Civil Beat’s Aug. 17 story on the relationship between cats and endangered animals illuminates the contention between those who believe cats have a right to life and conservationists who want them off the landscape.

The Hawaiian Humane Society cares about endangered animals and agrees with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that humans, habitat loss and diseases such as toxoplasmosis and leptospirosis are threats to these animals.

The Society also believes that all animals, regardless of species, must be treated humanely. All animals suffer and feel pain. A value system in which animals are classified as native, introduced, injurious or invasive creates a hierarchy in which the protection of certain animals comes at the suffering of others.

Free-roaming cats peek out from the brush in a park-and-ride in Hawaii Kai.
Free-roaming cats peek out from the brush in a park-and-ride in Hawaii Kai. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Any policies that involve cats in our communities must be tempered with high-quality information and experts from a cross-section of viewpoints. The article references an interagency task force and work groups. It would be wise for animal welfare groups, such as the Hawaiian Humane Society, who are experts at animal legislation, population studies and the daily issues of free-roaming cats, to have a role in these groups.

Some of the comments posted in response to the story on Civil Beat’s website call for the removal and death of all “feral” cats. It’s important to note that not all outside cats are feral. A cat with a notched ear is not always feral. We know this, as many that arrive to our shelter are friendly and ready for us to find them new families.

Feral cats compose just a slice of the population of cats outside. According to a 2015 Ward Research study commissioned by the Hawaiian Humane Society, about 17 percent of Oahu’s people are feeding cats they don’t consider their own, which could be as many as 300,000 cats.

Before any solutions, proposals or policies are proposed, more data-driven research is needed, and more experts need to be involved.

The challenge with this estimate is that several neighbors on one street might be feeding the same cat at different times. Regardless, the numbers tell us that this is a significant animal population that deserves our attention, and there are far too many to eliminate from the landscape.

Any proposed policies or solutions must be cognizant of how diverse the population is. Free-roaming cats include pets allowed outdoors, the lost and the abandoned, as well as the truly “feral,” which are unsocialized cats that are fearful of human contact. There is no credible estimate that the Hawaiian Humane Society knows of the number of feral cats on Oahu.

While the article touches briefly on toxoplasmosis as a public health concern, it should be noted that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes that undercooked meat is the leading danger of toxoplasmosis for humans.

Furthermore, without ingesting cat feces, the disease is nearly impossible to contract. According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council, which is a worldwide consortium of animal disease experts, only about 1 percent of cats are active hosts of toxoplasmosis.

Before any solutions or policies are proposed, more data-driven research is needed, and more experts need to be involved in the discussion.

Our actions should always be guided by the goal of creating a more humane existence for all. By working together, we can make Hawaii a better place for animals and people.

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