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I am become Hello Kitty, destroyer of worlds: Domestic Cat Holocaust USA
January 30, 2013 2:50 PM   Subscribe

In a report that scaled up local surveys and pilot studies to national dimensions, scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that domestic cats in the United States — both the pet Fluffies that spend part of the day outdoors and the unnamed strays and ferals that never leave it — kill a median of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year, most of them native mammals like shrews, chipmunks and voles rather than introduced pests like the Norway rat.
That cuddly kitty is deadlier than you think
See also Feral Cats Kill Billions of Small Critters Each Year
See also The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States
posted by y2karl (171 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Relevant.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:52 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Most successful (and cutest!) terrestrial predator on the planet.
posted by mullingitover at 2:53 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I first learned about this through the wonderful Exit Mundi.
posted by byanyothername at 2:54 PM on January 30, 2013


It's OK. The coyotes are starting to even things out a little.
posted by jquinby at 2:54 PM on January 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


So, they're winning?
posted by Navelgazer at 2:55 PM on January 30, 2013


Note that in some Midwestern states, if your cat strays on to the property of someone with strong feelings about the local songbird numbers, it will be shot. And it will be legal.

But then, if you have an outdoor cat in WI, you're bound to lose it to coyotes.

Yes. That's the ticket. Coyotes.
posted by ocschwar at 2:55 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


An environmental cat...astrophe.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:58 PM on January 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


Someone said on Twitter yesterday that cats kill many more birds than wind turbines, but people think that's ok because cats are somehow "natural".

I say screw natural, and screw birds. Wind turbines and cats for all!
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:59 PM on January 30, 2013 [11 favorites]


Is it relevant to wonder how many birds and mammals are not being killed annually because we have removed so many native predators? (I love my kitties, but I keep them indoors)
posted by jepler at 3:01 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


And, for the picture alone...
posted by y2karl at 3:01 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


So.. just why is it, then, that my cat food bill is so high?
posted by drhydro at 3:02 PM on January 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Well, wind turbines and cats kill different birds. It's not like birds are fungible. Cats don't kill many california condors, and turbines probably don't kill many house sparrows.

Still though folks, please consider keeping your cats indoors. Not only will they kill a lot less wildlife, they'll also live a lot longer. This is an issue that I used to be totally on the other side of -- I used to view cats as basically semi-wild and needing of an outdoor experience to be happy, but after having learned a bit about the ecological damage they do (and after seeing how happy my ex-feral cat is as an indoor kitty) I've really turned around on the issue. It's a significant problem.
posted by Scientist at 3:04 PM on January 30, 2013 [39 favorites]


If it's any consolation, songbirds, we also kill millions of cats every year in cat prisons!
posted by orme at 3:06 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Perhaps, if we fitted all cats with little wind turbines, they would be too mortified to kill birds. And the wind turbines would generate power to reduce our dependance on fossil fuel. Of course, then the drastically over-breeding birds would eat all of us....
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:06 PM on January 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


And, for the picture alone...

Oh, god, that picture...When we first moved to this area, we were renting a home out in one of those suburban neighborhoods that used to be a country cornfield. Everyone had big, flat yards with nary a fence between them. And no streetlights.

On summer nights, the neighborhood cats would prowl the backyards, hunting bunny nests built down into the ground.

Did you know bunnies scream? Oh, god, do they. It's pretty damned horrifying to hear.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:07 PM on January 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


So.. just why is it, then, that my cat food bill is so high?

From the article: Yet even fed cats are profoundly tuned to the hunt, and when they see something flutter, they can’t help but move in for the kill
posted by Dark Messiah at 3:13 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


They are voles when you want the to sound cute, but when they are in the pantry no one bothers to distinguish them from mice. I support the cats' campaign to eradicate the little Hanta virus vectors. Also many of the more common songbirds are themselves invasive creatures that were introduced by people who wanted to be sure that all birds in Shakespeare were also in North America. Finally have you seem the size of a Norway rat? Around here they are enourmous. Domestic cats also kill comparative few deer. The fpp seems to be part of a wave of anti-feline hysteria propagated by hipsters who suddenly discovered binoculars and the paintings of James Audobon.
posted by humanfont at 3:18 PM on January 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


On summer nights, the neighborhood cats would prowl the backyards, hunting bunny nests built down into the ground.

A few years back, I was walking down the Erie Canal tow path when a leveret suddenly shot out from the bushes next to me. A few moments later, a black cat followed, seized the leveret by the throat, and dragged it back into the greenery. The whole thing took just a few seconds and was conducted in complete silence. It was extremely eerie, and a stark reminder that, yes, my kitties really are furry killing machines.
posted by thomas j wise at 3:22 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Put a bell on your cat if it goes outdoors. Even a cat scratching a bird or mammal will likely kill it.
posted by Brian B. at 3:27 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Scientist, how did you convert your outdoor cat to indoor only? I've thought about that from time to time with our (all but one indoor-outdoor) gang but OMG the howling and scratching and complaining.

I don't think any of the articles mention it, but the damage can actually go the other way: one of our cats had a mystery illness a couple of years ago, and the vet said that it looked a lot like salmonella (except no fever). Apparently that's something which occasionally kills outdoor cats.

Finally, a somewhat disturbing story of cat as predator: one day I was walking down the hall and looked into the spare room. Two cats were sitting on the bookshelf under the window, looking out quite intently. I went over to give them a pet, see what they were looking at...which turned out to be a third cat attacking a bird. (This is him, I think fairly close to the site of his crime. And, um...he's the one who had the mystery illness.) I ran outside, but IIRC it was too late for the bird. :(

On the other hand, my mother was thrilled that the cats I grew up with killed the rats who infested our avocado trees.
posted by epersonae at 3:30 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


See also Feral Cats Kill Billions of Small Critters Each Year

When I read that quickly, I thought it said "Feral Cats Kill Billions of Small CHILDREN Each Year."

"Well, I'll be," I thought to myself, "I suppose it isn't all that implausible, but I am a bit surprised by the number!"
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:32 PM on January 30, 2013 [20 favorites]


Release the drones
posted by Damienmce at 3:32 PM on January 30, 2013


Heh, the advertisement I'm seeing on the NYT article page is very fitting.
posted by ghostbikes at 3:33 PM on January 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


If we let our angry elderly evil tortie out, the world would end. Period.
posted by Kitteh at 3:34 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, funny you should AskMe, epersonae.

That's a long thread, but basically I caught him by luring him into a cat carrier with some food, put him in my bathroom for a few days where he hid under the tub, got him neutered and vaccinated, and then took him home and just cuddled him for a while and he settled right in. He went straight for the litter box, and has never been picky about his food either. I guess I'm just lucky.

I do know he was a feral, for sure. I watched him grow up for the first six months of my life, starting in the dryer shed behind my old apartment building and then moving out into the street.

I really think most cats will get used to indoor life though, if they are forced to. It may take a while, and some care may be required entering and exiting the building (I've no doubt my guy would escape if I left the door open long enough) but just because they poke at the door sometimes doesn't mean they're unhappy.
posted by Scientist at 3:35 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Even kept strictly indoors my cats levy destruction. This month's take:

(1) juvenile Elgaria coerulea that scuttled through a gap in weatherstripping: rescued, returned outside
(1) Adult Aneides lugubris that for reasons unknown was living in a potted plant's saucer; released outside
(1) Pterophyllum scalare; body recovered, new aquarium lid procured, cat severely scolded
(1) unseasonably early Culex tarsalis; yay, go kitties! no recovery, bodies consumed. Property searched for sitting water
(1) Mus musculus; no recovery, body partially consumed (head & tail extant)
(2) Lycosidae sp.; bodies retrieved, fed to plants
(3) Musca domestica; bodies retrieved, fed to plants
(11) Pholcus phalangioides; no recovery, bodies partially consumed (legs extant)
(∞) Plodia interpunctella; no recovery, bodies consumed
posted by jamaro at 3:35 PM on January 30, 2013 [23 favorites]


You know what else would kill you in a second if it was big enough?

Birds.

Don't forget those things are children of the dinosaurs, and they would have no problem going all raptor on your mammalian behind if they got the chance.

Also, rats don't even need to be big enough. They just need a big enough gang.
posted by weston at 3:37 PM on January 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


Outdoor cats also face a high risk of contracting FIV or feline leukemia, the later of which is (more readily) contagious and leads to a slow and painful death. Ear mites are also likely, though obviously less severe. Really, there's just no reason to let cats outdoors, for the cats' sake and for the environment's.
posted by invitapriore at 3:39 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wait, you mean these fuzzy little carnivores I keep in my house like to kill things?

I do keep them indoors though, for many reasons, one of which was a childhood cat poisoned by eating the wrong type of lizard.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 3:40 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


just because they poke at the door sometimes doesn't mean they're unhappy.

Depending on the cat and its experiences, it might just be offended by the door, and not really aware of what's beyond it. And, if you absolutely cannot convert your outdoor cat into an indoor cat (please try though!), consider starting early with your next cat.

(I have an indoor-always cat who is ANGRY that I won't let her into my coat closet, SO ANGRY. When I open it she pokes her head in and then looks confused that I'm not, like, hiding Narnia in there, and wanders off. I close the door, and the next day, she's ANGRY again.)

I think it's pretty interesting how blasé people who are normally environmentally conscious become when the environmental issue is their cats.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:40 PM on January 30, 2013 [27 favorites]


I have seen enuf squashed cats in my hood that I will never, ever, let my cats out.
posted by angrycat at 3:42 PM on January 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


But isn't some predator pressure good for the environment? Don't get me wrong, I don't think all cats should be outside, but I have to wonder if it really makes sense for the "victim" species to lose that factor in their evolutionary advancement. While it might suck for the individual animal, it's good for the species. It's how selection works. I think some cats can do a service for bird and rodent populations by doing what would have happened if the predator animals that once were everywhere, were still around. They're not a perfect substitute for the lost pumas, and lynxes, and (your favorite bird and rodent predator here) but I think the predation they do is somewhat helpful.

Also, to those of us in rural areas, it's not just a pet, it's a working animal. When you live on the corner of a cornfield, every mouse in that cornfield starts looking at your house when the leaves start to turn, and the frost starts to appear. I'm really glad to have someone watching out for our pantry.
posted by Toekneesan at 3:43 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have seen enuf squashed cats in my hood that I will never, ever, let my cats out.
posted by angrycat


Hey, get off Kusuwamushi's computer! And leave his damn closet door in peace while you're at it.
posted by yoink at 3:46 PM on January 30, 2013 [13 favorites]


evolutionary advancement. While it might suck for the individual animal, it's good for the species.

Evolution isn't teleological. We're not all in some race to be the uber-animal. Evolution in the absence of predators carries on perfectly happily (see kiwis, moas etc.). And no, introducing predators to their environment was not "good for the species."
posted by yoink at 3:48 PM on January 30, 2013 [17 favorites]


The dead animal your kitty leaves on your doorstep? That's not a gift. That's a warning.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:48 PM on January 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm pretty confident that I have toxiplasmosis which is affecting my behavior based on the following reasons:

1) I am allergic to cats,
2) I am an environmentalist who cannot deny the obvious negative impact that cats have on wildlife,
3) My former roommate's cat Diamond had bipolar disorder and would sometimes attack me without warning,

and yet, despite all of the above factors, I somehow still think cats are the cutest, most adorable thing ever. Even when Diamond was clawing at my arm, spitting and hissing viciously, I'd inexplicably still keep petting him, saying things like "Aw, he's the best, isn't he? Who's the bestest widdle kitty?" and "Isn't he an itzy-wootsy snookums? Yes he is! Yes he is!" My roommate thought it was hilarious. That cat was a monster, and on several occasions he bit me hard enough to draw blood, yet I still cried when he died.

I recognize that this is only anecdata, but my point is that environmental legislation to control cats will never pass due to the power of feline mind-control.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 3:50 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I had a lizard gifter cat. Pretty much every week one or two mangled lizard corpse would be deposited around my front door. One day the cat came up to me with a live lizard's jaw clamped firmly on its nose. I removed the said lizard and it got away and the cat hasn't even thought about going after another one.

Moral of the story: critters need to fight back, cats only kill when its still fun, take the fun out of it and voila, peace.
posted by M Edward at 3:54 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


More evidence that cats are not as cute as the internet would like you to think.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:58 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I honestly don't understand people defending the absolute destruction cats inflict on the small mammal population. It makes me think there really is something to the toxoplasmosis jokes.

Really, your cats need to be indoor cats and feral cats need to be caught and neutered/spayed or destroyed.
posted by Justinian at 3:59 PM on January 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


(I say that as a former cat owner. Former because my buddy died last year from a rare cancer)
posted by Justinian at 4:00 PM on January 30, 2013


If DC didn't have feral cats there'd be rat kings running down Pennsylvania avenue. On the other hand no one's seen a Prothonotary Warbler around here in about 70 years, and that made all the papers.
posted by Challahtronix at 4:01 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, evolutionary advancement was a poor choice. I don't really see it as a race or anything, but I do wonder if cat's don't play an important role in a rapidly changing system. I look at animals like deer and wish there was something in place for them to prevent the starvation, and disease, and roadkill they now live with because they've lost predators, and I wonder what would happen to the animals cats hunt if we removed them now. That was my poorly-worded point. I'm not advocating for more cat's, just wondering.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:06 PM on January 30, 2013


I actually drew up a solution to this problem recently...it's basically a jet engine hooked up to a motion detector and slathered in cat food. Time to call DARPA for a development grant!
posted by sexyrobot at 4:06 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't see any reason to eliminate a significant predator who has long since naturalized to the environment of North America. What next kill all the wolves to protect livestock? Bring back fox hunting?
posted by humanfont at 4:09 PM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh, also, there is an interesting bit in The World Without Us; it's a book based on a thought experiment: what happens to the world if people disappear tomorrow? Spoiler alert: to the extent that it hasn't already, the modern house cat becomes the dominant small predator in North America and in a number of other areas.
posted by craven_morhead at 4:10 PM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Whoa. That's quite a use of alt-text.
posted by indubitable at 4:11 PM on January 30, 2013


I really think coyotes would become the dominant small predator in NA over cats should people and their buildings disappear. If our buildings stay even in disrepair, cats will flourish (due to cat vs canine hunting style).
posted by jamaro at 4:16 PM on January 30, 2013


If you read the alt-text, the problem is 70% feral cats. There is a way to start to solve that problem, if it's so very important, and it's not shaming cat owners.
posted by jeather at 4:17 PM on January 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


I recently had the test for toxoplasmosis infection and despite 30+ years in close proximinty to cats both domestic and feral, I show no signs of ever having contracted toxo.

So now I can gloatingly tell my husband that it isn't cat parasites brainwashing me, the cats can do that themselves with their powers of cutehypnosis, thanks.

Also, screw you Jonathan Franzen, birds are lame.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 4:19 PM on January 30, 2013


Cats doing their part to keep your car windshield free of bird poop!
-Cat Digest Magazine
posted by perhapses at 4:24 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


The dead animal your kitty leaves on your doorstep? That's not a gift. That's a warning.

After seeing my adolescent (indoor-only) kitten with his toy mice, I've formed a new theory. They bring you dead things because they are saying "It stopped moving. Can you throw it and make it interesting again?"

Release the drones

If they fly low enough, it's just a matter of time before a cat brings one into a house somewhere.
posted by pernoctalian at 4:26 PM on January 30, 2013 [14 favorites]



My dog has discovered a new starling hunting technique - he sneaks up to one of the arbor vitae in the back yard, stands up on his hind legs and punches the tree. As the birds fly out, he grabs at them.

He gets a snack with some frequency with this method. It took me a while to figure out what he was up to, because it didn't seem plausible. But yet, there it is. He's killed 10-20 of them in the few weeks since I've been watching him.

I'm of two minds on this - on the one hand, I'd prefer he left he wildlife alone. On the other - well, that was the whole reason people 50,000 years ago invited these animals to live with them. He's fulfilling his natural imperative just the same as the rabbits and squirrels. There is some comfort in knowing he'll be fine in the coming zombie apocalypse.

That said, my wife and I both have family that lives on farms and the outdoor/feral cats there are working animals and there for a reason. Pest control is a big problem on any farm. Cats and dogs are in many ways superior to other methods (traps, poison, etc) of dealing with them.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 4:27 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pffft. Cats are better than all the other animals anyway, and birds are responsible for shitting on billions of cars.
posted by porn in the woods at 4:29 PM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh, WHO is the most adorable super-super-super predator? Who IS? IS YOU. Oh, IS.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:30 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


most of them native mammals like shrews, chipmunks and voles rather than introduced pests like the Norway rat

They use too much cilantro in the Norway rat.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 4:32 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


The fpp seems to be part of a wave of anti-feline hysteria propagated by hipsters who suddenly discovered binoculars and the paintings of James Audobon.

I have a hyperbole under my mattress.
posted by y2karl at 4:43 PM on January 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


If you read the alt-text, the problem is 70% feral cats. There is a way to start to solve that problem, if it's so very important, and it's not shaming cat owners.

And there is no imaginable connection whatsoever between domesticated cats and feral cats, of course.
posted by yoink at 4:44 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Spay and Neuter your pets. And keep your cats inside. I know fluffy wants to go out, but he also wants to drink anti-freeze. It is your job to make decisions about their long-term health.

Problem solved, cats healthier, world intact.
posted by lumpenprole at 4:47 PM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


anti-feline hysteria propagated by hipsters

One more marker on "hipster's" road to becoming a word meaning nothing more than "people I don't like and/or agree with."
posted by yoink at 4:47 PM on January 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


I believe the Onion may have covered this a few years ago. Even when my cat is bugging me for cheese, I know it's because she wants to kill it.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 4:50 PM on January 30, 2013


And there is no imaginable connection whatsoever between domesticated cats and feral cats, of course.

If you start with TNR for feral colonies and fewer restrictions in pet ownership by landlords, you'll help a lot with that connection. The problem is not primarily people letting their pets out.
posted by jeather at 4:51 PM on January 30, 2013


My (rather huge) childhood cat was a partially outdoors cat. I'm from Los Angeles, but we lived in the Santa Monica mountains, on a ridgeline street with a canyon behind us. I can say with complete conviction that he would not have liked being an entirely indoor cat, even if he spent most of his time sauntering around our yard and only a few hours a day behind our property in the canyon. Yes, he hunted--but mostly the rats that lived in our pool equipment, and the gophers in our yard. Only about three times in his 8 years or so did he kill a bird. To my knowledge, there aren't any endangered species that he would have had access to back there. It's protected as a greenbelt, to provide habitat and mobility, but not a sanctuary.

How did he die? He was not the top of the food chain back there. One of the coyote packs in the canyon got him one night. I had to listen to them baying after he failed to come home. I missed him terribly for a while, and still do. But he was old, and had become slow. Nature is red in tooth and claw. He was happy with his life, and I wouldn't have changed things then or now.

That said, I now live down in the flats, I have an apartment cat, and I won't even let her out on the balcony for more than a sniff around, for all of the reasons shown on the KittyCams project. Some environments are right for it, and some aren't.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:54 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you read the alt-text, the problem is 70% feral cats. There is a way to start to solve that problem, if it's so very important, and it's not shaming cat owners.

And there is no imaginable connection whatsoever between domesticated cats and feral cats, of course.
posted by yoink at 7:44 PM on January 30 [+] [!]


Letting your cat outside is different from your cat running away or abandoning a cat. Indoor cats seem more motivated to run away.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:06 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


We have agricultural fields on three sides of us, which are filled with field mice and other sorts of creatures which, left to their own devices, happily migrate into our home. All our cats are working cats as well as pets.
posted by jscalzi at 5:10 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've mentioned this a bunch lately, but I work with a group that (among other things) does feral cat colony management here in Hawaii.

On a slow weekend, they spay and neuter close to 100 feral cats a week. As I said, in a slow week.

There are two obvious sources of feral cats - feral kittens (which they spay, neuter and place in foster homes before being adopted) and abandoned and "escaped" cats (its amazing how many escaped cats, when returned to their owner, just seem to keep escaping again and again).

Cats are not indigenous here. All of these feral cats are descended from abandoned pets. Here's some useful information about cats and math:
The average number of litters a fertile cat can produce in one year is 3.

The average number of kittens in a feline litter is 4–6.

In seven years, one female cat and her offspring can theoretically produce 420,000 cats.
When a person abandons a fertile kitty to a colony, they are potentially creating an ecological disaster. Letting your unspayed or unneutered kitty wander around outside isn't much helping either. Like I said, the group I work with "fixes" over 100 cats a week (for free - we survive on donations) and we still bring in over 100 other adult ferals every single week. We can't catch them all.

Lots of people who love cats are really trying to do something about this serious situation. We recognize the impact that cats have on the environment and hope to arrest that impact by reducing the cat population long turn. Every time we recover a cat who was obviously once domesticated (and inevitably FIV positive) who has just had a bunch of kittens we know our efforts have been undermined by a person who didn't spay his or her cat and who then abandoned the cat.

This is a human problem. The cats do what they do. The humans have a choice.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:11 PM on January 30, 2013 [22 favorites]


Indoor cats seem more motivated to run away.

I can only speak for my cats, but I've always had indoor cats as an adult and have had no incidents of cats running away. All of my cats were domesticated feral kittens and failed to follow any sort of call of the wild. Much like other folks who've commented here, my cats seem to be more annoyed by the concept of "door" (be it closet, cabinet or bedroom) than by any real desire to go out.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:13 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Both our cats wear harnesses full time and are leash trained. We have a lead across the backyard that we attach them to if we are putting them outside. Cats don't need to run free in order to have outdoors time. They are both perfectly content with what they have for the outdoors, and knowing where they are when they are out is a huge peace of mind for us.

(That said, one of our cats actually did catch a bird once, even while out on her lead and leash. She proudly presented it to Mr. hippybear [as he is her favorite]. It's only been once over all these years, but frankly I applaud her for it. It cannot have been easy to be quiet enough to make the kill with jangly metal bits attached to her.)
posted by hippybear at 5:14 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


"I don't see any reason to eliminate a significant predator who has long since naturalized to the environment of North America. What next kill all the wolves to protect livestock? Bring back fox hunting?"

This is sort of startlingly oblivious reasoning. Why eliminate pollution? Everything has already adapted to it!

Well, uh, because it's doing permanent damage to the biosphere, that's why. That doesn't mean we have to travel down a slippery slope, and we can differentiate between invasive species and other, native predators pretty easily.
posted by klangklangston at 5:25 PM on January 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


I do wonder if cat's don't play an important role in a rapidly changing system. I look at animals like deer and wish there was something in place for them to prevent the starvation, and disease, and roadkill they now live with because they've lost predators, and I wonder what would happen to the animals cats hunt if we removed them now.

You, my friend, want to go read about what happened on Macquarie Island after snipers with night vision googles spent 20-odd very cold, very expensive hours hunting its wily last cat to her death through the sub-Antarctic darkness.

(Basically the rabbit population exploded, ironically destroying the habitat of ground-nesting birds, as well as 40% of the vegetation coverage. It's a classic example of dysfunctional ecosystem intervention.)
posted by feral_goldfish at 5:25 PM on January 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Humanfont: Also many of the more common songbirds are themselves invasive creatures that were introduced by people who wanted to be sure that all birds in Shakespeare were also in North America.

Citation needed. I understand what you're saying here, but "many of the more common songbirds" is a bit of a stretch, and doesn't absolve humans (or their fonts) of their responsibilities regarding proper disposal of their unwanted pets (see J. Michaels, above).
posted by sneebler at 5:28 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I also have a feral cat that I brought in. Very young though, just lived outside a handful of months with the others before I got him. He's one of the strongest and fittest cats I've ever had. This is his first real winter and he's kind of pissed. He really wants to be outside and would like me to do something about the snow.

Soon, buddy, soon.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:29 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the future all cats will be indoor cats, because if you eliminate all the stupidest songbirds and slowest-moving voles, survival of the fittest dictates that with a few million years of evolution there will be nothing left outside but terror birds and marsupial wolves. And then I'm never going to start biking to work every day.
posted by steef at 5:30 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


The fpp seems to be part of a wave of anti-feline hysteria propagated by hipsters who suddenly discovered binoculars and the paintings of James Audobon.

I'm a cat lover and I didn't read the fpp as anti-cat. I live out in the Southwest (US) and watch (through my newly discovered binoculars) coyotes trot past the house on a semi-daily basis. I hear them howl once or twice an evening. I've heard other residents wanting to "kill the varmits" that are killing their kittys.

I have friends in the neighborhood who feel that Kitty isn't truly alive unless it goes out. They're on Kitty #6 now. Kittys 1 through 5 all caught baby cottontails and left them in various parts throughout their house. They left dead birds at the doorstep and my friends assure us it's because said kitty was affectionately leaving a meal for its master (instead of just trying to get in).

I have 2 kittys and will not let them out because I don't want to put another "Have you seen Kitty" wanted poster up with all the others that litter the neighborhood. I don't think that's anti-cat.

Spay or nueter your pets. Keep them inside. That's pro-cat.
posted by jabo at 5:35 PM on January 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


We have 2 indoor cats (sisters) that we've had since they were kittens and are now about 12 years old. One of the cats is a little scaredy cat and freaks out at the slightest noise...won't go anywhere near the door. The other cat has tried to escape so many times I've lost count. Once she gets outside, though, it's like sensory overload and she just freezes. Easy to recapture!

I guess what I'm trying to say is that these 2 cats (sisters!) have different ideas about being indoor cats.
posted by dabug at 5:39 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


but lookit their leetle peenk toesies

lookit
posted by elizardbits at 5:53 PM on January 30, 2013 [11 favorites]


Put a bell on your cat if it goes outdoors.

Some cats can kill birds even with a bell on. I speak from experience here.
posted by goethean at 6:14 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some cats can kill birds even with a bell on.

While this is true, some cats also can't kill birds with a bell on. Fewer birds getting killed is surely better than more birds getting killed.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:16 PM on January 30, 2013


Well, uh, because it's doing permanent damage to the biosphere, that's why. That doesn't mean we have to travel down a slippery slope, and we can differentiate between invasive species and other, native predators pretty easily.

If you live in an old-growth forest or a desert, I can see your point, but we have reshaped the landscape around our cities and suburbs to such a great extent that I can't see how we can begin to talk about 'native' wildlife in such places. If you prefer songbirds over cats, then fair enough, but we should recognize that in these man-made environments we cannot 'conserve' a natural order which does not exist, only further modify the ecosystem that has emerged in our wake.
posted by Pyry at 6:22 PM on January 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


I would propose that keeping large (if not all) mammals permanently indoors is cruel. You wouldn't keep a person or a monkey or a dog indoors all the time. Cats are not happy indoors, and their lifespan is not a reasonable measure of quality of life. If you don't want a cat that spends some of its time outside somehow, then don't have a cat.
posted by crayz at 6:22 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cats are not happy indoors

Are you sure?
posted by longdaysjourney at 6:30 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also many of the more common songbirds are themselves invasive creatures that were introduced by people who wanted to be sure that all birds in Shakespeare were also in North America.

If by many, you mean one.

You, my friend, want to go read about what happened on Macquarie Island after snipers with night vision googles spent 20-odd very cold, very expensive hours hunting its wily last cat to her death through the sub-Antarctic darkness. (Basically the rabbit population exploded, ironically destroying the habitat of ground-nesting birds, as well as 40% of the vegetation coverage. It's a classic example of dysfunctional ecosystem intervention.)

It was an island.

If you live in an old-growth forest or a desert, I can see your point, but we have reshaped the landscape around our cities and suburbs to such a great extent that I can't see how we can begin to talk about 'native' wildlife in such places. If you prefer songbirds over cats, then fair enough, but we should recognize that in these man-made environments we cannot 'conserve' a natural order which does not exist, only further modify the ecosystem that has emerged in our wake.

Where is the line between where the human environment ends and nature begins? We are modifying things. We can modify them to have more birds or fewer. If cats had "naturalized" in human-dominated landscapes, then cats would not continue to reduce bird diversity in the area. They do.
posted by one_bean at 6:30 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


My cat was indoor/outdoor for the first several years that I owned him. I tried to keep him in, but my mother said I was being "cruel." Then I moved in with a roommate who liked to let him out behind my back, too. During this time I saw him kill a crow, maim a sparrow, and once found a squirrel on my doorstep sans head.

To be fair, the outdoors seemed primed to kill him, too. Once I heard a terrible racket and he came in totally bedraggled and shivering and covered in blood--some sort of animal had attacked him. He got into fights quite frequently, too. Oh, and often got locked in neighbors' garages, once for a week at a time.

He's leash trained now, and hasn't killed a single animal on a walk. On the other hand, my mom's dogs continue to kill wildlife in her backyard. A martin, once. Another time, a nest of baby bunnies. Once my mom found some baby possums in her garbage can and within a few minutes they were all dead, murdered by her brindle mutt. I think it's important to remember that animals stay, in a large part, wild, and that to indulge them in unsupervised outdoor time is a gamble no matter what (even if it's only in a fenced in yard.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:36 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Absolutely. We have neighbors here who own an indoor/outdoor kitty, who they often leave alone for weeks to be fed by a neighbor, who have outsourced the litterbox problem by not having one. That cat brings home a dead bird every three days in the summer. They find it somewhere between amusing and bemusing. My own personal view is that the cat, like all the dogs here, should only be outside on the property on a leash held in the hand of its owner.
posted by y2karl at 6:45 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cats are not happy indoors

According to the Humane Society, that is a myth:
Although many cats enjoy being outside where they can hunt prey and explore their surroundings, it's a myth that going outside is a requirement for feline happiness.

Playing regularly with a cat easily satisfies her stalking instinct, keeps her stimulated, and provides the exercise she needs to stay healthy and happy.
Its really not that hard to keep an indoor cat happy.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:47 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Most of these articles are petty trolling. My cats aren't killing the local wildlife, because they're indoors. They aren't creating more cats to cause an overpopulation problem, because they're fixed. Would they like to kill and fuck? Doubtless. Would it have been better to kill them than to keep them inside only? Hardly.

Given the complexity of the complexity of the ecological problem, aggressive TNR (and generally N), owner education and services seems like the best way to phase out the cat problem in a controlled way.
posted by wotsac at 6:56 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


2bucksplus: "An environmental cat...astrophe."

Here. I think you'll like this.
posted by schmod at 6:59 PM on January 30, 2013


I've fostered kittens for a local organization that also manages feral TNR, and feeds colonies, so my contacts there are largely pro-cat. After hearing about this issue and reading a reference to some bird watchers having a problem with organizations that take care of ferals, I was curious how universal that point of view was.

At the local wild bird supply store, I asked the owner about his thoughts. He was much more passionate about this than I expected. The strong affinity many people feel for kitties? Other people feel it for little songbirds, who work hard to raise their young and are beautiful.

It's important to remember that we all can care about things strongly and we need to make allowances for the feelings connected with these statistics, on both sides.
posted by amtho at 7:13 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Most of these articles are petty trolling. My cats aren't killing the local wildlife, because they're indoors. They aren't creating more cats to cause an overpopulation problem, because they're fixed.

Over the course of reading the article, you must have missed the part where they identify feral cats as the main cause, and explained that your route is the one for pet owners to take.
posted by Dark Messiah at 7:22 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's important to remember that we all can care about things strongly and we need to make allowances for the feelings connected with these statistics, on both sides.

That's true, and we should be sensitive to feelings. But that doesn't mean one side isn't right and one side isn't wrong. Strength of feeling doesn't determine correctness.
posted by Justinian at 7:23 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


People, the natural environment is more important than your cat's theoretical happiness, which you can't even assess in sufficient detail to know if it cares or not. And North America still has natural predators, so you don't have to worry about rats or rabbits getting out of control or whatever.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:24 PM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


"If you live in an old-growth forest or a desert, I can see your point, but we have reshaped the landscape around our cities and suburbs to such a great extent that I can't see how we can begin to talk about 'native' wildlife in such places. If you prefer songbirds over cats, then fair enough, but we should recognize that in these man-made environments we cannot 'conserve' a natural order which does not exist, only further modify the ecosystem that has emerged in our wake."

Well, no. Think it through a second. Doing more harm with the justification that plenty of harm has already been done is silly. Letting cats outside harms the environment more than not, even if there are already significant other harms.

We can minimize the damage that we do. This is the reason why I used pollution as an analogy — that we have had a century and a half of industrial pollution is not a justification for more of it, it's a reason to be even more sensitive to the pollution we're creating.
posted by klangklangston at 7:49 PM on January 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


crayz: "Cats are not happy indoors"

My two indoor-only lovelies laugh at your argument. Or they would, but Penny's snoozing atop the cat tree and Bella is tossing a catnip mouse around the room.

"and their lifespan is not a reasonable measure of quality of life"

And I laugh at your argument. These cats are happy, healthy, confident, and much-adored. More years living like that is better than fewer, whether from their perspective or mine.
posted by Lexica at 8:11 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am currently being cryshed by a happy, purring, indoor only cat descende dof barn cats who is doing her best to make me go to bed, because she wants to go sleep on the bed too, In fact, she is cryshing me so effectively that I canot' seee what I'm typing. Is this still readable?
posted by maryr at 8:15 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


(Somewhere my high school Keyboarding teacher is crying, "THIS is why touch-typing matters!")
posted by maryr at 8:16 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Most of these articles are petty trolling.

I did not quite understand that sentence. I thought perhaps articles could be read as comments.

As for the articles, they are factual and the facts are [m]ore birds and mammals die at the mouths of cats, the report said, than from automobile strikes, pesticides and poisons, collisions with skyscrapers and windmills and other so-called anthropogenic causes and die in numbers far greater than anyone had imagined, which astonished me, and die mostly in the jaws and paws of feral cats.

A suggestion in regards to feral cats was ''... ''[f]For the great majority of healthy cats,'' he said, ''homes can be found.'' Any outdoor [TNR] colonies that remain should be enclosed, he said. ''Cats don’t need to wander hundred of miles to be happy,'' he said.

Neither of those suggestions seem very controversial to me.

And if one means the comments were trolling, well, people were arguing from their own comfort zone. If their cats live or go outdoors, they rationalized. I suppose you can say the comments were petty in the conservation of moral energy sense but trolling ? I think not.

And everyone has a different tipping point on aspects --- don't get me going on seeing gutterpunks living on the street with kittens tied to their backpacks. I am always sad to see that. It seems so senselessly cruel to me, considering the probable life expectancies of those kittens.

And I think that if dogs ran free as they did where I grew up, that is as outdoor cats still do, the wild animal death tolls at their jaws would be astounding, too. Not to mention domestic -- I would not be so astonished to find that dogs kill as many cats as do coyotes even now.
posted by y2karl at 8:18 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have a hyperbole under my mattress

I thought that wasn't until Sunday.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:19 PM on January 30, 2013



It was an island.

I don't see how that's relevant.
posted by HypotheticalWoman at 8:21 PM on January 30, 2013


Closed ecosystem.
posted by maryr at 8:23 PM on January 30, 2013


Holocaust? Surely you mean genocide.

Birdocide?
posted by mazola at 8:36 PM on January 30, 2013


I love my kitties, past and present, far more than all the rest of these critters.

So I'm not supporting genocide or anything, but if that's the price that has to be paid for having so many cats in the US? I'm fine with it.

Screw the mice.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:04 PM on January 30, 2013


This guy from New Zealand may have something to say about those fuzzy killing machines.
posted by orangutan at 9:19 PM on January 30, 2013


You know what else would kill you if it were big enough? A baby human if you get between it and whatever it wants. The filthy animals would kill you for a cookie. (Their predatorness is the only thing I've ever liked about cats. They're like tiny leopards.)
posted by Carbolic at 9:21 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


So I did habitat restoration/ management for a living for many years and the only people crazier than the birders are the cat lovers. Believe me if most birders could xeriscape the earth to improve viewing or shooting opportunities they would do it in a heartbeat. Probably the only thing that's stopped them is the viewing/ shooting infighting. Meanwhile pro-feral cat people are about as willfully ignorant as it's possible to be. If either of those issues are involved you know that public comment periods are going to be madness up to and including threats of physical violence and terrorism.

I'll be over here in the corner with the popcorn enjoying this war*. fwiw, my money is on the birders. They are organized and they are In The House. Not too many pro-cat funded positions in academia or agencies. *Benefits to mice and frogs incidental.
posted by fshgrl at 10:00 PM on January 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


My 13 year old cat throws a fit if he can't go out with his canine sister and brother. We're pretty sure he thinks they're too dumb to be unsupervised. He naps on the swing and bosses the dogs around, and couldn't begin to care about the birds.
posted by MissySedai at 10:02 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Strength of feeling doesn't determine correctness.

No, but it can be very important in deciding what to say, how to say it, and what actions to take to obtain a desired result. It is also a helpful thing to understand if you would like to cause other people to be nice instead of just angry, sad, or crazy.
posted by amtho at 10:03 PM on January 30, 2013


From what I gather from these links and some other random Internet wanderings, the following is true:

1. Cats are killing machines.
2. Feral cats are responsible for 70% of the bird killings and 90% of small mammal killings in the US.
3. It is suggested that domestic cat owners keep their cats indoors or limit the time their pets spend outside.

I think most, if not all of us, even the cat lovers among us, can agree that it's a good thing to maintain a normal bird and small mammal population. On the other hand, the study clearly states that it's feral cats who are the main problem. I'm not saying that pet owners have no responsibility. But cats are not a danger to people, so if there's some other way than locking them all up to reduce the impact on the bird/mouse population, it seems to me that we could easily find some common ground. I think it seems reasonable to suggest the following:

1. Prioritize the biggest problem. Invest in conducting a study of feral cat colonies. Are they getting smaller with TNR programs? If not, what are the causes of their continued growth? How can we prevent them from growing? Which solutions are likely to work? Then pump money into those solutions.

2. Put public money into making it possible for people to drop their pets somewhere they are not afraid is a certain death-trap if they have to move and can't find a place that can take them (or the new boyfriend / baby /whoever has allergies; whatever).

3. Microchip all the pets! Then, if we find your cat in a feral colony, we can investigate to see if you really lost the pet and didn't move without him or dump him in the local park. I'm sure we wouldn't catch every person who abandons a pet this way, but surely it would reduce the numbers.

4. I've read that sterilization laws aren't particularly effective, so instead, pump serious money into public information and spaying/neutering programs. Make it cheap, if not free. This is for the public good, after all. Target low-income areas (with both information and easy access) in particular, since cost (never mind working hours) is a likely factor in keeping animals intact. I can think of several such neighborhoods and small towns in which fully intact toms are happily strolling about (which, along with the number of kittens, both alive and squashed, implies the females are equally intact), and I know people in such areas who have tossed unfixed cats they intended to make indoor/outdoor if not entirely indoor cats out of the house for minor infractions. Teach people how to handle pets, and spread information about sterilization. Can we set up mobile units? The SpayBus? I realize these programs already exist in many places, but clearly we need more.

5. Since I suspect that things like "no pet" policies are motivating, at least in part, people to set their pets free rather than send them to the pound, perhaps we can work on changing attitudes in this regard. I admit I have no solid advice in this regard except to recommend pet deposits. Maybe someone has a better idea.

6. Those of us who have cats that go outdoors can surely compromise by limiting their time outside, per the recommendation of the study. Let the cat out for a few hours only while you're home, for example. I don't like to keep animals of any sort captive (this is why I don't own mice, hamsters, or gerbils, nor do I have a dog, since I lack a big enough yard or the time to walk it properly), but given the number of hours devoted to sleeping, I'm sure the cat will be fine doing that inside the house instead. If possible, close off the yard so the cat's range is limited. Put a bell on the cat. I have no idea if this thing actually works, but why not give it a shot?

I'm not sure I understand why there can only be two sides to this: No Cats Outside At All vs. or Cats Everywhere All The Time. (To be fair, the discussion here has been overwhelmingly civil, and this is why I'm jumping in at all.) The immediate reaction to these stories seems to often be to vilify pet owners for daring to let their cats out at all rather than call for greater attention to the feral population, which is the bigger problem.

Maybe my proposed solutions are naive; I don't know. But at the same time, screaming at people to lock up their pets is hardly solving the problem, when the greater issue lies elsewhere.
posted by CoureurDubois at 10:27 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pardon me; it is the articles and not the study itself that makes suggestions to pet owners. I can't read more than the abstract of the study.
posted by CoureurDubois at 10:52 PM on January 30, 2013


"I love my kitties, past and present, far more than all the rest of these critters.

So I'm not supporting genocide or anything, but if that's the price that has to be paid for having so many cats in the US? I'm fine with it.
"

I love my Hummer, far more than the rest of the world.
posted by klangklangston at 11:14 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hate statistics like "responsible for 70% of the bird killings and 90% of the small mammal killings". They're probably accurate, but not particularly useful. How many birds and small mammals are killed? How big a problem is this for the population? If the population is doing ok anyway, is it a problem? This is dependent on many things, like for instance whether cats tend to kill younger or older animals. If the animals have already done all the breeding they're going to, it doesn't matter whether cats or old age get them, from a population point of view.

Billions of birds sounds like a lot, but how many birds are there in the US?

I feel like I'm missing a huge amount of information to be able to tell if this is really a problem or not.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:23 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


It won't matter much if we rid the world of domestic cats as long as we humans continue the destruction of natural habitat at the rate we've been. Focusing on cats seems to be avoiding the bigger and more difficult problem. Hundreds of ducks were killed in Alberta tar sands in a single incident. Millions of European songbirds are killed by humans that eat them, even as habitat that is needed for tired birds to rest is turned into golf courses. How many people are willing to move into higher density housing in order to protect natural lands from development? How many people are willing to pay much more for natural gas and other fuels to protect habitat?

The loss of millions of acres of grasslands and shrubs nationwide to suburban sprawl and agriculture -- along with a warming planet -- has dramatically reduced the numbers of common birds seen across the United States over the past 40 years, according to a National Audubon Society study released yesterday.

So yeah, all animals should be neutered. Humans are doing far worse things on a greater scale that cats are.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:41 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


So I propose a Raspberry Pi that runs a bird identification software that
is connected to a small camera. The Raspberry Pi is strapped on the felines
back and the camera is hung around it neck. When the software detects a bird
....The pi board lets out a loud beep frightening the bird off... what do ya think? eh?
posted by quazichimp at 11:56 PM on January 30, 2013


quazichimp: "So I propose a Raspberry Pi that runs a bird identification software that
is connected to a small camera. The Raspberry Pi is strapped on the felines
back and the camera is hung around it neck. When the software detects a bird
....The pi board lets out a loud beep frightening the bird off... what do ya think? eh?
"

Even better, only do this when the bird is recognized as being of an endangered species.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:04 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


3. Microchip all the pets!

This concept is not without merit -- for research purposes alone. Although, for purposes of punishing the former co-residents of feral cats, not so much: as the comments to that post testified, cats can maintain multiple addresses unknown to their co-residents, run away, or disappear for reasons entirely unknown. It would be impossible to prove responsibility in such a matter. And we can not punish people into behaving responsibly.

Still, considering the hoops through which we must hop to drive a car, it would be nice if we could similarly regulate human behavior in regards to pet ownership, animal husbandry, or, say, even procreation, for that matter, since lives are stake in all those circumstances -- but good luck with that. People gonna do what people do when they want to do it, which ends in look away, walk away, all too often. Still, one wishes sometimes the bar could be raised: I have heard so many heart breaking stories of people who encountered abandoned dogs at highway rest stops.
posted by y2karl at 12:23 AM on January 31, 2013


I'm quite happy for my cat to kill small mammals. Because where I live, that means mice. And I vastly prefer cats over mice.
My cat is 16, happy and healthy and goes outside as much as he wants. This works really well for everyone, including the birds. There are plenty around the house and he hasn't caught one in years.
He sucks at hunting birds, but he rules at hunting mice. In the past, when he was a better bird hunter, I made him wear a bell during spring. It worked.

Then again, I'm not in the US and neither is my cat. This issue seems to be pretty cultural, and also dependent on local circumstances. Luckily, letting cats go outside is not problematic here.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:27 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, and my cats have always been from shelters, and therefore spayed or neutered. If they wouldn't have been, I would have taken them to the vet myself. It's irresponsible to let pets breed willy-nilly.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:29 AM on January 31, 2013


We have two cats here. One of them is Ace, an undersized Maine Coon* made of fluff and laziness who has worked out that Nature needs to step the hell up and give her the thumbs she wants. The other is Braig, an orange tabby who is so missing in full-on brain power that he's walked off an arm of the couch (and lay on the floor, splayed, with this air of 'where did this go wrong' instead of landing properly and going 'that was what I wanted to do').

Both came from shelters.

When the first snow comes, we put on the harnesses and the leashes and take them outside and put them in the snow. Even Braig the not-very-bright orange cat has figured out that this whole outside thing isn't fun and he would like to not go outside, ever.

There's a colony of ferals near our house, so that's another reason to keep the cats inside. They seem skittish, but best not to push.

* Ace contracted an eye infection, and it was treated by my roommate after adoption, but as far as the vet can tell, her body had the choice of 'full size' or 'two eyes' and went with vision.
posted by mephron at 12:40 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love my Hummer, far more than the rest of the world.

This is why it's so important to spay or neuter your local Hummer drivers.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:40 AM on January 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


After linking to Fizz's Return of the Microchipped Kitty post just above, I noticed that both NYT articles link to Kitty Cams where I found the Catbib advertised. The Indoor Pet Initiative was linked there as well.
posted by y2karl at 12:48 AM on January 31, 2013


We had an Eastern Towhee move into our yard last summer - the first time I've ever seen this bird. I was so excited that our admittedly lax garden care created the perfect home for this little bird. I even stumbled upon it's nest while weeding (and had no idea they nested on the ground). Left it be the moment I realized what I had stumbled upon.

Then one day, the neighbors cat started hanging out around the place where the little bird would scratch. I shoed him off a couple times. But cats are cats. and a few days later the little bird never came back, and their nest was abandoned.

Am I sure it was the outdoor kitty? No. Does it seem very likely? Yup.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 1:06 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not all birds put up with that shit.

This is a very relevant thread to me. I'll be getting a new kitty soon. Except for when I lived in Manhattan proper, my kitties have always been indoor / outdoor kitties. I've want a Norwegian Forest Cat, but no one will sell one to me unless I swear it'll be an indoor only kitty (even though I have no intention of breeding). I was at first puzzled by this, but all this recent news on Cat Destruction has made me think twice.

Especially since I'm starting to make friends with the Corvids in the back yard (self link to askme).
posted by digitalprimate at 2:45 AM on January 31, 2013


Too much damned life in the world anyway. Go kitties!
posted by Decani at 3:19 AM on January 31, 2013


Rock doves aka pigeons, European starlings, English sparrow are very significant birds in almost every US urban area. Canadian geese have also stopped migrating and become invasive.
posted by humanfont at 5:25 AM on January 31, 2013


My cat, who turns 18 soon, has never killed another creature, nor shown any real interest in going outside. Her various toys, however, have taken years of savage abuse.
posted by aught at 6:02 AM on January 31, 2013


This has been coming up a lot in the news lately, ever since the KittyCam story, (and the Oatmeal comic that plagiarized it), and I think I finally understand NRA types: all this talk about disease and danger and death due to kitties, and all I can think about is hugging kitties.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:45 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think its bizarre that so many people claim they know how many animals that their cat kills - why, because it brought it to you? What about the ones it didn't bring? Do you observe your cat the entire time its outside? I'd be surprised.

And its not about whether you like your cat more than birds or mice. No wonder humans have doomed the planet to destruction - we only care about what we want, the hell with the environment. It will take care of itself. Luckily that means it will eventually take care of us.
posted by agregoli at 6:52 AM on January 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


And once the humans are gone, all cats will be feral cats.
posted by hippybear at 6:58 AM on January 31, 2013


There are bells and there are bells. Many of the available bells are not useful for bird protection, because they're too quiet. Unfortunately, it's hard to tell sometimes whether one of the bells in that bag of 25 is loud enough. Keep searching, though.

Birds also kill small mammals, and sometimes cats.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:00 AM on January 31, 2013


Until they're gone too. It's not like all animal life will survive forever on the planet either.
posted by agregoli at 7:01 AM on January 31, 2013


We have three tuxedo cats from the same litter. Two of them are seemingly voluntarily indoor-only cats. They want nothing to do with the outdoors, and if one gets out accidentally ("What does this open door lead to? Aw fuck!") there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth until they are let back inside. The third, sneaky, evil one gets out when we come in with groceries or bring laundry out or whatever. Of course, no one knows what she does when we're not around (yes we do, she kills and kills and KILLS) but when we're home and trying to get her back in she'll just sit there glaring at us until we're close enough to pick her up. Then she'll run ten feet away, sit down, and glare at us some more. Then she eventually comes back in and shares her goddamn ear-mites with the pets that don't even want to ever go outside.
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:04 AM on January 31, 2013


It's really refreshing to read the comments here from reasonable cat owners. All the other articles on the Web about this subject mostly had comments from cat owners who were in complete denial or rationalizing their cats being allowed outside. I was starting to form a bad stereotype about "those cat people."
posted by ChuckRamone at 8:35 AM on January 31, 2013


Well, no. Think it through a second. Doing more harm with the justification that plenty of harm has already been done is silly. Letting cats outside harms the environment more than not, even if there are already significant other harms.

Cats kill a large number of animals, which is arguably bad from an animal welfare standpoint, but how much evidence is there that it's bad on the ecosystem level? Most of the urban and suburban animals cats kill (sparrows, starlings, squirrels, various mice-like small mammals) are euphemistically referred to as 'least concern', i.e., in no danger of going extinct any time soon. If you live on an island which is the sole habitat of some super-specialized songbird, or somewhere else with a great deal of endangered wildlife, then that's a different matter of course.

As I said, if you prefer least-concern songbirds to least-concern domestic cats and want to direct the environment in that direction, then there's an argument to be made for that, but I don't think you can claim that you have some environmental or naturalistic high-ground in favor of your preference.

The Brazilian rainforests? Those are something we can conserve. Suburbia? We've totally altered those ecosystems, and that's something we have to own up to rather than pretending that we can put the habitat destruction genie back into its bottle by increasing the population of American Robins and Blue Jays.
posted by Pyry at 11:47 AM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


"The Brazilian rainforests? Those are something we can conserve. Suburbia? We've totally altered those ecosystems, and that's something we have to own up to rather than pretending that we can put the habitat destruction genie back into its bottle by increasing the population of American Robins and Blue Jays."

Are you totally ignorant of actual suburban life? We haven't totally altered it; we've had a significant impact, but again, that's not a justification for more impact, especially when this is something that is so easy.

We've already unalterably changed the earth's temperature, likely totally dooming all coral, but hey, since we've already done it, who cares about greenhouse gasses?

Adding more stupid to stupid doesn't counteract stupid.

As for environmental impact, RTFA.
posted by klangklangston at 12:51 PM on January 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


Are you totally ignorant of actual suburban life? We haven't totally altered it...

Yeah, we have. For instance, I live in MA, and I can tell you that there are approximately zero acres of old-growth forest east of the Berkshires. All those trees were cut down in the 18th Century, and even the heavily-wooded places that have reappeared since are different from what the Native Americans knew. Suburbia is way more different than that.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:58 PM on January 31, 2013


"Yeah, we have. For instance, I live in MA, and I can tell you that there are approximately zero acres of old-growth forest east of the Berkshires. All those trees were cut down in the 18th Century, and even the heavily-wooded places that have reappeared since are different from what the Native Americans knew. Suburbia is way more different than that."

A total alteration would look much closer to urban than suburban. It's pretty much definitional that we haven't totally altered the environment. Claiming otherwise is hyperbole to obscure the damage that cats do.
posted by klangklangston at 1:47 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Altering the landscape is no big deal, it'll go back to the way it was eventually. Changing processes is a big deal. Cats are on the process level.
posted by fshgrl at 2:32 PM on January 31, 2013


Most of the urban and suburban animals cats kill (sparrows, starlings, squirrels, various mice-like small mammals) are euphemistically referred to as 'least concern'

That sounds like a good point until you think about it in depth. First, there is the trivial point that "most" is not the same thing as "all". But beyond that, the reason that most of the animals cats kill are "least concern" is that by definition most animals you encounter are going to be "least concern". Why that is should be obvious but I'll spell it out; the way you become a non least concern animal is by existing in small numbers. So there are a ton of "least concern" animals numerically and few endangered animals because definitionally there are always few endangered animals.

Cats don't preferentially target least-concern animals, the other types have just been mostly killed off. By things besides cats, largely, but the cats don't help. And it's impossible for those animals to make a comeback while cats are eatin' them. Are they the whole problem? No. Are they the majority of the problem? Not really. Are they part of the problem? Indisputably.
posted by Justinian at 4:32 PM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


David Quammen has done some interesting thinking and writing about this battle between sparrows, mice, cats, and the rest of the "natural" world. I encourage folks to read The Weeds Shall Inherit the Earth for a better understanding of the role that cats and other prolific "edge" species play in our current set of American ecosystems.

I would also like to point out that your thoughts about this issue are probably greatly formed by where and how you live. Urban dwellers will and should have a very different perspective on this than those who live in rural areas. Barn cats are entirely different in function and quality of life than street cats. Both have a purpose, and have the potential for their colonies to become dysfunctional, but neither is inherently evil.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:23 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Millions of European songbirds are killed by humans that eat them, even as habitat that is needed for tired birds to rest is turned into golf courses...Humans are doing far worse things on a greater scale that cats are.

TIL millions is worse than billions. Here's a simple thought experiment. What do you think is more likely to happen? Pick one: stop suburban sprawl; stop natural gas drilling; reduce feral cat populations and encourage owners to keep their cats indoors. Which has the lowest costs compared to the benefits for birds (threatened, endangered, or otherwise)?

Yeah, we have. For instance, I live in MA, and I can tell you that there are approximately zero acres of old-growth forest east of the Berkshires. All those trees were cut down in the 18th Century, and even the heavily-wooded places that have reappeared since are different from what the Native Americans knew. Suburbia is way more different than that.

Not all of North America is like Massachusetts. There are a handful of Federally T/E birds in Southern California that utilize patches of actual, honest-to-goodness "wild" habitat within urban/suburban areas. And guess what? Those species have repeatedly been shown to suffer from the presence of cats.

But heck, let's look at the MA T&E species that cats might be harming: eastern whip-poor-will, Henslow's sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, vesper sparrow, mourning warbler, blackpoll warbler*, northern parula*, golden-winged warbler*, sedge wren, piping plover. Throw in bald eagle, northern harrier, sharp-shinned hawk, peregrine falcon, barn owl, long-eared owl, and short-eared owl as suffering from indirect competition with cats (who are supplemented by food from humans, so their populations don't actually decrease when their wild prey populations do). That's 17/29 species on MA's threatened/endangered list whose populations may be impacted by cats. Those are all species that can be found within the 128 corridor. By the way, just because the most well-known endangered bird needs old-growth forest doesn't mean every species in decline does. Habitat loss (/alteration/fragmentation) is not the only cause for loss of species. Competition and predation from non-native species is the second-largest cause in the United States.

*These species less likely unless the cat's a good climber.
posted by one_bean at 5:30 PM on January 31, 2013


A cat advocacy group has responded to the study
posted by humanfont at 6:02 PM on January 31, 2013


A cat advocacy group has responded to the study

me-OW!
posted by yoink at 6:10 PM on January 31, 2013


Just 'cause it seems related to the topic, has anyone else ever been completely freaked out by the feral cat population in Hawaii? You know that scene in There's Something About Mary where the cops turn on their lights at a rest stop and the prior-to-lights apparently empty fields nearby are suddenly revealed to be concealing hordes of gay dudes gettin' it on? Hawaii was like that except for feral cats. You're just sitting around at a picnic bench or something enjoying nature and you accidentally drop some food and BOOM a large army of feral cats emerge from all directions, their gnarled fur and creepy dead eyes locked on you.

I lost count in the mid twenties for number of feral cats visible at once.
posted by Justinian at 7:06 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm noticing some problematic trends in this thread.

Some rightly claim that we can't read our pets' thoughts, yet they simultaneously claim that their cats are happy enough indoors. I'm sure this is true of their cats (indeed, I've met such cats); if I can claim to gauge my own cat's happiness, I don't see why they can't do the same with theirs. The problem comes in assuming that cats are all the same, and that all houses are the same (my own cat waits at the door for me to come home so he can shoot out as fast as possible, but when we've spent time in larger houses, he has far less interest, if any, in going outside).

Meanwhile, some are claiming to know what constitutes sufficient anthropogenic effect on the environment to be worthy of note. It is known that human beings have an effect on the environment even in non-industrialized societies. What constitutes damage vs. simple effect to the environment is, I'd suggest, a question for the experts, and not the layman. I would argue a far lower threshold than klangklangston does, for example (and I'm the one defending the cats' relative freedom, oddly enough).

Finally, I find the calls of selfishness and claims to the moral high ground to be unfair and harmful to the process. It seems to me that there are several equally moral arguments to be made. Some feel that it's not right to let cats outside where they face great danger. Others feel that keeping animals jailed indoors is unfair to the animal without serious evidence to justify said action. I think both arguments have merit. Moreover, I'm sure most people, while aware that cats kill, were unaware of just how much they did, particularly since previous studies showed much lower numbers; sending their cats outside is an act of compassion for the cat, not personal interest. In any case, I suspect most of us here are not well informed enough to really predict what might happen to the ecological system should the domestic cats all be packed up indoors or "eliminated" (in the case of the feral colonies), since it is far more complex than just "cats are here and they weren't before." Several people have noted that we've also pushed out the birds and mammals' natural predators, for example, and we have also affected the environment, especially in urban areas. Claiming the high ground when the results of the opposing action (which is in fact supported or at least accepted by the experts) are not known is specious.

I've been able to access the article. The findings are based on data collected from various previous studies, from which they ran a computer model. Here are are a few salient points(boldface mine)(all from p.5):

"Context for the population impact of a mortality source depends on comparing mortality estimates to estimates of population abundance of individual species. However, continental-scale estimates of wildlife population abundance are uncertain due to spatio-temporal variation in numbers. For mammals, clarification of the population impacts of cat predation is hindered by the absence of nationwide population estimates. [...] A lack of detail about relative proportions of different bird species killed by cats and spatio-temporal variation of these proportions makes it difficult to identify the species and populations that are most vulnerable. The magnitude of our mortality estimates suggest that cats are likely causing population declines for somespecies and in someregions. Threatened and endangered wildlife species on islands are most susceptible to the effects of cat predation, and this may also be true for vulnerable species in localized mainland areas because small numbers of fatalities could cause significant population declines. Threatened species in close proximity to cat colonies—including managed TNR colonies—face an especially high level of risk; therefore, cat colonies in such locations comprise a wildlife management priority. Claims that TNR colonies are effective in reducing cat populations, and, therefore, wildlife mortality, are not supported by peer-reviewed scientific studies.

Our estimates should alert policy makers and the general public about the large magnitude of wildlife mortality caused by free-ranging cats. Structured decisions about actions to reduce wildlife mortality require a quantitative evidence base. We provide evidence of large-scale cat predation impacts based on systematic analysis of multiple data sources. Future specific management decisions, both in the United States and globally, must be further informed by fine scale research that allows analysis of population responses to cats and assessment of the success of particular management actions. We are not suggesting that other anthropogenic threats that kill fewer individuals are biologically unimportant. Virtually nothing is known about the cumulative population impacts of multiple mortality sources. Furthermore, comparison of total mortality numbers has limited use for prioritization of risks and development of conservation objectives. Combining per species estimates of mortality with population size estimates will provide the greatest information about the risk of population-level impacts of cat predation. Although our results suggest that owned cats have relatively less impact than un-owned cats, owned cats still cause substantial wildlife mortality (Table 2); simple solutions to reduce mortality caused by pets, such as limiting or preventing outdoor access, should be pursued. Efforts to better quantify and minimize mortality from all anthropogenic threats are needed to increase sustainability of wildlife populations."

In a note they also note that some studies had different numbers for urban vs. rural cats, and in those cases they averaged out the numbers. This implies (since I have not read the source articles, nor do I care to right now, to be honest) that urban vs. rural cats have different effects on their environment.

In a nutshell, they say the cat herd is getting too big and it's time to cull the herd, though they say that we need more data before we set out on a course of action. They also say we should prioritize the feral herd, as it's the cause of most of the problem. Elsewhere they say time spent outside is the strongest predictor of number of animals killed.

So since none -- or at least most -- of us are not ecologists or experts in some related field, perhaps we should listen to what the peer-reviewed study says. It calls for more study of the problem, so that we can make ecologically sound decisions. Presumably we should also take action based on local conditions and not apply a one-size-fits-all solution. The authors basically dance around the suggestion that we should exterminate all feral cat colonies, though how to do it requires more info. They also ask for more information on combined causes.

Presumably for various reasons, it also suggests not that people keep their cats indoors or else, but that they control their outings or keep them indoors. So, if people with a lot more information than us are okay with cats spending some time outdoors, why are we even having this argument? I see nobody here arguing against some curtailing of the time cats spend outside (except perhaps tongue in cheek regarding how much they hate vermin). The only extremists I see are those arguing that under no circumstances should a cat be let outside. Why can we not just listen to those who have presumably spent a lot more time on the subject than we have?
posted by CoureurDubois at 10:12 PM on January 31, 2013


I think that interpreting "simple solutions to reduce mortality caused by pets, such as limiting or preventing outdoor access, should be pursued" as the authors being okay with cats spending some time outdoors is kind of disingenuous. It's the same as interpreting calls to limit or eliminate smoking cigarettes to reduce incidence of cancer as being okay with a little smoking. That's not what it means. It means that ideally you would go all the way but in the absence of that, going part of the way is better than nothing.

Oh, and calls for more study are pretty much bog standard boilerplate. Nobody ever says that more study should not be pursued, case closed. Everyone is just adding data to the pile while admitting there's always room for more data. That's how the science works.
posted by Justinian at 11:20 PM on January 31, 2013


Cody used to go out all the time when I lived in Florida. He'd sit by the door and scream until I let him out. He has a weird loud & deep "outdoor voice" and wouldn't give up until I finally let him out. He's such a pussy that he'd sit and make weird chirping noises as birds walked by him and wouldn't even get up and try to chase them.

I haven't been able to let him out since I moved to SF, and fortunately he got used to staying indoors and doesn't complain any more.

Midnight, on the other hand, is a real hunter. He was a stray that I started feeding & took in. Before I brought him home, I saw him catch & eat a snake. After he moved in, he would chase & kill any lizard or bug that came in, including huge palmetto bugs.
posted by mike3k at 11:36 PM on January 31, 2013


"I think that interpreting "simple solutions to reduce mortality caused by pets, such as limiting or preventing outdoor access, should be pursued" as the authors being okay with cats spending some time outdoors is kind of disingenuous. It's the same as interpreting calls to limit or eliminate smoking cigarettes to reduce incidence of cancer as being okay with a little smoking. That's not what it means. It means that ideally you would go all the way but in the absence of that, going part of the way is better than nothing."

You could interpret it that way, to be sure, but I also think there are several factors that really make these analogies problematic. Comparing cat owners, to, say gun enthusiasts (as someone upthread did -- somewhat facetiously, perhaps, but even so) or to people who like (or can't stop) smoking is not really a fair comparison. Guns and cigarettes are inanimate, cats are not. Nobody is smoking a cigarette because they care about the quality of life of the cigarette. I think there are likely a number of factors motivating the statement, including an acknowledgement that cats have been human companions for 10,000 years (we can argue whether this is fair, too, I'm sure, but let's leave it at that for now), that keeping cats indoors is not always easy (much like with the smoking, as long as we're making the analogy) and also the fact, stated clearly in the article, that the major problem is not people's pets. It's also quite possible, given the aforementioned fact that various predators have been eliminated and the ecosystem altered, that they really do think that some cat activity is perfectly acceptable, but that culling of the herd is necessary. Or that it may be necessary in some areas but not in others to keep cats indoors, given the local conditions. Or that cat owners should consider whether their cat is a known or likely killer or not in making their decision (that camera study that keeps coming up about showed that 70% of cats are not actually killers, and a quarter of people whose cats do kill bring home presents, which suggests that while some people may not know what their cat kills, many more are correct when they say their cat does not).

Yes, calls for more information are standard, but to suggest that all scientific studies have to end with some boilerplate call for more data is also disingenuous. That is not how the science works. Research papers don't all end with random calls for research because people feel they should just say something like that; rather they end with calls for more data that is actually needed and/or would be really helpful to the problem at hand. In this case, it happens to be a call for study of local ecological situations in order to find the best solutions for each area, which sounds perfectly reasonable. It calls for studies to deal with the item they prioritize, feral colonies. I think it's not unfair of people to ask if there aren't alternate solutions to the problem short of doing something they feel is potentially inhumane under such circumstances, without being vilified for asking or trying them first.
posted by CoureurDubois at 1:16 AM on February 1, 2013


Moreover the study doesn't just add a bunch of data to the existing pile and say, "Sure, we could still collect more; why not?" It takes existing data and re-analyzes it, while taking pains to say, early on, that existing data is problematic, incomplete, or lacking. Which is why they're doing any kind of study at all. Science isn't just a heaping on of more facts because people get bored in their offices. You have to justify that what you're doing is worthwhile to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
posted by CoureurDubois at 1:20 AM on February 1, 2013


Justinian: I think that interpreting "simple solutions to reduce mortality caused by pets, such as limiting or preventing outdoor access, should be pursued" as the authors being okay with cats spending some time outdoors is kind of disingenuous.
I disagree. The various cities I've lived in uniformly treat feral dogs as a nuisance, and keep them at a bare minimum. Farmers tend to do the same with feral dogs in the country, out of self-interest.

Changing the public's understanding of what an outdoor cat is, and what a problem that is for wildlife, could do a lot.

The reality is that rural cats are not going away soon, regardless of public opinion. Farmers see them as protection for their grain. But if just the urban (non-farm) feral cat population were severely curbed, that would be a huge bonus for wildlife. And much of the wildlife that cats prey upon share those areas with us.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:32 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Toekneesan: They're not a perfect substitute for the lost pumas, and lynxes, and (your favorite bird and rodent predator here) but I think the predation they do is somewhat helpful.
Scientist noted that birds aren't fungible; well, neither are predators. Cats as "helpful" replacements for wild predators have immediately obvious problems:

1. They kill a subset of wildlife that is easiest/tastiest for their particular skill set which is unique to them, and doesn't well overlap that of the predators that we've killed off. This means they kill far too many of prey species X, driving it farther towards extinction, while not controlling Y at all, which allows Y to overproduce, become a disease vector for humans, or whathaveyou.

2. They aren't truly subject to starvation from overpopulation. As their prey species deplete in an area, they just shift to bowls of kitty food (and more show up at buffet-table porch bowls), or eat garbage. Native predator species are wild, and less likely to steal garbage, so that isn't equivalent at all.

3. A third problem is simply the complexity of the issue. Our attempts to "replace" or "repair" damage we've done to the environment never, ever, ever works out perfectly, and for every story about reclaimed forest acreage there's another story about invasive species gone awry. But cats are worse than other intentionally-introduced "fixes"; they weren't introduced with any thought to their effect to the ecosystem at all.

Cats are to wild bird population what herds of cattle are to prairie grasses: an entirely unsuitable replacement for the native species.
posted by IAmBroom at 4:01 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wild bird populations are so radically different than what they were just decades ago, and primarily not because of cats. Don't you think that the domestic cat and the majority of the bird population have been interacting for centuries? This isn't a novel phenomenon. Democracy is more novel than the domestic cat. We act as if it's some foreign introduction to the modern environment but is that really the case? Or is, perhaps, our definition of the natural world too narrow?
posted by Toekneesan at 5:27 PM on February 1, 2013


You know what's a novel phenomenon? The cat box—not the outdoor cat.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:36 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Damn, the denial in here is thick. I don't know why it's so hard to take in the data. Outdoor cats ain't good for the environment. And the environment, frankly, is not kind on cats, since outdoor cats live an average 2-5 years. It's not an indictment against your cat, or any cat you've known and loved. It just is.
posted by agregoli at 6:45 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


It is not that the data is hard to take in, it's knowing the appropriate response to the data, and its historical context.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:20 AM on February 2, 2013


Don't you think that the domestic cat and the majority of the bird population have been interacting for centuries? This isn't a novel phenomenon. Democracy is more novel than the domestic cat. We act as if it's some foreign introduction to the modern environment but is that really the case? Or is, perhaps, our definition of the natural world too narrow?

It is your contention that wild cat populations are unrelated to the size of human populations? And that there were domesticated cats in North America before European settlement?
posted by one_bean at 9:22 AM on February 2, 2013


No, but I'd rather see our attention paid to the human population which is a significantly bigger problem than the cat population. We are kidding ourselves if we think we can turn this around by simply ending the practice of letting our cats outside. We are looking at a minor symptom and declaring it the disease.
posted by Toekneesan at 10:04 AM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think the appropriate response to identifying feral cats as a major contributor to songbird decline in the United States is to focus, instead, on the politically inconceivable notion that we need to reduce the human population or even, as it is the actual ultimate cause of environmental degradation, the unsustainable levels of consumption in this country. Nor do I believe that any reasonable consideration of the historical context will lead one to believe that feral cats and songbirds have been interacting at anywhere near the same magnitude for more than the past few decades. What you label a "symptom" is actually more like a secondary, treatable condition that is brought on by an intractable disease. Like telling somebody cleaning up their local river to focus, instead, on eliminating pesticide use in industrial agriculture. The environmental problems facing humanity are vastly complex. Any opportunity for relatively cost-effective solutions should be celebrated.
posted by one_bean at 10:32 AM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have lived on farmland for most of my life, and I think it changes how you think about these issues. When you see it everyday, cats working their territory, it makes more sense. Now, that doesn't mean I think what's good here makes sense in suburbia, but I don't think the problem lies with cats or their predatory nature. The problem is the suburbia.

We can do things about the human population and its impact, specifically how we develop and access areas. We can benefit songbirds significantly more by preventing development, protecting agricultural areas, and keeping wild areas restricted.
posted by Toekneesan at 10:51 AM on February 2, 2013


By the way, I completely agree with you about addressing the feral cat population. I think the work being done there is amazing and worth celebrating. I just don't want people to think feral cats are the same thing as outdoor cats, or are caused by working cats. Addressing the issue effectively might involve addressing a culture that produces so much excess that whole ecosystems have evolved to live off of that waste.
posted by Toekneesan at 11:06 AM on February 2, 2013


Damn, the denial in here is thick. I don't know why it's so hard to take in the data. Outdoor cats ain't good for the environment.

Indeed, the denial is thick. The article says that TNR doesn't work, so we have to find some other way to deal with the feral cat population, since they are the overwhelming cause of bird mortality due to cat predation. The response, apparently, is not to scream for an immediate response, both in research and in policy, to the size and maintenance of feral cat populations (why do they keep getting bigger, despite TNR, when feral dog populations don't? How can we reduce the size of the existing ones most humanely?), but to label as irresponsible and selfish cat owners whose cats are responsible for a minor part of the predation (and overall mortality rates, since other things do also affect bird mortality, though at what rate we don't know) whose local effect is unknown (the article tells us nothing about urban vs. rural, for example, and more importantly suggests the effects are greatest on islands and other closed or semi-closed systems), and who are willing to take some measures to reduce their cats' possible effects.

The article doesn't say that outdoor cats ain't good for the environment; it says that too many outdoor cats ain't good for the environment.
posted by CoureurDubois at 11:19 AM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


And if we kept people indoors all the time against their will, their environmental impact would be less, and they'd be less likely to die in accidents. Sounds like a win/win to me!
posted by crayz at 12:12 PM on February 2, 2013


And if we kept people indoors all the time against their will, their environmental impact would be less, and they'd be less likely to die in accidents. Sounds like a win/win to me!

That billions of birds should die for the benefit of our cats' perceived quality of life is a reasonable moral stand. It is one, but it's hard to believe you can't conceive of alternatives.

I have lived on farmland for most of my life, and I think it changes how you think about these issues.

And I have had outdoor cats for some of my life, and indoor cats for some of my life. And I have lived in rural areas, and suburban areas and wild areas and urban areas (with and without cats) for some of my life. And all of those are likely to change how you think about these issues. Which is ultimately what any management decision comes down to: which stakeholders are the loudest, which actions are the least expensive and/or most feasible. That people want to continue to let their cats outside is fine. It's an ethical choice that they're making. But the idea that their cats are not contributing to the decline of songbirds; that this does not have negative ecological consequences; that this is not a novel phenomenon; that cats are emotionally stunted if they go outside -- these ideas are not supported by any available scientific evidence. Those who are arguing otherwise would be better served understanding the moral conflict at play, and not trying to couch their views with misinformed or illogical arguments about how they think natural systems work.
posted by one_bean at 12:54 PM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Misinformed and illogical. Hmmm. Well, sorry about that. I yam what I yam, I suppose. I'll guess I'll just wallow in my ignorance and irrelevant observations and continue to let my cats out.
posted by Toekneesan at 1:23 PM on February 2, 2013


By the way, I think there's a difference between a naturalist and a biologist. I've studied a bit of biology, but I admit that I take more stock in what I have observed of the natural world when thinking morally and ethically about the environment.
posted by Toekneesan at 1:41 PM on February 2, 2013


Holocaust? Surely you mean genocide.

Birdocide?


Well, belatedly for the record, I was thinking of the original meaning of the word.
posted by y2karl at 1:49 AM on February 3, 2013


Shrug. And I take more stock in what actual biologists have to say as opposed to those who have just "observed" their surroundings.
posted by agregoli at 7:59 AM on February 3, 2013


The article says that TNR doesn't work

The article doesn't actually say this. It says that TNR is growing, and feral cat populations are growing. But TNR causes feral cat populations to grow more slowly than they otherwise would. Here in Virginia we had a TNR-enabling bill come up for a vote a year or two ago, and I seem to remember seeing good evidence that this was the case, comparing the rate of growth in counties with and without TNR programs. (TNR programs are often small, lack funding, and do not cover an entire county, so their effect is likely underestimated, since statistics on cat population come from county-wide animal control records.)

The article does quote a bird conservationist who speculates that cat-owners may be more prone to abandon cats in areas where caretakers feed feral colonies. But that's (a) speculation and (b) a separate issue: TNR and feeding are only seen as going together because, due to lack of other support, TNR is often funded and carried out by feral cat lovers. I happen to know a chipmunk-loving Buddhist monk who carries out his own small-scale TNR operation: the only food involved is the initial bait, and meals during post-surgery confined recovery (a few hours for an ex-tom, a few days for an ex-queen).

Some opponents imagine TNR means ferals can't be exterminated. Again, there's no intrinsic link. In our area, TNR programs exist, but animal control officers and private citizens still trap ferals and bring them to our SPCA, where 80% of cat intake is euthanized, the rate for ferals being presumably higher.
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:29 AM on February 3, 2013


I was referring to the research article. It says:

"Projects to manage free-ranging cats, such as Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) colonies, are potentially harmful to wildlife populations, but are implemented across the United States without widespread public knowledge, consideration of scientific evidence or the environmental review processes typically required for actions with harmful environmental effect"(page 2).

"Threatened species in close proximity to cat colonies—including managed TNR colonies—face an especially high level of risk; therefore,cat colonies in such locations comprise a wildlife management priority. Claims that TNR colonies are effective in reducing cat populations, and, therefore, wildlife mortality, are not supported by peer-reviewed scientific studies"(page 5).

Sorry; I should have been more clear about that. I know not everybody can access it.
posted by CoureurDubois at 1:00 PM on February 3, 2013


A more in detailed review of the Nature study raises some questions about the authors, their methods and the true efficacy of TNR.
posted by humanfont at 1:13 PM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a point of interest, the authors of the article we've all been arguing over (rather than the one just posted above!) cite (I deleted the numbers for footnotes because they were coming up as regular script) an article that suggests the feral populations don't decline much if at all, though it does mention some peer-reviewed studies that show the opposite occurs when the geographic area is limited and the researchers are involved in the control of the population rather than volunteers alone.

The effectiveness of the management program seems, then, and as feral_goldfish notes above, to have a lot to do with who's running the program, funding, etc.
posted by CoureurDubois at 1:23 PM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Clearly the solution is to introduce massive numbers of cat-eating coyotes everywhere.
posted by Justinian at 1:57 PM on February 3, 2013


The lead author of that article, Travis Longcore is the president of the LA Audobon society.
posted by humanfont at 2:20 PM on February 3, 2013


Yes. Despite his status as a bird-lover, he nonetheless briefly admits that programs can work sometimes. I think this bears looking into. Also his co-authors are academics. Exactly what their role was, of course, in this article, I can't say (regardless of whether they were students, for example, or professors, they may have had minor roles), but academic freedom would allow them to say exactly the opposite as well.

There are many reasons that calls for more research are not just boilerplate filler. We need multiple studies, often addressing previous studies' shortcomings, to confirm our results.
posted by CoureurDubois at 2:31 PM on February 3, 2013


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