Today's post is about two phrases we bandy around a lot :- the 'vacuum effect' and 'natural attrition'.
Here's a definition of the vacuum effect from Alley Cat Allies. Here's a definition of attrition. Now that we have our definitions out of the way, we can talk a bit about what they really mean to us in terms of TNRM :)
Some people deny that this happens - and most of the time it's because they've never dealt with a colony being removed.
However, most people who DO work with cats, or who have had issues with the cats will have noticed that the vacuum effect is very real. This includes a condominium I know that used to spend a few thousand a year getting 'rid' of the cats or town councils that asked why there are new cats coming in when the existing ones were removed and killed. This also includes a caregiver I know who removed the cats from the area thinking it wasn't safe on the streets. When she went by the next day, there were four new cats waiting.
We see how nature abhors a vacuum every day in nature. We see it when water floods in to fill an empty space, or when air does. I'm sure one day we may even understand WHY it happens, but we can already see its effects. We may not all understand how gravity works exactly (or maybe that's just me:)), but we don't deny it exists.
Many people may not have much exposure to cats - and that's where caregivers like you guys come into play. That's also why it is so important that caregivers are accurately able to explain concepts to people who may not know much about cats.
I spoke recently with a caregiver who said that natural attrition would kill off all the cats in the area. It's natural (no pun intended) to be confused when so much literature tells us that natural attrition will kill off the cats. BUT, if you accept that the vacuum effect exists, then there is no way that natural attrition can kill off ALL the cats. Will natural attrition kill off cats? Yes, of course it will. Cats can't live forever after all. It may even, when coupled with sterilisation, bring the population down dramatically depending on the size of your colony. But to have NO cats in the area? Not if you accept the vacuum effect because logically new cats will move in when there is a vacuum.
At some point, the colony numbers after the cats have been sterilised, will drop to such a point that the territory CAN accommodate more cats - note I said, territory, NOT food. Even if you try and remove all newcomers, new cats are going to keep showing up. Some of you may remember the analogy I once gave. If you have a castle with four entrances, and you have five or six guards posted at each door, chances are you'll be able to defend the castle. If you have two guards, chances are that some intruders are going to sneak in. It's the same with the cats.
The vacuum effect does not respect your intentions, good or otherwise. The vacuum effect does not care whether you removed the cats to adopt them or relocate them. It does not care if the cats died a natural death or were killed in animal control somewhere.
Some of you may wonder why I'm splitting hairs about this, but it's very important that a person or organisation who agrees to a TNRM programme knows what to expect. Some expecting that all the cats will die out after they have lived out their natural lifespan and that there will be zero cats is going to be in for a big shock. They might well think the programme is a failure.
Some complainants may also ask why not just remove all the cats NOW. If they are all taken away, then why wait for them to be sterilised and eventually die. In other words why wait for natural attrition to kick in, when we can have UNnatural attrition?
I know some people will say that complainants may not want to hear that the cats are always going to be there. I believe that if you're honest right up front, but say that a managed, sterilised, cared for colony will create less issues than an unmanaged, growing cat population, most people will see the sense in that. Yes, the colony may always be there - but it doesn't NEED to cause any problems. Removing the cats and killing them just means the same issues come back over, and over again. It may of course take more than one conversation to get someone to agree but don't give up. There's tons of resources online and it's a good idea to take the information with you - one good resource is ACA's website.
At the end of the day, your argument has to be logically consistent to you, before you can convince someone else.