I know all about loving a cat. If I’m to be honest, the love of my life was Timon, a feral cat rescued from the clutches of animal control, who came to trust and then love me. I was his only person. Yes, I know: oversharing.
But, in the war between wildlife experts and feral cat colony managers, I have to side with wildlife. I recently read a rather upsetting blog in which the writer says, “Let Cats Eat the Birds.”
Referring to wildlife advocate Jonathan Franzen, she writes, “The fuck??? All Franzen is doing here is saying ‘I like birds more than cats, so we should preserve them, even if it means killing cats.’ That has nothing to do with nature. You just picked the animal you like more.”
Um. Not sure it’s that simple. There’s this thing called “biodiversity” that some of us value, because we don’t want to live in a world with just two species.
Many cats, especially those that have packed on the happy fat from being loved and cared for, are content to sit in the garden, lazing in the sun, and doing no ecological damage.
Sadly, other individuals love to hunt and will kill, repeatedly, just for the pleasure of it. Do, sometime, read about TIbbles, the cat that decimated an entire species.
And there are stories about big cats in Australia that are descended from feral pet cats. Australians who run into them think they are black panthers. Scientists, who know better, say these cats got fat by preying on wildlife. The fact that these cats have supersized is not good news for anybody, not even your chihuahua.
Do cats really need to go outside?
Before you defend the notion that cats must run free, consider that the average life span of an outdoor cat is five years or so, whereas indoor cats can live to be twenty-five. If you are as emotionally dependent on your cats as I am, this is a no brainer.
I don’t care if my indoor only cats can’t fully express themselves as cats. I love them too much, so twenty-five years of being pampered, petted, and having the run of the house will just have to compensate for not going outside and getting fleas.
Outdoor cats are, of course, much more likely to get hit by a car, killed by a dog, or trapped in a crawl space. They are at risk of getting feline AIDS or feline leukemia. The vaccines against these diseases are only about eighty percent effective.
Should we support feral cat colonies?
Many kind-hearted people who love cats cannot resist supporting feral cat colonies with fundraisers and donations.
Unfortunately, these maintained colonies can wreak havoc on birds and other wildlife who have, unarguably, a better right to occupy the forest or plain than a domestic species whose numbers we have failed to control.
Feral cat colonists should be working to find every cat a home or a job, perhaps in a barn or field where the instinct to kill will be an asset.
The trap, neuter, release folks mean well, but they are mistaken in telling us that feral cats would rather live outside without human companionship. These cats were bred as our companions. And they most certainly can learn to love humans. It just takes some extra patience.
In fact, a cat who lives all his life without attaching to a human is not fulfilling his biological destiny.
Should we destroy feral cats?
I’m not going to dodge the above question. Yes, if all else fails, the cat should die (as humanely as possible) to save the birds.
However, there are a lot of things we can do to prevent that worst case scenario:
- Yes, spay and neuter all outdoor cats. If they’re crossing your yard, you have every right to take them to the vet and have them fixed.
- Keep your own cats inside, and encourage friends and family to do the same.
What we can do about feral cats
- If you run a feral cat colony, slowly accustom the cats to your voice and your touch. This can be done by putting the food near you and making them approach you to get it.
- Work with rescues to place your colony cats in homes of cat whisperers who will consider it a wonderful challenge to rehabilitate a wild cat. Contact farmers and gardeners about hiring feral cats to organically control rats and mice. If the cats are assigned in pairs, they will not be lonely.
- If you cannot place all your feral cats, use smart collars to discover what they are doing. You might have two that are killing birds while the others have no ambition to do so. You can then prioritize getting the killing cats indoors.
- See if you can find an indoor space for the cats to live. The basement of someone overrun with mice, for instance. An equipment storage space in a large company.
- If you are determined to maintain an outdoor feral colony in an area shared by wildlife, please put belled collars on all the cats. This will give the birds a chance to escape. Eventually, the birds will learn to identify the sound of a cat approaching. And the cats will eventually learn that there’s no point in jumping a bird.