The cat verses bird debate will take center stage at the Cook County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday. The spotlight will shine on the successful Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs run by several non-profits aimed at stabilizing the county’s feral cat community with debate from bird lovers claiming TNR puts songbirds at risk.
TNR in Cook County
For nearly 5 ½ years, non-profits have been working on decreasing the county’s stray and feral cat population through TNR programs. Through TNR, cats are trapped, neutered and returned to a managed colony in their community. Colony caretakers care for and monitor each of the colonies. Since the program started, the number of feral cats has declined in Cook County.
Bird loving Cook County residents have opened up the debate, expressing their concern about TNR and the county’s managed care ordinance passed in 2007. The group claims that feral cats have been killing off songbirds, particularly in the county forest preserves. A recently released Smithsonian report focusing on the impact of cats on the bird population has prompted the Audubon Society and other groups to reopen the debate.
Cats verses birds
“The Audubon Society and other like-minded organizations often quote "studies" or "compilations of studies" that prove that cats eat birds and other small mammals,” says Jenny Schleuter, Feral Friends TNR Program Manager for Tree House Humane Society. “This really comes to no surprise to most people, including TNR Advocates, but overall what these studies have never managed to demonstrate are that they are making significant impacts on whole populations of birds.
“However, there are many studies that demonstrate that man-made causes like habitat destruction, wide-spread pesticide use, increasing encroachment on native bird habitats, light and air pollution as well as non-native bird species do great damage to wild migratory bird populations.”
On Tuesday, both sides will be able to express their concerns. Tree House and other sponsor organizations of the Managed Care of Feral Cats Ordinance will present information about the progress the groups have made under the ordinance. That will include the number of cats that have been TNRed, vaccinated and are now being managed by trained colony caretakers.
Success in Cook County
“We will present multiple case studies that demonstrated the reductions in the numbers in the cat colonies,” says Schleuter. “In the case of Tree House, we will also inform the commissioners of our stringent colony management protocols which are part of our proactive approach in addressing any possible nuisance issues before they occur. We will also report our success with the Targeted Trapping Project on Chicago's west side, which resulted in a 35% decrease in stray cat nuisance complaints and owner relinquishments of cats from these areas.”
Managed colony caretakers offer food and shelter to their colonies. Providing food cuts down on the feral cats’ need and desire to hunt prey like birds. In fact, Tree House has set up a program in some communities – Cats at Work – in which managed feral cat communities are located in areas to tackle the rodent population.
Through TNR efforts, Tree House rescued over 300 stray cats off the streets of Chicago last year. The organization also takes in strays from citizens. Feral Feline Project in Wheeling, Catvando, and Triple R Pets in Western Springs also run successful programs that have stabilized feral cat populations and rescued hundreds of stray cats off the streets, keeping those cats out of tax payer supported animal controls.
Although there is not an official change in the ordinance on the table, county commissioner Larry Suffredin was considering proposing changes that would enable municipalities to “outlaw” the management of cat colonies. A change was also being considered that would also outlaw the management of colonies within a half-mile of a forest preserve. That was despite research that shows that managed feral cats prefer residential areas to the forest preserves.
Your support needed
There are a couple of ways you can support the TNR programs. Several organizations are asking people to write a letter to their Cook County Commissioner to ask that they not interfere with the current Cook County Managed Care of Feral Cats Ordinance. Both Tree House and Catvando have sample letters on their Websites.
The meeting is set for 10 a.m. next Tuesday at the county building – 118 North Clark Street. TNR supporting organizations are asking for public support at this meeting. Several of the sponsoring organizations will be speaking in support of TNR.
Contact me at email@example.com with your information and story ideas and hit the subscribe button below for story updates or check out one of my social media sites. If you'd like an event included in my Sunday or Thursday column, please email me the details.