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by Page Williams, Lone Star Sierra Endangered Species Committee


In the 2011 June-July Bayou Banner, I presented a brief synopsis of 5 articles and an editorial from The Wildlife Society’s Spring 2011 quarterly publication, Wildlife Professional, on the problems created by feral and free-roaming domestic cats. Their inappropriate presence in the wild is a documented threat to our native wildlife and to the cats themselves. It adds another layer of pollution to our yards and waterways with their feces, and sets the cats up as a disease vector for wildlife, humans and our pets. In August of this year, another important cat study was released by the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. “Critter cams” supplied by National Geographic Society, were attached to free-roaming cats owned by cooperative residents of Athens, Georgia. The researchers were able to accurately document what our cats are doing when we’re not watching. It was reported in 100+ newspapers, and on ABC’s 20/20 which stated that “the camera does not lie.”

The “kitty cams” had motion detectors and LED lights built in. Usable videos were recorded from 55 cats, during each of the four seasons, The good news was that researchers discovered that only 44% of the cats stalked and chased, and only 30% of the cats actually captured prey. The bad news was that the successful hunters were killing four times as much as any researchers had previously estimated. What cats brought home was only 23% of their kills; 28% was consumed, and 49% was just discarded at the capture site. Reptiles and amphibians were the most common prey, followed by small mammals, then invertebrates; birds represented only 13% of the kills.

The scary news, for owners, was how often the cats engaged in risky behavior such as crossing busy streets, or consuming potentially-poisonous liquids or foods. The amusing news was that some cats had second homes, previously unknown to their primary families, where they visited for treats, affection, and naps. The entire study results, including actual footage of lizards/chipmunks/birds hanging out of the cat’s mouth, can be viewed at The site also includes helpful suggestions such as “cat bibs” to impede hunting success and “catios” to allow your cat to spend time outdoors without slaughtering wildlife — or being slaughtered by wildlife.

In a 2009 peer-reviewed paper from Conservation Biology, authored by Travis Longcore et al, “Critical Assessment of Claims Regarding Management of Feral Cats by Trap-Neuter-Return”, the authors disproved many claims of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) advocates.

  • Feral Cats do harm wildlife on continents as well as islands.
  • Feral Cats do not fill a natural or realized niche.
  • Feral cats do contribute to the declines of native species.
  • Feral cats are vectors or reservoirs of disease.
  • TNR does not eliminate colonies under prevailing conditions.
  • TNR colonies do not resist invasion.

Another study released September 6 by North Carolina State University researchers, “Opinions from the Front Lines of Cat Colony Management Conflict” examines that, among cat colony caretakers, only 9% believed that feral cats harmed bird populations, and 70% actually believed that TNR eliminates feral cat colonies.

Houston’s feral cat control policy is now formed by opinions based on outdated information or total lack of information, with no factual rationale or environmental accountability. It is well documented that TNR rarely works and often backfires. There is overwhelming peer-reviewed evidence that cats at large present a danger to themselves, to wildlife, to humans, and to our waterways. Yet Houston’s Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care (BARC) has adopted a TNR policy. Citing alleged “facts” from the Alley Cat Allies (ACA) website, BARC now encourages volunteers to “manage” feral cat colonies.

I was able to easily disprove ACA’s “facts” by simply checking the referenced websites. For example, the ACA website implies support for their “no danger from rabies” section from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). What does CDC actually say on their website? “While dogs have historically been associated with rabies to humans, cats are more likely to be reported rabid in the U.S. Cats are often in close contact with both humans and wild animals, including those that primarily transmit rabies. This creates a situation in which rabies may be more easily transmitted to humans from cats.” According to CDC, cat owners are far more lax than dog owners about rabies inoculations. By BARC’s own figures, cited in an April 1, 2012, Houston Chronicle article, domestic short-haired cats are third, after pit bulls and German shepherds, in numbers of reported animal attacks on humans.

To assist the feral cat colony managers, BARC offers them humane traps, and mediation with protesting neighbors. Once trapped, the cats are taken to BARC for feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV) testing, neutering and rabies inoculations. Then, - and this is the outrage to me as a cat owner/lover - the day after surgery, animal control officers are required to return the weakened cat to the designated colony, never again to have another rabies shot or any other inoculations or veterinary care.

No wonder People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals joins The Wildlife Society and myself by objecting to TNR on the grounds of cruelty to wildlife and to cats! Others who object to TNR are National Audubon Society, American Bird Conservancy, American Veterinary Medical Association, National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians and American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians. Sierra Club’s “Wildlife and Native Plants” conservation policies include “Wildlife and plants should not be introduced into habitats where they are not native when introduction may have adverse effects. Non-native species should, where feasible, be removed or controlled if there is a proven conflict with the native ecosystem.”

  • Why are my two indoor cats required to have rabies shots every three years when feral cats are not?
  • Why must we keep our pets from running at large and always pick up their poop when feral cats are free to roam and poop all over the city?
  • Do we deal with overpopulation by managing feral hog colonies?
  • Do we deal with dangerous animals by managing pit bull colonies?
  • Do we deal with rabies by managing raccoon colonies?
  • Why are our tax dollars and donations going to preserve green space and biodiversity, while our animal control officers are paid to release an introduced predator on our wildlife instead of rounding up strays?

If you live in Houston, these would be very good questions to ask your elected and appointed city officials.

I was a Houston Audubon Society environmental affairs V.P. for seven years, and am now a Lone Star Sierra endangered species leadership chair. Obviously, I have collected a very thick file of information on this issue, which I shall be happy to share with any interested or skeptical folks. In my opinion, this is an enormously important issue as it involves animal cruelty, human health and safety, neighborhood civility and - most pertinent for Sierrans - wildlife conservation.

Last updated:  11/20/2011.   Content © 1999-2011 by the Sierra Club.