Catfight! Readers Argue Over Fate of Free-Roaming Felines

More than 300 people weigh in on how to handle feral cats.

Stray cats wander through Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2007.


Update: Ted Williams issued an apology March 26 on the Audubon Magazine website, calling his op-ed on feral cats "bad journalism and bad judgment." The same day, Audubon President David Yarnold announced that Williams would begin writing for the magazine again in the July/August issue.

How should we handle free-roaming domestic cats? That question, which we posed last week, has sparked a few, well, catfights among our commenters.

Our story came in response to a March 14 opinion piece in the Orlando Sentinel, in which Ted Williams—then editor-at-large for Audubon Magazine—advocated for trapping and euthanizing feral cats due to their rampant hunting of birds and their reputation for carrying diseases like toxoplasmosis.

He also pointed out that some cat advocates have blocked the registration of Tylenol as a feral-cat poison.

In a March 21 addendum to his story, Williams wrote: "In my recent op-ed I reported that a common over-the-counter drug, an effective and selective poison for feral cats, had not been registered for this use because of pressure from feral-cat advocacy groups."

"While the statement was not inaccurate, it was unwise because readers might construe it as a suggestion to go out and start poisoning feral cats. What's more, the statement could be, indeed was, manipulated by feral-cat advocates into something I didn't write or intend."

As of Monday afternoon, more than 340 National Geographic readers have weighed in on the contentious issue of whether to euthanize or poison some of the 80-million-plus domestic cats that roam outdoors in the United States. (Watch a video about the secret lives of cats.)

Many of the comments conveyed strong emotions, such as from Eric Hutcheson, who wrote: "I hope the cats all gang up and attack Mr. Williams ... what a cruel heartless man!" and Jim Read, who wrote: "Cats are the devil's pet. Euthanize them."

Terri Terri vowed: "If anyone poisons a cat in my vicinity, you are going to find me outside picking off birds with my slingshot and piling them up on my lawn like trophies. Yup, go ahead bird lovers!"

Feral-Cat Solutions

Other readers focused on turning the conversation to solutions. For instance, much of the discussion focused on the growing practice of trap-neuter-return (TNR), in which cats are trapped, neutered, and then returned to the wild so they can't reproduce.

"When it comes to management, TNR is proven to be the least costly, most efficient and humane way of stabilizing the feral cat populations," said commenter Margot Lee.

"TNR seems expensive and redundant. Why release the beast back into the wild-allowing it to continue killing native birds-after it's already been caught?" said Aaron Young. (Also see "Meow! Claws out on Facebook Over Killer Cat Stats.")

Suggested R. Ong: "How about gathering all the cats and placing them in a forest or something, just like wildlife reserves?"

Still others emphasized people's role in the problem.

"And how many wild creatures do WE kill, directly or indirectly through our actions, habitat destruction, and environmental pollution?" asked George Russert.

"Instead of laws about poisoning animals we should concentrate on laws about the responsibility of owning animals," noted meg mangan.

Animal Lovers Fail?

The most liked comment came from Kat Hentsch, a self-described veterinary professional.

"Let's get personal: Until you've seen a feral cat suffering from multiple diseases and disorders, smelled the rancid flesh resulting from abscessed fight wounds or broken and infected teeth; seen a degloving injury from an encounter with a car, watched a kitten die in your hands from being bled to death by fleas, or attempt to treat a cat poisoned by something like Tylenol without success, you have no business weighing in on how inhumane it is to euthanize these animals," Hentsch wrote.

Responded Cynthia Gee, "So I take it that you want to kill off all of the native wild animals too, in order to prevent them from suffering from these same things? You sound like a PETA nut."

Whatever their views, most agreed there need to be changes in the way feral and free-roaming domestic cats are handled in the United States.

"If we are a nation of animal lovers," wrote Coralie m., "then we are doing a very poor job."

Keep the comments coming: What do you think should be done about feral cats?