Updated January 11, 2016 – link provided to policy updated on AVMA website.
At its Winter Session on January 9, 2016, the AVMA House of Delegates considered and approved revisions to the AVMA’s policy on Free-Roaming Abandoned and Feral Cats. The resolution was submitted to the House of Delegates by the AVMA Board of Directors, after the Board received a recommendation from the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee.
The proposed revisions are the culmination of more than two years’ work by the Animal Welfare Committee, which is comprised of veterinarians and others representing expertise and a wide range of perspectives regarding animal welfare. Although the Animal Welfare Committee includes among its members representatives from the feline, avian, and wildlife veterinary communities, it did not tackle this question alone, but instead asked the Committee on Environmental Issues and the Council on Public Health and Regulatory Veterinary Medicine to assist with its review. Recognizing that feral cat management is a highly controversial issue, the group revised the policy to reflect new information, help build consensus, and provide leadership per the management of free-roaming abandoned and feral cats.
The welfare of free-roaming abandoned and feral cats and the impact of these cats on wildlife, ecosystems, and public health were central issues during the Committee’s discussions. Balancing these factors to arrive at a fair and constructive policy was no easy task, and resulted from a careful review of the available data in the literature; recounts of practical experience with the management of cat colonies on the part of several individuals on more than one entity (experience that brought forward multiple perspectives); consideration of a range of AVMA member comments received from around the country; collaboration with stakeholder groups; and intense negotiations with multiple rewrites involving a great deal of give-and-take and compromise. Development of effective animal welfare policy requires consideration of both data and the social environments in which solutions to welfare challenges are proposed. These factors were not only acknowledged, but carefully considered during the revision process.
During the House of Delegates discussion on the proposed revision, the range of perspectives heard was remarkably similar to those considered by the Animal Welfare Committee during its review. Amendments were proposed, including one focused on recommending enclosed colonies and another that would remove mention of euthanasia as an option. Both of these possibilities were also considered and intensely discussed by the committee. Neither the Animal Welfare Committee, nor the House of Delegates, chose to adopt those amendments.
Great efforts were made to represent the diverse viewpoints related to the management of free-roaming abandoned and feral cats, while maintaining scientific credibility and a policy that provides valuable and practical information for AVMA members and the public. The revised policy represents iterative progress toward resolving the free-roaming unowned cat problem, while recognizing that there is currently not consensus around what an ultimate solution will look like. It also points to the veterinary profession as a key player in developing approaches that are both science-based and socially responsible.