Feral kittens are some of San Francisco’s most vulnerable animals. (Courtesy photo)

Leaving San Francisco’s feral cats and their kittens to the raccoons and coyotes is not the solution

By Maria Conlon

Reverse the mom cat and kitten policy at SF Animal Care and Control (SFACC) and SF SPCA. Restore protections for some of San Francisco’s most vulnerable animals: homeless kittens. They are not wildlife and need our assistance.

A September opinion article written by SF SPCA’s President Jennifer Scarlett, UC Davis’ Dr. Kate Hurley, and Alley Cat Allies’ Becky Robinson appeared in the Examiner claiming that it’s “inhumane and misguided” to bring feral cats and their newborn kittens into an animal shelter.

Let’s first start by providing a history of feral cats in San Francisco. In the1980s, Golden Gate Park and Lands End were over-run with hundreds of feral and abandoned cats. In the 1990s, a small group of animal lovers started trapping the cats to get them spayed, neutered, and given medical care. They paid for this care out-of-pocket and sometimes used the services of Fillmore’s Pets Unlimited, which offered low-cost services. Eventually, the SPCA stepped in and created the free-of-charge Feral Fix (FF) program. Feral Fix and dozens of dedicated volunteers spent much of their free time doing TNR (Trap Neuter Return), which dramatically decreased the number of homeless, roaming cats in our city. The San Francisco Feral Fix program became a beacon of light for people all around the country and the world who wanted to learn how to find a humane solution of how to handle feral cats.

For the past 25 years, if someone called SFACC or SPCA to report feral cats or feral moms and kittens, they were put in touch with volunteer trappers who would trap the moms and kittens and get them into foster homes.

In April 2019, with no warning and no reliable scientific data to back up the decision, SFACC and the SPCA abruptly took away the public’s ability to contact volunteer trappers. These agencies no longer immediately send trappers out when a member of the public calls to report kittens, unless the kittens are already weaned, 4-5 weeks old (something almost impossible for a member of the public to determine. Also, kittens over 4 weeks old are harder to trap.)

Members of the cat community, including volunteer trappers and those who foster feral mother cats and kittens, do not suggest that the mother cats and kittens should be kept in shelters for “extended periods.” They recommend these cats should be fostered in homes where a quiet nest is created, and food and water are provided. The mother can safely continue nursing her kittens until they are weaned, protected from the perils of the outdoors (coyotes, raccoons, dogs, humans, cars, disease, death.) All are fixed, the kittens put up for adoption, and the mom cat returned to her colony. This method has been very successful for years.

SPCA’s Vision 2020, announced by Dr. Scarlett in 2011, championed the goal to end animal abandonment in San Francisco by 2020. By withdrawing assistance for feeding feral cats and deliberately leaving vulnerable mom cats and their nursing kittens outdoors, the cat community believes this vision has been abandoned.

Dr. Hurley admits that her past standard of care was to trap feral cats and “euthanize” them if they were not immediately able to be handled. Perhaps in the future, she will regret her latest approach of leaving moms with newborn kittens outside to the elements.

Why abandon successful and humane programs and refuse to put the public in touch with volunteer trappers? Why leave newborn kittens outdoors to be subjected to a 75 percent mortality rate? Why allow repeated pregnancies at a young age? Why risk repopulating the colonies that have been in decline? Why are these shortsighted and inhumane changes occurring? There is an established, vibrant rescue infrastructure that has assisted mom cat and kittens for over 25 years. San Francisco’s well-proven, progressive vision has been a model of enlightened animal welfare, and we shouldn’t change what is working. This policy is regressive for San Francisco’s homeless domestic cat population.

Please help reverse the kitten policy at SFACC and SPCA. sfanimalsvoice.org provides articles and information on how to contact your SF supervisor, SPCA’s Dr. Jennifer Scarlett, and SFACC’s Director, Virginia Donahue, to voice your opposition to this inhumane policy reversal.

Maria Conlon is co-director of Give Me Shelter Cat Rescue, a San Francisco Animal Care and Control rescue partner and member of the SF Cat Volunteer Community.

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