Science. Denial. Graphic Novel.

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

This is not a blog about climate change.  This is about domestic cats.

How is it that this common every-day pet has become the focus of a bitter, ostensibly unsolvable controversy that has pitted animal advocates and conservationists, bird lovers and cat lovers, animal scientists and animal activists against each other? It’s simple. We allow our pet cats to roam freely outdoors, effectively turning our neighborhoods into wildlife battlegrounds.

Why do we do that? We would never let our dogs run free. And we would not tolerate our neighbors’ dogs free-wheeling around. Are we mystified by cats? Do we enjoy what we perceive as their wildness, admire their resistance to training? Perhaps cats bring out a bit of our own rebellious tendencies. It’s difficult to tell. But it appears that we appreciate their independent nature so much that we are willing to relinquish one of the basic rules of responsible pet ownership, ensuring our pets will not impinge on the health and well-being of our neighborhood.

There is almost uncontested evidence amongst scientists and conservationists that an estimated 60 million free-roaming domestic cats in the United States participate with feral cats and strays in the killing of between 500 million and one billion birds and billions of small mammals each year.

Such numbers cannot be ignored for their potential negative impact on habitat and bird and animal populations. Not surprising, there is fierce resistance among animal advocacy groups like Best Friends Animal Societies and Alleycat Allies to accepting these statistics, claiming misinformation and scaremongering targeted against outdoor cats.

Interestingly, a research project conducted by National Geographic and the University of Georgia that followed 55 urban, free-roaming cats via camera (Kitty-Cam) revealed that several of the cats had found second homes where they received food and affection, and that only 25 of the 55 subjects spent their time hunting, primarily small lizards and mammals. Many of the subjects spent a great deal of time resting – very cat-like behavior!

In an attempt to bring cat- and bird-lovers together, an organization called Nature Canada has developed a program to celebrate the contributions cats and birds make to our lives, our environment, and our communities… Their aim is to help Canadians learn how to take care of birds and cats. In 2016, Nature Canada collaborated with author Margaret Atwood in the production of Angel Catbird, a series of graphic novels aimed at bringing attention to the specialness of both birds and cats, and to encourage behaviors that would keep both cats and birds safe.

By and large, to protect both birds and cats, the advice is to keep cats indoors.

I have three indoor cats. But I keep them indoors for self-serving reasons. I am able to regulate their diet (with a supplement of ‘cat grass’ I purchase from the local pet store when the cats have vandalized my house plants in search of green nutrition.) I have avoided an infestation of fleas, given up the ‘joy’ of receiving gifts of mouse and bird carcasses, and any other presents my cats decide to bring home. Plus, I have, so far, avoided huge vet bills resulting from cat encounters with predators, as happened to my pet Zeke when he was an outdoor cat. Zeke had a confrontation with a raccoon, which cost him an eye and which cost me $500 in rehabilitation expenses.
Do I think this approach is best for my cats? I don’t know. Frankly, everything in me says they should be outside doing what comes natural to cats; stalking, hunting, exploring.

7 thoughts on “Science. Denial. Graphic Novel.”

  1. Once again we are faced with issues of the wonderful balance of the natural world as compared with the unnatural world created by humans. The Australian study dealt with feral cats on an island. The article doesn’t say why they decided to eliminate the feral cats. I think the issue of keeping cats as pets, and the responsibility we have as pet owners is what is at issue here.

  2. Perhaps if we knew the minds of cats we could be sure that we are depriving them if we keep them as “indoor” friends for life. Are they perhaps, like humans, basically satisfied with where they are and what they have as long as that is all they know? Or, do they have a ‘natural’ longing for prowling and adventure beyond their walls?
    Until we have a way of truly knowing the answer I think cat owners who take loving care of their cat friends can be comfortable knowing their cats are probably laughing behind their paws at all the fuss.

    I do agree that cats should not be allowed to wander into the space of others, leaving our feathered friends de-feathered and paw prints on our vehicles.

    Thanks for keeping us thinking.

  3. Perhaps if we knew the minds of cats we could be sure that we are depriving them if we keep them as “indoor” friends for life. Are they perhaps, like humans, basically satisfied with where they are and what they have as long as that is all they know? Or, do they have a ‘natural’ longing for prowling and adventure beyond their walls? Until we have a way of truly knowing the answer I think cat owners who take loving care of their cat friends can be comfortable knowing their cats are probably laughing behind their paws at all the fuss. I do agree that cats should not be allowed to wander into the space of others, leaving our feathered friends de-feathered and paw prints on our vehicles. Thanks for keeping us thinking.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Gay. The only insight I get from what my cats feel is when they lay on the window sill staring out the window or when I open the door and they are perched to run out, or when out of the blue they attack a toy mouse and toss it in the air, or when they kind of stalk and attack each other – nothing serious, but it seems instinctual. But most of the time they seem pretty content. As you said, though, we really can’t know.

  4. Cats eat birds, although not, as you pointed out, in the quantities that hysterical bird lovers claim. It could be argued that they improve the gene pool of the various species that don’t succeed in outwitting them. Birds eat insects. Are insects morally inferior to birds and so should submit to their karma of being eaten by birds? Is it better for the planet that we keep our cat friends inside to eat the cows and chickens that are farmed (at the expense of rain forests) for their delectation? This is the planet we live on. Animals eat other animals and are eaten by them. ככה זה

    1. The planet you mention, Lise, the one of simple natural laws such as “animals eat other animals and are eaten by them” does not exist any longer. Our planet is out of whack, so now animals can eat other animals to extinction. Animals can proliferate unchecked. Animals that might not be suited for domestic life have become a regular part of our neighborhoods. The food chain has become skewed….birds eat insects, cats eat birds, but what has happened to the critters that eat the cats? ככה זה שלום

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