Pet Tales: Cat fight continues

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Chloe would undoubtedly be alive today if she lived indoors. But Chloe and 33 other cats were trapped and killed on the orders of elected officials in Monessen who say they were responding to complaints from taxpayers.

Chloe's picture was put on a poster that attracted 35 people to an April 27 protest at the Monessen municipal building. The death of the cats (I call them The Monessen 34) has sparked howls of protest. Lorrie Cheroki, who says Chloe was spayed and was her pet for 12 years, started a new group, Coalition for a Humane Monessen.

A new website, "Save the Cats of Monessen," urges people to bombard Mayor Mary Jo Smith with telephone calls and emails. To me that sounds like harassment that will do nothing to improve the plight of homeless cats and kittens. I'm sure people involved in this campaign genuinely and passionately love cats, but their anger is misplaced.

The Monessen 34 would all be alive today if they lived indoors. Don't blame the Monessen mayor, council or employees. Don't blame the citizens who complained about cats defecating in gardens, spraying urine on porch furniture and teasing and taunting indoor cats. Don't blame the trapper who was hired to round up the cats. And don't blame workers at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society shelter where the cats were taken to be "euthanized."

Here's a small glimmer of good news: Four or five nice cats "that were not feral" were adopted out to new homes, according to Gretchen Fieser, director of public relations at the WPHS. None of the cats had collars, ID tags or microchips, she said. No more trapped cats will be accepted from Monessen because "WPHS does not do animal control like that."

The deaths of the Monessen cats were caused by people who claim they love cats. The blame lies with people who allow un-spayed females and un-neutered males to roam freely so that they can fight and breed and contribute to the unending supply of unwanted kittens.

I don't think some cat lovers realize how many people dislike or even hate "free-ranging cats." Catch and kill stray and feral cats, said 41 percent of people who responded to a Post-Gazette online poll. Fifty-three percent said they should be caught, neutered and returned to where they came from. Six percent said stray and feral cats should be caught and housed inside.

People who love birds and other wildlife really hate free-ranging cats. A study recently published in the Journal of Ornithology says such cats were the No. 1 killer "by a large margin" of baby gray catbirds in three Washington, D.C., suburbs.

Researchers put tiny radio transmitters on baby birds to track their movements and their deaths. Seventy-nine percent of the baby birds were killed by predators, and 47 percent of the predators were cats. Some of the killer cats were well-fed pets. Others were feral cats. Researchers found dead baby birds that had been decapitated but not eaten. One of the authors was Peter P. Marra, a conservation scientist at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

"I like cats," Mr. Marra said in a telephone interview. "I have owned cats, but they always lived inside."

Here are some of the terms he uses to describe cats: top-of-the-food-chain predators; an invasive species; as disruptive to native ecosystems as gypsy moths or West Nile virus.

He doesn't care if they're pet cats, wild cats fending for themselves or feral cats that have been trapped, neutered and returned to outdoor colonies where people feed them.

"If they're neutered they still kill birds," Mr. Marra said.

"The places in which they live can become devoid of most wildlife," he wrote in a March 18 column in The Washington Post. "Worse, these colonies encourage the dumping of unwanted cats."

His proposed solution? "They have to stop roaming" or they should be euthanized, he said.

In Mr. Marra's next study, researchers will put "cat cams" on felines to track their movements.

Cat trappings and killings are currently on hold in Monessen, Mayor Smith said. But an ever-growing number of Monessen residents have asked officials to trap and kill cats. There are still "at least a couple hundred cats" running at large throughout Monessen, the mayor said.

The WPHS has offered to work with Monessen officials on trap-neuter-return programs. The offer has not been accepted because "the people who complain do not want the cats back here," Mayor Smith said.

She has owned cats in the past "but they always lived in my house. Now I have little dogs -- Chinese crested -- and they live in the house."

Can you imagine what would happen if dozens or hundreds of dogs were running loose in any town? State and local laws require dogs to stay in their own yards and to be leashed when they are off their owner's property. Why shouldn't the same rules apply to cats?


Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3064. Got a pet health question? Email it to petpoints@post-gazette.com . It may be answered in an upcoming Pet Points column by veterinarians at the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic.


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