TNR program not the answer

To the Editor,

At the Oct. 6 Hancock County commission meeting, a woman speaking in support of the animal shelter foundation mentioned me personally during her remarks. She spoke of me as the shelter’s neighbor farmer who “blasted a thousand doves out of the sky.”

I should have been offended by being depicted as a heartless killer, but it struck me as funny. I’ve never shot a dove in my life, and the colorful way she phrased it, with the blasting and all, created a vivid mental image. I should add that mourning doves are classified as game birds and are perfectly legal to hunt in West Virginia; also that I support the family members with whom we share the farm who do sponsor an annual dove hunt.

I relate her remark here because supporters of the foundation have continually tried to show themselves as morally superior in the controversy over control of the county animal shelter. Often they employ ad hominem arguments — that is, attacking the character of those who oppose them.

Since she brought the killing of birds into the discussion, let’s talk about killing birds.

Scholarly studies estimate that between one-half billion and one billion or more wild birds, primarily songbirds and gamebirds, are killed annually in this country by free-roaming cats, including feral cats, of which there are some 60 million in the U.S. That is nearly as many as are kept as pets. Predation from feral cats and loss of habitat are cited as the top two causes of declining wild bird populations.

The policies and practices of the Hancock County Animal Shelter Foundation protect and legitimize feral cats and so-called feral cat “colonies” within municipalities and other populated areas.

The president of the foundation recently published a list of the organization’s achievements of the past year. Among them was spaying or neutering 40 feral cats as part of a TNR (trap-neuter-release) program, all paid for “through our community feral cat funds.” The foundation also sponsored a free “seminar” on feral cat issues.

TNR programs are touted by supporters of no-kill and low-kill animal shelters as a way to prevent disease and uncontrolled breeding in feral cat populations. TNR programs also are a way to get around existing nuisance and sanitation ordinances aimed at reducing the problems caused by roaming cats. Supporters persuade municipalities to grant exemptions from regulations for feral cat colonies participating in a TNR program. The how-to manual is on the internet; the HCASF seminar may have related strategies to get around cat control ordinances.

I do not believe that the county animal shelter should be promoting feral cat populations and subsidizing a feral cat neuter and release program. If someone is feeding a wild cat, he or she should be considered the owner and be responsible for its care and actions. TNR programs and the “colony” euphemism, making it appear that wild cats are part of nature, allow people to escape responsibility for harboring large numbers of cats outside their homes.

Fred Miller

New Manchester