New Feral Feline Policy Has Cat Advocates Hissing

SF Animal Care and Control has reversed a decades-old policy of trapping and neutering, setting off a debate on handling San Francisco’s feral cats.

The quirky saga of Fire Station Cat Edna drew plenty of attention (and 45,000 Instagram followers) when that formerly feral kitty was evicted from San Francisco Fire Department’s Station 49 earlier this year. But an Instagram-famous cat who received love and attention from generous firefighters is not indicative of the brutal existence feral cats face in San Francisco. They have little food, high disease exposure, and are constantly threatened by coyotes and raccoons. Feral kitten mortality rates are estimated to be as high as 75 percent.

For about the last 20 years, San Francisco SPCA and the SF Animal Care and Control have operated a policy called Trap-Neuter-Return, where strays are trapped humanely, then spayed and neutered. The moms were returned to the wild, while the kittens were put up for adoption. But the San Francisco Chronicle reports that these organizations will no longer trap feral moms and their kittens if the kittens are less than a month old.

“Keeping a terrified feral mom in captivity for an extended period of time to protect her kittens is not humane,” San Francisco SPCA president Dr. Jennifer Scarlett says in an email to the San Francisco Examiner. “The more humane option is to leave the cats in their outdoor home, until the kittens are old enough to be separated from their mom.”

SF Animal Care and Control executive director Virginia Donohue tells the Chronicle that kittens less than a month old had a 45 percent mortality rate in their care, whereas only 8 percent of kittens older than a month died in captivity.

But Give Me Shelter cat rescue founder Lana Bajsel disagrees on the new policy. “It’s all well and good that you sit in front of a computer screen doing statistical models, but until you have a hands-on approach, you don’t have a feel of what’s going on in the field,” she tells the Chronicle. “This is doing a huge disservice to the community and the welfare of animals.”

Both sides of this debate are operating out of genuine concern for the feral cats, and just want to see their mortality rates kept as low as possible. But they differ on whether feral kitties less than a month old are better off in the wild, and some cat advocates think San Francisco’s new cat policy has gone astray.

Note: This post has been updated to remove a reference to the SF SPCA feral cat nursery, which they tell SF Weekly is still operating.

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