The Outdoor Cat: Consensus Statement

Monkey kitten5

In December I wrote about The Outdoor Cat conference, where I and others gathered to consider the ecological, social and ethical dimensions of outdoor cats, their well being, and their impact on wildlife.

After the conference was over, the organizers and presenters met to discuss a Consensus Statement. We had a good representation and lively discussion about the health and safety of cats, the protection of wildlife and biodiversity, and how we might move forward to accomplish both goals.

The Consensus Statement is now out, and posted on the HSUS Website. It reads:

Issues surrounding outdoor cats are complex and set in contexts that differ greatly from place to place and time to time. In some locations, the presence of outdoor cats can have significant conservation implications for wild birds, mammals, and reptiles, especially those that may already be experiencing population declines. Those approaching the issues from a concern for cats, their welfare and management, on the one hand, and those approaching them from a concern for wildlife and its conservation, on the other, often appear to be divided by their different priorities. But they share a fundamental concern for animals and the environment, and a respect for evidence; many also agree on a moral imperative to respect non-human life. There is thus much common ground between those whose interests originate primarily from a concern for animal welfare, and those whose interests originate primarily from a concern for wildlife conservation. Current management options focused on outdoor cats, including trap-neuter-return (TNR) and lethal control, at best help mitigate only a fraction of the impacts cats have on wildlife or the suffering of unowned and stray cats. We have not yet achieved the understanding, nor do we currently have available the necessary resources to resolve all the various forms of conflict associated with outdoor cats.

To redress the knowledge gap, further research should be a priority, especially with respect to developing new contraceptive tools, but society’s focus should also include optimization of existing management tools and greatly expanded public education to increase awareness and encourage more responsible pet ownership—prevention invariably being better than cure, especially, as in this case, where the cure may be elusive. It is important to develop a scientifically as well as ethically well-founded consensus on how to manage conflicts with outdoors cats, explicitly bearing in the mind the diversity of contexts within which management needs to occur. Strategies built on this consensus are most likely to be developed through constructive, collaborative engagement between those with expertise in animal welfare and wildlife conservation. While cats continue to suffer, and wildlife species continue to decline in the face of multiple threats, all stakeholders have a shared duty of care to work together in solving these problems.

As you read through the consensus statement, note the emphasis on the moral value of both cats and wildlife, the common ground that exists between the animal protection and conservation communities, the importance of both scientific and ethical understanding, and the need for further research so as to match the best policies and management to diverse circumstances. It is a nuanced statement that comprehends the need for both ethics and science as points of triangulation when searching for the best public policies and management strategies.

There are other available resources you should know about as well.

Some of the slide presentations from the conference are available on the same page as the consensus statement. Mine is amongst them, and you can view that here, Outdoor Cats: Tracking Their Implications for Ethics and Public Policy.

John Hadidian, Senior Scientist for Wildlife at HSUS, was one of the organizers of the conference. He also produced a draft white paper on the empirical and policy studies of outdoor cat, The Outdoor Cat: Science and Policy from a Global Perspective. This manuscript was distributed in hardcopy at the conference, and was being revised for future publication. Despite being clearly marked as a draft and not for distribution without permission, someone(s) made it into a *.pdf and released it into the wild. So the HSUS has put it on their website as well. I hope this does not prevent the study being updated and published in the future.

Overall, I am quite pleased that the consensus statement and the white paper make clear the importance of ethics to both understanding and solving this issue. While much work remains to be done on the ethics side of the ledger, it is a promising start.

Again, a tip of the hat to all those who organized and participated in The Outdoor Cat conference, and their willingness to step around tired debates and reach common ground.

Image: A photo of a wild macaque who has adopted an abandoned kitten at Ubud’s Monkey Forest in Bali. One amongst many reminders that interspecies care is not the province of humans alone, but is still one of our most glorious capacities. See Monkey in Bali Forest Adopts Kitten.

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