THE 'EAR-TIPPING' OF FREE-ROAMING CATS BENEFITS PETS, PEOPLE AND THE COMMUNITY
By Dr. Patti Khuly
As a veterinarian who practices in a warm climate, treating feral and free-roaming cats is a year-round adventure. "Trap, test, sterilize, vaccinate and release" is my mantra when it comes to dealing with this population of patients. But in recent years, I've taken to adding one more thing to that list: ear-tipping.
Tipping feline ears is a simple technique that requires an almost bloodless snip of the left ear to help identify the cats as having been sterilized and vaccinated. As such, it's considered a purely cosmetic procedure, which I know doesn't exactly sound like a good thing. But because it's performed with the cats' best interests in mind, this procedure definitely gets a pass on the animal welfare-o-meter.
In case you're new to this concept, here's a primer on ear-tipping:
The "ear-tip" is a highly effective device that those who care for feral cat colonies use to monitor the success of their efforts. It also helps animal control officials know which colonies of cats are well-managed and stable.
Not only is it useful, but unlike a canine ear crop, it's also considered absolutely painless when performed under anesthesia. In fact, cats uniformly recover without pawing at their ears or showing any other sign of distress related to the loss of this tiny bit of cartilage.
Nonetheless, there is a downside to ear-tipping: Many people are reluctant to adopt cats with tipped ears. They view it as a slight on the animal's natural beauty.
I ear-tip only the homeless who come my way as feral or free-roaming cats. These "freebie" surgical candidates may leave my hospital and find loving forever homes, but the reality is that most will not. The really dismal reality is that all but the most friendly, healthy and comely will land back on the streets.
That's why my policy is to ear-tip almost all of them. Here's more of why:
1. Public safety: Since ear-tipped cats are typically rabies-vaccinated, identifying them as such enhances the safety of the human community at large.
2. Population management: Because ear-tipping helps in managing a community's colonies, it promotes the welfare of its stray populations.
3. Feline protection: It's the right thing to do for the individual cat. A cat who's not ear-tipped may end up in surgery for altering that has already been done, and who wants another experience under the knife?
In communities where cats are targeted for eradication, ear-tipping can make the difference between a free-roaming cat's life ... and lethal control. But because ear-tipping may reduce an individual's adoptability, I've learned that concessions must sometimes be made to a cat's demeanor and appearance, depending on her individual circumstances. For example, is the cat truly wild, or a sweet, happens-to-be-homeless stray? Is the cat entering an established adoption program? Or is it at all possible that this "stray" free-roamer might possibly belong to a neighbor, and is really someone's pet?
If the animal might be reasonably expected to have a home waiting for him, knowing as we do that humans may refuse to adopt a "marked" specimen, I'll often opt for leaving the ear alone.
Here's where some of you may wonder, "Surely there has to be a better way! Plastic surgery just sounds so harsh!" But given the current realities inherent to modern feline existence, where entire colonies can be eradicated pending one municipal official's say-so, why leave a life-and-death issue to chance?
If what's best for everyone –– especially for our free-roaming cats –– is that they get their ears tipped, why should aesthetics stand in the way?
Guest columnist Dr. Patty Khuly (drpattykhuly.com) is a Miami-based veterinarian and popular author, as well as a top veterinary blogger and the creator of The Fat Dog Diet, a smartphone app to help pet owners reduce their dogs' weight.
Pass on pets until
Q: I just started college, and I miss having pets. I've never been without pets in my life, and I have never slept in my own bed without a pet at my feet (or in the case of my cat, on my head). Outside the grocery store recently, our SPCA was having mobile adoptions, and that just made things worse. I talked to my parents, and they said they understood how I felt, but that it was best to wait. For one thing, they made the point that money is tight.
I do understand all that, but I have also read about the emotional benefits of pets, and I think I'd be better off with one. What do you think? I'd like to go adopt a dog. Or a cat. Or both, really. -- via Facebook
A: I honestly think you'd be better off waiting until you're done with college to own a pet, but that doesn't mean you can't have pets in your life while in college.
But first, the problem with ownership: The shelters and rescue groups of every college town in the country are constantly dealing with the former pets of students. As you've already guessed, finding and keeping housing that allows pets is a major challenge. So, too, can be finding the time and energy to care for a pet when there's so much to do and try when you're in college. And don't forget that, as your parents pointed out, pets can be expensive to maintain, and very few college students have much money to spare. Even if you can afford the minimal expense of feeding a cat (compared to a large dog), what will you do if your pet gets sick?
Even if you can find suitable housing, have you thought about what you'll do with your pets during school breaks? If you're planning on going home when you're not in school, you might find your parents are unwilling to have your pet become a member of the family, even temporarily. Especially since, as you note, there are pets back home who might not enjoy the visitors.
My suggestion: Volunteer! Cat socializers, dog-walkers and other opportunities abound at that same SPCA you saw outside your grocery store. In fact, chances are the people you talked to were volunteers. By volunteering, you will be able to get your "pet fix" and may even be able to foster a dog or cat for a short while to make the animal more adoptable, assuming your property owner agrees.
There will be plenty of time in your life for the responsibilities of keeping pets. For now, volunteering is a good "win-win" situation -- you have pets in your life, and you help pets find their forever homes. I have to agree with your parents: College will pass soon enough, and so, too, will the time to experiment with life on your own. -- Gina Spadafori
Pet music truly does
have calming charms
-- A Juilliard-trained pianist and an expert in the therapeutic value of sound have been steadily producing music aimed at calming pets and people alike. The "Through a Dog's Ear" and "Through a Cat's Ear" collections have been clinically shown to help pets relax. The company recently released a collection of CDs for noise-phobic pets in conjunction with dog-trainer Victoria Stillwell, as well as a small, self-contained player called iCalmDog that loops the selections for constant play while the pet is alone. The iCalmDog is $79 from ThroughADogsEar.com or other retailers.
-- Cattle rustlers beware: A bill awaiting the governor's signature in California will increase the penalties for anyone convicted of stealing livestock. The bill's sponsor, a cattle rancher himself, noted that the law would cover livestock from alpacas to zebras. Beef and dairy cattle are popular with thieves: More than 1,000 head of cattle were stolen in California last year, with the loss valued at around $1 million.
-- Veterinarians in Alabama have escalated a war of words into lawsuits, with factions squaring off over whether nonprofits such as animal shelters should be allowed to operate low-cost spay-neuter clinics for pets, or whether veterinarians alone should be afforded the privilege. The state's lawmakers have been unable to pass legislation to settle the regulatory matter once and for all, in large part because the blowback will be considerable no matter what the ultimate outcome. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
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 affiliated with Vetstreet.com and 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.