I'd heard the phrase "trap, neuter, and release" before. I'd even participated in an e-conversation about having it done at a "feral cat colony," years ago.
Then a friend, who lives in a big old wooden house within an easy rat's ramble from a major colony of monstrous urban rats, proposed to "trap, neuter, and release" the feral cat who's been protecting her home for several months now.
"Well, I don't want her to be bred to death the way they do," she said. Really? Most other animals, like most women, simply become infertile when they're physically unfit for motherhood. Cats even have birth control options: at the Cat Sanctuary, Ivy apparently chose not to have kittens, last year, by consorting exclusively with a sterile mate--and Grayzel apparently chose to have more parties and fewer babies, for five years in a row, by wallowing in pennyroyal whenever her sexual activity seemed to have led to pregnancy.
"And if she has kittens, they'll be wild, and we'll never see them," the confused human said. Really? The Cat Sanctuary has harbored several feral cats whose kittens became memorable pets. Regular readers are probably tired of reading about Graybelle, Bounce, Pounce, Mackerel, Polly, and Graymina, all of whom were born to feral mothers and were great pets (though only Mackerel was really mine); new readers may search this site for those stories. The scientific fact is that kittens' brains are very "plastic," and will fail to develop properly if kittens are not exposed to the appropriate formative experiences. Completely feral cats form brain circuits that tame cats don't have; house-reared pet cats form circuits that feral cats don't have. Outdoor pet cats form both, and can thus theoretically be considered more intelligent than either feral or house-reared cats, all else being equal. (Well, in the case of poor little Graymina, all else wasn't equal...but the other feral cats' kittens who've lived here certainly supported this theory.)
The feral cat Elizabeth refuses, as feral cats usually do, to bond with anybody. I've visited often enough, and got close enough to Elizabeth, to suspect that if she spent a few months at the Cat Sanctuary I would probably be allowed to stroke her. But why would I want to bring Elizabeth to the Cat Sanctuary? I have the three lovely resident cats, and last spring's kitten, Sisawat, who seems to want to be a resident cat too. Elizabeth is needed where she is. The house where she's been staying is three or four blocks away from the Feed & Seed Store. The rats who have been mopping up spills of hormone-laced cow feed get bigger than a well-fed gray squirrel.
Rats are smart; tame rats can become clever, amusing pets, but alley rats direct most of their intelligence into raiding and fighting. Rats have memories. Rats hold grudges. Rats share humans' taste in food, usually don't consider cats fit to eat, and usually just bite and run rather than spending time trying to kill animals they don't want to eat...but I can just imagine what would happen if Elizabeth were wounded and then dumped back into the crawl space to contend with a few hormone-fattened giant rats.
That should never happen to a cat. It shouldn't even happen to the animals that are incompatible with humans and need to be confined to a few securely restricted wilderness areas, like bears, wolves, cougars, or coyotes. Granted, we need to reduce coyote populations fast, but must we do it by torture? Can't we just kill the wretched things?
Here's a copy of an e-mail I just sent to my Delegate in the Virginia Legislature. This is not a matter of partisan politics, and the HSUS #WarOnPets is nationwide, so residents of other States may want to send similar e-mails to your elected officials too.
"Please help block any current or future consideration of http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?151+ful+SB693S1 and any other legislation that would allow petnappers to remove an animal's collar, claim it as "feral" (because it wouldn't be their pet), and have it sterilized, or interfered with in any other way whatsoever.
We need a solid definition of "feral" that would require documentation that an animal is in fact feral and not an outdoor pet--i.e. the animal has been consistently found scavenging near garbage bins for weeks, is obviously hungry and not cared for, and has been advertised as a found pet and not claimed.
Both dogs and cats who are in fact pets have been known to stray, and can act wild when approached by strangers; they may still be loved and loving pets.
Also, the idea of performing major surgery, such as spaying a female animal, and immediately releasing the animal outdoors, seems sickeningly inhumane. Even if the animal is a nuisance species like a raccoon or coyote, why torture it? Why not just kill it?"