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Editorial 12/08: Extension bulletin on feral felines starts a fight
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Editorial 12/08: Extension bulletin on feral felines starts a fight

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Nothing quite like a cat fight.

National attention has been drawn to University of Nebraska-Lincoln research on feral cats, their colonies, their growth in population, their public health threat, the damage they do to wildlife and the sympathy they attract. But most attention focused on a highly controversial option for controlling them: a gunshot to the head.

The lines are drawn and the rhetorical knives are out. Bird lovers vs. cat lovers are the headlines in the Washington Post and USA Today, and in blogs posted by Audubon Magazine, the Baltimore Sun and Fly Rod and Reel Magazine.

Best Friends Animal Society calls the work "biased and thinly veiled advocacy."

Before this engagement of fang and claw gets any bloodier, we suggest a calm reading of this paper in its original form, online at http://www.ianrpubs.unl.edu/epublic/live/ec1781/build/ec1781.pdf.

"Feral Cats and Their Management" is an excellent example of a noble and time-honored piece of Midwestern literature: the extension bulletin.

Written in the clear, if not always sparkling, prose of county extension agents and scientists reaching out to the public in the grand land-grant university tradition, this is the kind of practical popular science that usually is handed out at libraries and county fairs and community conferences, its familiar red-accented pages often conveniently punched for a three-hole notebook.

It is difficult to imagine anyone reading this document in its entirety, as we did, and being offended. You may disagree with some of its peer-reviewed conclusions, but it's not a provocation.

Earnestly, and with self-evident futility, the paper encourages owners to be responsible in the disposition of unwanted pets.

Conscientiously sensitive and acknowledging the feelings of feral-cat advocates, the paper practically apologizes for itself any number of times. It has that calm, soothing, sober tone perfected by generations of extension literature, convincing us that farm, ranch and household problems are soluble with a little science, rationality, a proper management plan and responsible action.

Nobody gets jacked up about an extension bulletin that tells you how to control moles.

But wild kitties are another thing entirely.

They are romantic buccaneers of the alley to some, but evil incarnate to the defenders of songbirds and wildlife.

Persuasively researched and with plenty of additional research references, the paper makes points that deserve public attention and, in some cases, debate:

The population of feral cats is stunning in its size. Its potential for growth is even more so.

Feral cats are rough on songbirds and wildlife.

Most significantly, Nebraska assigns virtually no municipal, county or state responsibility in law for feral cats or their control; hence, landowners' responsibility and rights to manage them will be unclear until some regulation is established.

Controlling them by killing them is only one of several control measures suggested in the paper.

The often-advocated method of trapping, neutering, vaccinating and releasing them is challenged in the paper as ineffective control, except as a way of limiting the growth of colonies.

Supplemental feeding of feral cats is not a good idea, the paper concludes.

Ted Nugent, composer of "Cat Scratch Fever" and perhaps the most famous, or notorious, killer and advocate of game animals in America, shot his opinion off in the Washington Times.

"Let us hope the University of Nebraska didn't spend more than 10 bucks on this research," Nugent wrote. "All its researchers would have had to do would have been to call any true conservation organization or me, and we could have choked the research department with all the data, facts and supporting information it would have needed to arrive at the inescapable, pragmatic, common-sense, scientifically based conclusion to kill feral cats.

"There are no true conservationists who do not agree with whacking or blasting destructive, dangerous feral felines," Nugent continued. "There are fuzzy-headed fantasizers who claim to be conservationists but in reality are nothing more than denial-ridden cat lovers. They live comfortably in denial, where fantasy supplants common sense and facts."

Let the debate continue.

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