Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Tale of Four Cats

In America, everybody is entitled to their personal opinion on any given subject. But, I believe that if you are in a position where you have been entrusted by the public to save lives, you need to do your job, regardless of your personal opinion.  That includes shelter staff, shelter directors and especially shelter board members. They are supposed to be "steering the ship."

I think it can be compared to a pharmacist who won't fill a birth control prescription because of religious beliefs. I respect that the pharmacist has a right to her beliefs, but they prevent her from doing her job. So she should be relieved of her job. Just as shelter staff and board members who uphold personal philosophies that support killing rather than life-saving,  should be relieved of their jobs.

My blog this week has several links to news articles regarding the vastly different attitudes towards Trap, Neuter, Return in Wisconsin. Four counties, four stories. I'm not going to say much - I'm going to let you read and process this information....

All of the national organizations, except PETA, recognize Trap Neuter Return as an effective method to reduce the feral cat population. It saves lives, saves taxpayers' money, and it works.

Here is the link to the Best Friends Animal Society Community Cat Fiscal Estimator, which will help you determine how much money you can save in your community by starting a TNR program. So, even if you don't like cats, but you like money, you can see that Trap Neuter Return will save taxpayer dollars.

"The Town of Greenville and the Fox Valley Humane Association are working together on a trap-neuter-return program as a long-term solution to Greenville’s feral cat problem. Greenville constable Vicki Prey is a key player in a cat population management program. In just the first year of the TNR program, the shelter has seen a 63 percent decrease in the number of feral cats brought in during the first quarter of 2011 compared with the first quarter of 2010. "

My note regarding Outagamie County:  A successful collaboration between the town of Greenville and the local humane society is working. The proof is in the numbers.

Wisconsin Humane Society's Jill Kline talks about their feral cat program:

"The Wisconsin Humane Society has participated in the program for 10 years. Since 2005 more than 2,000 feral cats have been trapped and neutered or spayed. We think it's a great community program," Kline said. "About one in eight feral cats brought in to the Humane Society are adoptable. Some are ill and must be euthanized, but most are healthy.  Kline said the "trap-neuter-return" program helps curtail overpopulation of cats as well as cuts down on nuisance complaints since the cats no longer fight, spray or howl."

My note regarding Milwaukee County: Great work by Wisconsin Humane Society. Unfortunately for the cats of Milwaukee County, the animal control contract is held by the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC) where they do not have a TNR program.  The past Executive Director was not a supporter of TNR and subsequently 68% of cats that entered MADACC in 2010 were killed (or 4763 cats). In 2009, 65% (or 4363 cats) were killed. So you can see that killing cats did not improve the situation.  The good work of Wisconsin Humane Society will be negated by the poor decisions at MADACC, unless a  progressive director is hired for the vacancy at MADACC.

Lakeland Animal Shelter is the county shelter in Elkhorn. It has neither a TNR program or a barn cat program. BUT.... Walworth County is the home of Community Cat, Inc., whose co-founders, Tammy Neumeister and Lela Schuster are avid feral and barn cat advocates.  They believe that every cat has a right to live, and Tammy had this to say:

"There is an important factor that people against TNR seem to miss. The fact that these are healthy cats. The cats we TNR are generally as healthy as house cats, if not healthier. They are in good condition. They have colony caretakers OR they are making it on their own. They have a source for food, water, and shelter. If we found a skinny, injured, non-healthy cat, we would not TNR. It's obviously not doing well where it is. Those we take in, make well, and then try to find a new location with a caretaker, usually on a farm. Some of these are obvious strays. They don't know how to care for themselves out there. These we take in as house cats. Some are closer to "house ferals" but that's OK too. Most of them come around once they are healthy again and see that we help. Then they can be adopted out. The true ferals are fine. They are in great shape. They know what they are doing out there and it's all they know."

My notes: Tammy should know what she is talking about. Her small group of volunteers at Community Cat in Whitewater, Wisconsin  has assisted in a TNR program and the spay/neuter of  3000 cats (and 400 dogs) since 2009. Although they work with all cats and dogs, their real passion is the free roaming "community cats".  

A recent story in the Washington Post alerted me to the anti-TNR opinion of the president of the board of directors of the Sauk County Humane Society in Wisconsin. Her name is Dana Madalon and her comments in the story are on the second page of the link.  The story even mentioned that Ms. Madalon withdrew her financial support from the Washington Humane Society (D.C.) because of their TNR program.

 I contacted her and asked if she would like to clarify or defend her position and the following is her response. I agreed to post it in its entirety.

"I realize it’s often difficult to have meaningful dialog about TNR as it is so filled with emotion but we all come from the same place which is love for cats. I personally share my home with 4 cats, all of whom were rescued from the street.

My opinions have been formed from over 20 years of observation and personal involvement, not from some lofty perch on the outside. I have an extensive background in animal shelter and rescue work. I am an animal welfare activist, not an animal rights activist as the reporter wrote in his story. I have been involved in virtually every program available in shelters from cleaning cages to serving on Boards and deployed with the HSUS to New Orleans to help with animal rescue after Katrina. I do respect the opinions and viewpoints of TNR advocates but based on my experience and what I have personally witnessed, disagree that it’s the right approach for most situations. I do recognize there are success stories but those are regrettably in the minority.
I will share with you some of what I have seen through shelter work both in the Washington, DC area and in the Midwest.

Cats are domestic animals. This means they do not have natural defenses or immune systems and thus depend entirely on humans for their medical care. In TNR colonies we see devastating illnesses and diseases that are left untreated because people can’t get close enough to the cats to identify whether a cat is ill much less provide multi-day medical treatment. These cats get severe ear mites, flea allergies, skin conditions, abscessed teeth, upper respiratory infections, conjunctivitis, ringworm, injuries, and frostbite, all of which are untreatable since it’s virtually impossible to identify then trap and treat a specific cat throughout its lifetime. Further, the sick and dying cats and kittens stay hidden while the healthier cats take advantage of any food placed out. I have seen skinny, bedraggled, forlorn looking cats from TNR colonies shivering in the extreme cold with their eyes almost closed filled with gunk. And these are the ones that are healthy enough to emerge. Imagine the ones we find that are near death under a bush or in a car engine. In researching TNR, I have never encountered meaningful discussion on how to address these issues once the cat is released.

In most cases, TNR colonies are not lucky enough to reside in neighborhoods with dedicated, conscientious, and long-term caretakers. In urban and rural settings in particular (as opposed to suburban), we see a lot of horrific abuse. Since these cats are used to hanging around their colony they become vulnerable to incredibly indescribable acts of cruelty. Just seeing one instance is often enough to turn a person into an “indoor only” fanatic. It’s really bad. There are some cases that will haunt me forever.

The mere existence of feral cat colonies, in many cases, actually contributes to more cats. TNR colonies perpetuate the notion that this is a “good” life for the cats, thereby promoting dumping. For example, university and college settings are among the worst problem areas for feral cat colonies. In these settings we see cat colonies actually on the increase. Cats are frequently abandoned by irresponsible students who see a feral cat colony as a reasonable solution to an unwanted cat at the end of school. They wouldn’t think this if the colony didn’t exist in the first place. We also seeing dumping of unwanted pets (which is actually considered abandonment and a crime in many jurisdictions) near cat colonies by irresponsible or ignorant owners, thereby perpetuating the cycle rather than helping to decrease the populations. Again, these misguided (giving them the benefit of the doubt) individuals see or hear about a colony and think it’s a “good” place for their pet because “at least it won’t be euthanized.”

In rural areas, where shelters are scarce and often TNR if done, is not done with the necessary amount of care and dedication required, populations explode and cats live miserable lives. Kittens are everywhere, most of them sick and dying. A friend of mine just recently rescued one from a TNR colony that was near death. She was lucky enough to be able to trap this particular cat and whisked it to a vet. It was less than a year old, missing most of its fur, its eyes were filled with gunk, and she was bleeding. And this was from a TNR colony.

In New Orleans, during the rescue efforts, we encountered colony after colony of feral cats, many of which had notched ears, clearly indicating they were TNR colonies. Wary of humans to begin with, post-disaster they were virtually impossible to rescue. Whatever caretaker there might have been had been forced to evacuate leaving these animals to fend for themselves in a truly inhospitable environment with little to no food or shelter available. I realize disasters are the exception rather than the norm, however, we can plan for our own pets in the event of emergencies but planning for a feral cat colony is a lot more problematic, if not impossible.

One of the arguments espoused by the TNR community is that removing the colony would create a vacuum only to be filled by yet more feral cats. I find this premise to be a “seeing the trees not the forest” mistake. In attempting to preserve the colony, one ignores the plight of those “other feral cats” that are suffering, starving, subjected to cruelty, etc. The sad reality is that until we get the problem of the pet overpopulation under control, we are going to have to make tough choices. Even if all the TNR efforts were successful, there are still millions of feral cats and dumped cats that were once pets that are suffering greatly.

I honestly believe we have a moral obligation to make sure these animals do not suffer (or languish interminably in cages) and are free from peril. That is my priority. We have to make decisions on where to place our limited resources to best help those who can’t speak for themselves. For me, that is in anti-cruelty education, spay/neutering programs, providing larger and better shelters (where cats aren’t warehoused), and whatever programs are targeted toward minimizing animals suffering. I personally could never trap a cat and put it back on the street because I believe if you truly love an animal, you’ll do what’s best for it, not what makes you feel good. I believe TNR falls into the latter category. So, unless these cats can be socialized and until we get the problem of pet overpopulation under control, I believe euthanasia, sadly, is the most humane and loving alternative." - Dana Madalon, President, Sauk County Humane Society

My Notes on Sauk County - Notice, that there is no live-saving solution offered . There is no acknowledgement that EVERY major national animal welfare organization (except PETA) endorses TNR. So, I guess Dana Madalon is the expert and they're not? There is no acknowledgment that TNR saves taxpayers' and donors' money because it effectively reduces the feral cat population. She does not offer any viable solution to help reduce the feral cat population except killing. And we know from experience and statistics that the killing won't solve the problem, but increase it. Sauk County Humane Society - can you really do your job to save lives with this kind of regressive thinking at the helm?

Four cats, four counties. If you were a feral cat in Wisconsin, where would you want to live?


  1. I hate to say it, but Dana did make very valid points. While she may not have offered a life-saving solution, as you pointed out, what is the solution to being able to provide medical assistance to these feral cats?

  2. The cats in the other three counties are mostly healthy. Is it something in the water in Sauk County?

  3. Contrary to Ms. Madalon's claim that it is "difficult to have meaningful dialog about TNR as it is so filled with emotion", I would say that it is the willful ignorance and disregard for facts displayed by anti-TNR people such as herself that make "meaningful dialog" difficult.

    For example:

    "Cats are domestic animals. This means they do not have natural defenses or immune systems and thus depend entirely on humans for their medical care."

    Really? Cats don't have "natural defenses or immune systems"? Looks like somebody flunked Biology 101.

  4. What is Sauk County doing to help pet overpopulation? Nothing! They used to have a low cost spay/neuter program but suddenly stopped that......

  5. For a humane society director, Ms. Madalon seems surprisingly uninformed about cats. Cats actually do have immune systems. They are born with them (!) and they develop fully with age. They are also born with claws, formidable climbing and jumping skills, and keen eyesight and sense of smell to help them survive, even in inhospitable environments. That's why there are so many of them living on the streets. Ms. Madalon's arguments against TNR are not convincing. The scenarios she mentions--abuse, dumping, illness, natural disasters--are not caused by TNR programs. These risks have always existed for all animals (not just feral cats) and always will, sadly, at least until human beings are capable of empathy and compassion toward other living beings.

    I ran a s/n clinic for feral cats for five years, and while I did see many cats with fleas, internal parasites, dental problems, and injuries (which we treated), the vast majority were healthy animals. I would like to point out to Ms. Madalon that many "owned" animals suffer from fleas and other parasites (and dental disease and injuries) and do not ever receive treatment. Would she consider euthanasia "the most humane and loving option" for these animals as well? In fact, I doubt that the majority of owned animals receive the kind of vet care they should, but I'm not sure that means they should be killed.

    I also think Ms. Madalon has a fundamental misunderstanding of what TNR entails. She seems to think it means cats are sterilized and released, and then left to their own devices. In fact, cats in properly managed TNR programs are sterilized, vaccinated, and returned to their outdoor homes, where they are fed and monitored by a caretaker. All of the caretakers I know visit their colonies at least once a day. If a cat is sick or injured, the caretaker traps the cat and takes him or her to a vet for treatment or euthanasia. The cats in my own colonies trust me enough to let me put flea treatment on them, and during the six years I have been caring for three colonies, I have only lost one cat to illness. When I noticed she was ill, I trapped her and took her to my vet.

    Most importantly, Ms. Madalon completely ignores the many benefits of TNR, including stopping the cycle of breeding (thus reducing the number of homeless kittens and adults long term...this is key, Ms. Madalon!), reducing male cats' tendency to fight and roam (thus reducing the spread of disease and risk of injury or death due to accident), and cultivating an ethic of respect and compassion toward feral cats. Trapping and killing cats only reinforces the notion that they are pests who need to be removed and destroyed.

    I wonder if Ms. Madalon has any clue how many cats have been taken OFF the streets thanks TNR programs? My organization removed and rehomed hundreds of feral kittens, tame strays, and rehabilitatable adults in the course of our trapping projects. This is a key component of a good TNR program.

    One last thing. It is a tremendous insult for Ms. Madalon, someone with no personal experience practicing TNR, to dismiss it as a shortsighted, "forest for the trees" mistake. In fact, what Ms. Madalon advocates and practices--simply killing feral cats--is a major "forest for the trees" mistake that will continue to cost millions of cats their lives every year. My s/n clinic sterilized over one thousand cats a year, not only giving the cats treated a chance at a better and longer life, but preventing the births of untold numbers of kittens, many of whom would have ultimately been dumped and killed in a facility much like Ms. Madalon's.

    So, Ms. Madalon, I ask you, what better, more effective, and nonlethal solution are you offering?

  6. To build off Mary Ellen's statement, Dana lost all credibility right out of the gates when she said cat's don't have immune systems. Neither of a medical, or veterinary background (we can assume by that blasphemous statement), you can't believe a word she says after that. As was said at the beginning of this article, if you don't view all life as precious, you have no business being in charge of life. God gives life, God taketh away. You, Dana, are not God. Step aside and let someone who does care about life do the job.

  7. While I appreciate Dana Madalon’s thoughtful response, several of her points simply don’t ring true.

    While I agree that TNR can put caretakers in a very difficult position with regard to any necessary vet care, as Valerie has already mentioned, the idea that cats don’t have “natural defenses or immune systems” is absurd.

    And then there’s her suggestion that TNR colonies attract more cats. I’ve yet to see any reports/studies indicating that people made the decision to dump their cat(s) based on their knowledge of a nearby colony. Is Madalon suggesting that, in the absence of colonies, these same cats would remain with their owners? Be taken in to the local shelter, where they would most likely be killed?

    I think it’s far more accurate to suggest that managed colonies allow for the monitoring of dumped cats—which means sterilization at least, and quite possibly adoption. Take away the food and the colony, and such vigilance is no longer possible.

    Finally, as Mary Ellen points out, Madalon doesn’t seem to be offering any alternative here—non-lethal or otherwise.

    If trap-and-kill worked, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion, would we? As Mark Kumpf, former president of the National Animal Control Association, has stated, “there’s no department that I’m aware of that has enough money in their budget to simply practice the old capture-and-euthanize policy; nature just keeps having more kittens.” Traditional control methods, he argues, are akin to “bailing the ocean with a thimble.”

    Which might help explain the cost of “successful” eradication efforts on islands.

    On Ascension Island (just 34 square miles in total area), located in the South Atlantic Ocean, eradication efforts (approximately 635 cats killed over 27 months) totaled GBP 650,000 (approximately $1.1M today). On Marion Island (115 square miles, barren, and uninhabited), located in the South Indian Ocean, it took 19 years to eradicate approximately 2,200 cats, using disease (feline distemper), poisoning, intensive hunting and trapping, and dogs. The cost, I’m sure, was astronomical.

    Even setting aside the horrors involved, I don’t imagine that residents of Outagamie, Milwaukee, Walworth, or Sauk County—or any other county, for that matter—are interested in using their tax dollars for such an effort.

    Which is exactly why communities across the country are turning to TNR for feral cat management. It may not be an ideal solution, but in many cases, it’s the best option we’ve got.

  8. If these cats are so tremendously unhealthy, disease-ridden and starving, how in the world can they continue to breed?

    I also love that she mentions Katrina as a reason not to have TNR. So a horrific natural and man made disaster is a logical reason not to enact TNR in the entire country?

    As an animal advocate who has personal experience with feral cats and animal shelters and immune systems and other stuff (see how I can just randomly assign myself credentials to give credence to any of my unfounded or unscientific personal opinions which directly counter all available evidence?) I think we have a moral imperative to Trap, Fire, and Re-locate all shelter workers and board members who don't believe in life saving measures.

    Killing a healthy animal, feral or not, is never a "humane and loving alternative." How perfectly idiotic.

  9. Out of curiosity - for those of you who take care of feral cats: What do you feed them?

  10. Regarding comments: Please keep them respectful and educational. Or ask an honest question of myself or another commentor. Please post your full name. If you feel strongly enough about an issue that you are willing to comment, then you should be willing to post your name. I will not post links to other blogs or sites in the comments. Thank you!

  11. Scott VanValkenburgJune 29, 2011 at 4:25 PM

    Hey, I'm a PETA supporter and their spay-neuter clinics altered more than 1,000 feral cats last year! They also have a "TNR: Doing it right" brochure on their Web site. So, perhaps they have a more nuanced position than some posters here do!

  12. I can only speak from my experience as a rural resident, but I believe TNR colonies cannot work unless there is daily interaction and constant monitoring by human caretakers. These caretakers are usually volunteers, a changeable and unrealiable source in the long term. Without that kind of intense commitment, TNR colonies will fall prey to all of the suffering and abuse outlined by Ms. Madalon. Furthermore, short of fencing the cats in, volunteers can do nothing to prevent the cats from being killed on the highway, a frequent occurrence in rural areas. And what about feral cat decimation of songbirds and small mammals like rabbits and chipmunks? Don't they deserve to live too?

    TNR advocates, while laudable for their desire to save lives, seems a bit naive to me. To be even remotely successful, TNR requires an unrealistic commitment from volunteers and shelters. As Ms. Madalon said, TNR makes us humans feel better, but it's not necessarily better for the cats.

    Nancy Dillman, Baraboo, Wisconsin

  13. PETA agrees wholeheartedly with Dana Madalon and is thankful that the Sauk County Humane Society does not turn its back on any animal in need. Legitimizing the proliferation of homeless cat colonies sends the wrong message to the public−that cats can and do thrive outdoors without daily monitoring and needed medical attention such as parasite prevention, vaccinations, adequate and safe shelter, and more. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Our past experiences with trap/neuter/return/monitor (TNRM) programs and managed feral-cat colonies have led us to doubt that these programs are truly in the cats’ or the communities’ best interests. We receive countless reports of incidents in which cats—spayed or neutered and “managed” or not—suffer and die horrible deaths because they must fend for themselves outdoors. Having witnessed firsthand the gruesome things that can and do happen to feral cats, we cannot in good conscience oppose euthanasia as a humane alternative for dealing with animal overpopulation and homelessness. Please know that this stance is based solely on what we believe to be the most humane option for these animals.

    Although altering feral cats prevents the suffering of future generations, it does almost nothing to improve the quality of life of the cats who are left outdoors. Homeless cats do not die of old age. Highly contagious diseases (including rabies) are not uncommon, as are infected puncture wounds, broken bones, urinary tract infections, brain damage, internal injuries, attacks by other animals or cruel humans, automobile accidents, and terrible living conditions like freezing or stifling temperatures, scrounging for food, and being considered a “nuisance,” through no fault of their own. Moreover, roaming cats terrorize and kill countless birds and other wildlife who call the outdoors “home” and are not equipped to deal with such predators.

    PETA supports the efforts of animal control agencies when they rescue cats from the streets, even if a quick and painless end is the best that can be offered. We believe that resources are most effectively directed at the source of the tragic animal homelessness crisis—the indiscriminate breeding of dogs and cats. Communities that wish to effectively address animal overpopulation and its attendant public health and safety concerns can make serious headway by implementing ordinances that require citizens to spay and neuter their own animals, forbid the sale and trade of intact animals without a costly permit, and require local animal shelters to remain accessible and user-friendly by accepting all animals at all times without fees or reservations. PETA assists communities across the country in drafting and passing such laws, and our own mobile spay/neuter clinics sterilize more than 10,000 animals (including feral cats) every year. Find out more at

    Teresa Lynn Chagrin, Animal Care and Control Specialist/Cruelty Investigations Department/PETA

  14. In response to PETA's comment: I'm not sure if you are trying to convince me, the author of the blog, but if you are; you are wasting your breath. I will never be part of the "Better Off Dead" crowd.
    And thank you for clarifying PETA's "Better Off Dead" stance on TNR. There are a few people, such as Scott, a previous commentor, who was a bit unclear.
    This blog entry was not meant to be a TNR debate. That debate has been won; since every other national animal welfare organization except yours supports TNR as a humane, cost-effective method to control and reduce the feral cat populations.
    This blog was meant to educate and inform Wisconsin residents about the inadequate efforts by some of our shelter directors and board members to save lives. They can offer more than "a quick and painless end" but are choosing to not do so. Wisconsin residents have a right to know what their donations and tax dollars are supporting.

  15. The arguments against TNR are not actually against TNR, they are against feral cats or outdoor cats.

    I agree that it'd be nice if there were no feral/outdoor/unhomed cats. I don't think there are any TNR supporters who think we need MORE cats outdoors.

    I have treated many shelter cats for severe infectious diseases. I have looked into the mouth of a newly adopted shelter pet and found horrible dental disease. Does this mean shelters are the problem and should be eliminated? Of course not.

    Trap and kill doesn't work. And the barn owner or lady feeding the stray cats is not going to help you trap them for euthanisia. BUT they will help us trap them for TNR- and then they see how much healthier the cats are once they are not wearing themselves out having kittens twice a year. TNR is the solution.

    I euthanised a feral/barn cat last month who was at least 16 years old. He was a sweet old cat who was neutered when he was a young adult and lived in a barn and was fed on the porch. Since I have been doing TNR I have been very impressed with how closely the caretakers watch over their cats even though they cannot pet most of them. They are quick to call and discuss their condition and most are fairly willing to bring them in for care or euthanisia if it is needed.

  16. Maybe Sauk County Humane Society wouldn't have such a high euthanasia rate if they spent more time and effort in actually allowing good families to adopt companions. Their adoption process is egregious at best ... as of August 12, 2016 we are STILL talking about their poor treatment of the community that supports them.
    It doesn't surprise me that PETA supports SCHS position or even the idea that Ms. Madalon could be PETA supporter.
    Psychology Today - Stanley Coren PhD says it best r.e. PETA ... "In addition what I found to be most distressing is that the organization seems to have an agenda oriented against the keeping of animals as pets at all."

    Based on personal experience, Sauk County is less interested in adopting to a family than they are making the process painful and humiliating under the guise of "having the animals best interest at heart". I call BS.
    Unless and until the adoption process changes, the mentality of the employees change or the board gets revamped - Sauk County HS will remain an embarrassing blight on this county and state and they will also continue to have an unprecedented high rate of euthanasia. Ms. Madalon can blame their euthanasia rate on the community not spaying or neutering their animals but that would be a deflection and an insult to the community that supports her. Until and unless they make their adoption process reasonable and feasible, then families will seek animals from breeders or other shelters (if the initial experience with Sauk County doesn't turn them off to the idea of shelters all together) because it's easier and less humiliating.
    Sauk County HS shelter problems and issues are theirs to own. They created them, they foster them and it's clear that despite people talking about it for 5 years - nothing is going to change any time soon.