People have strong passions on both sides of the free-roaming/feral cat issue, and myths and misunderstandings often interfere with the humane care of these cats. PBIC wants to lend some perspective on some theories.
Free-roaming and feral cats do not suffer! When the cats find shelter and food, avoid human contact and avoid or fight off predators, the cats are more likely to die by natural cause than by euthanasia when taken to veterinarians who don’t handle feral cats. One needs to ask the question whether the cat is suffering more than the free-roaming deer, squirrels, possums or foxes. For those that say yes, then they also will have to admit that all wildlife suffers. This simply is not the truth.
Some argue that these cats are better off dead than living a natural outdoor life. These people argue that the feral cats could be hit by cars. Expand that logic -- would we kill every bird, mammal or insect to spare them the potential pitfall? Why kill an animal living in nature just because it doesn't live a lifestyle with a human inside a house?
The biggest myth is that feral cats decimate wildlife and bird populations. There are many studies with many conclusions, but the inarguable reality is that people - not cats - have most significantly damaged the environment and the ecosystem, and have done far more to endanger the bird species and wildlife. Reasonable people must admit that the effect of cats on wildlife and bird populations is minute compared to the effect of humans.
PBIC has heard the misunderstanding that once feral always feral. What we've observed is quite the opposite. When fed regularly, most feral cats learn to recognize the caretakers and develop a sense of trust. It is not unusual for the ferals to recognize the sound of the car or the voice that arrives to bring food. With long-time care by one individual, the feral cats relax enough that they will rub the human's legs and can be touched. In fact, some feral cats become adoptable and live as housecats becoming extraordinary pets!
Another common myth is that feral cats are vicious or mean. From the feral cat’s point of view, it is the potential prey and humans are the predators. A healthy free-roaming cat will not stalk and attack a person. In fact, the cat will remain hidden and quiet until the unfamiliar person goes away. For example when a feral cat is caged at a clinic, it will still try to hide. Until provoked or given a chance to escape, the cat naturally will put all its energy into escaping. In short, it acts like a typical housecat that doesn’t want to be confided.
And the biggest argument by opponents of the feral cat management idea is that free-roaming cats are the source of diseases. Not only does PBIC know this is a false argument in Palm Beach, but a large-scale study published by the American Veterinary Medical Association proves otherwise. The rate of infectious diseases was similar to pet cats and free-roaming cats. And in some cases, pet cats had a higher disease rate than free-roaming cats. Because Mother Nature selects the healthiest animals, it is perfectly logical that the ferals are very healthy. In Palm Beach, the feral cats – affectionately dubbed “community cats” – are vaccinated against rabies and various feline diseases.
Caring people will always feed free-roaming cats, and laws cannot legislate human compassion. So the best solution is to embrace the idea that there is a responsible organization on the island handling the matter. The Trap-Neuter-Return program and managing the colonies are the proven best humane approach, and PBIC is doing just that!