My blood boiled this morning when I saw some propaganda for trap-neuter-return programs being shared around Facebook. Trap-neuter-return (TNR) is a method of dealing with feral cat populations by spaying and neutering them and then releasing them back into the wild. Conservation biologists have found that TNR fails to reduce populations of cats. As an alien predator subsidized by humans, free-roaming cats kill between half a billion and a billion birds a year, as well as an untold number of reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and insects in the United States alone. Furthermore, free-roaming cats spread diseases harmful to humans, including toxoplasmosis, implicated in fetal death, brain cancer, and schizophrenia.
Despite these facts, the TNR industry is well-funded and boasts a national activist army. It’s easy to exploit the emotions of cat lovers to fund the innumerable, frequently torturous deaths of chipmunks, chickadees, and butterflies. What everyone ought to find truly galling, however, is that the taxpayer subsidizes this destruction. Alley Cats, the major national promoter of TNR programs, is a tax-exempt charity with a staff of 30. (They claim that TNR works to reduce feral cat populations over the long term, but the only studies they can cite are a small handful of short-term, single-case studies carried out by veterinarians, not biologists. There is now a large body of peer-reviewed research conducted by biologists finding that TNR does not reduce feral cat populations, especially when compared to the traditional trap-kill method. See links above.) As a 501(c)(3) organization, Alley Cats is eligible to receive tax-deductible donations, which means that the taxpayers of the United States are effectively subsidizing donations to this organization. This is rather as if someone were to form a “charity” dedicated to dumping heavy metals into the water supply or to “solving” Third World “overpopulation” by poisoning wells and stealing bed-nets. So long as you have noble intentions, apparently, the IRS will allow you to obtain charitable status. Charities often have secondary ill effects, as when foreign aid inadvertently promotes corruption or distorts local production, but this is one of the few cases I can think of in which a charity is actually doing first-order harm — and getting recognition and support from the government for it.