Pediatric spay and neuter is now a well established practice in the shelter system. Whatever the disadvantages of the practice the benefits are believed to far outweigh them. The main reason the practice works as well as it does is that kittens (and puppies) can be spayed and neutered as young as eight weeks and cared for as they heal from these invasive and complicated surgical procedures within shelters and homes. The care in home and shelter environments allows the infants sufficient time to heal and any post surgical complications can be addressed.
TNR programs when properly implemented are effective at controlling feral cat populations in a compassionate and humane way. However, it is now becoming routine practice to release neutered kittens and lactating mothers 24 hours of less after invasive surgeries back to their natal environments.
Deprived of adequate recovery time, the necessary sufficient time to heal post surgery, kittens are simply too young to survive the process. Lactating mothers are taken from dependent kittens for the span of the TNR process and released back to their habitats fresh from an invasive procedure with a fresh sutured incision at the site of the mammary glands they need to nurse their young with.
I became aware of this problem after seeing the work of The New York City Feral Cat Initiative (an umbrella agency working under the Mayor’s NYC Alliance for animals) in action. I live in East Harlem, an area abundant with feral cat colonies. I became quite familiar with the individual kittens living in the vacant lot next door to my building. When I came home one evening to see the kittens being trapped I cautioned the women doing the trapping about how important age limits are. However, they observed the protocols and practices of the program. These kittens died a slow and painful death within a matter of weeks after being released. My sister brought the last kitten we found in severe distress to be euthanized. How much more humane it would have been to euthanize these animals directly after trapping.
I have contacted the mayor’s office, been contacted and spoken at length with the Veterinary Services department of the NYC Department of Health and exchanged a string of e-mails with Nancy Peterson, the feral cat program director for the Humane Society of the United States. Ms. Peterson’s initial response to me was that kittens in TNR programs are not released back to colonies but adopted out. In her last response to me she quotes a veterinarian who states that “surely some kittens will die if returned to their colonies after neutering” and who cites a Florida study on the survival rate of TNR cats (as if weather is a not a significant variable in survival).
Some twenty-five years ago when the practice of pediatric spay and neuter was first introduced into the shelter system there was much debate over the impacts on immature animals. At no point in the debates, the studies and the conversations was a variable ever raised that it might somehow be acceptable medical practice to surgically alter infants and leave them in vacant lots without convalescent care.
Everyone here feels they are on the side of the angels. What is being left out of the equation is that any humane conservation or management effort must by definition not allow humans to be the agents of direct suffering and death. It is dangerous to accept any less than this.
TNR programs run on the volunteer efforts. Most if not all volunteers believe in the good of the work they are doing. Exposing the dangers in current practices can ensure that good work is done.
In my graduate program we are taught of the virtues of “adaptive management” with regard to management of wildlife programs. Adaptive management simply means we must learn from our mistakes, we are warned against the dangers of being reluctant to admit failures and not adapting our programs.
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
"Deprived of adequate recovery time, the necessary sufficient time to heal post surgery, kittens are simply too young to survive the process. Lactating mothers are taken from dependent kittens for the span of the TNR process and released back to their habitats fresh from an invasive procedure with a fresh sutured incision at the site of the mammary glands they need to nurse their young with".
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