Imposing Feral Identities: A history of strategic polarization of domestic and wildlife species in urban environments, and the rewriting of these identities across space.

Authors: Jacquelyn Johnston*, Florida International University
Topics: Animal Geographies, Political Geography
Keywords: feral, urban ecology, political ecology, wildlife
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Grand Ballroom E, Sheraton, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Complex conflicts result from the process of rendering technical, in which experts strategically propose programmatic solutions with quantifiable results (Li 2007). For cats, this is unfolding as a struggle between those wishing to conserve urban wildlife, and those dedicated to ending the killing of domestic strays. Governmental management programs for feral cats have transitioned from culling towards “Trap Neuter Release” (TNR) in response to pressure from “No-Kill” advocates. In 2010/2011, advocates applied pressure to municipal shelters, demanding an overhaul of high kill rates. In Miami, due to scandals, social medial, and pressure from advocates, Commissioners signed a “No Kill Resolution” in 2012. Just three years later, Miami declared no-kill success, reports claiming a Live Release Rate of “90% shelter animals saved,” but the stories of individual TNR cats complicate this narrative. Drawing from political ecology and shelter veterinary medicine, I explore the evolution of feral identities across time, custody, public opinion, and space. By inviting four cats to tell their stories, I demonstrate the arbitrary invocation of ferality in stray pet population management strategies in Miami. Specifically, I will be researching shifts in policy and implementation regarding county-level handling of cats from 2010 to 2015 – when Miami-Dade shifted from 100% culling policies to 100% “No-Kill” TNR, which coincides with a doubling of the department’s annual budget. I argue that an overall focus on statistical success betrays individual animal welfare, and I hope this research spurs further discussion regarding policies that render complex nonhuman identities technical for political purposes.

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