University of New Hampshire Law Review


[Excerpt] "There is an ongoing debate concerning the environmental impacts and appropriate control measures for the domestic cat population. Domestic cats have become America’s most popular choice for pets, and an estimated 9-12% of households feed “free-roaming” neighborhood cats. Almost 40% of the estimated seventy million cats in the United States may live a free roaming lifestyle without control of reproduction. With a seasonally polyestrus breeding structure and isolated from human influences, feral cats have acclimated to several habitats ranging from sub-Antarctic islands and urban settings to temperate farmlands. Because cats have been domesticated by humans and transported throughout the world, they are referred to as “non-indigenous,” “exotic,” or “non-native.” Several ecologists argue that feral domestic cats should be targeted for population control. These ecologists argue that feral cats prey extensively upon native wildlife and these cats act as a reservoir for infections such as rabies, toxoplasmosis, and other zoonotic parasites. Conversely, some ecologists argue that, unlike most other “pest species,” cats have followed mankind for centuries and can no longer be considered nonindigenous because native species have since acclimated to their presence. Due to ambiguity in the laws and scientific literature, an emotional debate has ensued adding little insight toward a practical solution to this problem. This paper examines the current wildlife laws, both federal and state, to determine what laws may apply to managing the feral cat population. It begins with a determination of how domestic cats are classified under these laws. Since many laws are vague, the intent of the legislatures is investigated to determine if domestic cats were meant to be defined as a nonindigenous species. The focus then shifts to indicate ways to control the feral domestic cat population. Current trends in the control of other nonindigenous species appear to revolve around public nuisance claims; however, due to the unique nature of domestic cats, these laws are poor candidates for managing the unwanted domestic cat population. On the other hand, given the recent increase in the enactment of leash laws, courts may be more inclined to apply public nuisance laws to cats. On a national level, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is an ideal candidate for controlling the feral cat population. Unlike earlier laws, which contain a list of species not permitted to be introduced, the ESA effectively prohibits the introduction of a species that will “harm” a threatened or endangered species. The importance of creating laws that cooperate with the nature of the biological systems is also discussed in detail. Lastly, the paper discusses the importance of public opinion when controlling any nonindigenous species and how failure to address this issue will lead to failure in the attempt to control the unwanted domestic cat population."

Repository Citation

Shawn Gorman & Julie Levy, A Public Policy Toward the Management of Feral Cats, 2 PIERCE L. REV. 157 (2004). Available at http://scholars.unh.edu/unh_lr/vol2/iss2/6

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