2 updates at the end of the post
Why do we have pets? I grew up constantly having an animal companion. We almost continuously had a dog and cat, but also for short periods, a turtle, a salamander, newts, a hamster, a guinea pig, and/or goldfish. The ideal home for me would be one like Farley Mowat’s. I don’t know if I could properly or with-scientific-references defend the idea that pets are good for their owners. I definitely believe this is the case, though.
Is it good for the pets themselves? This time my affirmation is less confident. Michael Pollan offers the great success of chicken and other fowl as part of his support for eating meat. If we didn’t eat meat, chicken would likely be extinct.
Ted Kerasote might offer an opposing view in his book Merle’s Door, an account of his attempts to offer his dog as much freedom as possible and how pets thrive when they aren’t treated as modern-day pets. The life of a modern pet is long periods of boredom mixed with attempts to be stimulated by their owners.
As part of this long introduction, let me ask a different and more specific question, one that I cannot answer. Should we have pet cats?
I love cats; there is one sitting at ease just outside my doorway, and my son would need therapy if I got rid of it. The negative points are more important to my post today so let me focus on the positives first. They entertain and comfort us. Some kill pests. They are little burden and bring great joy.
This post is not about the sadness that comes with the inevitable death of a beloved pet. This is a serious concern and my son is already asking questions about lifespans and death.
No, this post is principly about feral cats and secondarily about wildlife mortality caused by pet and feral cats.
According to National Geographic News, last week,
” Ted Williams, then editor-at-large for Audubon Magazine, advocated for trapping and euthanizing feral cats due to their rampant hunting of birds and their reputation for carrying diseases like toxoplasmosis.”
More from the article:
Over 80 million pet cats reside in U.S. homes and as many as 80 million more free-roaming cats survive outside.
To David Ringer, director of media relations for the Audubon Society, the dust-up shows “that we all need to work together on effective strategies that will address the very serious harm cats inflict on birds and other wildlife and that are also truly humane toward cats,” he told National Geographic by email.
“Cats do a great deal of damage to birds and other wildlife, and it needs to be addressed, but Audubon absolutely rejects the idea of individuals harming or poisoning cats.”
From the comments, I find myself agreeing most with Pete McLean who argues against protection all cats at all costs. “The entire argument is a stupid juvenile argument from lovers of stuffed toys.”
The article discusses some methods of feral cat population control. Apparently, Tylenol is unusually toxic to cats and could be used as a relatively specific poison that wouldn’t do much harm to other animals. Another proposed method is neutering or spaying.
Before going into my opinions, let me quote articles from South Korea that I discussed three years ago. There I quoted from a touchingly sensitive article in Yonhap News.
“Controversy over treatment of cats often makes headlines. In 2006, residents of a Seoul apartment culled scores of stray cats by driving them into the basement of their building and cementing over all exit holes.
Last year, the local government of Geomun Island off the southwestern coast moved to cull hundreds of feral cats overpopulating the fishing region, a controversial decision that was changed at the last minute to neutering them.”
Alright, first, the problem is not merely feral cats; happily domesticated cats are mixed in too. Tylenol might specifically kill cats but it will not further specify only feral cats. Feral cats are not the only predators of urban wildlife either. In all the time we had a cat, it typically wanted out in the evening and in again in the morning, often trying to bring the night’s kill in with it. And these were well-fed cats who needed to kill only as much as most North American human hunters.
I guess neutering or spaying would work in the long term even though new feral cats and fully potent domesticated cats are often entering the equation. I wonder if proponents of spaying would insist on a human-sort of tubal ligation so that the cats could continue to enjoy the attempts to procreate? In this case, clearly neutering males would be seen as equally evil: vasectomies all round!
I gotta say, I am for a humane cull. I would prefer it if humans could adopt every last feral cat -which are unlikely to make good pets -but an entirely reasonable, though distant, second best option involves poison, live traps leading to identification and killing (feral cats) or releasing (actual wildlife) or return and fines (loose domestic cats). I would even go so far as to train the killers (I don’t want use the euphemism of harvester or collector) to kill onsite with cheap, scalable techniques. There is no more reason to have an expensively trained trained vet use (expensive?) injected poisons with cats than there is with chickens, pigs or cattle.
At the same time, cat owners, be responsible and care for and give away your pets properly. That last paragraph was hard to write and I don’t want my little friend to ever suffer like that.
Ted Williams lost his job for posting concern over the number of feral cats and how to reduce that number. Well, he lost his job briefly. I don’t know if this is an apology (or that he needed to apologize) or simply a better explanation than he included in his article. Here is an excerpt:
“In my recent op-ed I reported that a common over-the-counter drug, an effective and selective poison for feral cats, had not been registered for this use because of pressure from feral-cat advocacy groups.”
“While the statement was not inaccurate, it was unwise because readers might construe it as a suggestion to go out and start poisoning feral cats. What’s more, the statement could be, indeed was, manipulated by feral-cat advocates into something I didn’t write or intend.”
Scientific American has an article that relates more to my commentary than Mr Williams’ predicament. 3,000 feral cats have been culled to protect an endangered species of bilby.
Unfortunately, the sanctuary is located in a relatively remote region of Currawinya National Park. Flooding in the park not only makes the sanctuary occasionally unreachable by humans, it also apparently damaged the fence last June, allowing several cats to make their way into the enclosure, with devastating results. “We estimated we could have had around 150 newborn bilbies inside that fence, and [the cats have] cleared the lot out,” Frank Manthey, co-founder of the Save the Bilby Fund, told the Australian network news show 7.30.
The fence has since been repaired, but Manthey says the surrounding countryside is still besieged by feral cats and has appealed to the government for help in reducing their numbers. Feral cat populations have actually risen in the past two years, an unintended side effect of government efforts to control dingo populations. Dingoes, which compete with cats and other predators for food, have been poisoned to protect agricultural sheep, but Griffith University researcher Jean-Marc Hero told The Australian last September that this approach gave cats and foxes a chance to fill the ecological gap the dingoes left behind.