Alley Cat Allies announced last month it is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever killed three feral cats in March in Atlantic City.

The cats were among about 100 in a feral cat colony that a local branch of the Maryland group maintains at the city’s famous Boardwalk. They were found slain near the Boardwalk and Vermont Avenue, and police are looking for three people who were caught on surveillance photos and might be suspects.

Beyond the illegality, it’s very sad to see this happen to cats or any other animal. Unfortunately, it’s only one among many sad endings for the lives of feral cats.

As PETA says, “Feral cats do not die of ‘old age.’ Many are poisoned, shot, tortured by cruel people, attacked by other animals, or hit by cars. Others die of exposure, starvation or highly contagious fatal diseases, such as rabies, feline AIDS, feline leukemia and feline infectious peritonitis.”

Before they reach those horrible deaths, the estimated 60 million to 100 million feral cats in the United States inflict an enormous amount of harm on the natural environment and even pose a threat to people.

Feral cats and pet cats allowed to roam outdoors kill from 1.4 billion to as many as 3.7 billion birds in the continental U.S. each year, according to a 2013 study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Feral cat colonies especially don’t belong on barrier islands, which host a wide variety of migrating and nesting shorebirds, some of them highly endangered. In 2009, Fish and Wildlife declared feral cats a specific threat to endangered piping plovers along the Atlantic Coast.

Cats outdoors also kill an estimated 6.9 billion to 20.7 billion mammals each year, mainly mice and rabbits, the study said.

Cat colonies also pose a serious human health risk, and as such are opposed by the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians. They can transmit to people ringworm, cat scratch fever and toxoplasmosis.

Some cat lovers apparently accept the annual killing of wildlife by the billions and the disease risk to people because they think maintaining a feral colony is somehow kinder to the cats.

Not so.

No organization is more completely dedicated to the interests, welfare and rights of animals than People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (motto: “Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment or abuse in any other way”).

On feral cat colonies, PETA says, “We have seen firsthand and have received countless reports that cats suffer and die gruesome deaths because they are abandoned to fend for themselves outdoors. Having witnessed the painful deaths of countless feral cats, we cannot in good conscience advocate trapping, altering and releasing as a humane way to deal with overpopulation and homelessness.”

Pets are great and there are many mutual benefits for cats, dogs and people — but only if people take full responsibility for the care, protection and health of their pets. And that includes ensuring pets don’t become an affliction on other people, their property or the natural world.

It’s simple. Pets should stay in their caregivers’ homes and on their properties. If they go off of those properties, they should always be accompanied by caregivers who can ensure they’re safe and not causing problems.

Anything less is just another form of pet abandonment.

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