Cats inside; birds outside

In the war between wildlife experts and feral cat colony managers, we must side with wildlife.

By Joel Worth

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.

Pet rescues drove me to shop for my dog

I’m sixty. But I have a baby. A twelve-week-old Siberian husky named Finn. He’s the last baby I’ll ever have.

“When we’re seventy, we’re going to adopt old dogs,” I told my husband. “The ones that people dump at the pound because they’re too old.”

My vet wants to know where I got Finn. This story always starts with the words, “Don’t judge me.”

That’s because I bought a dog from a family in my neighborhood who bred their pet husky.

Yes, I failed to adopt from a rescue.

Not for lack of trying. I filled out no fewer than five rescue organization applications. And this is what I found: Most rescue organizations are rather poorly run. What follows is the reader’s digest condensed version of my experience.

Pawsibilities–not recommended

I saw a dog on Petfinder.com that looked cute and ticked every box I was looking for: puppy, good with other dogs, good with cats, good temperament. The $850 price tag gave me some sticker shock, but, for a temperament-tested dog, it seemed worth it.

What was never disclosed to me in the application process was that this four-pound dog  would never get any bigger.

On Petfinder, the Pawsibilities pup was represented as an Australian shepherd/poodle mix. Based on this information, I expected a dog in the 25-40 pound range.

Nowhere on Petfinder did it say he was a miniature mini. And this was also not mentioned when I visited with the dog. It was finally revealed at the vet’s office.

Animal Care Society–not recommended

Animal Care Society is nationwide. They have an impossibly long application, and they respond to applications when they damn well please. They accepted twenty-five applications for the puppy I wanted.

Animal Care Society wants your veterinary records from the past ten years. They also want three character references IN ADDITION to your veterinarian’s reference. Animal Care Society’s buzzword is “Thank you for adopting, not shopping.”

But they are driving people to shop.

When I questioned these practices, they threw out my application.

Woodstock Animal Rescue–tentatively recommended

I almost adopted a puppy from Woodstock Animal Rescue. They were fostering a super-cute pointer puppy. But my eight year old dog introduced herself too aggressively. Then a so-called behaviorist on site said it would never work.

Southern Indiana Rescue–not recommended

Southern Indiana Rescue posted a picture and description of a white pit bull named Ace on Petfinder. He was described as good with dogs and good with cats.

Responding to my application, the rescue volunteer emailed that Ace had not been “cat tested” but that they were going to do that.

Then they lost my application.

Several weeks of radio silence later, I made a phone call. SI rescue then said that Ace was not good with other dogs or people.

I expressed interest in another dog fostered by that rescue. When I arrived at PetSmart, my dog barked at the other dogs in the store. Because of that, the SI rescue director told me that I needed to make her an only dog.

But I knew my dog was good with other dogs! I was a puppy foster myself! Here’s a picture of the puppy I fostered in Statesboro, Georgia:

relatestodogs

And to the left is my lab mix who helped me raise this puppy

This was the moment when I gave myself permission to buy a puppy from someone’s back yard.

What you can do: 

If you are adopting a dog, adopt from the ASPCA or your municipal pound or animal shelter. They are arguably more efficient and less subjective than start-up rescues.

Do not trust Petfinder.com about the age or size of the pet or its ability to get along with other animals.

If you run a rescue

Keep Petfinder.com pet profiles accurate and up-to-date. If you don’t know how a dog is with cats, do NOT check that the dog is cat friendly. If a dog is more than four months old, do NOT claim it is a puppy.

If you have already received ten or more applications for a pet, remove the Petfinder profile until you get up to date on responding to applications.

If you run a rescue and you receive twenty-five applications for a single dog, review every application and respond to every application. Don’t just throw the dog or cat at the first applicant in the pile, who has a fence and a veterinarian. This practice is not fair to all the applicants who took forty minutes to an hour to fill our your application. 

If you run a rescue, and you don’t have time to respond to applications or you tend to lose applications, dissolve your rescue and, instead, volunteer at a rescue organization that has its shit together.

Do NOT start a new rescue unless you have approximately thirty hours a week to devote to it, and you have a good record keeping system. Do NOT start a new rescue on the assumption that you are the only good dog owner in the world.

 

Seven cool things about your dog’s nose

From Alexandra Horowitz’s “Being a Dog”

A breath is not a sniff. When someone sniffs, he is deliberately pulling in air at a rate much faster than breathing.

The length of a dog’s sniff has been measured by stuffing science gear into the dog’s nose. With this as a study limitation, a pointer holds the record for longest, most impressive sniff. He pulled in air for forty seconds while on a dead run after his prey.

To put that into context, I just inhaled vigorously while walking from the living room to the kitchen. Couldn’t crack three seconds.

She measures the intensity of your scent

If your dog is anything like mine, he is waiting for his person

good shot of alice

I am not this dog’s favorite person.

(you?) at the door when that person comes home from work. Maybe your dog recognizes the distinct cough of your car’s carburetor or maybe not. It could be that he is measuring the loss of your smell in your shared space as the day goes by. When it reaches a certain point of dilution, he knows you are coming home. If my husband does not come home by the time his scent has evaporated from his bedroom, our dog moves into my office and snuggles with her favorite cat for consolation. Then she doesn’t get up until she hears him at the door. (I am not my dog’s person. Pretty sure I come after the cat.)

Canines have talent

Dogs can be trained to sniff out, not only the scent of criminals, drugs, and guns but also bedbugs, land mines, explosives, missing people, dead people, termites, and cell phones (yes, this is useful in prisons where inmates are not supposed to have them).

Dogs have been deployed to crack down on the illegal import of endangered species. They can detect a shark fin hidden in luggage. Also, tigers and turtles, black bears, and basically any animal which gives off a smell, which is one hundred percent of animals. T

hey can help you count the dead birds at a wind farm by finding every downed bird. They can also stop a dangerous invasion of non-native parasites at the airport or the freight dock. That’s right, folks. Dogs can be trained to sniff out invasive knapweed, fire ants, and tree-destroying red palm weevils.

They can smell and breathe at the same time

The slits at the side of your dog’s nose are not an arbitrary evolutionary design. They exist to allow the dog to keep breathing while holding the bouquet of an interesting smell in the main chamber.

By his urine you will know him

Your dog really is posting emails when she smells the neighborhood peeing oak and raises her leg to post a reply. Dogs are sharing information about their health, happiness, confidence level, etc.

Basically, they are telling on you and whether you are a good dog owner.

Self awareness does not require a mirror

Dogs achieve self awareness through smell, not sight. Stay with me here because this can’t be explained in a sound bite.

The traditional test for self awareness in animals is whether they recognize changes to themselves in a mirror. First you have to put a mirror in the animal’s space and let her pass it a few times.

Then you put a sticker or a mark on the animal’s face. If the animal pauses and checks out the alteration, that’s self awareness.

Elephants and dolphins are troubled by changes to their lovely demeanor, but dogs don’t give a shit how many stickers you put on their faces, they walk right by the mirror unfazed.

So it might seem that dogs are not self aware. However, in a test that measured whether a dog could differentiate the scent of its own pee from that of other dogs when isolated in vials, the dogs unerringly identified their own pee.

Then, they peed on the urine samples of other dogs and never their own. That’s self awareness.

Your own sense of smell is not gone; it’s just hiding

People can smell a small fraction of what dogs can smell. A really tiny fraction. But we haven’t lost our sense of smell, we’ve just devalued it. Through training, humans can regain some of their lost ability to navigate the world through smell. One obvious advantage that dogs have over us is a complete lack of delicacy and self consciousness. Dogs don’t hesitate to plunge their noses into a new dog’s or person’s rear end or urinary tract. They have instant access to information that our modern manners have deprived us of.

Fabulous flying foxes are going extinct

FLYING FOXESYou may have caught the “Bill Nye Saves the World” segment on flying foxes. The featured scientist who studies them calls them “sky pups” because some of them look surprisingly like dogs. Others look like, well, foxes with wings. Their faces and necks are covered with reddish fur and they have small pointed ears characteristic of foxes, along with big, smooth wings. They look like foxes and, when resting, pose like Nosferatu, their wings closed around them like a cape. That’s the look of the Mauritian flying fox, also known as the fruit bat.

Mauritius flying foxes might have a chance at survival, except that their government keeps culling them–in the thousands. Approximately every two years, the government authorizes a “cull,” euphemistic word for mass slaughter, of flying foxes because they eat a few farmed mangoes. Farmers are perfectly capable of protecting their crops with sealed nets. But it appears they prefer to slaughter thousands of innocent mammals instead.

Unfortunately, all flying foxes live on islands, and all of them are going extinct. In Australia, laws have been enacted to curb hunting of these animals, but invasive species are still decimating them.

The foxy island dwellers have nowhere to go when they are threatened by hunting or habitat loss. Their boundaries are the seas that surround them. And flying foxes are the original inhabitants of the islands they dwell on. When humans landed on Australia’s Christmas Island, there were all of five endemic species. Humans and the exotic species they introduced, quickly dispatched four. The only original inhabitants are the flying foxes, and they are quickly disappearing.

Please sign my petition asking the Mauritian government to make the culling and hunting of flying foxes illegal.

 

 

The Economic Benefits of Trees

autumn-3043489_960_720By Lynn Hamilton

Cities that protect their trees have higher property values, expanding tax bases, and business prosperity. And yet, many cities have done little to nothing to protect trees on either public or private property.

One such municipality is Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville’s city council member Tom Hollander tried to pass a tree ordinance that would protect both street trees and “heritage trees” on private land. The originally proposed ordinance would have protected trees of a certain height and width, trees that provide shade and flood protection to several houses in the neighborhood, from being capriciously cut down by their owners.

But by the time council members and developers had chipped away at it, the tree ordinance passed is possibly worse than useless. It allows people to replant smaller trees than previously when they cut down trees on public land.

Every town and city needs a tree ordinance that protects trees on both private and public land, because trees positively impact economic development and protect neighborhoods from flooding and overheating.

According to New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, “One hundred mature trees catch about 139,000 gallons of rainwater per year.”1

In many parts of Louisville, rain water truly has nowhere to go but directly to our basements or, in the absence of a basement, our houses. The city’s Germantown neighborhood is a case in point. One hundred year old houses, built only four or fewer feet apart, combined with near complete deforestation of street trees leaves people with flooded cellars on a regular basis.

Many of us are also suffering the high utility costs of a treeless neighborhood: “Strategically placed trees save up to 56% on annual air-conditioning costs. Evergreens that block winter winds can save 3% on heating.”1 Trees are also well known to buffer homes from wind damage.

A replacement sapling does not fill the place of a mature tree. In most cases, it will take a sapling at least twenty years to begin to replace a mature tree.

I know that the Louisville’s mayor’s office is very interested in what is happening with the municipality’s peer cities, so I did some research on the most economically successful of these cities and found that they have all taken measures to protect their trees.

Nashville, which has gotten far ahead of Louisville in terms of population growth and economic development, requires homeowners to plant trees to restore tree density to the area: 1. “Each property . . . shall attain a tree density factor of at least fourteen units per acre using protected or replacement trees, or a combination of both.”2

Indianapolis protects all flora of more than twelve inches in height on public property: “No person shall damage, remove, deaden, destroy, break, carve, cut, deface, trim or in any way injure or interfere with any flora that is located in or on any public street, alley, right-of-way, place or park within the city without the written consent of the division of construction and business services first obtained, except as may be necessary in an emergency to remove or abate any dangerous or unsafe condition.”5

Charlotte, North Carolina protects trees on public land and private land. They recognize heritage trees which were removed from the current Louisville tree ordinance.6

Cincinnati’s tree ordinance protects public trees.3,4  Columbus, Ohio plants 2000 trees every year to mitigate loss of trees through tree removal.7 Dayton, Ohio forbids removal of public trees without a permit.8

As you can see, there is every reason to pass a tree ordinance that protects significant trees on both private and public property. Today’s recommended action: Obtain a copy of your local tree ordinance. If you don’t have one, call a city council member and ask him to start the process of creating one.

If your town already has a tree ordinance, read it and offer suggested improvements to your local leaders.

 

References

  1. “Economic Benefits of Trees”. Department of Environmental Conservation. New York State. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  2. “SUBSTITUTE ORDINANCE NO. BL2008-328”. gov. City of Nashville, TN. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  3. “Urban Forestry”. com. City of Cincinnati, Ohio. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  4. “Urban Forestry”. com. City of Cincinnati. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  5. “TREES AND FLORA”. com. City of Indianapolis. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  6. “Chapter 21 – TREES”. com. City of Charlotte, North Carolina. Retrieved 27 November2017.
  7. “Recreation and Parks Department”. gov. City of Columbus, Ohio. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  8. “City of Dayton, Ohio Zoning Code”. org. City of Dayton, Ohio. Retrieved 27 November 2017.