Feral Cats Deserve More Than a Bullet in the Head!

March 17, 2010 

Q: What do you think of the story about allowing the shooting of feral cats in New Jersey? We're torn, having a problem with some cats spraying in the garden and yowling some nights and waking us. We love cats and we have two. However, they're strictly indoor cats, both spayed, and they don't bother other people or kill birds. -- S.D., Long Island, NY

A: Frustrated about a feral cat problem, New Jersey's Fish and Game Council reportedly wants feral cats reclassified so they can be legally shot. It's unclear how that would work, or who would be allowed to aim and fire.

I fully understand the issues with feral cats: the potential for rabies transmission, the fact that they prey on native species (particularly songbirds), and the nuisance factor. I'm also concerned about the quality of life of those cats. Trap, neuter, return (TNR) gets feral cats vaccinated for rabies, and because TNR cats are all spay/neutered and then re-released, they can no longer reproduce. Friendly cats are pulled from colonies and adopted out as pets. Over time, the colonies diminish in size, eventually fading away. Meanwhile, caretakers watch over the cats' welfare. TNR is humane, and it does work. However, it's not an overnight fix.

I never thought I'd ever need to outline why shooting cats might not be the brightest idea. Think about this:

What if you shoot your spouse or neighbor by accident? Believe it or not, this has happened. Cats are tough to shoot and kill; they're small, fast and out at night. Mostly, the cats would be injured (dying an agonizing death). Even if you could kill 80 percent of a colony, the remaining cats would simply be more cautious, and continue to reproduce, even upping their rate of procreation to fill the void.

What if you shoot an owned cat? I urge owners to keep their cats indoors, but some get out by mistake. And even for those who allow their cats outdoors, I'm not sure a bullet to the head is a punishment that fits the crime.

What are we teaching our children as a solution to problem solving -- apparently, just get a gun, point and shoot.

Q: Our dog gets mad at us for leaving her home alone. She's a 10-year-old Shih-Tzu who pees in her kennel when we leave the house, even if only half an hour, and she goes outside to pee before we leave. What can we do to break her of this habit? -- G.B., Green Bay, WI

A: Your dog isn't mad at you, but instead is probably anxious.

"It's possible the crate or kennel is too large," says Katenna (cq) Jones, a certified applied animal behaviorist with the American Humane Association based in Warwick, RI. "The crate should be large enough to stand up, turn around and lie down. If it's too large, it's easy to create a 'toilet' on the other side of the crate." Use a crate divider to cut the crate's size, or buy a smaller crate.

Another possibility: Your poor pup was purchased from a pet store or grew up in a puppy mill and was forced to relieve herself where she slept. Now, she's "trained" to go to the bathroom where she sleeps. One solution is to keep you pet in a larger space, such as the kitchen or a bathroom. Cover the entire floor with newspaper. Over time, she'll learn to relieve herself on paper. Then, gradually pick up the paper so the dog has to choose the papered part of the floor to relieve herself.

Jones says that most likely, your dog's problem is separation anxiety.

"It's common for dogs with this condition to become anxious even before their people depart the house, just because they know family members are about to leave. While all dogs are happy to see us, dogs with separation anxiety are almost 'too happy' to greet us when we return. Also, they generally don't eat when we're away, and may salivate, wine, pace and/or bark."

Jones says separation anxiety is treatable, but this takes times and patience. For starters, when you return home, wait until your dog calms down before you say 'hi.' When you do greet your dog, be calm; don't act overly exuberant. Reward your dog with your attention only after she's calmed down. Also, encourage independence. Give your dog treats stuffed inside a Kong toy, and teach or her to have a good time without you in the room.

Dogs with more severe separation issues may need anti-anxiety medication. Jones suggests consulting a veterinary behaviorist (www.dacvb.org) or ask your veterinarian for a referral.

If these accidents inside the kennel are a fairly recent problem, before even thinking about the behavior advice offered here, see your vet to rule out diabetes, Cushing's Disease, and other potential physiological explanations.


(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column. Write to Steve at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207. Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.

Anchorage Daily News is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service