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Imposing Ferality: The strategic polarization of domestic and wild in government policy, and the rewriting of feral identities across space.

Abstract

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 Return” (TNR) in response to pressure from “No-Kill” advocates. In 2010/2011, advocates pressured municipal shelters to end the killing. In Miami, due to scandals, social media, 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.” By bringing cat stories back in to the political narrative touting ‘live-release’ programs, I demonstrate the arbitrary invocation of ferality in stray pet population management strategies in Miami. Drawing from political ecology and shelter veterinary medicine, I explore the evolution of feral identities. Specifically, I present shifts in policy 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 county policies make feral lives work by only considering their live release outcome, and fail to provide care or consider responsibility for the cats after being returned to the streets. I hope this research spurs further discussion regarding policies that render complex nonhuman identities technical for political purposes.

Keywords: feral cats, ferality, wild/domestic, biopower, government policy, care and responsibility