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Despite wild, predatory behavior, feral cats have their supporters at county hearing

Feral cats. File photo.  (AP Photo/The Daily Times Doug Larson)

Feral cats. File photo. (AP Photo/The Daily Times, Doug Larson)

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Updated: April 21, 2013 6:51AM

It’s the eternal battle between cats and birds.

And cats are clearly winning.

Nationwide, feline predators kill up to 3.7 billion birds and as many as 20.7 billion mammals annually.

But on Tuesday, the fight was between cat fanciers and bird fans as the problem landed in the Cook County boardroom.

Animal lovers all, some 100 people started lining up in the morning for a County Board public hearing on a national study on the issue as well as the county’s management of the feral cat population.

Cats of all types — pet, stray and feral — are responsible for the billions of bird and animal casualties cited in the analysis by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Smithsonian Institution, but a local official made it clear that feral — or wild — cats are the central problem.

“Though cats allowed outdoors — pet cats allowed outdoors — do also kill birds, the sheer number of feral cats suggest the quantity of birds killed by cats without a human home are the most significant,” said Louise Clemency, Chicago field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Clemency began her testimony by expressing “my regret that [the issue on the table] can seem to pit bird lovers and cat lovers. I myself happen to be both, and I think a lot of people are as well.”

Indeed, those attending the hearing — called after a Sun-Times editorial on the study — weren’t advocating capital punishment for the offending cats.

Most people favored the county’s six-year-old “Managed Care of Feral Cats Program” which moved away from a euthanization-only standard and focused on a “Trap-Neuter-Return” to nature policy.

Passed in 2007, the privately-funded program has put feral cat management in the hands of PAWS Chicago and seven local humane societies. The result has been 12,000 cats spayed or neutered and vaccinated and a savings of $612,000 to the taxpayers, according to Dr. Donna Alexander, who heads Cook County animal control.

Before 2007, several suburban communities were capturing and euthanizing some 500 cats per year at a cost to taxpayers of $245 per animal,

“This still did not reduce the population,” Alexander said, stressing the success of the new program.

Donnie Dann, appointed to the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission by Gov. Pat Quinn, backed that up, saying: “This Fish and Wildlife/Smithstonian study… settles any argument as to whether cats impact native wildlife. It demands a serious look at how we can protect biodiversity.”

Allowing cats to “roam” wild, in poor health, “is worse than euthanasia.”

But feral cats clearly had their supporters.

Person after person testified about the docile nature of feral cats they tended to — discounting the study.

The analysis is “extremely weak,” said Ann-Marie Shapiro, who testified she holds a master’s degree in conservation biology and whose career includes working as a research ecologist for the federal government.

“The paper actually asserts that cats alone kill between 7 [percent] and 40 percent of U.S. land birds every year. This is not logically possible.”

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