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‘Fear-mongering’ claims about feral cats

Dear Sir,

The article by the Audubon Society [Feral Cats in Bermuda: a problem that can be solved, February 13] portrays an inaccurate picture of Bermuda's cat population and uses fear-mongering and non-scientific claims to achieve their narrow objective.

I founded the Bermuda Feline Assistance Bureau (BFAB) more than 20 years ago to address the large population of feral cats. I was encouraged by the late Dr Neil Burnie to do something in the absence of any other organisation addressing the issue.

We knew that the cat population was a societal issue and that some element of an unsterilised population would always remain so long as everyone did not neuter their animals. There was no time limit on our operational plan. Our objective is to reduce and control the cat population in Bermuda and to reduce the suffering of all animals.

Since inception, BFAB has spent several million dollars to spay and neuter more than 28,000 cats. We have provided a free public service to the thousands of people who love and care for these animals but who cannot afford the high prices charged by established veterinary practices. The reality is that the “feral” cat population living in the wild today is small in number, with the majority having died off over the years. The facts borne out of our data is that most of the cats we sterilise today are best described as owned by people in neighbourhoods and at business premises. The cats are their pets and they have an emotional connection with the animals.

It is inaccurate to imply that there are hordes of cats living in the parks or open lands. In locations such as the national parks, BFAB has worked in cooperation with Government to reposition feeding areas. Along with sterilisation, BFAB serves as a mechanism to handle new cats that are frequently dumped at the parklands. In those instances, we pay for the surgery to spay the cats and home kittens.

The Audubon Society's article makes the claim that cats spread diseases to humans, with no scientific support behind the allegation. Statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that cats are rarely a source of disease, and it is unlikely for anyone to get sick from touching or owning a cat.

It is rare for anyone to get toxoplasmosis from a household pet (cats are not the only carriers — dogs, birds, and other mammals can also carry the parasite), let alone a feral cat with which they have no contact. A human would have to ingest cat faeces to catch toxo.

“There's simply no evidence to back up these claims,” says Deborah L Ackerman, MS, PhD, who is an adjunct associate professor of epidemiology at the UCLA School of Public Health.

The claim that cats are killing bluebirds, or any birds, is not substantiated by empirical evidence. Feral cats are opportunistic feeders — they will eat whatever is easiest to find that will also satisfy their nutritional needs.

Studies have shown cats to be far more efficient hunters when they sit and wait for prey — outside a rodent burrow, for example — than when they stalk and pounce, the way they approach birds. (See Fitzgerald, B Mike and Dennis Turner: “Hunting behaviour of domestic cats and their impact on prey populations” in The Domestic Cat: the Biology of its Behaviour.)

With regard to the skink, the introduction of the kiskadee is where the blame should lie with regard to any decrease in population. The same can be said with regard to the heron and the land crab population. The “cat lovers” in the Audubon Society's desire to kill large numbers of cats cared for by Bermuda's citizens is not only ethically corrupt but impractical and would lead to a severely negative impact on Bermuda's international image and tourism profile.

Since most cats on the Island are either domestic pets or cared for by citizens, there is no way to discriminate should one attempt to cull them. Lawsuits would abound. Word of such a medieval approach would quickly spread to organisations such as the Humane Society of the United States, Peta and Wispa, the world press and social media.

Before global events such as the America's Cup, this could have a permanently negative impact on our international image.

In contrast, Bermuda represents perhaps the most extensive and effective spay-neuter operation ever undertaken globally. The effort should be embraced and promoted as a distinction for Bermuda on the world stage.

BFAB is working with Government to craft and implement spay-neuter legislation as one important addition to our efforts to protect the welfare of all animals in Bermuda.

THOMAS GLEESON

In this file photograph, a feral cat is seen in Admiralty House Park

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Published March 05, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated March 05, 2015 at 2:10 am)

‘Fear-mongering’ claims about feral cats

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