City cat, bird advocates tussle over halted neutering program

Advocates for Los Angeles' stray cats and birds are locked in dispute over a suspended city program to neuter and release the animals.
Advocates for Los Angeles' stray cats and birds are locked in dispute over a suspended city program to neuter and release the animals.
Jose Luis Roca/AFP/Getty Images

Feathers and fur are flying in a dispute amongst animal lovers over a suspended program by the City of Los Angeles to neuter tens of thousands of wild alley cats, a program that was branded illegal and halted by a judge last month.

A group called Alley Cat Allies today asked the Los Angeles city council to resume funding the capture, neutering and release of thousands of street and alley cats per year, a practice banned by a court decision last month.

Bird-lovers went to court in 2008, and last month a Superior Court judge ordered the city to stop paying for a program to assist cat advocates in trapping, neutering and releasing stray cats caught in humane traps in alleys, backyards and vacant areas across Los Angeles.

But cat lovers are furious, and are asking fellow feline fanciers to pressure the city council to restore the trap-neuter-release program. The alternative, they say, is the euthanasia of thousands of cats who get captured around Los Angeles every year by irate property owners.

The Los Angeles Audubon Society, the American Bird Conservancy and four other groups sued the city for failing to conduct studies on what the impact of tens of thousands of sterilized, unkept and hungry cats would be on the city's birds. Their lawyers argued that a program of support by city animal shelters, including low-cost sterilizations and free, humane cat traps, encouraged an increase in wild cat populations that were decimating bird counts.

The city's Animal Services Department also, in 2005, stopped accepting feral cats at its animal shelters, if they were being dropped off for destruction, bird advocates said. they contend the city made a decision to drastically increase the number of hungry cats without studying the environmental impact on birds.

"Feral cats are documented predators of native wildlife,'' said Travis Longcore, science director for the Urban Wildlands Group. "We do not support release of this non-native predator into our open spaces and neighborhoods, where they kill birds and other wildlife.''

In December, a judge agreed, and ordered the city to stop subsidizing trap-neuter-release programs. Los Angeles was also ordered to stop informing people with cat problems that private groups offer such support until the full effects of the program are studied.

Such an environmental report was ordered by the City in 2005, but has never been done, Longcore said.

Cat advocates are furious. "Due to a disappointing decision by a county judge -- based on a lawsuit that never should have been filed -- L.A.'s Trap- Neuter-Return programs are in jeopardy,'' said a statement from Alley Cat Allies.

The group today asked its members to pressure city council members to restore funding for the city neutering program.