My name is Anne Beall and I’m a researcher and business owner in Chicago. My firm, Beall Research, does research for Fortune 500 companies around the world. Our research is used to make major business decisions such as to acquire existing companies or to launch new products and services. We’ve done work for some of the major consumer goods and retail companies and private equity firms in America. I’m also an author and have written several books and numerous articles. The last two books I authored were about animals and their role in our lives. My book, Community Cats: A Journey into the World of Feral Cats, is a book about my personal journey as a colony caretaker as well as an overview of research that my firm conducted with a representative sample of Americans about their attitudes toward stray and community cats.
My message is simple: the majority of American feel sorry for stray and feral cats and they support TNR programs.
My firm surveyed a representative sample of 1,500 Americans around the country about their attitudes toward stray and feral cats (Beall, 2016). The predominant attitude that most people have toward these creatures is one of pity and concern. Over half of respondents (51%) say that they feel sorry for these cats and about one-third (37%) wish they could help them. The majority of people have a live-and-let-live attitude toward these cats with three-quarters (73%) of them preferring to leave the cat where it is versus having it caught and euthanized. And this is the case when respondents know the cat will have a shortened life; Americans prefer leaving unowned cats outside versus euthanizing them.
We asked our respondents if they were familiar with TNR programs and most (71%) were not. We described TNR to them as follows:
“There is a simple program to help feral cats. It’s called the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program. With TNR programs, feral cats are humanely trapped and then spayed or neutered so they can’t have kittens. After they have recovered from surgery, they are relocated or returned to their original location. The program stabilizes and reduces feral cat populations and improves cat’s lives. The behaviors associated with mating such as yowling, spraying and fighting stop after the cats are spayed or neutered.”
We asked how positively or negatively people feel about TNR programs after reading this description and over half (54%) said they felt extremely positive about this type of program. And that’s only after reading a short paragraph!
We then provided some additional information about the benefits of TNR such as:
- TNR programs have been shown to stabilize and reduce feral cat populations
- Cats in TNR programs are regularly vaccinated and are not at risk to transmit rabies or other feline diseases to other cats
- Cats in TNR programs are monitored for diseases and have not been shown to be a health hazard
- Cats in TNR programs are less likely to fight because they have been spayed and neutered and are less likely to be injured by other cats
We found that over two-thirds (64%) of people felt even more positively toward TNR programs after learning this information. And when we asked how likely Americans would be to support a TNR program in their area, well over half (58%) said they would. But the most surprising thing we learned was that one in 5 of those surveyed (20%) said they would be willing to become a colony caretaker for a TNR program in their area. And by the way, being a colony caretaker was described as feeding the colony twice a day and monitoring the cats’ health. For those of us who have done this for many years, we know it’s a lot of work!
People care about stray and community cats. And Americans support TNR programs.
Cats kill how many birds?
Another area that we researched was the number of birds who are killed by cats. I care about this issue personally because I saved birds for many years with the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors and I now do emergency rescues on occasion. We asked respondents who have stray and feral cats near their home, or who have cats that go outdoors, whether they kill birds, mice, rats and other animals. We then asked how many of these creatures the cats kill. We found that the average number of birds killed by each cat is between 1.2 and 1.4 birds annually. The outdoor owned cats kill about 1.2 birds a year and the stray and feral cats kill about 1.4. You can take the number of outdoor cats for each household and multiply those numbers to come up with a rough estimate of how many birds are killed.
With that math, you come up with about 21 million birds per year. However, that number can’t be right because not all birds who are killed are seen by humans. In fact, we know from a research study conducted by the University of Georgia (Lloyd et al, 2013), that cats bring back about a quarter of their prey. So, if our numbers are off by a factor of 4, the total number of birds killed would be about 86 million. And that number is a far cry from the 3.7 billion birds estimated by the Smithsonian article that is often published (Loss, Will & Marra, 2013)
And like all animals, cats are opportunistic predators. They’re more likely to take the weak or sick animals that are easy to catch (Baker et al, 2008, Moller & Erritzoe, 2000). These scientific findings have even led the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to declare on its website: “Despite the large numbers of birds who are killed, there is no scientific evidence that predation by cats in gardens is having any impact on bird populations….”
Baker, P. J., S. E. Molony, E. Stone, I. C. Cuthill, and S. Harris. 2008. “Cats about Town: Is Predation by
Free-Ranging Pet cats Felis catus Likely to Affect Urban Bird Populations?” Ibis 150: Supplement 1, 86–99. http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/bsc/ibi/2008/00000150/A00101s1/ art00008.
Beall, A. E. 2016. Community Cats: A Journey Into the World of Feral Cats. Bloomington: iUniverse.
Loyd, K. T., S. M. Hernandez, J. P. Carroll, K. J. Abernathy, and G. J. Marshall. 2013. “Quantifying Free-
Roaming Domestic Cat Predation Using Animal-Borne Video Cameras.” Biological Conservation 160: 183–89.
Loss, S. R., T. Will, and P. P. Marra. 2013. “The Impact of FreeRanging Domestic Cats on Wildlife of the
United States.” Nature Communications. 4: 1396.
Moller, A. P. and J. Erritzoe. 2000. “Predation against Birds with Low Immunocompetence.” Oecolgia 122 (4): 500–504.
Calculation for number of birds killed by indoor cats that go outdoors
121,122,161 * Number of household with indoor cats that go outdoors and kill birds (4.67%) = 5,652,367 households
5,652,367 * Number of birds killed by indoor cats that go outdoors in one year (1.2) = 6,782,841
Calculation for number of birds killed by outdoor cats
121,122,161 * Number of household with outdoor cats (including stray/ feral) who kill birds (8.93%) = 10,820,246 households
10,820,246 * Number of birds killed by indoor cats that go outdoors in one year (1.37) = 14,823,737
Total number of birds killed = number of birds killed by indoor cats (6,782,841) + number of birds killed by outdoor cats (14,823,737) = 21,606,578