Review History


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Summary

  • The initial submission of this article was received on September 25th, 2013 and was peer-reviewed by 4 reviewers and the Academic Editor.
  • The Academic Editor made their initial decision on October 21st, 2013.
  • The first revision was submitted on December 5th, 2013 and was reviewed by 3 reviewers and the Academic Editor.
  • A further revision was submitted on February 27th, 2014 and was reviewed by the Academic Editor.
  • The article was Accepted by the Academic Editor on February 27th, 2014.

Version 0.3 (accepted)

· · Academic Editor

Accept

I appreciate your point-by-point response to the critical review you received in the last round of peer-review and the way in which you addressed the concerns that I included in my detailed comments to you on that version. This second revised manuscript has undergone significant reorganization and has improved focus and clarity from previous versions. You have adequately remedied the major problems with the basic reporting, experimental design, and validity of findings by explaining more clearly what was done and by qualifying your results and conclusions according to the limitations of your pilot survey. I will make a note for the PeerJ staff to consult you on the headers for the background/introduction as the piece is prepared for publication.

Version 0.2

· · Academic Editor

Major Revisions

The original manuscript had several problems requiring major revisions. These problems focused on four key areas, notably the need for acknowledgment of the existing body of literature; identification of stakeholder groups and appropriate attribution of perspectives and terminology for those stakeholder groups; explanation of survey methodology, sampling strategy, and resulting limitations; and revision of the way in which findings are reported, interpreted, and discussed in light of those methodological limitations (including qualifying your conclusions, avoiding unsubstantiated generalizations, and improving the focus of the discussion). The revisions make substantial changes and improvements to the original submission in terms of clarity of your work, but the revised manuscript continues to have problems with the basic reporting (including the quality of the writing itself), the experimental design, and the validity of the findings as discussed. In the information that follows, I have tried to provide you with more detailed guidance than I had done with the previous decision on your original submission.

Basic Reporting
The writing style and organization needs refinement. In many instances, the writing is too informal or colloquial. As one reviewer noted, the current version reads more like a class report rather than a scholarly manuscript. PeerJ articles must be written with the “professional standards of courtesy and expression” and with “clear and unambiguous text.” Sentence structure is often quite long (>50 words) and sometimes confusing or awkward. Numerous grammatical problems persist in the revised manuscript, including the following examples:
• Split infinitives (e.g., Lines 30 and 99)
• Omission of the Oxford comma before “and” when listing three or more items in a series (e.g., Line 25)
• Missing commas to set off prepositional phrases of more than three words and non-restrictive participial phrases (e.g., phrases in Lines 174, 180-181, 182, 195-197)
• Unnecessary commas (e.g., Line 45)
• Run-on sentences due to punctuation problems (e.g., Lines 143-145, 188-189, 215-217)
• Sentence fragments (e.g., Lines 210-213)
• Ambiguous or missing antecedents (e.g., Line 60)
• Awkward syntax or phrasing (e.g., Lines 38-39)
• Numbers under 10, which should be spelled out (e.g., Line 369)
• Incorrect verb conjugations (e.g., Line 372)

This list of examples is not exhaustive. As a minor point, note the phrase “begs the question” is not synonymous with “raises the question,” so make sure the appropriate phrase is used if retained in the revised manuscript. After making any necessary substantive revisions to address the concerns about the experimental design and validity of findings, please make sure that the writing has been polished (e.g., remove pejorative comments like “hardcore” Line 136 and remove unnecessary conversational clauses and transition words) and free from grammatical problems.

Two of the three reviewers for the revised manuscript agreed that the background material is important to the overall work, while the third reviewer deemed the review content “unnecessary.” Two reviewers commented on the length and redundancies in the manuscript. The introductory material might be better received if it were reorganized and streamlined. That would help remove redundancies and vagueness. The reader is not exposed to the focus of the paper until Lines 117 and more clearly Lines 270-294. While it seems clear that much of the introductory material consists of the substantive ground you want to cover with this commentary and provides the context for the survey itself, the organization leaves readers confused—particularly if the readers haven’t seen the manuscript originally submitted or if they are unfamiliar with this topical area. For example, it may be unclear to readers why you spend the first 60 lines discussing perspectives of conservation biologists and TNR proponents only to say neither view is representative of the general public and that they are only two extreme positions. Keeping the PeerJ audience in mind may help you revise the manuscript effectively (helping you add necessary and remove unnecessary material as appropriate). Perhaps stating at the outset that your manuscript provides a “contextual bridge” between two “underemphasized topics” (see your Line 117) and then describing those topics (your lines 65-75) would help you strengthen the set-up for your subsequent overview of cat evolutionary biology and student survey. This would presumably also help your readers understand why the introductory material (information from Lines 15-64 and 76-116) is relevant. Revising the background material seems critical to the basic reporting of your survey, limitations, and results, and also to the discussion of the contribution your work makes to the topical area.

Experimental Design
The experimental design has significant limitations that still have not been acknowledged adequately when discussing the methods and reporting the results.

The survey design issues (one reviewer’s specific comments #s 13-16) should be addressed. For example, it is not clear from the manuscript how the sampled population (N=248 students enrolled in the two courses) relates to the targeted population for the survey (N=??? students enrolled at UNT or, as you stated on Lines 291, N = ??? of “the general public”). Your rebuttal letter distinguishes between “general public” and “local community,” but it remains unclear in the manuscript to which group of people “the local community” (i.e. targeted population) refers. Is that community just UNT students, all people living or working on/near UNT campus, or some other population? It seems from Lines 293-294 that the target population is the UNT student population, however the target population must be more clearly defined and the data must be situated in that context. The experimental design, as described in the manuscript, does not meet the technical standard required for publication.

A student survey can serve as a sound scientific basis from which to delve into a productive policy discussion and through which future research (i.e. scientifically rigorous examination to attempt to replicate these findings about UNT’s TNR program, scientifically rigorous examination of other TNR programs to attempt to replicate these findings about the approach to improve efficacy, or scientifically rigorous examination of TNR programs broadly-speaking to provide data from which generalizable results are possible) can be encouraged. Currently, however, clarification of details of the survey design and its implementation are needed.

Validity of Findings
The flaws of your experimental design are not fatal to its making a valuable contribution to the literature (as supported by the generally positive reviews by two reviewers); however, too many extrapolations and speculations seem to persist in the revised manuscript. For example, your conclusions (set forth in the abstract) that one policy will be “marginally effective” and another will be “more likely to be successful” are not valid findings from this particular study (due to your study’s design limitations, notably the survey sampling strategy used); nonetheless, it is appropriate to identify the points suggested by the results of this non-generalizable survey and explain areas in need of further, more scientifically rigorous examination. The title should be revised to reflect the narrow scope of the research, and statements about what your survey has “demonstrated” (Lines 131-133) should be narrowed or qualified clearly.

Making conclusions about awareness and efficacy of the UNT program is the first conceptual challenge and the extension or generalization of those conclusions to other TNR programs more broadly is a second conceptual challenge. It is possible that the findings are not overly-exaggerated or inflated for the UNT program; however, without clarifying the experimental design questions, it is not possible to confirm that the conclusions are appropriately stated and limited to those supported by the results. The results and discussion section would be where you would want to explain why or why not one would expect the sampled population to be providing similar results to the targeted population and where you would want to explain how or why the UNT program is a useful example or case study for discussing efficacy of current feral/free-ranging cat conservation policies in the US and making recommendations.

Concluding Remarks
It is recognized that this manuscript is in a politically sensitive and controversial topical area. The revised manuscript seems at present to be mainly a commentary with a student survey provided as support for the position taken. It may be preferable to identify it as such in the manuscript itself (e.g. Line 117 could be phrased accurately as “In this commentary, we …”). The survey must be scientifically and methodologically sound and that the interpretations of the data should be drawn closely to the results. This does not mean that you must delete the bulk of your commentary and submit a concise paper focused exclusively on the survey. Nevertheless, it is important that the data inform the commentary rather than vice versa: this point may help you reorganize your work and revise your manuscript into one suitable for publication with PeerJ.

Reviewer 1 ·

Basic reporting

The manuscript does not contain a question, hypothesis, or goal. At present it is written as simply a report, not as a research question. The manuscript construction is correct, but the manuscript itself is excessively long.

Experimental design

No research question was addressed in the Introduction, although the Methods indicate what the objectives of the design were. As a result, this is incorrectly laid out. The experimental design itself is not rigorous. The manuscript contains two separate elements, a review and a social survey. The review component is unnecessary and does not relate to the survey very well. In regards to the survey, it was short and does not appear to have been vetted or peer reviewed by anyone aside from the human subjects committee. Some of the questions could bias respondents, even though authors did not think this was the case. The population surveyed is not representative of the larger groups that it espouses and not necessarily even representative of college students on the university. The design is only appropriate for an internal pilot study that can be used to develop a more robust design in the future.

Validity of the findings

The data for the very specific population being discussed are satisfactory, but cannot be extrapolated broadly as they are simply the findings from a small survey administered to two classes. Because surveys always provide data the challenge is not strictly on the data being robust, but more on the design of the survey. As previously mentioned, the survey design and population surveyed are the issue at hand and result in a dataset that is simply not expansive enough to draw the conclusions being stated.

The entire evolutionary biology component of the manuscript is not supported by data in the paper and really not relevant to the discussion.

Much of the Discussion is speculative and unsupported. Very little is about the results of the actual survey. There are also some problems with the interpretation of the results as mentioned in comments to authors. Overall, however, a great deal of the manuscripts stated findings are unsupported, incorrect, or simply extend far beyond the scope of the population surveyed.

Comments for the author

General Comments
The manuscript has been revised to some degree and has removed some speculation. However, the authors did not address individual comments well and the nearly all of my comments went unaddressed. As a result the manuscript is severely flawed, some of which cannot be corrected without the collection of additional data and continuing the study. First, the Introduction should be cut down to 3-5 paragraphs at most (10+ pages of intro is unacceptable) and only focused on the survey. The entire anthropological review is unnecessary and really incorrectly lays out the reasoning for the survey or the current problem. The meat of the work is the survey, which is the only item a paper like this should be discussing. I believe there is strong confusion over the type of paper being written as it appears to come from an anthropological background rather than a human dimensions one. That said, the manuscript is really only appropriate as a human dimensions paper and should only focus the survey itself. Second, the survey has merit, but as mentioned in my first review, is too short, only focuses on two classes, and the interpretation really goes way beyond the scope of its bounds on the topic. Frankly, even following the survey methods correctly, the actual survey is really not representative of a good study of the proposed topic. I think the topic is much more complex than the survey presents and that two classes that are not well representative of the university is inappropriate for the type of interpretation being drawn. Third, the lack of finding much change in the classroom and how the survey was presented both remain problematic. Several of the questions could equally bias the students and I think there is a very strong possibility that the students simply don’t care that much about this topic (as they don’t about a lot of topics at that point in their lives). Fourth, there are interesting items in the manuscript, but the research is essentially what I would consider a pilot study for internal use and the results should highlight the need to develop a better survey and follow up with a more representative campus population and perhaps beyond. I understand the time put into the work and the authors interest in it, but simply because the work was done is not a reason the work must be published. Far too large of a paper and interpretation are made out of this topic and they do more to detract from the discussion and serious need to manage the topic than help it. Fifth, I would suggest the authors review papers out of the natural sciences that have used surveys on cats or other natural resource issues to really hone in on a short and succinct paper that is data driven and interprets only what the results can support. For example, Environmental Management, Conservation Biology, Biological Conservation, PLoS ONE, Ecology and Society, etc.

Specific Comments
1. Title: This title is too generic for study and also incorrect. This is a classroom human dimensions of wildlife study and should be restated as such.
2. L16. Although the authors are anthropologists, the word political ecology isn’t really correct here. It is a human dimensions/applied sociology question. This term muddies the water for those that would be most served reading this paper.
3. L36. Essentially all wildlife managers, researchers, conservation biologists, etc. are ok with euthanasia. Even many in animal welfare are ok w/ it. In fact euthanasia vs. no kill is the main wedge internally in animal welfare groups.
4. L40. This can be restated to say that ecological research has long demonstrated the negative effects of cats on native animals. There are publications over a 100 years old that well document this effect. Don’t need to waffle, we know the effects of cats and there isn’t any scientific debate over their biology. Also, cats require high protein levels and prey indiscriminately, simply based on ease of catching it. To date over 800 prey species have been found in guts, fecal samples, or camera traps.
5. L50. The ethical position here isn’t absolute across all of these individuals. The point isn’t just ethics, but basic invasion biology component of natural resources management. I think part of the problem here is the authors are reading these papers from different disciplines and do not fully recognize the points being raised or discussed by them or what gets presented at ecological and conservation meetings.
6. L52. This is incorrect juxtaposition to conservation biologists and one that greatly offends them. Scientists and managers all have high regard for life and seek humane ways to manage life. The problem here is over different groups having different interpretations of the term ‘humane’ and also about trying to paint scientists and managers as cat haters via ideas of humane treatment. I think there is a big component being missed in your background work in that animal welfare groups are very torn over TNR. PETA is against it and as one of the more extreme animal rights groups, this is notable. HSUS is for TNR, but mainly because of the money involved. In actual fact, many groups support TNR b/c of the money involved and lack of believing that cats are problems (see Peterson et al. 2012 PLOS ONE).
7. L66. There is much known about cat evolution and ecology and a review here is really not needed and not well connected to the story.
8. L65-75. Well actually a lot of work is now being published beyond the two stakeholder groups you identify. As you note Wald et al. 2013 looks at several groups, but also Lohr and Lepczyk 2013 Conservation Biology look at six stakeholder groups, including public. In addition a number of ongoing projects from researchers at multiple institutions are looking at these questions. Putting these on top of earlier less specific studies like Lord’s in Ohio or Peterson’s, there is actually a very large amount of work identifying the gap you’ve pointed out. Moreover, studying two classes of college students does not really change or add to this knowledge base.
9. L65-115. All of these paragraphs can be deleted.
10. L125. “Targeting a student community for this analysis is warranted because it is assumed that TNR programs are common on many college campuses because college students are more prone to losing or abandoning cats.” I would disagree with this statement. It isn’t based on much evidence and TNR is a problem in many communities. It is more of a problem on public property (which includes universities) and relates more to presence of cat colonies. If you want to ask communities that are more prone to losing or abandoning they would actually be the military housing, renters, and people in or falling into poverty. I understand the authors have revised this statement, but this seems to me to be a post hoc justification that wasn’t necessarily the view when the work started.
11. L131. “What we demonstrate is that TNR advocacy without the context provided by evolutionary biology is not comprehensively informed and thus cannot fully engage TNR proponents.” Yes, evolutionary biology matters, but this isn’t what is missing for TNR folks. TNR folks disagree on basic biology (which includes evolutionary biology) as well as ecology. The argument is closer to the differences in valuing science or not, along lines of teaching evolution or belief in climate change.
12. L142-292. All of this can be deleted. It isn’t necessary and far too long for Introduction or background.
13. L292-294. Where is the main research goal, question, hypothesis? Just doing a survey isn’t research. Need to correctly lay this out in correct scientific language. Also, you are not learning more about general public, you are learning more about a very specific population, college students. These are already demographically different than general public and thus your work needs to state that. If you read down in line 305 the goal of the work differs from what you are saying here.
14. L305. Ok, but what you actually surveyed and your target group are different. Even w/in the university majors separate out types of people, knowledge, etc. A robust survey would look across the broader student population. If not, then you cannot generalize in the end.
15. L329. “Second, S. Wolverton has taught both classes for several years and J. Dombrosky is a TA for Archaeological Science, thus we are certain no information on domestication of cats or on biological conservation had been covered in either class prior to administering the survey.” I think this better describes the reason why these two classes were used. Both authors have been involved with them for a long time. That’s fine, but again, it would not really be as hard as one thinks to do a broader campus survey that is truly more representative. It actually is important to have science majors in this group and not exclude them.
16. L338. Who determined the neutral language? Was the survey scrutinized outside of the two authors? Good surveys reduce bias by having them peer reviewed by many individuals before administering. I do not disagree that the authors sought to reduce bias, but it is important to note whether or not the language was reviewed by others.
17. L359. Here I would disagree. TNR is not a national program, but rather is a form of management espoused by one set of stakeholders. Those are very different things. Also, TNR is practiced in rural areas too, particularly in public parks.
18. L373. They aren’t native anywhere you are discussing, so unsure why mention rural and urban.
19. L374. The sentence here is incorrect. They are efficient predators, but they are opportunistic predators, which is technically different than depredation when not hungry.
20. L377. All outdoor cats are predators, not just feral cats. Again, not providing complete details here.
21. L379. I believe you have artificially set up your arguments for the two situations at this point. To say TNR is a humane way in prior paragraph and now to say that conservations favor keeping cats indoors and euthanasia, without mention of humane treatment is very problematic. Aside from the issue of leaving cats on the landscape via TNR, the main issue that seems to have been missed in the ms is that the management of cats is basically being argued over whether or not euthanasia is humane. This is a nearly identical end of life issue in humans that is being argued over in cats and also common for feral horses, etc. The no kill movement is the greater underlying issue, but the paragraph implicitly suggest that euthanasia is inhumane when compared against previous paragraph.
22. L431-446. This entire paragraph is really outside of most of your results and speculative. It should thus be deleted. In some ways your work more closely echoes that of Extension outreach programs by Land Grants, which is great. But the changes you are seeing are not necessarily due to the reasons you espouse. Furthermore, a great deal has been written on the different groups arguing cat management and it isn’t really talking past each other anymore than teaching evolutionary biology or discussing climate change. There is a fundamental issue of valuing science that you have missed in the discussion. Also, as Lohr and Lepczyk 2013 have shown the vast majority of stakeholders have a good idea of outdoor cats and their management. Finally, having taught similar classes that are required at several institutions I think there is a very real issue of the students simply not caring that much here. You asked so few questions, gave no incentive for participating, and hard to evaluate how much this even was raised in class (aside from the time spent on the topic) that it is hard to have any understanding of whether or not the students had any care or stake in this issue.
23. L447-457. Again, this is all unnecessary. Speculative and not really relevant to the survey you did.
24. L459. This has been stated many times. Key is responsible pet ownership, change in policies, etc. Many of the papers you cite in the ms note this and thus do not need so much space to reiterate.
25. L460-485. Again, none of this comes from your classroom survey results and stretches the bounds of interpretation too far. You are writing broadly about issues here that you are espousing, but which the data collected do not support. If you have a strong opinion on the need and value of the approaches you are espousing, then an editorial or opinion article is much more appropriate than a research article.
26. L486-513. This is more along lines of what would be expected in a Discussion section related to the results. The paragraph still needs refining, but this is really the first main Discussion element that is relevant to the ms. The more relevant aspects of this paragraph get at the differences in the classes and what is taught. This is far more interesting and the reason it is more relevant to look at more classes and perhaps the same classes over time to understand the students. In essence the cat mgmt. discussion is actually better situation to address issues like scientific literacy in the university than making any broad statements about cat management.
27. L526. NO, this is incorrect. Ultimately the only way things will change is through changes in pet ownership and responsibility. That may in fact be driven by policy changes, economics, or education. To state that this will only change if conservationists change their context is incorrect. Again, I believe you have misunderstood much of the depth of this topic in both the animal welfare community side and the natural resource management and ecological side.
28. Conclusion. The paper should be cut down to only the survey portion and should be very short (14-20 pages total double spaced when done). Much of the conclusion is speculative and the paper should be short enough that no conclusion is even needed.

·

Basic reporting

Line 117: this paragraph seems a bit redundant with section of other text. Some streamlining could be helpful in moving to the bridging literature review.
Line 210-213: sentence fragments, please revise.
Line 310-1: sentence needs grammatical revision.
Line 372: “showen” should be showed.
Line 415: effect size: I am assuming that this is the number of points (in this case a fraction) on the 5 point likert scale that changed? Please clarify.
Paragraph starting line 417: females also tended to show slightly stronger changes in effect size than males.
Line 429: “effect size of the …” I believe that this is the direction of the effect and not its size? It is also interesting to me how high a percentage of students did not change their responses.
Paragraph starting on line 486: This paragraph is a bit repetitive with previous information provided, particularly the first several sentences. The data are in the text and the table. Same for lines 504-6. The argument about the differences between the courses being the reason for the results seems a bit of a stretch. Not unreasonable, but it is really just an idea. I might suggest shortening this section.

In table 1, round to whole numbers or one decimal place please.
Clarify the title of Table 2 to include the question referenced (I support TNR) and that the effect size is the change in points on the 1-5 scale (if that is correct).
I might also expand Table 3 title to something like: Direction of change of opinion on the response to “I support TNR” for students in the Arch…..courses. Makes the table more free standing for a reader to browse.

Experimental design

no comments

Validity of the findings

Line 81: “the value orientation continuum relative to natural resources”. That the continuum is relative to natural resources rather than animal life generally is a critical element of the argument. It may be helpful to articulate that here…The TNR advocates are strongly supporting animal life, but in the form of the cat rather than the bird or rabbit. In fact, one argument has been made that performing TNR brings the natural world into the civilized one (Thompson, J Critical Animal Studies 2012, 10(4)). I don’t see the TNR view so much as human centric as one that is cat centric. Please address this throughout. I also believe that part of the conflict is the lethal nature of the proposed solution which gets to relative values on life for different species. In the conclusion the authors suggest that TNR programs are part of the solution to the debate and that could prove to be a very constructive starting point.
Line 459-460: I also believe that changing to a more “grey” perspective on the cat-bird issue in the conversation can be helpful. In NJ a large group with members of very diverse groups originally held polarized views but when they were able to admit that TNR didn’t solve everything and that TNR wasn’t always bad, they found some thoughtful and constructive middle ground.

Comments for the author

The authors have done a very nice job of addressing the overarching comments of the reviewers and making the manuscript into a much better integrated whole. The review of cat domestication and behavior is excellent and clearly linked to the point of the article. The revision of the survey information now supports the other findings in the literature about the lack of efficacy of this approach. I also believe that this is a very important topic that has not been approached from a social scientist perspective. The revised conclusions have merit.
The last discussion paragraph includes a great suggestion as does the conclusion. I believe that part of the conflict is a lack of an integrated, multi-faceted set of plans for free-ranging cat control.

·

Basic reporting

No comment except I feel referring to some students as "ecologically savvy" is a somewhat informal descriptor. I'd rather see this term replaced but it is not a major problem.

Experimental design

I do not see any major flaws in the research design as a first step in investigating the influence of knowledge versus understanding of a complex and contentious issue. Obviously the short statements given to students are indeed short and superficial but I think it in interesting to see that even such a cursory prompt changed opinions. I do not think that all surveys but be extensively tested and retested to yield valid answers. For one thing, a survey method can't be retested until it has first been tested, so if the reviewer who objected to the experimental design on that basis cannot articulate the problem he/she perceives more fully, I don't see the design of the experimental survey as a significant issue.

Validity of the findings

The findings of this study appear to be to be statistically valid and sensible. I do not find them overinflated or exaggerated.

Comments for the author

The paper seems to be substantially improved in clarity and the placing of the results in a broader context. I have not compared this version to the initial version but have tried to review it as a new submission.

Version 0.1 (original submission)

· · Academic Editor

Major Revisions

The reviewers have expressed a number of concerns, mostly focused on the need for you to
(1) acknowledge the existing body of literature adequately (there seem to be many key, relevant, and recent papers that were not referenced - e.g. Mathusa 2013 and Hutchins 2013 in J Am Vet Med Assoc, Peterson et al. 2012 in PLoS One, Ferreira et al. 2011 in PLoS One, Robertson 2008 in J Feline Med Surg, etc.);
(2) identify and attribute perspectives carefully to the various stakeholder groups (i.e. make sure terminology is appropriate);
(3) acknowledge the limitations of the survey methodology and sampling population and ensure conclusions drawn from those data are supported or at least qualified; and
(4) revise the discussion section to correct the sweeping generalizations and to improve the discussion's depth (e.g. one reviewer described this as a "superficial discussion," another reviewer indicated the importance of mentioning inadvertent human impacts to situate your observations contextually, clarify when conclusions are drawn specifically from this study versus from other sources, etc).

·

Basic reporting

The authors have taken a constructive and novel approach to the conflict surrounding free-roaming cats. I have a number of places in the manuscript where I have specific comments or requests listed below.
Because the arguments are fairly sophisticated and the topic quite complex, I’ve been fairly critical about how the authors have specifically make their arguments. I have two major areas where some focus or clarity is needed. One is the terminology about animal rights activists, cat welfare and trap-neuter-return. These three terms appear to be used synonymously but they do not include the same organizations or individuals. The second is the discussion about how dogs and cats are not the same in their domestication. I agree that dogs have very much been bred to do certain things (at least in developed countries) compared to cats. However, the authors make the argument that dogs and cats are very different in their hunting. I believe that that is an over generalization. I will discuss this more at the point in the manuscript where this is presented.
Abstract (no page number or line number): The first sentence is incomplete. The issue is “how to manage…” Please edit this. Sentence about UNT students being a representative cross-section of the general public isn’t really correct. Not only are they in college (which much of the public hasn’t done) but they are in Texas, which is not representative of the country. And they are in specific classes which likely indicates specific interests. Please change this.
Introduction:
First paragraph. The authors have done a very nice job of laying out the definitions and the issues here.
Line 38: The authors are equating animal rights proponents with animal activists with individuals with interest in animal welfare. Alley Cat Allies is both an animal rights oriented group (though this depends on your definition of animal rights) and very much an advocacy group. However, there are many other organizations and scientists who have published on the topic of free-ranging cats who are not animal rights supporters. Animal rights proponents tend to talk about animals not being property and being sentient. Animal welfare or animal protection proponents tend to be more concerned about health and wellbeing rather than legal rights. Regardless, the authors should determine a description for the group they are interested in categorizing and stick with that terminology throughout. And then use examples that are just associated with that group. If the focus is on TNR supporters, then use that term, recognizing that the term includes a diversity of viewpoints.
Line 48-9: “numbers thrive”. Cats thrive, numbers increase or grow. And the idea that there is “dramatic” mortality from cats is part of the controversy I believe. Please edit.
Line 54-5: While this is a wicked problem, TNR supporters would not usually describe themselves as animal rights supporters. Nor are many of the large organizations considered to be animal rights organizations. This is a place where my comments above about line 38 are applicably. See also line 75. And line 83.
Line 62: Jessup is a wildlife biologist not a animal rights activist.
Line 94-6: This is a valuable question but the first line really implies that humans DID have a large role and I think the author’s argument is to the contrary. Or is this a decision for the reader to make? Please clarify.
Line 104-110: I don’t see how the discussion of subspecies clarifies the role of humans in shaping cats. Either delete it or clarify the connection.
Line 115: Here is a place where dogs are the same as cats, they can freely hybridize with wild canid species and no one would consider dogs not to be domesticated. And in other countries, free-roaming dogs are a huge issue.
Line 123-4: Please define “direct, indirect, or non-existent” here to finish the thought. But be sure to consider how this is different from a feral goat or pig or dog.
Line 164: “virtually eliminated” relative to large scale agriculture, yes. But a bit overstated for their role in rodent control.
Line 169: Cats don’t just occupy urban environments. Please tighten up this sentence. So is this clash between conservation and non-lethal control only in urban environments? Is that the location for the author’s analysis? The arguments the authors are making are good ones but are not as well organized and expressed as they might be.
Lines 175-182: This section is a bit repetitive without making the very clear argument that details about why the methods where kittens learn to hunt and how cats hunt are important for the political ecology of TNR programs.
The paragraphs starting on line 183, 212 and 226 seem disconnected from the purpose of the discussion and to have more detail than might be needed. The paragraphs starting on line 239 does seem to be better connected to the argument. Please edit.
Lines 193 -5: I think this discussion would fit better if there was a topic sentence contrasting cats and dogs. While the comment that dogs were domesticated for many purposes is valid, feral and free-ranging dogs can and do cause serious problems primarily by risks to humans and livestock rather than wildlife. This should be clarified.
Line 201-203: There is considerable new discussion that not only do wolves not have hierarchical structures in the wild but neither do dogs and that we are doing dogs a disservice by many of the common “dominance” training methods and activities. Please edit appropriately. Given that the next sentence is about cats as solitary predators, it might be a better argument that dogs will hunt in packs as well as by themselves. There are plenty of pure bred pet dogs who hunt by themselves and kill wildlife (and cats) but they are usually confined to an area like a yard when they do this. This section should be carefully reconsidered to refine the argument and evidence.
Line 210: “…is not a chief concern.” Can you provide a reference?
Line 254-5: Yes this is true, but there is still huge variability in how much hunting individual cats do and little data on whether this is influences by sterilization. There is a bit of data that suggests that age influences hunting (older cats hunt less) which could have implications for TNR. If there is an established colony of cats with no kittens born, then the colony will age and they will hunt less. Please consider some wider implications in this paragraph.


Figure 1: I like the photo but I don’t see figure 1 currently providing important information for this manuscript.
Figure 2: I’m not certain that reproducing the figure adds to what has been clearly stated in the text.

Experimental design

Table 1: Were the age and number of cats cared for normally distributed? I expect that latter may not have been. I would like to see the median and minimum/maximum for number of cats. Percentages for ever had a cat, currently have a cat, residency and upbringing would be helpful. In addition, residency and upbringing would be more interested if they were also divided by gender. It might work better to flip the table around so that the columns are question, males, females and the rows are age with mean and min/max as sub-rows, ever had a cat and yes or no as sub-rows and so on…
As Table 2 stands, it is not as good at highlighting the important comparison (which I assume is pre and post) as it could be. I’m also not certain what R is in this table. I would say that the median response to the likert questions possibly with the minimum/maximum values would be the most useful and meaningful effect size. Flipping the table around and using as columns. So question is the first column, before the second, after the third, z and p-value.Table 2: Median scores of responses to the question “I support the TNR program” before and after information….
Table 3: I can’t tell what the authors mean by the negative change in rank and the Methods don’t describe this. It is possible that the revision to Table 2 to include the median scores for the likert responses will show this same information. If not, some different method will be needed for Table 3.

Validity of the findings

Line 261-2: This conclusion about dogs is the authors’? Please clarify.
Line 266-277: these are important points in the authors arguments and should be set off in their own paragraph.
Lines 410-414: This is a very interesting conclusion but is this based on the data presented, the authors’ opinions or other studies? I don’t know how true this is in general. This statement would explain why people always think their own cats don’t hunt but doesn’t explain the cat owners who watch their cat outside under the bird feeder. The other issue is that many free-ranging cats are not owned. What then needs to happen to adjust cat owners’ behaviors to prevent abandonment of cats? Please add some discussion of this point.
Lines 423-436: This really belongs in the Methods section to explain about the two classes and also describes the students included in the sample. The rest of the paragraph is discussion about the implications of the findings in Table 3.
Line 464: this also only addresses owners of cats who still own their pets and not former owners who have contributed to the numbers of free-ranging cats by abandoning their pets or allowing intact cats outside.

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Basic reporting

No comments

Experimental design

No comments

Validity of the findings

No comments

Comments for the author

The manuscript is in excellent condition in all respects; the goals are cogent, the research is solidly conceived, designed, and presented, and all data are sound and compellingly analyzed. This paper makes a solid contribution to the growing evidence for the sustained benefits of environmental education in reducing predation of cats and other small animals. I believe it is ready for publication in its present form.

Reviewer 3 ·

Basic reporting

The article does not fit well into a single unit of publication as there are two separate ideas that are really not connected as a single idea.

Experimental design

The manuscript has two main objectives, with the first one being addressed through a review of the literature and the second through a small classroom survey. In regards to the literature review component, there is really no design aside from developing a narrative of cat domestication and how that relates to predation. Arguably there is much more to the cat domestication discussion than presented by the authors and it is not particularly relevant as it does not ask or answer any question. Academics are certainly interested in animal domestication, but the context of how it is presented in the manuscript and leads into the need for research is missing a great deal of contemporary knowledge and also portrays this information as research, when it is just the narrative to establish the reason for the manuscript.

The main question in the manuscript is to investigate student opinions on one very explicit type of cat management technique that occurs on the authors' campus and does occur throughout the nation. To investigate student opinions a short survey was used in two introductory level courses at the authors' institution. Notably, there are number of problems with the survey. First, the survey does not appear to have been vetted or pre-tested by anyone, which is atypical of standard survey protocol and problematic as the questions themselves may be biased. In fact, the questions were too simplistic and not grounded in well stated survey questions as found in such texts as Dillman or Vaske. Second, the survey has no mechanism to separate influences of peers or survey provider on an individual taking the survey, which may have introduced bias into the results. Third, the population being surveyed is not representative of the groups purported to being investigated in manuscript as it focuses on geography and archaeology students, with no biology or other science students included. If this is truly a campus problem, why not investigate a representative portion of the students? Finally, the design of the survey in terms of population surveyed is not representative to draw the conclusions being made in the paper for the work or more broadly to the US. Notably the authors did not cite or review a similar study of attitudes and knowledge on cats by Peterson et al. 2012 PLoS One.

Validity of the findings

In regards to the evolutionary biology component related to cat domestication and interactions with people, this component isn't really a valid part of the research as it is simply a literature review. The authors' point out that this context is important for the cat management debate, but in fact it is not overly important. Furthermore a great deal of literature from human dimensions of natural resources on cats was missed.

The experimental design does has a number of flaws as previously mentioned that make validity beyond the study population very tenuous. The data cannot easily be assessed for robustness as the design is not well thought out. In other words because the research used a survey there are data and they were analyzed correctly. But the data themselves are not strong in terms of a well laid out survey. But most important the findings of the project are extrapolated far beyond what reasonably can be done with the data. They are not representative of real world stakeholders involved in the debate or even a wide segment of the public.

Comments for the author

The authors' are interested in contributing to the current discussions related to cat management because it is an issue occurring on their campus. Although this is certainly a relevant topic to pursue, the authors have missed a great deal of the relevant literature in wildlife, human dimensions, conservation biology, applied ecology, and ornithology. The paper makes a number of broad generalizations that the authors' own data do not bear out and are superficial discussions of the topic (e.g., many animal welfare people support euthanasia and in fact this internally divides that stakeholder group, hence the split in views between PETA and HSUS). Finally, the Discussion section is quite problematic as it promotes views that management techniques such as TNR simply are ok and need to be accepted when the authors' data do not demonstrate this conclusion. Overall this was an interesting classroom project that illustrates a subpopulation of the student body's view on two views of cat management that the authors' could use as a pre-test to develop a more well thought out, well researched, and statistically valid survey in the future.

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Basic reporting

This submission meets the standards of basic reporting, clear language, and closely conforms to the templates.

Experimental design

This submission addresses an issue in conservation biology and its results are statistically significant. The methods are reproducible and meet ethical standards.

Validity of the findings

The findings are statistically valid and are based on a large sample size. There is no section labelled "conclusions" but these are integrated into the discussion section. Possibly it would be preferable to isolate the conclusions into a separate section, which could be done fairly easily.

Comments for the author

I wish the authors had included at least discussion of the issue of whether or not humans have inadvertently "promoted" the decimation of wildlife by feral or free-ranging cats by eliminating other, potentially competing, indigenous predators upon birds, rodents, and etc. This seems to me to be an important point in conservation biology and the role of domestic animals in our ecosystem. This would help people decide if cats' predation on wildlife actually balances the system by removing "excess" birds, rodents, etc. It would also be worthwhile to consider whether the rodent population is artificially inflated by species introduced by humans, such as Norway rats. However, as reviewer I need to say what they have done is perfectly adequate.

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