The Truth About Cats & Dogs
(This article first appeared in the April 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’)
It is time we started to tell the truth about cats and dogs and how they impact on wildlife. For far too long we have been apologists for our pets… perhaps because we British are so besotted with them!
Myths abound and are often given credence by the very people who should know better… a short while ago the steam rose from my ears when I heard an RSPB spokesmen say that while cats killed millions of birds, reptiles, amphibians and small mammals we need not worry as habitat loss is a far bigger problem.
Instead of hearing the problem, most cat owners just hear that they need not worry. But the fact is that our wildlife cannot take another hit from anywhere as it is under so much pressure from habitat degradation and loss, disturbance, deliberate persecution, human hazards like light pollution and litter – so everything else that decreases their numbers needs to be addressed! One might just as casually and irresponsibly say that Chinese medicine has always used tiger bones, so it is not that which is leading to their imminent extinction.
In many parts of Australia cats must either be kept indoors or confined to escape-proof runs in gardens. In the US cats are now acknowledged as the leading cause of passerine fatalities. But in blighty we bury our heads, ostrich-like, so deep that we are in danger of suffocation.
Of course that analogy is based on a myth about ostriches… but no worse a myth than that ‘Tiddles wouldn’t hurt a fly’ and ‘my moggy is rubbish at hunting’.
Fact – Cats wander miles from home and many nightly use strangers cat-flaps and eat their food, hunt in the surrounding countryside and rarely bring home what they catch. No corpse on your doorstep is no evidence, not proof of innocence. They may only kill the same percentage as they always have, but do the math! There are now 10 million cats in the UK (twice what there were a generation ago). If 5 million cats once killed 10% of 10 million thrushes, then twice as many cats are now killing 20% of 1 million thrushes, which has a great deal more impact!
Fact – at least seven different neighbourhood cats come into my otherwise cat-free yard. Lion manure, high pitched sound and all sorts of physical barriers do not keep them out. They kill birds and deter them from visiting my feeders. But I am allowed no recourse at all! If a dog were to do the same I could take extreme measure to rid myself of the pest and prosecute its owner.
Fact – most of us have told our children they can only have pets if they take responsibility for them, but we adults feel under no such obligation.
Dogs are not innocent – they are often encouraged by their moronic owners to chase waders along the tideline and are not restrained from covering me in muddy footprints or scaring me off a public footpath. I am sick of being told that they are only being playful. I doubt a well-placed Wellington Boot from me would seem playful to their owners! Dogs disturb birds… studies show that bird density is less in footpaths where dogs are allowed than along footpaths where they are banned.
Dogs, on the whole, do not kill wildlife, but they are expected to be under the control of their owners who are legally responsible for their actions… even on their own property, let alone on mine or in the local country park.
Where does that leave us?
Well it must not be blithely ignoring the problem! It is time for legislation that obliges cat owners to be responsible for their pet’s whereabouts and behaviour. They should be under control. KEEP CATS INDOORS (or escape proof enclosures). Moreover, ALL pets should be licensed and identity chipped!
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