Debate is raging online over how to deal with street cats following the recent death of a “cat mom” in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province.
A cat mom refers to a person who provides food to stray cats. The police at first suspected that the Yongin woman was killed by one of her neighbors who hated people taking care of stray cats, given that she was hit by a brick while setting up a shelter for feral cats in a garden at the apartment building.
But the suspect identified by the police on Friday was a 10-year-old boy who confessed he dropped the brick from the rooftop of the apartment building while playing with his friends.
While the cat mom was found to have been killed for reasons having nothing to do with stray cats, her death nevertheless highlighted the escalating tension between cat moms and residents.
These days we hear more frequently about people going to court due to conflicts over street cats.
Cat moms say there is nothing wrong with looking after alley cats. They even argue that feeding them contributes to keeping the neighborhood clean, as no trash bags would be dug into by hungry cats.
But they turn a blind eye to the problems that street cats can cause. Among other things, they pose health risks for residents as they can carry diseases.
Although stray cats present risks, getting rid of them in a merciless method is totally inappropriate in ethical terms.
But it is also problematic to let them proliferate without taking action. Seoul alone is believed to have more than 250,000 street cats.
The most effective method to stabilize stray cat populations is known to be the Trap-Neuter-Return program, which involves humanely trapping stray cats and having them spayed or neutered before returning them to their outdoor home.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government launched a TNR program in 2008, leaving its implementation to the 25 ward offices.
The Gangdong District ward office has been operating the TNR program successfully. The office set up community cat feeding stations as part of the program and managed to stabilize the feline population in the district.
The office says the feeding stations are also effective in reducing conflicts between residents over stray cats as they themselves play the role of cat moms.
The problem with feeding stations is that it takes money to operate them. Neutering also costs more than 100,000 won ($88) per cat. This is one reason other ward offices have difficulty maintaining the TNR program. But if conflicts over stray cats worsen, it would be worth the expense.