Audubon editor’s call to poison cats stirs controversy

Tags: ,

I take it to be a sign of desperation: at the same time trap-neuter-return is becoming standard practice across the country, the call from some quarters for lethal roundups is growing ever louder. And more explicit.


Gator is an adoptable cat in Orlando, Florida who thankfully wasn’t exposed to backyard traps of Tylenol.

The latest example came in the form of an inflammatory op-ed from Ted Williams, former editor-at-large at Audubon magazine, published last week in the Orlando Sentinel.

“There are two effective, humane alternatives to the cat hell of TNR,” argued Williams.

“One is Tylenol (the human pain medication) — a completely selective feral-cat poison. But the TNR lobby has blocked its registration for this use. The other is trap and euthanize. TE is practiced by state and federal wildlife managers; but municipal TE needs to happen if the annihilation of native wildlife is to be significantly slowed.”

Not surprisingly, the suggestion that cats be poisoned — in a very public forum, and by somebody associated with the National Audubon Society — set off a chain reaction of events. The Sentinel, presumably under pressure from Audubon, pulled the sentence referring to Tylenol and changed Williams’ affiliation from “editor-at-large for Audubon magazine” to “independent column[ist] for Audubon magazine.” The paper also added a disclaimer: “His views do not necessarily reflect those of the National Audubon Society.”

Audubon took action as well, announcing via Facebook that the organization “suspended its contract with Mr. Williams and will remove him as ‘Editor at Large’ from the masthead pending further review.” “Ted Williams is a freelance writer who published a personal opinion piece in the Orlando Sentinel,” the statement continued. “We regret any misimpression that Mr. Williams was speaking for us in any way: He wasn’t.”

Meanwhile, Williams doesn’t seem to think he’s done anything wrong. Referring to Alley Cat Allies’ response to his op-ed, he insists (via one of more than 140 online comments posted on the Sentinel website) that he “did not ‘call on the public to kill millions of cats by poisoning them with Tylenol’ as they claim in their screed.”

“I merely reported the easily verified fact that ‘the TNR lobby has blocked its [Tylenol’s] registration’ as a feral-cat poison. I now note that this copy has been deleted from my online version. This was not my doing, and I have requested that it be reinserted.”

Williams will likely blame his dismissal (assuming Audubon won’t quietly bring him back on board once the smoke clears) on the “feral-cat mafia,” as he describes us in one of his comments.

Were there any remaining questions about his judgment, I think this ought to put them to rest.

Same Old Same Old

While I appreciate Audubon’s decision to dismiss Williams (again, assuming they stick to their guns), it’s disappointing to see the organization endorsing the same junk science Williams used to help justify his extremist position. To explain “the gravity of the issue of the threats cats present to birds,” Audubon referred to the “recent report by Smithsonian scientists and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [that] found that cats kill an estimated 2.4 billion birds each year.”

As I pointed out in my previous post, though, there’s nothing scientific about that “estimate” at all — in fact, it’s nothing more than an agenda-driven attempt to undermine TNR.

And while Audubon’s Facebook statement goes on to explain that “backyard poisoning isn’t the answer and we want to make it absolutely clear we don’t support that idea,” information on the organization’s website demonstrates a tacit approval for lethal control methods. Among the solutions to “reduce threat from cats,” Audubon suggests humane traps, which “provide the means to trap visiting cats so that they may be transported safely to the local animal shelter.”

There’s certainly nothing wrong with humane traps — they’re an essential tool for TNR, after all [Learn more about how to use humane traps for TNR in our article, How to Trap, Neuter, Return.] But Audubon is misleading their audience by not making it clear that a trip to the local shelter is likely one-way — especially for fearful or unsocialized cats.

Showing Ted Williams the door is a good first step, but Audubon has a lot more work to do if the organization is truly interested in reducing the population of stray, abandoned and feral cats.

Peter J. Wolf has been involved in the world of animal rescue and feral cat management since 2007. He currently lives with seven cats of his own, three foster cats, and helps manage two small feral cat colonies. To learn more about feral cats, visit Peter’s blog, Vox Felina.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion or position of Discovery Communications, LLC or Petfinder or any affiliated entity.