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Feature July 2013 Issue

Cat advocacy group challenges a recent wildlife study

A study under scrutiny

The Smithsonian is coming under fire in the aftermath of the controversial cat study that created plenty of debate earlier this year. The feline advocacy group Alley Cat Allies delivered a petition with more than 55,000 signatures to the institute in May, calling for the Smithsonian to “stop spreading junk science that will kill cats,” according to a statement released by the non-profit organization.

The controversial research was published in a late January edition of Nature Communications — stating that domestic cats kill billions of birds, mice and small animals in the U.S. each year. Funded partly by the Smithsonian and led by Scott Loss of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, the study focused primarily on past research — but concluded that the number of animal deaths caused by cats is much higher than previously believed.

Alison Grasheim, associate director of communications for the Maryland-based Alley Cat Allies, explained that the study has many flaws — from the use of dated research to make a case against cats, to the numerous extrapolations that were unsupported by collected data. But, most importantly, Ms. Grasheim feels that the study contained euphemisms that support the killing of cats.

Though the Smithsonian research does not explicitly call for the killing of cats, it does recommend “sound conservation and policy intervention.” These recommendations include keeping cats indoors, which experts emphasize is better for the safety and health of the animals in the first place. (Note: The study scientists found that feral cats and strays — not house cats — are responsible for the majority of the killings.) For those cats without homes, Alley Cat Allies advocates for a trap-neuter-release approach — a policy that is not encouraged by the recent study, however.

The disputed research has also spurred researchers in other countries to address similar issues. As for future research, Alley Cat Allies hopes that the Smithsonian and other taxpayer-funded organizations will consider more humane approaches that evaluate issues from all sides.

“What we would like is a well-rounded, well-considered science that actually has at its core the belief that all life is valued,” explains Ms. Grasheim.

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