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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

San Diego Humane Society Releasing More Cats To Streets

Speaker 1: 00:00 Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we told you about a new policy at the San Diego humane society. The nonprofit is releasing cats back to the streets instead of keeping them to be adopted or euthanized. Now KPBS investigative reporter. Claire Tresor says that practice is ramping up despite a lawsuit from animal rights activists, Speaker 2: 00:23 There could be as many as half a million stray cats on County streets, according to the San Diego humane society to deal with all these free roaming fee lines. The nonprofit is running a program where feral cats are brought in spayed or neutered, and then released back to the streets in March. They expanded the practice under what they call a community cat program where even friendly cats will be released. Speaker 3: 00:51 There has been a lot of, um, frustration on the part of small nonprofits and individual animal rescuers who are seeing this, this trend towards, um, abandoning friendly domesticated cats on the streets. Speaker 2: 01:13 This doesn't sit right with Brian. P's an animal rights activist and attorney he's filed a legal complaint against the humane society to force them to stop. He and his clients have no problem with managing populations of feral cats by trapping and bringing them to a clinic or to the humane society to be spayed or neutered, and then returning them to their habitat. Speaker 3: 01:35 Then when you look at what's actually happening, when you have cats that they know are, um, were previously owned or were abandoned by the owners or cats that are in dangerous areas that are injured. And just certainly should not just be put back out on the street. And that's exactly what they're doing. Speaker 2: 01:53 The city of San Diego between July, 2019 and December, 2020, the humane society released more than 1300 cats to the streets. That's almost double the number from the first 16 months of the program. Gary Weitzman, CEO of the San Diego humane society says it's more humane to release cats rather than keeping them in a shelter. Speaker 3: 02:17 Those cats are held here for medical exams, Marion holding cages there. Um, no matter how easy we make the environment for them, they are stressed to the max. Now consider those same cats did really well outdoors being cared for by the community. Um, being enjoying the environment, not in danger, those cats did really well. Why don't we just stay in there to them, prevent them from getting rabies and distemper and have them go back and enjoy their lives. Speaker 2: 02:47 He added that any cats with a sign of ownership, including a color or microchip would not be released, but it's not always easy to tell whether a cat has been owned or not. So says Pam Harris, a long time animal shelter volunteer. Who's working with peace on the legal complaint. Speaker 4: 03:07 They say that, um, any cat with sign of signs of ownership will not be put into the community cat program. So for example, if a cat comes in microchipped or wearing a harness, um, that cat won't be put back, however, how do most people who have indoor cats don't put collars on them and don't put harnesses on them. You know, probably most of the cats who are pets are not microchipped. Speaker 2: 03:34 The safety of the cats is one concern. The other is the impact they have on the overall ecosystem. Specifically bird populations, Jim Pugh, conservation director of the San Diego Audubon society describes the cats as an invasive species. Speaker 4: 03:52 There's huge environmental impacts. You know, we know that it takes several burns a month. Speaker 2: 04:00 Pew says his ideal solution to the stray cat issue would be to create giant warehouses where cats could live. Speaker 4: 04:08 We're saying, you know, there's daycare centers for pets, you know, where they have indoor facilities, they have toys and exercise for them and stuff. If they're going to keep animals, they ought to be kept indoors. Speaker 1: 04:20 Joining me is KPBS investigative reporter, Claire Traeger, sir. Claire. Welcome. Thank you. Before we get to the humane society releasing the cast. So I'm going to ask you for some background on this story. How do these stray cats get to the humane society who picks them up? Where are they found? Speaker 2: 04:40 Yeah, so, I mean, there are a couple of different ways. One thing is there are rescue organizations who for a long time have been going out and trap feral cats, bring them into a clinic somewhere, spay and neuter them. Uh, the difference here is that the humane society is now working with these organizations to, to provide the space neutering and, and help them. And then they're also expanding so that people who may be, just see a cat out on the street or in a parking lot or wherever who brings in the cat. Now that cat also is going to be again, spayed and neutered. And then, uh, released back back where it was found. Speaker 1: 05:23 One of the people you spoke with talked about indoor cats, not having collars sometimes and therefore not being identified as having a home, but how would such a cat end up at the shelter in the first place? Speaker 2: 05:34 Right. Well, you know, indoor cats obviously can escape. They, they might get out and just then be wandering around and, and not know where they are. The other thing is that people abandon their cats. Um, sometimes maybe if they're moving or they just can't take care of them anymore. Unfortunately. And so those cats that are really not used to living outside the claim is that humane society is still treating them as outdoor cats because they don't have any of those signs of ownership, like a color, as we said, or being microchipped. And so then they will release those cats really, who will not be able to fend for themselves. Don't, you know, don't know how to live outside, like the more community cats do. Speaker 1: 06:17 So even though data shows more cats have been released by the humane society in the last year, isn't the, the goal, the overall goal of the program, really to reduce the number of stray cats. Speaker 2: 06:29 That's the idea is that by bringing in feral cats and spay and neutering them, those cats are not able to reproduce. And so eventually the population goes down. I don't know that there's any way to really accurately measure the population of overall stray cats. I don't know that we know whether the program is working, whether the numbers are really going down, maybe quite yet, maybe, maybe we will be able to know later on. Speaker 1: 06:58 And our critics suggesting that the humane society stop the spay and neuter program, or are they suggesting that the society keep the federal cats at the humane society for the rest of their lives? Speaker 2: 07:11 Right? So they are very clear to point out that the critics have no problem with doing this spay and neutering and releasing for feral cats, like truly wild cats that can not live in a home, can not be around people. You know, basically they're, they're wild animals. They aren't meant to be inside in a home with owners. What they are contending is that the humane society shouldn't be using this with friendly cats that could otherwise be adopted. Like if they were in the shelter, someone might come and adopt them. So they don't want to stop the program overall, but they do want to put a halt to it, to figure out a better way to tell which cats are friendly and which ones are not, and that they want the humane society to stop releasing the friendly cats. Speaker 1: 08:00 Okay. So the other aspect of your story, the kind of impact that strike hats have on the bird population is the number of birds decreasing in any way? Speaker 2: 08:12 Well, again, I think it's a little bit hard to know, you know, whether the number of birds is decreasing due to cats. Uh, Jim Pew with the Audubon society said at one point they were working on doing a study with SDSU that would measure, uh, the impact of a stray cats on the local bird population. But he said that they actually didn't want to get involved with that because it was too controversial. Um, there is a study from the Smithsonian, uh, and the us fish and wildlife service that found overall in the U S outdoor cats killed between 1.3 and 3.7 billion birds each year. So it seems like, yeah, they do have, um, an impact, but I don't know if they're causing the, the population of birds to, to fall. Speaker 1: 09:01 And don't feral cats also keep a check on the road and population. Wouldn't that be a good thing for the ecosystem? Yeah, Speaker 2: 09:08 I think so. And to be clear, I don't think that anyone is really saying, um, you know, that we should get rid of all feral cats. I don't think that's possible. Um, so I don't, I don't think we really have to worry about, you know, no cats, meaning rats and mice are running rampant through the streets or anything like that. Speaker 1: 09:26 So there's the cat warehouse idea. We heard about any other solutions from people who see feral cats as a problem. Speaker 2: 09:34 Well, you know, I, again, I don't think that the warehouse idea is really realistic or anyone's talking about that, that happening. Although, you know, we do have the, uh, convention center one Oh one Ash street or something like that. Um, but I think the kind of unspoken idea here that I have had some bird conservationalists say is that the feral cat should be trapped, brought in and euthanized, um, not released back to the streets, but again, I don't think that anyone is, is really considering doing that. Speaker 1: 10:06 I've been speaking with KPBS, investigative reporter, Claire Trag is her Claire. Thank you. Thank you. Speaker 5: 10:17 [inaudible].

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In the city of San Diego between July 2019 and December 2020, the Humane Society released more than 1,300 cats to the streets.
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