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Compulsive Feeders: When ‘Helping’ Hurts Cats and Pigeons

This article originally appeared on PETA Prime.

I remember that the relatives of two animal hoarders who faced cruelty charges told the media that the hoarders “loved animals and would never do anything to hurt them.” The animal shelter where I was working had just seized more than 20 terrified starving cats and more than a dozen dogs from these hoarders. One dog was chained out back surrounded by broken bottles near his rickety doghouse. The other dogs had endured “living” in about six inches of feces and urine-soaked dirt, with the stench from the decaying bodies of several animals who’d been left to die. During court proceedings, the two hoarders stated that they only had money for food, not veterinary care, and that they couldn’t bear to send the animals to an animal shelter.

These two folks started off feeding cats and then developed a compulsive behavior that ended up causing enormous animal suffering. There are other groups of secretive compulsive feeders who are also causing suffering and death to animals. Pigeons and feral cats are the victims of people who share many of the same psychological characteristics and behaviors of hoarders.

The Pigeon Control Advisory Service (PiCAS)—like PETA—promotes humane pigeon control. Our biologist and anti-cruelty caseworkers routinely advise apartment complexes, cities, universities, and other groups on alternatives to cruel poisons such as Avitrol or hired contractors who shoot pigeons. A key to effective long-term pigeon control is to modify the behavior of people who feed pigeons. Recommendations from PiCAS have ended cruel pest-control programs in numerous European cities and led to dramatic reductions in the numbers of pigeons. Guy Merchant, the founder of PiCAS, stated on page 145 of Andrew Blechman’s fascinating book Pigeons, The Fascinating Saga of the World’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird, that a “small number of persistent and deliberate feeders are wholly responsible for the pigeon problem throughout the world. … Pigeons overbreed when people overfeed.” Blechman notes that Guy recognizes that “compulsive feeders view themselves as charitable” but that he “thinks them selfish. It’s not enough to simply feed the pigeons ….”

Doesn’t Guy’s description of the pigeon feeders sound like the description of the hoarders I mentioned earlier? There are people who buy heavy bags of bird seed and walk around New York City, London, and other cities dropping huge piles of it on to public sidewalks and in parks. Naturally, pigeons flock there to eat, and then breed. These people think they are helping, but in reality, they are doing more harm than good.

Similarly, there are compulsive feeders who take 25 pound bags of cat food and drive around their city, furtively dumping mounds of chow behind dumpsters, at abandoned houses, and in dark alleys. They insist, like the pigeon feeders and the hoarders, that they are acting kindly. But their feeding habit is actually resulting in larger feral litters of homeless kittens, thereby exacerbating the suffering. I’ve had these feeders scream at me that they can’t afford a $10 spay or neuter surgery because they spend hundreds of dollars a week on food!

Have you ever considered asking your local park or city to put up signs discouraging the feeding of pigeons? Have you supported or opposed a local ordinance that would establish mandatory guidelines for feral cat colony management? Can we-who care about and advocate for animals-stop letting irrational impulses dictate our actions toward them?

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  • Me says:

    It costs $150 – $350 here in Calgary, depending on the sex, size and age of the cat.

  • Reesa says:

    I live on Vancouver Island and it costs anywhere from $150 for a male and $250 for a female cat to be fixed. It is not $10 or even close. Even for low-income programs they have it’s still going to be at least $25 and that’s only if you go through a lengthy and tedious process of qualifying.

  • Jennifer says:

    I agree that feeding feral cats will create a more “ideal” situation for breeding, but I also feed feral cats daily near my workplace. BUT, I have also had 3 out of the 5 of them spayed/neutered at a reduced rate through a rescue & intend to TNR the 2 other kitties. I believe if you’re going to feed them you have to have them fixed. Once you feed you will see cats come out of the woodwork, I originally had 2 cats, now I have 5 that feed, but as long as you enjoy feeding them and spay/neuter them it’s a very rewarding experience to know that you’ve helped reduce the future feral cat population & made the existing ferals free of the burden of parenting & foraging for bad food. TNR is surprisingly much easier than you’d expect with a humane trap & very rewarding!

  • Bettina says:

    Bad journalism guys and glaringly wrong facts! as several people have already stated as with humans breeding happens in even the most horrible conditions! I moved into a house with over 20 cats living around, I started feeding them, catching, fixing, finding homes for some, releasing some. I’ve drastically reduced the neighborhood feral/stray population. Even fixing 1 or 2 helps a lot! For everyone looking for cheap spay/neuter programs call your local humane society and ask if they know of any, or look online- they’re there. I can’t say for pigeons, I only know about kitties.

  • Dina says:

    @ Mariea-please call PAWS Chicago-773-521-7729 or go to pawschicago.org. They have low/no cost spay/neuter programs and this includes feral cats.

  • Monika says:

    In 1984 a study showed that feeding pigeons has no effect on the function of their sex organs nor on their sexual behaviour. Starving pigeons breed as much as well fed do. Pigeons were bred to multiply under any circumstances, even in winter. If you don’t feed them you might control the population but it means u control it by letting the squabs in the nests starve.

    The only cruelty free way to control pigeon populations is to erect supervised dovecotes. There the pigeons can live as the pets they are. They are fed what makes them stay at the dovecote and 90% of the excrements also. Their eggs are replaced with fake-eggs. Its that easy.

  • PRACHETA DAS says:

    feeding pigeons in parks or elsewhere is not the sign of loving animals, its nothing but just a hobby for lazy peoples

  • dore elisabeth says:

    stop

  • fawn avant says:

    I don’t see how this is correct. Even if you don’t feed an animal it will still breed. To me if you don’t feed the animals they will starve to death, how is that better than feeding them? I know someone that lures feral cats by feeding them, catching them and having them spayed and/or neutered. But they continue to feed them. Quite frankly, when I see how man is destroying wildlife, it’s their only chance of survival.

  • sally miller says:

    I agree with everything in the article but to say it is only $10 to spay or neuter is not true I live on Manitoulin Island in Canada and here is cheaper than a big city but we are looking at $200 for a cat and a female is more that is why some people can not afford it I have four cats and they are neutered but not anyone can do it there should be a program set up for cheaper rates or payment plans I paid in payments as I am on a disability and got my cats down when they were young but I knew the vet and he let me pay for shots and fixed in installments so that would help people thank you

  • sally miller says:

    I agree with everything in the article but to say it is only $10 to spay or neuter is not true I live on Manitoulin Island in Canada and here is cheaper than a big city but we are looking at $200 for a cat and a female is more that is why some people can not afford it I have four cats and they are neutered but not anyone can do it there should be a program set up for cheaper rates or payment plans I paid in payments as I am on a disability and got my cats down when they were young but I knew the vet and he let me pay for shots and fixed in installments so that would help people thank you

  • JiingDer Lee says:

    stop abusing. They’re low level animals but they can still feel!

  • Veronica says:

    I’m one of the folks that feeds feral cats, but I also TNR (trap neuter release). You can “responsibly” feed feral cats without causing more harm.

  • Mariea says:

    This sounds very new to me. I keep food in my trunk to feed to feral cats if I see one. Why wouldn’t you feed a hungry cat. As far as a 10 dollar spay please let me know of one in the Chicago area because I would spay and release in a minute if it was that affordable.

  • Laurie Roemmele, Ph.D. says:

    I have been feeding the same cats each morning at 5:30 AM, WAITING FOR ME each and every day for 5 years. I am proud to have “LOST” only one of the original 6. I see they are males, and some perhaps would think I was adding to the population for they may be mating of course without my knowlege. I just think it would be worse to stop since it has been so long, so I am in such a quandary!!! I agree with your points, and even though I want to feed so many homeless animals I see around my local area where live, I keep it simple in my backyard. I am just happy these special creatures (besides the 3 who live inside) are all content and know the routine, and seem healthy as well….I have all FIV cats inside and know they need to be indoors….and they are doing awesome too. Thank you for this insight, but I hope you would not think me in the BAD category. My sons have named even the ones outside….we can’t imagine our lives without this daily routine!

  • Max Doubt says:

    Humanely trap feral cats, spay or neuter them, and release them where you found them.

  • kathy says:

    I was looking for volunteer opportunities in my area online and there were ads for organizations near me who needed people to drive around at night leaving cat food at different locations for feral cats. They tried to sell the idea by saying the cats will meow loudly to thank you. They’re making the problem worse though :(

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