An Associated Press article published last week about a University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension publication caught national attention by implying the publication advocated shooting feral cats.
The article caught the ire of both the authors of the study and Husker Cats, a volunteer program dedicated to the humane control of the feral cats colony currently living on UNL's campus. The Nov. 30 AP article stated the study recommended killing feral cat populations as opposed to methods currently employed on UNL's campus. These methods, performed by Husker Cats with the permission of the university, include catching, spaying or neutering and releasing the feral cats, along with feeding them and keeping them healthy.
In fact, Scott Hygnstrom, a professor in the School of Natural Resources, said "study" may not even be the correct language to describe the publication.
Hygnstrom, along with Aaron Hildreth, a research technician in the School of Natural Resources, and Stephen Vantassel, program coordinator and graduate student at the school, authored the publication.
Hygnstrom explained "Feral Cats and Their Management" is a UNL Extension publication. Extension publications, according to their Web page, offer research-based, peer-reviewed objective information and is targeted to the general public, not necessarily students or the university. The feral cats publication can be found under the Wildlife Management category and was actually published in July.
"We create educational materials for the public on a wide range of topics," he said.
Hygnstrom said the publication was not a formal study. It gathered literature and research-based information along with the authors' personal knowledge.
Before being published, a draft of the publication was sent to representatives of Husker Cats, humane societies and wildlife societies for feedback.
Hildreth said the research was done on feral cats, because they are a species in the state of Nebraska that has a vague legal status.
"The research was compiled over a six-month period and underwent rigorous review by many federal, state and municipal agencies, as well as individuals and organizations from both pro- and anti-feral cat perspectives," he said.
Hygnstrom said he was not happy with the AP article's slant.
"They chose to focus almost exclusively on the lethal aspects and the shooting of cats," he said.
"But the vast majority of the publication has to do with the history, with the issues, with the legal perspectives and then with the long range of non-lethal as well as lethal control methods."
Vantassel said he does not believe one method would work everywhere. He said there are different laws in different communities, different techniques that would be allowed and different ownership issues that would all affect how feral cat colonies could be controlled.
"(The communities), in their own context, have to decide what tools they can apply to their particular situation," he said.
Hygnstrom said he has had to present the publication's position to university officials so the perspective was understood and not misinterpreted.
He said the publication was designed for any landowner to take into consideration and choose what methods of control would be best depending on the situation.
"Right up front we presented an integrated approach," Hygnstrom said.
He said it is a polarized issue. There are many people who both support and oppose the publication's position.
Hygnstrom said the position of "Feral Cats and Their Management" is that an integrated test management perspective must be taken into consideration and the wide range of control techniques must be evaluated by timing and cost-effectiveness. For instance, if feral cats are eating someone's garden, the owner might put up a fence to try to control the damage, according to Vantassel.
Phyllis Larsen, an advertising senior lecturer and president of Husker Cats, said she read the publication when it was in a draft form.
"We offered feedback to them and in the end we just agreed to disagree, because we don't believe that killing cats is an appropriate or effective method of feral colony management," she said.
Larsen explained the university allows Husker Cats to operate as volunteers on the campus and they do not have input on university policy.
"We work closely with them so that we're kind of partners in the management of the feral colonies," she said.
Larsen said she could not speculate as to how the publication may affect the university's policy on the feral cat colonies.
"We're working well with the university's administration in our project," she said.