The Kern County Animal Control department is doing cats -- and citizens -- a grave disservice by refusing to accept feral cats as of July 1. The operative word in the term "animal shelter" is "shelter," and when shelters start turning away animals, they stop doing the job they were established to do ("Shelter to limit intake of feral cats starting on Monday," June 30).

Obviously, refusing to accept feral cats will make the shelter's stats look better, but isn't a shelter's mission about protecting animals and the public, not just about looking good on paper? Feral cats are not wildlife. They are domesticated cats just like the cats who share our homes, and they depend on humans for food, medical care, and other basic needs. They require shelter -- in every sense of the word -- just like other cats do. If we wouldn't encourage someone to abandon their own cat in a parking lot or at the end of a country road, how can we say that this is acceptable for any cat?

Outdoor cats do not die of old age. They are attacked by other animals, hit by cars and succumb to exposure, starvation, parasite infestations and deadly infectious diseases. PETA receives calls every single day about free-roaming cats that are shot, drowned, poisoned, beaten, set on fire and other horrors. Here are just a few recent examples:

* In March of this year, a cat in Woodland, Calif., was found paralyzed after being shot with a pellet gun by an unknown assailant. Despite receiving medical treatment, the cat died as a result of her injuries.

* An abandoned cat described as a "neighborhood cat" was found "bloodied and paralyzed" last year in San Mateo after being shot with a pellet gun. She will never walk again.

* In Sacramento, a stray cat was so badly burned that euthanasia was recommended after the animal was "doused with an accelerant and then lit on fire," according to a news report. Witnesses called police after seeing what they described as "a ball of fire" moving through a park.

Even easily treatable ailments like fleas, worms, ear mites, or urinary tract infections can be life-threatening for unsocialized cats. It is nearly impossible to re-trap such cats for booster shots of rabies and other vaccines, meaning that the cats can be infected with these diseases years later. One study indicates that over 80 percent of post-rabies-exposure shots are administered to people that have been bitten or scratched by stray cats.

Free-roaming cats also pose a threat to wildlife. A recent study found that feral cats cause the majority of cat-caused deaths of wildlife in the U.S., an astounding 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals every year.

Even if it were safe to trap and return cats outdoors, not every person wants to take on the responsibility of caring for a colony of cats. What are these people supposed to do now that KCAC is refusing to accept these cats? They might be inclined to take matters into their own hands -- with cruel results.

And those who don't have the interest or means to invest the work and commitment that trapping and sterilizing demands and instead do nothing will have more and more cats breeding -- and dying.

By turning away needy cats, KCAC isn't "saving" them: It is condemning them to a miserable death. Turning our backs on cats and abandoning them on the streets is cruel, plain and simple. Most kind people would never let their own beloved companions die slowly from organ failure or cystitis septicemia under a bush outside, but they are being duped into believing that's the best thing for homeless cats.

PETA urges KCAC to protect cats from fates much worse than euthanasia by continuing to accept them when they need refuge.

Teresa Chagrin of Norfolk, Va., is an animal care and control specialist at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Another View presents a critical response to a previous editorial, column or news story.