Coyote study breathes new life into feral cat controversy

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KEARNS — Several studies indicate that coyotes across the country are taking a toll on cats in urban areas, according to the American Bird Conservancy. That worry is being used as leverage in a long-running controversy.

Many humane organizations capture and neuter wild domestic cats, also called feral cats, and then release them to live their lives in the outdoors. Cat lovers and bird lovers have been at war over this practice for a long time, and now coyotes are caught in the crossfire thanks to a report from the American Bird Conservancy.

(The released cats are) not at home on the sofa watching TV with you. But they do have a pretty good life, (they) can still get out there and enjoy life.

–Gene Baierschmidt, Utah Humane Society

"By conservative estimates, we're looking at 500 million to a billion birds a year are killed by outdoor cats; and a substantial portion of those are killed by feral cats that are maintained in colonies," said Gavin Shire, vice president of the American Bird Conservancy.

Many humane groups, though, actively maintain feral colonies. They trap the wild cats, neuter or spay them, and then release them to live a long and presumably happy life.

"It's not ideal. They're not at home on the sofa watching TV with you. But they do have a pretty good life, (they) can still get out there and enjoy life," said Gene Baierschmidt, director of the Humane Society of Utah.

The new report paints coyotes as a serious villain. Recent studies show the diet of urban coyotes is heavy on cats: 13 to 45 percent of what they eat.

"(It's) unfortunate for the cat, which would be much better off if it were trapped, neutered, and then adopted to a loving home where it wouldn't be at risk from wild animals like this," Shire said.

You'd think the bird lovers would be sympathetic to the coyotes, following the old theory that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." In any case, the cat-friendly folks scoff at the notion of adopting feral cats.

"From an early age they are wild cats, and so it's impossible to keep them in your house. And they could injure you," Baierschmidt said.

But what to do about those terrible, although perfectly natural, appetites?

"You know, we think it's important when people do the ‘trap, neuter and release' that they also make sure that they bring food so that cats have a food source, and perhaps (are) not killing so many birds," Baierschmidt said.

"This isn't good for the cats themselves," Shire said. "They live very harsh, brutal lives in these colonies."

The coyote diet study is kind of academic in Utah. Unlike some cities in the country, coyote sightings in urban Utah are very rare.

In rural areas, it's a different story. Lawmakers just upped the bounty on coyotes from $20 apiece to $50.


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John Hollenhorst


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