BYU is home to not only 34,000 students, but also 100 to 200 feral cats.
For those of you wondering precisely what the term “feral” means, remember your kitty that ran away when you were six? If she didn’t end up as a fuzzy jelly between the treads of a semi-truck tire, chances are she spent her remaining years as more or less a wild animal. The feral state stands in a liminal space between domestication and all-out wildness. If a tiger escapes from the zoo and hides out in the woods for a spell, it won’t be classified as feral, because it was wild from the get-go. But your labradoodle can run away and effectively revert to a feral state.
Tom Smith, an associate professor of wildlife management at BYU, wants his students to trap the feral cats on campus, place radio collars on them, and track their movements. Until recently, city ordinance required that all wild or feral animals captured be immediately turned over to the city. Earlier this month, however, the Provo Municipal Council unanimously passed an amendment to city ordinance which allows universities to trap and possess feral animals for educational and research purposes. The only condition is that before being released, the feral animals must be spayed or neutered.
But for you readers who don’t wish to hastily slap a science project together just so you can trap and experiment on feral kitties, Midge Johnson is your woman. The Council Chairwoman has stated that she would be willing to entertain a simpler proposition from No Homeless Pets in Utah, through which regular folks could trap feral cats on their own, do with them what they will, and eventually make their way down to the local Sterilization Shoppe, upon which the city will release the feral cats back in the wild. No More Homeless Pets in Utah has even offered vouchers for those proactive citizens willing to use food as a lure to capture feral cats.
Experts are hoping that relieving the cats of their reproductive organs will effectively reduce their numbers in Utah. Meanwhile, disturbed teenage boys with Cannibal Corpse T-shirts and mommy issues all over the city are rubbing their hands together in glee and hoping that their loophole comes through.
Minutes from the meeting on Aug. 17 state that new ordinance approving the possession and harboring of “wild or nuisance animals” is a provision for universities involved in a “bonafide educational or research project.” As it stands right now, the newest version of Provo City Code Sections 8.02.080 and 8.02.100 will be alarming to activists who are against the use of animals in laboratory testing.
While Professor Smith’s project – to track the movements of feral cats across BYU’s campus – seems generally innocuous, the new ordinance does not specifically state what constitutes “bonafide” research. Such ambiguous provisions of the law can make room for a lot of testing involving feral cats which many would deem unethical. If further provisions are made allowing any Tom, Dick, or budding John Wayne Gacy to just trap feral cats willy-nilly, there’s no telling what kind of DIY mad science people could perpetrate on feral cats in the privacy of their own garage before sending them off to have their delicates cut off.
If feral cats are a problem in the city of Provo, it’s more reflective on Provo citizens. Daye Abbott, the feral fix director at No More Homeless Pets in Utah, told the Salt Lake Tribune that the presence of feral cats in the city is a sign of irresponsibility on the part of pet owners who allow the animals to get lost or run away. We may be able to catch all the feral cats in the whole of Provo and spay and neuter every last one of them. But until pet owners start acting with a little more accountability – spaying and neutering their pets before they run away and go feral, for example – the problem of feral cats will continue to rear its mangy head in Our Lovely Deseret.