A recent ruling by Superior Court Judge Thomas McKnew against the city of Los Angeles' support for the privately implemented Trap-Neuter-Return, or TNR, of feral cats is a step backward for progressive animal services in Los Angeles.
The ruling, which is expected to be appealed, prevents Los Angeles Animal Services from partaking in any activity that supports TNR - the only humane and demonstrably effective method of controlling community cat populations. Prompted by a suit filed by bird conservationists, it also would halt the long-standing practice of issuing cash vouchers that supplement the cost of the sterilization of community cats.
While this might appear to be a victory for birds and bird lovers, it is anything but. Consider the realities of the situation.
The No. 1 cause of songbird decline is loss of habitat due to deforestation, urbanization and development, followed by window collisions (especially with high rise glass buildings), wind turbine generators, common pesticides and lawn care products. There is no credible scientific study that shows cats to be a significant threat to birds.
Allowing though that cats are predators - they are rodent specialists (birds being generally more work than reward for a hungry cat) - there are an estimated 1 million-plus feral cats in the greater Los Angeles area.
The only sustained efforts at population control for these kitties are loosely organized by cat lovers, ranging from the stereotypical little old lady placing a few bowls of food on the back porch, to animal welfare advocates managing small colonies of sterilized feral cats in neighborhoods.
Each year tens of thousands of these cats are sterilized and returned to their respective communities and care givers, never to breed again. Yet they fill a niche in the neighborhood that would otherwise be taken up by other, as yet unsterilized breeding felines.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and if there is a food supply (a restaurant, grocery store or apartment complex Dumpster, a rodent population or the proverbial little old lady), removing one group of cats only opens the territory for others.
Catching/killing community cats is not only an unacceptable and inhumane approach, it does not control population. Quite the contrary, if catch and kill (the standard policy for decades prior to the growth of TNR in the 1990s) actually worked, there would be no feral cats.
The bird conservancy groups advocate "removing" 50 percent of the community cat population. Since sterilization is not on their agenda, that would entail a perpetual program of catching and killing cats. Setting aside - if indeed that is possible - the ugliness and cruelty of such a plan, who do they propose would undertake such a campaign and how would they sell it to the cat-loving public?
The city certainly doesn't have the resources to deploy hundreds of trappers who would quickly become the target of animal activist ire. Are the bird groups planning to do it? The idea is as unworkable as it is cruel.
An army of cat-loving volunteers supports TNR at no cost to the city for their time and expertise. Withholding city support for the only viable approach to community cat management by ending a modest voucher program, the loaning of traps and providing public information, this ruling is no gift to birds or bird lovers.
McKnew in his lordly wisdom has, in effect, decreed to the cats of Los Angeles: "Be fruitful and multiply."
Birds beware.