other livestock knows barn cats are necessary to keep rodents out of the feed. Releasing spayed and neutered feral cats into horse barns is a win-win for everyone. The cats get a good place to live, and the barn owners get rodent control. Over the years of being fed by people, many eventually become tame enough to become house cats when they get older.
Rodent control for horse stables is a necessity. Rodents carry hantavirus, typhus, salmonella and plague. There are two choices: cats or poison. Poison is more expensive, and it is also harmful to wildlife, pets and children.
Many horse owners are quite willing to feed and provide veterinary care for the cats in exchange for the great poison-free rodent control they provide. This is a great option for these cats, and one I rarely see mentioned in any discussion of TNR. -- T.B., St Louis
DEAR T.B.: I appreciate your contribution to this debate concerning the well-being of TNR cats, which I will stop featuring in my column. The bottom line is that some animal shelters are using TNR as an excuse not to take in cats and to pass the burden of responsibly of dealing with unadoptable cats to others.
I agree with you that many such cats might do well in the farm-barn environment as "working" animals, helping keep rodents under control. The problem is that they can pick up diseases from rodents, such as toxoplasmosis, and roam out of the barn area and kill other wildlife. I have seen much suffering in barnyard cats not given veterinary care who are allowed to breed, but those days are now almost gone with modern factory farms. The old barns that remain are mainly kept by hobby farmers and small local producers. I would not want barn cats using my vegetable plot as their litter box unless I wanted to pass on toxoplasmosis to my customers! And cats can pass plague and other diseases on to people. A well-cared-for TNR cat colony in a good horse stable facility could offer an excellent quality of life for the cats and provide some valuable services, but monitoring the health of the cats is paramount, and to do so effectively they must be approachable and easy to handle -- therefore adoptable.
MAN DEVELOPS 3 TYPES OF PLAGUE AFTER PULLING MOUSE FROM HIS CAT'S MOUTH
An Oregon man contracted plague and almost died from the deadly bacterial infection after pulling a mouse from his cat's mouth. Paul Gaylord's cat went missing for two days in a rural area and seemed to be choking on a mouse when he returned. Gaylord pulled the mouse free but was bitten by his cat in the process. Within days, Gaylord felt ill. Soon he was comatose and on a ventilator, battling all three forms of plague: bubonic, pneumonic and septicemic. Gaylord's cat died and subsequently tested positive for the disease, but Gaylord survived, although he lost his fingers, toes and much of one foot to the illness.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.com.)