Conservation Groups Win Injunction to Halt Feral Cat Program in Los Angeles

Feral cat colony. Photo: © R. Sharon, flicker.com

A superior court judge has ruled in favor of a coalition of conservation groups that includes ABC, to halt the controversial practice of Trap, Neuter, and Release (TNR) of feral cats in the City of Los Angeles, pending environmental review.

The court determined that the City and its Department of Animal Services had been “secretly and unofficially” promoting the practice of re-releasing feral cats to roam free in the city after they have been trapped and neutered or spayed, even though they were obliged by law to first conduct a review of the program under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The plaintiffs in the suit were led by the Urban Wildlands Group, and included ABC, the Endangered Habitats League, Los Angeles Audubon Society, Palos Verdes/South Bay Audubon Society, and Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society.
ABC has been an outspoken opponent of the practice of TNR due to the mortality the cats cause to wild bird populations. Scientists estimate that owned and feral domestic cats are responsible for hundreds of millions of bird deaths each year, one of the largest ongoing causes of avian mortality in the country. TNR advocates maintain that cat colonies diminish over time due to attrition once the cats have been spayed or neutered. In reality, however, total effectiveness in neutering a colony is nearly impossible to achieve, and as a result, cats continue to breed. Additionally colonies act as dumping grounds for unwanted pets, often actually growing over time.

“TNR is not a practice that should be officially sanctioned by any local government,” said Darin Schroeder, ABC’s Vice President for Conservation Advocacy. “Studies have repeatedly shown that TNR does not work in reducing the number of feral cats. Instead, well-meaning but misguided volunteers perpetuate the problem and contribute to millions of bird deaths. TNR is simply not the solution.”
Despite denials by the City that an official TNR program existed, the judge ruled that “…implementation of the program is pervasive, albeit informal and unspoken,” and ordered them to halt their actions and complete the necessary environmental reviews.

In June 2005, the Los Angeles Board of Animal Services Commissioners adopted TNR as their preferred method of dealing with feral cat populations. Under the CEQA, an analysis of the impacts of the program on the environment should have been completed, but never was. Yet the Department went forward in supporting TNR operations, including discounting spay/neuter procedures for TNR cats, helping establish new TNR colonies on city property, and helping promote TNR programs, while allegedly refusing to accept feral cats at city animal shelters or issue permits to trap feral cats that were not going to be subsequently re-released.

The City must now implement the CEQA process, which includes full scientific review, assessment of alternatives, and potential mitigation measures. The public will have the opportunity to engage in the process and ensure an open, science-based approach to the issue of free-roaming cats in Los Angeles.

To view an ABC video on the problems associated with TNR, visit our YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/abcbirds. To read some of the scientific papers published on the ineffectiveness of TNR, visit www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/cats/tnr.html