Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Curse Of Cuteness

Ecological disasters don't have to be chemical like DDT or Mercury. They don't have to be icky and in your face like zebra mussels or hydrilla.

Sometimes they are cute and downright charming.

Therein lies the problem.

Here's an example that really drives me nuts ... and it's not just because I am not a cat lover. I may teasingly give cats a hard time on this blog, but it's in good fun and I know your pet cats bring you cat lovers much joy and comfort.
This is not about cats at all really, it's about stupid humans.
In a local community near here, Otter Creek, a group of ignorant well meaning folks recently trapped, neutered, and released back into the same community, about 30 feral cats.

Once they trapped them, it should have been over. Give 'em a shot at adoption at the pound, but then euthanize them if no one wants to adopt a hissing, fire-spitting feral cat.

But whatever you do, do not release them back into the community to feed on our NATIVE birds and other small wild creatures.
Plus, their very presence will encourage the dumping of other cats who WILL be able to reproduce.


This scene looks pretty idyllic. Subtropical foliage surrounding a clear stream ... a mallard cruising by ...

Cute and charming as she is, she's an ecological nightmare down here in Florida. She's not part of some wild flock migrating through. She's feral ...

... and she is a genetic time bomb.

Florida does host some migrating flocks of mallards, but not many compared to other southern states to our north.

We do have an endemic mallard cousin called the Mottled Duck which is being hybridized out of existence by mating with released feral mallards.

Again, we have met the enemy and he are us. All across the state, good hearted, but ignorant folks are releasing mallards into local water bodies. I would imagine that a few months after Easter is an especially heavy release time, since so many impulse duckling purchases occur near this holiday.

Controlling feral species gets complicated when your target has a cuteness or beauty factor. It's not too difficult to get the public behind you on exterminating feral Burmese Pythons, Walking Catfish, or Cane Toads.

But just you try exterminating feral cats, ducks, or parrots ... that is another story.

Cuteness ... it's a curse.


swamp4me said...

Sadly, what you say is true. I preach the keep your cats indoors theme constantly and give talks about why it is not good to release your pet whatever into the wild.

swamp4me said...

Forgot to know you're gonna catch %$## from some folks about this ;)

robin andrea said...

I'm with you on this, fc. I think most people don't recognize the impact they have on their local world, when they release their discarded critters out there. It's part of a bigger disconnect, not even knowing their local fauna and flora, or how their own small behaviors can change that.

Arkansas Patti said...

How about we neuter the people that dump the animals in the first place so they can't produce ignorant offspring. Sorry but I could never justify killing an animal that is a victim of human stupidity.

CHEF TROLL said...

Good post. A partial answer would be MUCH more severe sanctions against idiots who release "pets" into the environment.

A group of hippies actually delayed the elimination of the St. Pete feral monkeys on the basis of cuteness.

Anonymous said...

While I appreciate the problem, and in fact adopted a feral cat, I think there must be a better solution than killing the animals. Maybe killing the morons?

SophieMae said...

Ah, you've hit on some of DS's top ten pet peeves here. The feral cat thing might just be #1. In the birding world, those mallard hybrids are known as 'muddled ducks'. It's a cryin' shame!

Ya know, we could 'harvest' mallards and have duck dinners for all the homeless/hungry people out there... Two problems, one solution. Maybe the cafeteria ladies could add duck to the weekly menu... candlelight in the cafeteria, a touch of class between classes. Home Ec classes could do duck l'orange. Free supplies! What a boost to the economy! Another problem solved. 8-} Then again, practicality has never been gummit's strong suit.

Freste said...

Sitting on the fence usually means picking splinters out for days. So I am picking a side and agree with you here.
We had the whole spotted owl/barred owl thing going on here. Nasty.
As for feral cats, some that are adoptable have food, temperment and territorial issues. Some adjust perfectly. A fair chance isn't so much to ask. Release is just plain stupid.

Dani said...

Great comment Robin!

I'm with you on all counts FC! It drives me bonkers that my neighbors allow their cats to be loose outside. Everytime I see them in my yard they get hosed. And people dumpin' animals that don't belong need a swift kick in the booty.

Leighton Photography & Imaging said...

I couldn't have said it better, my friend! Not to mention the pythons and caimans ...

Keep up the GREAT work!

Rich Leighton

kathy a. said...

i'm a cat person to the bone, and cannot understand how anyone ever could dump a cat. life is nasty, brutish, short, and filled with disease for dumped cats, with the unfixed females also pumping out kittens until they die of disease, exhaustion, and/or looking like prey to something larger.

3 of our 4 cats were rescued feral kittens. earl lost an eye and is nearly blind in the other, plus he has had digestive and respiratory problems, because he was severely infected with a herpes virus as a very young kitten.

spot and polly were rescued a little older than is optimal -- i was fostering them for adoption, but they couldn't get over being human-avoidant in a couple of months. [the housecat life, they otherwise embraced.] when the rescue lady started talking about finding a feral colony for them, i just adopted them instead. thus ended my career as a foster mother -- we are full up on cats.

2 of our all-time favorite cats were abandoned kittens that i found -- one under the supermarket carts, the other under a bush on a small area surrounded by traffic. fido went to live with my dad; friskie spent his whole life with my family. i've placed a few "found" cats as well. when we have had an alarming shortage of cats or dogs, we patronize the local "no-kill" shelter, which offers animals a longer time in which to find adoption.

so, i'm clearly in the bleeding-heart wing of cat-lovers. but i think you probably are right about trap/release programs.

although i might make exceptions for cats who are semi-domesticated, even though they are not housecats. barn cats have a job, and are attached to supporting humans who feed and care for them, for example.

Pam Aries said...

It's truly sad that people do this sort of harm to the environment....wihtout even considering any harm it might do. All these folks with exotic pets who let them loose! Geepers!

tsiya said...

We have 5 indoor cats, all raised from feral kittens. That's fine, but any others who wander up are out of luck, I work hard to keep some balance on my little chunk of sand and mud.
I was contacted by a group who wanted to set traps, then neuter the catch, and turn them loose again. This solution only makes a few folks feel good, folks who don't consider the ecological cost of too many hunting feral cats. It's an "urban", PC solution, not a rural reality.

Airborne dad said...

Agreed. Spent the days watching the goldfinches head north. We don't need feral cats out there. The birds have enough to deal with, including the red-shouldered hawk who follows them north.

Anonymous said...

The alternative to TrapNeuterReturn is to trap and euthanize all cats found outdoors. According to most shelter operators I have interviewed, all cats brought into county animal services are euthanized pretty much immediately, because nobody ever adopts (spends money on a neutered, vaccinated) cat because cats are free.
I'm ok with the solution of euthanizing all captured outdoor cats provided it comes with a mandate of all pet cats coming from a controlled source, and requiring them to be neutered and vaccinated. otherwise we'll be right back where we started.
The upside of TNR operations, so I'm told, is that the returned ferals occupy a spot that would have cats in it, one way or another. It's just that these cats are neutered and vaccinated, and they defend their territory from fertile strays, which they presumable chase into traffic.
Plenty of blame to go around on this one.
fwiw, I have five cats, all found strays. all are neutered and vaccinated. two live outside, because they were found as adults and have outdoor adult habits. I don't like that they hunt songbirds no matter how well I feed them, but I didn't put them out there and I don't have the heart to kill them.

kathy a. said...

anonymous with 5 cats -- i agree that trap/neuter/release is better than just killing them all -- and finding homes [and medical supervision] for as many cats as possible is best.

some cats really want outdoor time, and none of the ones i've ever had has been much of a bird hunter. in maybe 30 years with various cats, we've gotten about 2 dead birds as presents, and a fair scattering of dead rodents. one cat with a real hunter instinct once stalked a turtle in SC for a long time; the turtle won.

my dogs, on the other hand, bring me dead baby squirrels and various rodents every spring -- just stuff they caught in the yard.

kathy a. said...

if i sound back and forth on this issue, it's because i am. i don't see feral colonies as good at all; in fact, they can be damaging. and dismal for the cats.

i can't put "outdoor" cats who have families in the same category as ferals, though.

Doug Taron said...

>Once they trapped them, it should have been over. Give 'em a shot at adoption at the pound, but then euthanize them

I am a confirmed cat lover. I have always had them in my life and can't imagine not having a feline companion or two. That said, I am in complete agreement.

We have a similar issue with parrots here in Chicago. The Monk Parakeet became established here about 25 years ago. There was an opportunity to eradicate them, but an outcry ensued. There is no longer an opportunity for eradication, a situation that will eventually be regretted.

My word verification is catstomp

Dave Coulter said...

Excellent post.

Mark said...

I'm afraid I have to agree, despite being married to a cat lover who currently feeds two semi-feral cats. They have killed a few birds and most of the lizards around here, which pretty much steams me, but what do you do?

The argument that feral cats occupy a niche that will be filled no matter what you do is one made by organizations like Alleycat Allies, which advocates trap, neuter and release. I don't think it's a valid argument.

The dumping of unwanted pets is a societal problem that demonstrates to me that this country is a pretty backward one.

Floridacracker said...

Amazing conversation. Thank you all for attending.

I expected it, but they have been civil and level headed even if they have a different viewpoint. Any long time reader knows FC is an animal softie, but he's extremely practical too.

Disconnect is exactly what it is. Kind motives, but a true disconnect.

We can disagree on this, although we are in agreement about the victims of human stupidity part.

Chef Troll,
Man I hate monkeys ... it must be some ancestral DNA primate thing, but I just despise them. Not apes, just monkeys ... I may be in touch with my inner LUCY.
And YES to higher penalties!

Anon 1,
They frown on that too dang it.

The fork and knife solution?

I actually posted my opinion on the barred owl thang a while back, before you were gracing my comment section :)

How an animal "lover" can dump a domestic animal in the wild totally confuses me too.

Thanks for the support! We are awash with exotics and ferals.

Kathy A,
I don't think you are a bleeding heart, I think you have a BIG heart. You have done your part to rescue abandoned cats ... probably more than your part.
I salute you.

From fish to birds, Florida is home to a huge crowd of destructive nonnatives. Education, law enforcement, and removal is how we need to deal with it.

Exactly. The release solution makes the human feel good, but the cat starves, gets run over, spreads disease, eats wildlife...

Anon 2,
The traffic comment had me LOL. Thank you for caring enough about feral cats to adopt some.
I salute you too.

Wow! I had no idea Monk's could stand the cold up there. Parrots are so endearing that it's really tough to do what should be done.

Thank you. When I sat down, I thought it was going to be a mallard post and then it morphed!

My wife is allergic to cats so I'm safe from any let's get a cat pressure.
That Alleycat Allies argument about the niche being filled ... YEAH, it will be filled with native predators who belong here and are part of a ecological cycle thousands of years old.

Larry said...

Interesting post! One advantage of living in a more Northern region is that we don't have Burmese Pythons to deal with. Here in Hannibal we do have a feral cat population, though.

I was talking with a local Animal Control officer the other day. "How do you deal with cats?" I asked.

"We set traps."

The trapped cats end up at the Humane Society compound and I'm sure most are euthanized. It's sad, but feral cats are simply a drain on our local bird population. Cats (and dogs) are just so prolific! We need to keep their numbers under control.

Alan said...

Ugg - parrots. There was a flock of at least 100 of them that lived in a group of trees on campus in college (in West Palm Beach) and they were the noisiest group of birds I can imagine... drove me nuts. Pretty to look at, but annoying in every other possible way, including being out of place in Florida.

Ericka said...

huh. we really do see eye to eye on things, don't we? monkeys - can't stand 'em.

also, as much as i love cats, and parrots, and so on, i must agree - they don't belong outside. well, the parrots maybe. let's say in their non-native environments. i've been in flaming online wars over it - one person living in hawaii told me that her precious kitty would never dream of catching anything but scary bugs, much less noshing on endangered fauna. *headdesk*

actually, i think it's a symptom of a larger, more insidious problem - people are so out of touch with nature and the rhythms of life. they focus on the cute fuzzy and totally miss the realities of survival. several years ago, a worker at the san fran zoo reached into a tiger cage and tried to grab meat away from an eating tiger and ended up losing an arm. comments at the time ran along the lines that they shouldn't be showing people something so barbaric as a tiger eating. *sigh* more people need to live in the country and grow a garden. that'd fix everything.

Floridacracker said...

"Cats (and dogs) are just so prolific! We need to keep their numbers under control."

With you on that.

Definitely a disconnect like Robin said above. Very good points you made.

Bird Advocate said...

#1. Cats are a pet species and it's inhumane to abandon them into the wild.
I have over 500 posts on my blog stating other reasons, too, but you did a great job of it!