GOB 118 The Truth About Cats & Dogs
This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine July 2019
I’m not going to apologise for reopening the debate about cats. As a recent headline put it: ‘Canadian and U.S. studies agree: Cats are the most lethal threat to birds
My family, friends and birding acquaintances have, sometimes under my influence, pledged to ensure that their feline friends are ‘indoor cats’ who are never allowed to freely roam. Some enterprising fellows have built ‘cat runs’ in their urban gardens so their moggies can get fresh air and exercise without endangering the birds that their owners feed and delight in seeing.
This is great, but where is the campaign that has informed many other nations to ‘keep cats indoors’!?
In the face of the facts unscrupulous cat lovers have mounted misinformation campaigns designed to sow doubt in the public’s mind about the harmful impact of cats outdoors, particularly feral populations. However, an open-access study at the end of 2018 rebutted their claims re-asserting the need for controls. A study five years earlier clearly and categorically proved, point by harrowing point, that roaming cats killed a staggering 2.4 billion birds in the US alone. Similar studies in Canada and Australia show the same results. The study demonstrates beyond doubt that ‘Overwhelming scientific consensus supports that cats are an invasive species; they have caused dozens of extinctions (Doherty et al. 2016), impact native wildlife populations (Loss and Marra 2017), and carry multiple zoonotic diseases (Gerhold and Jessup 2013)’. It is a known fact, for instance that at least 63 species extinctions have been caused by cats.
Attacks on the facts continue to mounted in our ‘post-truth’ era where bloggers and vloggers hold up their opinions as being as worthy as science. It’s hard to tell whether these people are blinded by the love they have for their cats, just plain ignorant or wilfully deceptive.
Grant Sizemore, the Director of Invasive Species Programs for American Bird Conservancy has said: “It’s time to treat cats like dogs and to safely remove stray and feral animals from our parks and neighbourhoods.”
I would go much further and suggest in the face of public ignorance or denial, that we should legislate to make owners responsible for the damage or nuisance their cats cause, just like we do for dogs.
The truth is that dogs frighten people and have attacked them, sometime fatally. But we do not just legislate to control dangerous dogs, there are laws making owners liable for their misdeeds including fines for letting them defecate in public places without clearing up their mess. But there is absolutely nothing to stop someone else’s cat coming into my garden to mark its territory with faeces and stake out my bird feeders just to play with a wild bird’s life.
When I visit feline run homes their pets make a cat-line for me. Maybe, its my total disregard of them and indifference to their fluffy charms that endears me to them. I think they recognise in me a creature as indifferent to their attraction as they are to humans, despite the love and licence humans heap upon them.
I would never be cruel to a cat, but am simply unattracted to them, being far more enamoured of feathers than fur. I would do nothing to limit the enjoyment that they give millions of my fellows. However, I want cat owners to respect my property and my proclivities just as I respect theirs. While I believe legislation may be the only answer lets give a voluntary approach a chance. It’s time for responsible cat owners to stand up and start a campaign to KEEP CATS INDOORS.
*NB April 2019 Australia announced a plan to selectively poison an estimated 2 million feral cats.