Podunk Wisconsinites and the Feral Cat

In April 2005, my fine state supported a proposal to make feral cats an unprotected species, a classification that would allow them to be hunted and killed. Despite the fact that 51 of 72 counties in the state voted in favor of the proposal, Gov. Jim Doyle dampened our kitty killing spirits by claiming it was making Wisconsin a “laughingstock”.

A feral cat is a free-roaming, unowned and untamed domestic cat. These are not to be confused with stray cats, previously owned and lost, or the 80’s rockabilly band with pompadors. Raised without human contact, feral cats (not Brian Setzer) revert to a wild state and form colonies wherever food and shelter are available. One source cites that nearly 2 million free-range cats call Wisconsin home.

I would say approximately 10% of the WI feral cat population has established a thriving colony in my backyard and intend to become a fully independent state.

We enjoyed their presence for a brief moment in history. We spotted one fluffy guy venture into our backyard and named him Sergeant Tibbs. We mused how he and our tortoise shell cat shared a forbidden loved despite the confines of her impenetrable window. The skittish black one with glowing eyes became Sneaky Pete. But wait, is that another Sneaky Pete? That’s Sneaky Pete’s son, my child explained. Are there two or three orange cats? Five? We would crouch behind the lilacs like Dian Fossey in the bush, noting the habits and behaviors of about thirteen primitive cats.

But my husband lovingly built me two raised beds one Mother’s Day so that I could support my family’s diet with chemical-free vegetables. Upon digging, I soon came up with a handful of cat crap. My beds had become giant litter boxes. The amount of cat shit found would trigger any normal gag reflex. Those with tender tummies would be vomiting by now.

I love cats. I normally don’t seethe with rage at Little Whiskers. But after flinging one last pile of poop into my neighbor’s yard, (my only logical military strike against the woman who’s been feeding them all winter) I was ready to start picking those critters off one by one with a shotgun I don’t even own. But I don’t live in South Dakota or Minnesota, where they are allowed to shoot feral cats. I had to resort to chicken wire to exclude the colony from full citizenship rights to my beds. My lovely little seedlings are now incarcerated.

Which led me to rethink this kitty huntin’ proposal. The Humane Society’s answer of Trap-Neuter-Release returns the feral cat back to its colony under the watch of a designated “caretaker”. I support this, as it works to some degree, but it doesn’t cut down on the number of birds killed in my backyard (in WI, 39 million per year perish in the jaws of the street-wise tabby) nor does it eliminate the dumping of toxic waste on my vegetables.

The Humane Society and Alley Cat Allies argue that the logic behind “if you don’t feed them, they’ll go away” is faulty. Feral cats are territorial animals who can survive for weeks without food (!?!?) They tend to encroach closer into human habitations as they grow more desperate. Their malnourished condition makes them more susceptible to parasites, which they will spread. The cats will continue to reproduce despite the effort to “starve them out,” resulting in the visible deaths of many kittens. (Aaggh! Kitty deaths!) Keep feeding them, they say.

On the other hand, others say feeding strays maintains high densities of cats that kill and compete with native wildlife populations. Cat colonies will form around sources of food and grow to the limits of the food supply. You can’t realistically trap and neuter all wild cats to the point where you control the population. Colonies can grow to include dozens of animals, who will then eat smaller native species and dump on my vegetables. Ever hear of toxoplasmosis?

In reflecting on my feral cat situation, I am riled by the thought that Doyle was worried about being a “laughingstock”, insinuating the proposal was created by backcountry simpletons. So what else is new? As a Wisconsin native who lived outside of the motherland for eleven years, I experienced a widespread, ignorant opinion that most Wisconsinites were less civilized and unintelligent, usually based solely on our accent. The movie Fargo, although not even filmed in Wisconsin, did nothing to help my cause. Even my closest, most liberal friends think its hilarious to point out how “incorrectly” we speak, but wouldn’t dream of doing so to any other ethnic group. 

Are there ignorant rednecks in Wisconsin? Absolutely. But believe me, yahoos are alive and well EVERYWHERE. I recall finding it annoyingly humorous that my Californian hippy dippy friends would cut me down for the way I said “bagel” (and try to correct me as though I were a child learning to speak) in the same breath that they’d tell me they don’t listen to or read the news because its just The Man talkin’. But you didn’t find me driving all the way from Santa Cruz to the Grand Canyon only to find the park closed during the federal government shutdown of 1995. Hey, I warned them. I read it in the newspaper. Now hand me my baaagel.

But I digress. Back to feral cats. When taking this proposal out of context, you may find the Conservation Congress, the independent group that advises the state Natural Resources Board and the Department of Natural Resources, seem a bit like podunk fools. But some quick research on feral cats, (what fun!) and any educated reader would see the proposal was an attempt to educate and alert cat owners. Congress Chairman Steve Oestreicher, clearly stated that people are overreacting (surprise, surprise) if they imagine hunters are going to grab their guns and go hunting cats willy nilly. “We are not advocating a hunting season or the shooting of cats,…this is really to get the attention of the pet owner that when you get tired of your cat, don’t take it out into the woods and dump it.”  Makes sense to me. Eight of my childhood cats were acquired through neighborly cat dumping, not to mention the four or five we took to the Humane Society because we were at our household feline limit. Never have to pay money for a good cat in these parts.

And the U.S. spends over $50 million a year to shelter wild cats. Hmmm…and that ’05 education-oriented  proposal was idiotic?   

If this proposal would have passed, I doubt I would be the person sitting on my back porch with a rifle across my lap waiting for the little buggers to get into close range. But these days, I ain’t going to blame the person who would like to exercise their right to grow shit-free lettuce. Family health trumps wild kitty.  

So time will tell if feral cats will rule the world. If you are a feral cat lover, I suggest on October 16th, National Feral Cat Day (yes, there is one) you take a trip to Rome, (its population has been estimated to be between 250,000 and 350,000, organized in about 2,000 colonies), or a Greek holiday, where the affection for the stray feline remains strong. I’ve been there. Its not cute. Its gross. And watch out, if the origins of our modern civilizations started there, why can’t theirs?

Terrorists be damned, it’s the dawn of the feral cat. They are organizing, I tell you, revolution is near.  

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14 thoughts on “Podunk Wisconsinites and the Feral Cat

  1. This is from a post on my blog April, 2008:

    WI rep tries to shoot cats from a federal bill since it failed in state

    New Bill May be Used to Target Feral Cats

    FROM: Ally Cat Rescue

    Introduced by Representative Ron Kind (D-Wisconsin), HR 767 is titled the Refuge Ecology Protection, Assistance, and Immediate Response Act, or REPAIR Act. The purpose of the bill is “to protect, conserve, and restore native fish, wildlife, and their natural habitats at national wildlife refuges through cooperative, incentive-based grants to control, mitigate, and eradicate harmful nonnative species, and for other purposes.”

    Although the bill does not specifically mention cats (or any other animal), the broad wording of the act leaves for a “broad” interpretation. Ultimately, if the bill is passed it will allow the “control, mitigation, and eradication” of any animal demeaned a “harmful nonnative species.” Allowing such interpretation and not providing clear definition could pose threatening to feral cats; especially, if someone makes the argument feral cats are a “harmful nonnative species” and a detriment to other native species.

    On October 22 of this year, the H.R. 767 bill was passed by the House of Representatives and it is now being reviewed by the Committee on Environment and Public Works. Once reviewed by the Committee, the bill will go before the Senate. If passed, the REPAIR Act will allow for the mass killing of numerous species, including cats, all at the tax payer’s expense.

    GREENCONSCIOUSNESS ASKS: Who elected this guy? Swans are considered an invasive species by the WI DNR. Yes, the WI DNR shoots SWANS. The local people are outraged. The DNR ignores their protests and like a fascist authority is determined to wipe out the loving relationship between citizens and swans who have nested on their lakes over generations. The DNR just walks out of meetings where town people scream at them and Mayors tell them to stay out of their towns.

    You cannot let the Man decide what an invasive species is or is not. Especially the kind of men whose answer to every ecological problem is to kill something.

    UPDATE: the DNR stopped shooting swans in May right after i posted this – I have to go out now but I will come back tonight with the link

  2. Thanks for a look at the other side of the coin GreenC. You’re obviously more politically passionate about the issue than I am. I mainly wrote this blog with humor in mind. But I do want to point out that the 2005 proposal was more about alerting pet owners to stop dumping cats than going out and killin’ kitties. Yet it seems that latter image is all most left-wing animal rights groups can focus on.

    No, I will not rely solely on The Man (or DNR female employees or hunters, of which there are plenty, let’s not be sexist here) to determine what an invasive species is for me, as much as I will not listen solely to the arguments of animal rights activists for 100% of my information. I tend to gather information from both sides and weigh in how the issue affects me personally. I gave a rat’s ass about feral cats until they started crapping on my spinach. So I started to educate myself.

    For me, TNR seems to be the most solid option to control feral cats. I personally would not be comfortable killing a feral cat in my garden. But as a last resort, I do support another property owner’s right to eradicate a pest on their land as he/she sees fit. We are not talking about hunters running around with machine guns spraying down every invasive species the minute a bill passes. I do wish groups like yours would stop making the DNR and pro-hunters out to be bloodthirsty fools just looking for the kill.

    I’d be interested to see the statistics on how many DNR employees walked out on how many meetings, and how many Mayors have banned them from their towns. I’ll need names and numbers in order to be conviced that the DNR is indeed a fascist authority in the entire state of WI.

    Thanks for stopping by….

  3. One more thing GreenC…

    from what I’ve read, there was ONE incident in May between the DNR and the residents of Rock Lake. I’m not saying the DNR handled that beautifully, but I would remove myself from a roomful of angry citizens too…

    You don’t specify the difference between the types of swans. Mute Swans were the ones considered invasive (not all swans in general) and eradicated in order to preserve the numbers of Trumpeter Swans, who are classified as endangered in the state of WI. Some say the two can co-exist, but if this so, why are the Trumpeters endangered and the Mute Swans are prolific in number?

    The Mute Swan is a Eurasian bird first introduced by European immigrants Mute Swans are an undesirable exotic species that harass native waterfowl and uproot large quantities of aquatic vegetation. Almost all North American breeding populations of Mute Swans were established by the escape or accidental release of captive birds.

    Certainly as a nature lover, you understand the importance of maintaining native Midwest waterfowl species in our state?

  4. First, I am not a group although I belong to some. Second, thank you for your kindness to the ferals, in fact, bless you. Regardless of your objectivity, you have a core of kindness at your center. I know this because you found the exact right thing to do.

    I am glad you think it was just a warning effort. But I am very aware of men who enjoy killing cats and did want the hunt legalized. Then they could kill their neighbors cats without fear or at least with a defense.

    No, I do not understand killing swans – mute or otherwise. The DNR consistently kills as its’ answer to everything. This is because the hunter trapper mentality of the agency is unbalanced with those who do not have that proclivity.

    There will be a reckoning when the taxpayers see how the activities of those who want to enjoy the wild places are absolutely trampled on by those who want to use the outdoors as a killing field.

    That the Mutes are destructive to habitat is a DNR lie. Don’t believe it. What is native — are you a native to this land? I restore prairie and native plants but I am not so arrogant as to kill the animals who show up in my backyard. They are travelers, as I am. You can addle their eggs and leave them in peace to eat and mate without offspring. You can spay and neuter them.

    There are hundreds of elevated and compassionate ways to live with animals. Although killing is sometimes necessary, cruelty never is necessary. TNR is one example.

    You are correct that the Mukwonago incident was one I was referring to but there was a long history of protests before then which culminated in that meeting. The DNR refused to listen to the people who lived with the swans for generations. The mayor of Baraboo also wrote many protest letters as did the citizens on the WI Best Friends forum.

    One woman is suing the DNR for trauma she suffered when swans she was watching care for their young were killed in front of her. With the start of the lawsuit the killing was stopped May 5th. I have done an oil painting in tribute to the swans killed by the DNR in WI because of their incredible beauty, loyalty to spouse and young, courage in defense of family and their love of their nesting places.

    The swan is the symbol of the Journey Within. The soul’s consciousness is symbolized by the swan.

    Come on people, there are so many ways to make space for native species, setting aside new habitat being only one. Give me the habitat and without the DNR’s millions I could bring back the trumpeter. The DNR just likes those marksman killing trips. They love it and it is sickening. They have a billion dollar industry around it.

  5. You don’t need this but I cite it because you said that old discredited, cats are killing my birds argument. Loss of habitat is killing your birds and kid with BB guns are killing your birds. Hunters have passed laws allowing the killing of almost every species of bird in Wis, by children as young as 10 years old. They are in hordes killing birds. Towers kill birds.

    The WI study is discredited – junk science – believe it. He had the conclusion before he conducted the research and did not properly measure other factors.

    http://www.alleycat.org/pdf/an-v-an.pdf

    The shoot the cat law would let children shoot cats.

  6. Last thing to say – you are very very funny . Ally cat Allies has a whole page of stuff you can do besides chicken wire.

    Also, you CAN trap and neuter them and reduce the colony — oh yes you can and it works — here is just one of the hundreds who do it — she you to kill them – it did not work — now she does TNR and it does work — there are studies that prove it works
    http://www.wildrun.blogspot.com/

    http://www.feralcat.com/

    http://www.catsinthenews.blogspot.com/

    http://www.catfencein.com/

    Now this is the end of the serious stuff

    From now on I will just enjoy your humor
    which is very very funny

  7. I am not arguing that feral cats are the main cause of bird (and other smaller animals) deaths. I agree that humans and population growth are responsible for threats to all other species. But you can’t deny they ARE a cause. And in MY backyard, Sergeant Tibbs sits directly under my bird feeder waiting for his morning meal.

    I do take problem with your citing an article written by the legal director of Alley Cat Allies, as a rebuttal. Although well-written and educational, the author will select statistics and information that will support her cause.

    Even though we probably agree to some degree on this topic, you will lose an audience by insisting what they should believe and what they should see as a lie. I will be the one to decide what to believe after collecting information from both sides and weigh it with my personal experience.

    You will also turn me off by touting stereotypes of the DNR and hunters based on the redneck rotten apples. I know those people too, and there’s no denying there are some assholes out there. But according to a senior consulting ecologist (liberal female to boot) I know, the DNR engages in killing as a last resort. I believe her based on her decades of education and professional experience with native species and landscaping. Please educate yourself objectively on the DNRs ENTIRE role before making sweeping generalizations based on mishandled incidents.

    I have learned a different side of hunting by some well-educated and gentle people who are also nature conservationists. To ignore their voice and the some of the GOOD work done by the DNR just to support your cause is irresponsible.

    MOST research and writing is conducted with an agenda in mind, including yours. And mine. So if you are going to point out the “junk science” on one side, acknowledge it on your own. THEN, I’d have a little more respect for your argument.

  8. You have been unfair – the research from the Feral Cat Coalition is extensive based on rigorous study over a ten year period documents a reduction in populations all over the US and done by the real experts in ecology.

    I understand the attitude you have. I have heard it over and over. It is the typical DNR circle the wagons attitude. That is why people like me don’t really talk to people like you any more.

    You seem to feel I should be turning you on. I am not trying to convert you to anything and I think it is helpful to talk about issues rather than criticize the style of your critics.

    I was just telling you what I hoped was helpful info on your back yard situation. Of course I know good hunters,and I have loved some of them. There are good people in every occupation and life area even those I disagree with, but the stereotypes exist for a reason.

    Regardless, I was talking about what actually happens not what propagandists tell you. Everyone says their organization is this and that and it all sounds so high minded. I look at what people DO. Not what they SAY they do.

    The starving cat clubbed to death at the DNR fishery in Stoughton, the swan kills, the DNR’s permission to use live animals, including bears and old zoo animals, as bait to train dogs in fenced areas, foxes torn to pieces 10 – 15 times a day by packs of dogs.

    And with the blood all over the road in the DNR kill zones in MT Horeb, running into the ditches and the side of the road like a butcher shops, smelling, fawns laying discarded in the blood, and still CWD all over the State — I can only smirk when you say killing is their last resort.

    Perhaps I saw too much – the video of the old panther torn apart by dogs — I rarely say all this but your lecture to me shows you do not understand people like me — perhaps I have looked in places you have avoided.

    I still wish you well – I am glad if you know the good work of the DNR. I have only seen the bad side of their so called native species restoration. It is the Wild Ones who I believe have done the most to restore the natural landscaping to WI and groups of citizens like the Crane restorers in Baraboo. Citizens probably like you.

  9. “I was just telling you what I hoped was helpful info on your back yard situation.”

    That’s funny. Not from comment #1, when you discussed the REPAIR act and swan killings, did you mention anything helpful specific to my backyard. It is clear to to me that you used my blog as a platform to discuss an animal rights cause you believe in, not to provide practical assistance in my gardening and kitty woes.

    And that’s fine. I do the same thing. Its part of being a vocal female who likes to write. It has been educational for me. As I mentioned, I am not passionate about this issue and knew little about it. So it has been interesting, but I think I have exhausted my discussions on feral cats. For now anyway.

    I am not sure how you can be convinced who I am and that I “don’t understand people like you” based on this one debate. I invite you to read some of my other posts. I have glanced at your site and we actually have more in common than you would think. And in my goal to get the whole picture on issues, I DO and WILL continue to talk to “people like you”. Although I’m still not really sure what “people like me and you” means.

    Good luck to you as well.

  10. Hello there, Happy Fool’s Day!!

    Two beggars are sitting on a park bench in Ireland. One is holding a cross and one a Star of David.
    Both are holding hats to collect contributions. People walk by, lift their noses at the man with the Star of David and drop money in the hat held by the man with the cross. Soon the hat of the man with the cross is filled and the hat of the man with the Star of David is empty.
    A priest watches and then approaches the men. He turns to the man with the Star of David and says, “Young man. Don’t you realize that this is a Christian country? You’ll never get any contributions in this country holding a Star of David.”
    The man with the Star of David turns to the man with the cross and says, “Moishe, look who’s trying to teach us Marketing!!”

    Happy April Fool’s Day!

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