The very reason our ancestors first decided they wanted cats around is used today to argue against allowing any cats to roam freely: They hunt, efficiently.
The predatory skill that cats brought to eliminating rodents in grain storage is now labeled a danger to endangered species and prized songbirds. That's another good reason for keeping pet cats inside, but what to do with the ferals -- pets gone wild and their unsocialized offspring?
Advocates of TNR -- trap, neuter and release -- say maintaining healthy, neutered feral cat colonies is the best way to reduce feline numbers and problems. And, they argue, it's both a kinder and more effective way than trapping and killing untamable cats.
There have always been kind-hearted people who feed homeless cats, even if it's just sharing a tuna sandwich from a park bench. There have also always been people who find colonies of feral cats to be annoying: The cats make noise, they mess and spray, and they multiply like, well, cats.
Cities, colleges and military bases -- and other institutions with large pieces of land to manage -- used to routinely handle feral cat colonies by trapping all the cats and killing those who could not be tamed for adoption.
However, TNR advocates argue that just feeding feral cats makes the problem worse (because the animals keep breeding), but that trapping and killing the cats doesn't solve the problem in the long run, either.
Instead, TNR volunteers trap the cats, place the ones they can in caring homes, and return the truly untamable to their original territory after they've been neutered and vaccinated. These colonies can then be fed and cared for in a hands-off but humane way, while their numbers dwindle naturally because the reproductive taps have been turned off for good.
Trap, neuter and release programs for feral cats seem counterintuitive to many people. If you don't want cats around, wouldn't it make sense just to remove them permanently?
But when you remove cats, TNR advocates say, other animals take their place. That's because the food sources that attracted the cats will still be there, which means more cats (or rats, coyotes or raccoons) will eventually show up. They point to studies showing that TNR policies really do reduce feral cat populations.
Neutering reduces the fighting, yowling and spraying behaviors, many of which are associated with fighting over mates. The neutered cats defend their territory, too, and prevent other animals from moving in -- including unneutered cats who could breed. The colony caretakers are quick to remove and find homes for any abandoned pets who turn up, as well as any kittens.
While such programs aren't perfect -- and aren't considered appropriate for ecologically sensitive locations or areas where the protection of small-prey species is necessary -- trap, neuter and release is an option that must be considered where feral cats are a problem.
TNR is a strategy that's both humane and sensible, and it should be allowed to become the new "common knowledge" when it comes to feral cats. Want more information? Visit the website of Alley Cat Allies (alleycat.org).
Rabbits make great
pets for condos
Q: We live in a condo and have a bunny. Our association rules do not allow bunnies, however. Do you have information I can use to help change the rules? -- via email
A: Your condo association is probably still thinking of rabbits as "livestock," not pets. In fact, I can think of few animals better suited for condo or apartment living than a neutered house rabbit.
So why should rabbits be allowed?
They're quiet. Does your association allow birds? I'll guarantee you a rabbit is mute compared to the noisiness of many parrots.
They're neat. A daily brushing will catch loose hair, and a vacuum will pick up scattered hay, food pellets or the occasional stray feces (it's pea-sized, dry and round) that don't make it into the litter box.
They're small. Even the biggest rabbits aren't much larger than a cat, and dwarf rabbits are considerably smaller.
The one downside I can think of is that rabbits will engage in destructive chewing if left to choose their own recreation. Even this problem is easily solved by "rabbit-proofing" the living area -- blocking off attractive chewing areas, putting cords into protective covers -- and offering safe chewing alternatives. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
New test for Lyme
helps with treatment
-- The College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University has developed a test for Lyme disease that can detect three different antibodies using a single sample, eliminating the need for separate tests. In addition, Horse.com reports, the streamlined test requires smaller samples and answers more questions about the disease, which, if not treated early, can have devastating effects on dogs and horses.
The disease is extremely hard to detect as it causes bacteria to hide in areas such as the joints, nervous tissue and organs. When bacteria hide, they can cause arthritis and lameness. Bacteria can even burrow into the brain or spine, and can cause pain, behavioral changes and paralysis.
Many times when these symptoms are shown, the bacteria are no longer in circulation. The new testing not only distinguishes between vaccination and infection, but also between early and chronic stages. The test can help veterinarians make a more complete decision on an animal's treatment.
-- Pets are being saved from being killed in animal shelters through a Facebook application called Pet Pardons. The application connects foster volunteers who notify each other of dogs and cats who are scheduled to be euthanized at shelters. The application is estimated to have saved the lives of more than 2,000 pets already.
-- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last month signed "Schultz's Law," legislation that increases the penalty of anyone convicted of killing a police canine or any dog involved in search and rescue.
The law was enacted a day after a Camden County grand jury handed down an indictment against a man who killed a police dog, Schultz, by throwing him into oncoming traffic when he was apprehended by the canine.
The prior law had a sentence of three to five years for killing a police dog, but now those convicted will face a minimum sentence of five years with no chance for parole, and can face fines of up to $15,000, the Daily Record of Bergen County, N.J., reported. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Mikkel Becker and Ed Murrieta
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.