Making cats look silly, for a good cause
March 27, 2015 10:38 AM   Subscribe

Saving birds' lives at the risk of making cats die of embarrassment
Domestic cats and tweety birds the world over have had a long-standing and rather one-sided feud: cats kill as many as 3.7 billion birds, mostly songbirds, every year in the US alone. One Vermont-based company, Birdsbesafe, is seeking to protect our feathery friends while imposing a little whimsical shame on our murdery, furry friends. How? With terrible, early-90s-esque scrunchies.
posted by Lexica (117 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
these are great and i am fighting the urge to get them for my indoor cats for my own amusement
posted by ghostbikes at 10:43 AM on March 27, 2015 [10 favorites]


Somehow I doubt that the people who still let their cats go out on their own, despite the fact that not only do their cats kill songbirds and other animals (including other cats), but it also lowers their lifespan by a third, are going to put brightly colored scrunchies on their cats.
posted by maxsparber at 10:46 AM on March 27, 2015 [15 favorites]


What maxsparber said. How about protecting our furry friends by keeping them indoors?
posted by Librarypt at 10:47 AM on March 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


i just remembered my parents' cat is outdoor, so now my only decision is which color of ruffles will embarass a fat gray tabby the most

(my parents would never put this on their cat but if i gift them one maybe they'll consider it?)
posted by ghostbikes at 10:48 AM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


My solution is a water gun. I water gun the hell out of neighbors' cats. It discourages them from coming near my place and generally causes them return home filthy, soaked, and irritable, which I hope will cause the owners to reconsider sending their cats out.

But, honestly, I think it should be illegal to let your cat roam the neighborhood. What other pets are allowed to just wander free? I mean, even if I could own a ferret and let him out own his own, I don't want him getting into a fight with the surly racoon who hangs out at our garbage can.
posted by maxsparber at 10:50 AM on March 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


Please don't flame me, but how can the 3.7 billion birds figure possibly be accurate?
posted by colie at 10:51 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


"The studies that have been done show a cat kills a bird or a mammal about every 17 hours on average. So, you estimate that as 100 million cats that are free-roaming in North America, that's 100 million birds a day. You do the math. That's a lot of animals," said Scott Somershoe, state ornithologist at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
posted by maxsparber at 10:54 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


maxsparber, have you considered that these people may be convinced by the convenience of incorporating their cats into their hairstyles?
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:56 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


a cat kills a bird or a mammal about every 17 hours on average. So, you estimate that as 100 million cats that are free-roaming in North America, that's 100 million birds a day.

Birds, or voles, mice, and other rodents -- that 100 million per day number includes a lot of rodents that cats have traditionally been kept around to control.

Bad math aside, these look like great additions for any fashion-conscious cat. (For outdoor cats, I hope that they have been designed to not get hung up on fences or brambles.)
posted by Dip Flash at 10:58 AM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm still working on a scrunchie that is also a wallet.
posted by maxsparber at 10:59 AM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


The linked article says new studies improve on older studies which deduced it was in the hundreds of millions. If cats do kill 3.7 billion then that becomes 18-37% of all birds which is ... enormous.

Still: how many damn birds are there in the United States? John Trapp rounds up the literature here and figures the best guess is around 10 billion birds in spring and 20 billion in the fall. Meanwhile, the aptly named book, "How Many Birds Are There?" estimates 200-400 billion birds for the entire world, which is pretty consistent with 10-20 billion in the U.S.

So, assuming once again that cats really do kill 500 million birds a year, as the American Bird Conservancy claims, it means they kill something like 3% of the total bird population of the country. The error bars are probably fairly large on this number, but at least it provides the right ballpark. So now you know.

posted by vacapinta at 11:02 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


My parents did this to me when I was younger, but instead of keeping me from hunting they wanted to prevent me from becoming a well adjusted adult. Oh, and instead of making me wear a scrunchie they got a divorce.
posted by johnnydummkopf at 11:03 AM on March 27, 2015 [31 favorites]


It's interesting to see the sea change in attitudes. Just a few decades ago, people outside of urban areas who confined their cats to an all-indoor life were considered...fussy and silly at least, if not actually cruel.

(That's apart from the rise in awareness of the bird-killing issue, by the way)
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:03 AM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


Right, so cats don't kill anywhere remotely near 3.7 billion birds.
posted by colie at 11:05 AM on March 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


Somehow I doubt that the people who still let their cats go out on their own, despite the fact that not only do their cats kill songbirds and other animals (including other cats), but it also lowers their lifespan by a third, are going to put brightly colored scrunchies on their cats.

They might! My boss lets her cats go outdoors (which I wish she didn't do) and I'm going to show this to her. Maybe it will make a difference!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:06 AM on March 27, 2015


This statistic is really useful to keep in mind when people talk about wind turbines and concentrating solar power plants killing birds...
posted by rustcrumb at 11:12 AM on March 27, 2015


This statistic is really useful to keep in mind when people talk about wind turbines and concentrating solar power plants killing birds...

I don't think there's a huge amount of overlap on the types of birds being killed in each case, and in any case, the existence of other threats to birds would seem to strengthen the argument to lessen as many threats as possible, not ignore them.
posted by jaguar at 11:17 AM on March 27, 2015


The moral equivalent of f*cking with the golden retriever on your block who can't catch food and laughing at him... these cats may be happy you're paying attention to them and not sharp enough to understand what's going on, but you're still a colossal douchebag.
posted by General Tonic at 11:19 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Someone in my neighborhood put up signs asking people to help them find their "missing" outdoor cat, which makes about as much sense to me as letting your cat outside but also not wanting it to do its cat thing and kill small animals. My conclusion is that I don't understand outdoor cat people, so I can see them using this.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:19 AM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


My neighborhood is plagued with grackles. They're loud, aggressive, messy. I've got a Maine Coon/domestic that goes to war with those bastards every spring. He always wins. The neighbors greet him like a conquering hero. No one complains that some songbirds go missing. As one of my neighbors said, "it's not like we're running out of mourning doves either". Oddly, this cat never seems to kill robins or cardinals. They either must stay out of his reach or don't inspire his wrath (RIP blue jay who thought my back yard was his to rule).
posted by Ber at 11:20 AM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


One thing that I think gets lost in the "omg cats killing songbirds" is that a lot of "songbirds" in the urban and suburban environment are every bit as much of an invasive species as felis domesticus. European and Asian starlings, for instance, are common as dirt in some parts of the US (they are the ones you see in sky-darkening clouds at times), are extremely well-adapted to human environments, and probably account for a lot of 'songbird' kills by domestic cats, but they're about as much legitimate wildlife as feral pigeons are.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:21 AM on March 27, 2015 [12 favorites]


To be fair, grackles aren't birds. They are the souls of people too evil to go to hell. Your cat may be doing the Lord's work here, hard to say.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:22 AM on March 27, 2015 [25 favorites]


The moral equivalent of f*cking with the golden retriever on your block who can't catch food and laughing at him... these cats may be happy you're paying attention to them and not sharp enough to understand what's going on, but you're still a colossal douchebag.

But you're not doing it to taunt the cat, you're doing it to make it hard for them to kill birds. I mean, the cat may think you're a douchebag but I suspect the birds will disagree.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:24 AM on March 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


I fear that this will just eventually train cats to be even more efficient killing machines, except now, they'll have a need for revenge fueled by a burning sense of humiliation...
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:32 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I personally think a tiny cowbell would be cute and just as effective! (no I am not an orinthologist, no I am not your orinthologist)
posted by Captain Chesapeake at 11:38 AM on March 27, 2015


Also, like deer, even legitimately-native small birds are essentially prey species that no longer have most of their traditional predators, due to human activity. If the argument were about controlling cat predation in order to ensure a food supply for natural predator reintroduction, it would probably have a lot of merit; as it is, it seems reminiscent of the people who are against hunting deer when the only other deer predator is Detroitus automotivicus (and that's the good ending, if you're a deer; the other one is starvation). Like deer, in many places small-bird populations are so out of control that they're considered a nuisance, and there's a rather horrifying trade in bird poisons. (Although in some places they are using oral contraceptives for birds, which seems cool until you learn that they way they mostly work is by making the eggshells too hard for chicks to break out of, so they die inside the shells, which brings it back to horrifying again.)

There are lots of good reasons not to let cats outside but the bird-safety angle never really seemed to hold much water, unless you live in an area (e.g. Hawaii) with an endangered population of native small birds.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:38 AM on March 27, 2015 [15 favorites]


Birds, or voles, mice, and other rodents

Do these collars also alert mice, etc?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:39 AM on March 27, 2015


I personally think a tiny cowbell would be cute and just as effective!

Only if you want your cat to feel like an extra in Heidi.

Which you may.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:40 AM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


I personally think a tiny cowbell would be cute and just as effective! (no I am not an orinthologist, no I am not your orinthologist)

Apparently my boss tried that and it just made the cat stealthier.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:41 AM on March 27, 2015


To clarify, 3.7 billion is the high end of that estimate ("from 1.4 billion to 3.7 billion birds"), and they already accounted for small mammals separately. The article made it into Nature Communications so at the very least we can be fairly sure this paper was thoroughly peer-reviewed. From TFA:

Cats that live in the wild or indoor pets allowed to roam outdoors kill from 1.4 billion to as many as 3.7 billion birds in the continental U.S. each year, says a new study that escalates a decades-old debate over the feline threat to native animals.

The estimates are much higher than the hundreds of millions of annual bird deaths previously attributed to cats. The study also says that from 6.9 billion to as many as 20.7 billion mammals — mainly mice, shrews, rabbits and voles — are killed by cats annually in the contiguous 48 states. The report is scheduled to be published Tuesday in Nature Communications.


Most people would drastically underestimate the number of birds there are on Earth so they will think that the 1.4-3.7 billion number is crazy high, but the problem is that they don't understand that there are 200-400 billion birds on Earth in the first place, so of course that sounds high to them.
posted by dialetheia at 11:42 AM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


I used to put small bells on my indoor cats when I lived with someone who had pet birds that routinely had free range of the house. They worked quite well, and after a while the cats just gave up stalking the birds.

The cardinals that sets up a nest in our yard every year routinely lose their nestlings to neighbourhood cats. Anything to help the birds sound good to me. Now, squirrels on the other hand . . .
posted by fimbulvetr at 11:45 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have a friend who only kills serial killers. That I know of. I mean, he might be killing other people when I'm not paying attention, but now that I think about it that's a television show I saw once and not a friend at all.

Anyway, I got him a bell for his neck and it didn't work, because it was just a bell draped over the end of my television set.
posted by maxsparber at 11:47 AM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


I kind of wish that my dog was an outdoor cat just so I could vaguely justify getting one of these for her.
posted by ilama at 11:53 AM on March 27, 2015


Do these collars also alert mice, etc?

I'd guess not. Mice are color blind. Birds, kind of the opposite.
posted by BWA at 11:53 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


The bells make noise, and while cats aren't super smart, they can figure out "noise = not stealthy". But cats mostly aren't smart enough for "scrunchy on my neck = not stealthy".
posted by idiopath at 12:03 PM on March 27, 2015


Mm, so you could put these on barn cats and they'd still be able to keep the mice down, but not the songbirds. Barn cats who never before had fashion accessories to call their own.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:05 PM on March 27, 2015 [12 favorites]


Some birds also kill a lot of birds. They even kill them while they're still in the egg.

They also kill billions upon billions of insects, but it's hard being an insect because no one really gives a shit about you.
posted by reynir at 12:13 PM on March 27, 2015 [8 favorites]


I love this idea. Our only outdoor cat is also the only cat I've ever owned that I really do not like, due to her winning combination of deep stupidity and mindless fearfulness. This way I can protect our local birds, a population she is good at killing, and also make her look like the idiot she is.
posted by bearwife at 12:16 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I mean, the cat may think you're a douchebag

I am sure this is a certainty for pretty much all cats. No guesswork required.
posted by twidget at 12:25 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


The look in that last cat's eyes says, "I will straight-up murder you."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:29 PM on March 27, 2015


Mice are color blind. Birds, kind of the opposite.

Excellent. I'm going to grab a couple of these and kick my cats outside.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:30 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Lexica: "With terrible, early-90s-esque scrunchies."

I will make a confession: I like scrunchies, always have. I look forward to their re-emergence on the non-feline fashion scene.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:37 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's weird how the idea that cats should be inside/outside is so completely reversed as you cross the Atlantic. The majority of cat rescue organisations in the UK are extremely hesistant to rehome cats with people who want to keep them indoors, unless it's an adult cat that's been kept that way previously or there's genuine medical reasons for keeping it indoors. (The stats on lowered lifespan are mostly due to non-neutered toms who tend to wander much further and get run over in the process). Also, impacts on bird populations are clearly very dependent on the specifics of the local environment. Here's what the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have to say about it:
Despite the large numbers of birds killed, there is no scientific evidence that predation by cats in gardens is having any impact on bird populations UK-wide. This may be surprising, but many millions of birds die naturally every year, mainly through starvation, disease, or other forms of predation. There is evidence that cats tend to take weak or sickly birds. (link)
I suspect most cats won't take long to learn the thing pulls off (it'd be horribly dangerous otherwise as anything around a cat's neck that gets caught on something and doesn't pull away will strangle them). Of course it's also possible it might function like dazzle camoflage and make them even more effective hunters.
posted by xchmp at 12:47 PM on March 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


"Also, like deer, even legitimately-native small birds are essentially prey species that no longer have most of their traditional predators, due to human activity."

Actually the predator species of small birds are also higher due to human activity. They're things like squirrels, raccoons, possums, skunks, and foxes. Admittedly humans have probably brought down the populations of snakes but the meso-carnivore populations have more than made up for them.

"Like deer, in many places small-bird populations are so out of control that they're considered a nuisance, and there's a rather horrifying trade in bird poisons."

I don't know what you're talking about here and I study birds. Even the introduced species mentioned above (grackles, starlings, etc.), aren't controlled by direct management and certainly not poison. Small birds, even if there are a lot of them, don't really have a negative effect on anything people care about. Maybe they eat seeds from farmer's fields but those would be mostly native blackbirds. The only species I know that is controlled is the Canada Goose and that can be done by oiling the egg (prevents air exchange and therefore chick development) which if often done in areas where people don't want the more effective and gruesome management (shooting).

Anyway, I love this idea for cats. People tend to underestimate how much their pet cat kills because some cats never return their kills to their homes/owners. Also, there do seem to be bird-specialist cats based on a few studies so one cat may only occasionally kill something and then vary its prey, while another just kills bird after bird. I'm glad people are finally saying how bad cats are for wildlife. We can start with birds (birders being a special people) and then move to the less 'cute' stuff. Although baby snakes are pretty adorbs.
posted by hydrobatidae at 12:50 PM on March 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


How about protecting our furry friends by keeping them indoors?

Have you ever lived with a cat? An actual cat, I mean, and not some idealized kitty-snuggums angel-pussy content to sit in a sunbeam and lazily lick its paws all day?

A cat who wants out, but finds itself met with consistent denial, can make your home a hell: a piss-reeking, vomit-strewn, claw-intagliated wasteland in which sleep is impossible and the preparation of meals unpalatable. It takes a strong will indeed to suffer such bedlam indefinitely, especially when it's not even your cat, but that of your lovely wife. The cat, having no other occupation, is free to devote its nine-to-fives to the project of making its wishes known with ever-increasing vigor, while the working inhabitants of the house have only a few hours in the evening, and spending a good fraction of them cleaning up after le Mal Chat represents a substantial tax.

Granting Mr. Oedipuss access to the outdoors may have lowered his life expectancy by a third, as compared to the abovementioned fantasy angel-snuggums, but if my (now ex-)wife had continued to keep him jailed, I doubt that cat would have lasted more than another year before managing to crush himself under a toppled bookshelf or break his skull against a wall during one of his madcap back-and-forth ricochets as he vigorously attempted to make up for all the fun he wasn't having outside.

He calmed down a lot once she finally let him run free, and I actually missed having the cat around after my wife and broke up.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:51 PM on March 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


a - scrunchies are awesome for long hair and should not be insulted.
b - that looks like a strangulation waiting to happen -- cats are supposed to use breakaway collars for a reason.
posted by jeather at 12:55 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


And on preview, the results in the UK are really interesting for a couple reasons. One, just the huge cultural difference in how people view outdoor cats. Although this has really only been a recent change in North America, probably within the last 10 years or so. I would bet that views will also shift in the UK soon.

The other is that one of the bird populations in the UK that aren't doing well is the invasive, junk species mentioned as a common target of cats that no one should/would care about - the House Sparrow. So on one hand, you have North Americans saying that cats kill House Sparrows so it's not a big deal and on the other you have UK folks saying that outdoor cats don't have an impact.

I also suspect outdoor cats are much more prevalent in Australia but there it is native mammals that are hardest hit.

Just bring in all the cats.
posted by hydrobatidae at 12:55 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


1.) I have waist length hair, and I would be lost without scrunchies. Hell, I even make my own to go with outfits. Mock scrunchies at your peril, for they alone have prevented the deaths of many people who would otherwise tip my annoyance factor into the red zone.

2.) This collar, as designed, would be really dangerous for a cat, unless I missed the break-away part.

3.) I have personally watched mockingbirds kill other birds. In my yard. With some regularity. Mockingbirds are right bastards.
posted by dejah420 at 1:23 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Birdsbesafe® collar cover is a length of fabric which has a tube-like shape. You put the cat's collar (with breakaway buckle) into the tube and then, both parts will breakaway (release) under pressure if the cat should get hung up on an obstacle like a branch.

Whew.
posted by Dr-Baa at 1:44 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Have you ever lived with a cat? An actual cat, I mean, and not some idealized kitty-snuggums angel-pussy content to sit in a sunbeam and lazily lick its paws all day?

My family have loved and enjoyed, or are currently loving and enjoying, all together ten cats who have lived happy indoor lives. We had one cat who I was quite fond of, who slipped out a door once, and because we were in a rush to go somewhere and my parents figured would be fine, was left out when we went away for a few hours. Never saw the cat again. In a happy world, it was adopted by someone in the neighborhood who decided to keep the lovely feline for themselves (ignoring my flyers). I want to believe in the happy world.

I love birds, but have had to run off two neighborhood cats repeatedly from my yard since moving into my home. Nothing made me angrier than finding clumps of mourning dove feathers with a few spots of blood in an area that I knew the cats liked to prowl. If I were a wicked person, I would try my darndest to poison them, but I'm a cat person, I love them quite a bit. I may have to buy one of these and approach at least the one neighbor who I've identified as owning one of the cats and ask them to consider dressing up the feline. (That neighbor used to have two outdoor cats, one of them mysteriously vanished months ago and has never been seen since).

2.) This collar, as designed, would be really dangerous for a cat, unless I missed the break-away part.

You totally missed the break away part.
posted by Atreides at 1:47 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


As a reminder, your cat that you love so much that you let it roam the neighborhood is, when on my deck killing the birds, vermin.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:55 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm still working on a scrunchie that is also a wallet.

I would buy the shit out of that.

How about protecting our furry friends by keeping them indoors?

A cat that WANTS out will GET out, unless you keep your house sealed up as tightly as a stuck pickle jar. Two of my last three cats chewed through screens to go outside when their pleas to be let into the yard were denied. I didn't argue with the third, she'd sit at the door and yell "OUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUT!" until we obliged.

None of my cats was ever interested in roaming the neighborhood, but every single one of them always insisted on going outside. I'm pretty sure the rationale was "Well, you let the DOGS go outside, so I'm going, too. SOMEONE has to keep an eye on those dumbasses." Schiller lived to be 20. Bailey lived to be 19. LuluBelle, who was the snottiest cat that ever did snot, left us after we adopted our Pit Bull, Zoe. She had been content to live with Whiskey Jack, an elderly Lab/Pit Bull mix and Rocky. When Whiskey Jack passed, Rocky became anxious and upset, and we ended up adopting Zoe. Zoe liked the cats a little bit too much for their taste. Bailey sort of rolled his eyes and put up with the drive-by lickings, and would go complain to Rocky. LuluBelle would slap Zoe around, and one day, upon being allowed out into the yard with Bailey, Rocky, and Zoe, left in a huff.

(She lives with a former neighbor. The little girl in the household heard the imperious yowling and let her in. We learned this after she had been missing for a while, and I didn't have the heart to take her away from her doting new mistress.)

We have been catless since last April, when a salivary cancer claimed Bailey. It sucks. If I find another cat I love, and s/he wants to go out into the yard with the dogs, s/he can wear a dorky collar while s/he does so. It's less traumatic than eaten screens.
posted by MissySedai at 1:58 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


How about protecting our furry friends by keeping them indoors?

I keep my cats indoors right now because they are content to be indoors. I have had cats indoor/outdoor who were not content to stay indoors. And I judged that for those cats, a shorter, happier lifespan was a lot better than a longer, miserable, attempting-to-break-out lifespan. Both of said cats always returned home. Both of those cats also killed a metric fuckton of ground-dwelling vermin that I definitely wanted gone. They also occasionally killed birds. It did not sadden me.
posted by corb at 2:05 PM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


Small birds, even if there are a lot of them, don't really have a negative effect on anything people care about.

Well... Small birds are considered disease vectors and pests in several settings. E.g., grocery stores and poultry farms. There's currently a widespread bird flu outbreak in the US. I'm also not aware of poison being used for control though.
posted by zennie at 2:24 PM on March 27, 2015


If you look at the data presented for the study regarding cats killing birds and mammals, it is clear that a the majority of predation is done by feral cats. The researchers estimate that 69% of bird predation and 89% of mammal predation is done by feral cats. Trapping feral cats and not releasing them would significantly ease the problem, yet pet owners simply keeping their cats indoors would not.
posted by Thing at 2:30 PM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


My friend has a big fat cat that is indoor/outdoor, and that cat gets pissy if it is too cold to go out. He is too fat and content to chase anything except the occasional other cat. My friend lives in beautiful woodsy suburbia. That cat is living the cat dream. If he gets hit by a car, that'll be traumatic, but until then that cat will have led a fine cat life.

I have indoor cats myself, but that's in significant part because I live in a neighborhood where kids set fire to cats. Also, I would have guilt about possible bird death. So, in sum, I judge the indoor/outdoor cat debate on the merits of individual cases.
posted by angrycat at 3:27 PM on March 27, 2015


Wow - what is this? The very reason I don't have a cat is that I can't have a cat-door. IMHO, cats need to get out, and also, cats are predators. They hunt to eat. Which is a good thing.

In nature, predators eat prey. When there is not a balance, there are problems. In most of the western world, Lyme disease is a huge problem not least because the populations of mice and deer are unchecked by natural predators.

Birds - my goodness. Cats are not a threat towards birds. Agribusiness is a huge threat towards birds. Let your cat out, but get rid of that processed food you are eating. When I grew up in agricultural lands, there were multitudes of birds - and cats. With agribusiness expanding, not only birds, but also dormice, insects, hares and bats are marginalized - worst of all we are losing bees. Demonizing cats is so much off the mark.
posted by mumimor at 3:33 PM on March 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


We're not demonizing cats, we're demonizing cat owners who put their precious fluffums above the well being of the ecosystem. And we're right to do so.
posted by Justinian at 3:36 PM on March 27, 2015


No. No no no no no. Indoor/outdoor cats are not threats to the ecosystem, because the ecosystem was never 'designed' for indoor cats in the first place. In fact, keeping cats indoors and preventing them from eating prey animals is fucking with the ecosystem.
posted by corb at 3:46 PM on March 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


Mumimor, with respect, you are not correct. Cats kill for fun and even well fed pet cats will kill birds. Feral cats will kill birds and only eat part of the animal. Also cats are the number one source of non-natural mortality for birds. More than ag, more than window strikes.

Yes, birds indoors can be pests but you can't fix that with cats. And that's not what was being referenced anyway.
posted by hydrobatidae at 3:52 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


No. No no no no no. Indoor/outdoor cats are not threats to the ecosystem, because the ecosystem was never 'designed' for indoor cats in the first place. In fact, keeping cats indoors and preventing them from eating prey animals is fucking with the ecosystem.

You are flat-out wrong here. The cat population is massively higher than that which could be sustained through normal predator-prey relationships. Because outdoor cats get fed by means other than hunting.
posted by Justinian at 4:01 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


I didn't care much about birds when I was in the UK but I got pretty upset that my neighbour's cat that we adopted kept killing the frogs in our tiny little pond because they were only thing eating all the damn slugs that overran our whole garden.
posted by srboisvert at 4:06 PM on March 27, 2015


About that Smithsonian study ...

Indeed, the authors’ headline-grabbing claim “that free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4–3.7 billion birds and 6.9–20.7 billion mammals annually” in the U.S. raises serious questions of credibility. Their estimate of bird mortalities, for example (described throughout the paper as “conservative”), represents an astonishing 28.5–75.5% of the estimated 4.7 billion landbirds in all of North America.

Were these figures even remotely accurate, the continent would have been devoid of birds long ago.


So what really does kill birds?

Habitat Destruction (land development, logging, mining): no exact estimates are given but the National Audubon Society says loss of bird habitat is the greatest threat to bird populations worldwide.
Glass Windows: 100 – 900 million+ (Avian Mortality at Windows: The Second Largest Human Source of Bird Mortality on Earth) From the study: “A vast and growing amount of evidence supports the interpretation that, except for habitat destruction, collisions with clear and reflective sheet glass and plastic cause the death of more birds than any other human-related avian mortality factor. From published estimates, an upper level of 1 billion annual kills in the US alone is likely conservative; the worldwide toll is expected to be billions.”
Electric Transmission Line Collisions: up to 174 million (estimates from US Fish & Wildlife Service)
Automobiles & Trucks: 50 – 100 Million (reports published by National Institute for Urban Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Agriculture: 67 million via pesticides, herbicides, and land use such as mowing and plowing (Smithsonian Institution study)
Communication Towers: 4 - 10 million (estimates from US Fish & Wildlife Service)
Oil & Gas Extraction: 1 - 2 million per year (estimates from US Fish & Wildlife Service)
Wind Turbines: 440,000 (2009 estimates from US Fish & Wildlife Service)

The National Audubon Society estimates that cats kill 100 million birds per year. Interestingly, bird deaths from legal HUMAN hunting activities run in excess of 100 million per year (estimates from US Fish & Wildlife Service). As you can see from these various studies, placing the primary blame on cats for bird decline and extinction is simply false.


Source
posted by caryatid at 4:27 PM on March 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


Also cats are the number one source of non-natural mortality for birds. More than ag, more than window strikes.

I'll buy that cats directly kill more birds than do farmers with shotguns and easily more than windows, but more than habitat loss from agriculture? (Not to mention chemical use and of course purposeful eradication efforts, such as has been tried against magpies?) I have a lot of trouble buying that, but I'm not a bird expert, so I could be wrong, but the magnitude of that habitat loss is so huge and sustained.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:29 PM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'll buy that cats directly kill more birds than do farmers with shotguns and easily more than windows, but more than habitat loss from agriculture

This is actually the wrong question when assessing the impact of cats on ecosystems. The right question is how many birds that would not have died anyway do cats kill? One number is a lot lower than the other. There's possibly some impact on other predator species who could have otherwise benefited from the food source (although cats often don't eat their kills, so this might be beneficial for scavengers). It may also benefit the prey species as a whole (the indivdual animal who ends up in a cat is probably less happy about this) by decreasing competition for food and other resources by individual animals that wouldn't have successfully mated anyway.

Of course cats can severely impact ecosystems - if no similar predators exist then they can be effective enough hunters that entire species are driven to extinction - but most places aren't New Zealand and the idea that it's simply a matter of counting corpses is a massive oversimplification.
posted by xchmp at 4:49 PM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's weird how the idea that cats should be inside/outside is so completely reversed as you cross the Atlantic.

It may be coincidental, but the closely related Old World Wildcats aren't native here.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:14 PM on March 27, 2015


I have an indoor cat. He is 21.5 years old, and has never complained about being indoors in all those years. I have had cats for the past 30 years.

I like cats.

That said, I do not want other peoples' outdoor cats in my yard, pissing on my front door (Seriously! What the hell?!?), digging and shitting in my gardens, befouling my kids' sandbox, killing birds, and being a general pest and nuisance. If outdoor cats stayed in their owner's yards, I wouldn't care, but they don't. Keep them indoors or on a leash.
posted by fimbulvetr at 6:47 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love cats, at peak volume I had seven indoor cats. I do not love my neighbors who think their cats NEED to roam free to destroy their neighbor's property. I don't want their cats to shit in my garden or piss in my grill or eat the birds I'm trying to feed. If their kid was doing those things I would call the cops but I'm supposed to just take it because they are cats? Either cat fence the yard or teach the cats to walk on a leash.
posted by crankylex at 7:33 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


If their kid was doing those things I would call the cops but I'm supposed to just take it because they are cats?

One must learn to tolerate things that cats do that one would not tolerate in human children.

I had thought that obvious, but...
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:50 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


I got this collar for my cat after she killed her first-to-my-knowledge bird. The scrunchy does indeed slip over a breakaway collar. Cat has lost 2 of them. No birds have been harmed to my knowledge since she's been styling in her clown collar.
posted by tingting at 7:52 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


This thread is making me angry, I can't imagine being cruel enough to make a cat stay indoors.

It's been explained to me before that some of the difference between the us and uk is that our roads are safer and our wildlife less full of predators that would eat a cat.

I'm in Belgium, and there are plenty of cats outside. There also, strangely, is a constant stream of missing cat posters. I can't work out why there is such a difference with the uk.
posted by Braeburn at 9:38 PM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Whether or not cats like to be outside seems irrelevant as to the question of whether it is bad for the environment. But apparently since they are so cute and fuzzy it is unthinkable.
posted by Justinian at 9:58 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm in Belgium, and there are plenty of cats outside. There also, strangely, is a constant stream of missing cat posters.

...That seems pretty self-explanitory to me.
posted by maryr at 9:59 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


colie: “Right, so cats don't kill anywhere remotely near 3.7 billion birds.”

Er – no, that is exactly what the study says: between 1.6 and 3.7 billion birds, annually, in the United States. It's not outside the realm of reason. There are a lot of birds in the world.

Even if you think that's crazy, it's up in the hundreds of millions at least. So it's not a small amount.
posted by koeselitz at 10:07 PM on March 27, 2015


(And, I should have previewed and seen caryatid's comment above.)
posted by koeselitz at 10:08 PM on March 27, 2015


My cats can't get out of my tiny backyard as all along the top fence line I've run either bird netting or chicken wire just wide enough to be impossible for them to jump over. They have a very large tree, but don't seem interested in climbing it, and there's been only one corpse, an unfortunate bird that chose to land in cat territory. I don't have to worry about them fighting possums, cars or dogs.

However if another cat succeeds in getting into our yard, s/he can't get out, so my boys wait inside if there's noone to supervise.
posted by b33j at 11:05 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Why not just declaw the cats?

(ducks and runs)
posted by TedW at 3:49 AM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Cats certainly don't belong in the environment in the concentration that exists in urban and suburban areas. I was going to say I think you should keep your cats inside unless you have a farm. Then I remembered this one farm.

I used to visit lots of local farms for research related to the environmental impacts of agriculture. For part of this, my partner and I would do cold visits to random farms on a list divided by zip code. One day, as we drove over a hill onto a farm driveway, we spotted a group of three cats. Unusual, we thought. Then we spotted another, and another, and started counting. Another, another, there's three-- no, four, five-- coming out of the soybean field, a pile of six in the barn door....

In the minute it took to get down to the main group of buildings, we'd given up counting because we'd gotten to about 75 and they were still coming. Cats and cats everywhere you looked. There were at least 150 just in the area near the main buildings, and heaven knows how many were dancing along between the soy and alfalfa plants in the fields. The run in shed held stacks of cat food in between sacks of min mix and other dairy farm necessities. There were cats lounging under the bulk tank that held the day's milk.

We met the farmer as he was coming out of the bulk tank building and introduced ourselves. I tried to keep my curiosity in check while we chatted with him a while about the research, but he seemed to know the burning question would come. "Lots of cats," I said, as casually as one can say such a thing when inexplicably surrounded by hundreds of furry predators. "You'll have to ask my wife," was all he said, with a conversation-ending finality.

We never ended up meeting his wife.
posted by zennie at 5:51 AM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Cats certainly don't belong in the environment in the concentration that exists in urban and suburban areas.

What concentration of cats belongs in an urban or suburban area? What concentration of urban areas belongs in an environment?
posted by xchmp at 7:15 AM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


But apparently since they are so cute and fuzzy it is unthinkable

Nah, it is because they are loud, persistent, destructive, and opinionated.
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:07 AM on March 28, 2015


I live in neighborhood where every house seems to have at least one outdoor cat.

Also, I am looking out my window right now and I see and hear A FUCK LOAD OF BIRDS.
posted by TheRedArmy at 10:40 AM on March 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


My block banned all pets and now we have to spend at least 2k a year on rodent control in the outdoor areas, whereas a couple of cats would be glad to own that shit for free.
posted by colie at 10:43 AM on March 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Also, I am looking out my window right now and I see and hear A FUCK LOAD OF BIRDS.

This seems like pointing out that global warming can't be a problem since it's really cold where you are.
posted by Justinian at 1:53 PM on March 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


There are a lot of people in this thread who really don't have a good understanding of how ecosystems work and the impact that non-native carnivorous/omnivorous animals can have on them. Habitat destruction, introduced bird species and weird manmade ecosystem imbalances are all important, but none of that means cats aren't a serious problem for native birds, some of which are endangered and many of which have declining populations.

As one can imagine, this is a very controversial topic since you have birds (as well as general ecosystem health) on one side and a segment of cat lovers on the other.

As touched on above, the situation is very analogous to climate change in that the fact that outdoor and feral cats harm native wildlife is scientifically completely uncontroversial, although the magnitude of the problem is hard to quantify. Anyone who doesn't think outdoor cats are a menace is supporting the equivalent of climate change denial or anti-vax on this issue.
posted by snofoam at 3:31 PM on March 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Alternatively, the toxoplasma gondii in their brains is controlling their behavior but they don't realize it.
posted by Justinian at 3:58 PM on March 28, 2015


If your cat would look more dashing in an ascot than a scrunchie, you could choose this CatBib instead. A monstrous indignity, but it can be used with a breakaway collar.
posted by Corvid at 6:52 PM on March 28, 2015


Why not just declaw the cats?

We adopted a six month old cat that had already been declawed. She spent her first summer chasing butterflies. It was kinda cute. She's a little on the small size, about eight pounds. We named her Arya. Last summer she brought home a woodpecker, among other things. A woodpecker. Do you know how damn big, and mean, those things are? Declawing is wrong for many reasons but a cat that is determined to hunt is not going to be thwarted. My biggest worry is that she's got no defense against stray dogs (we live a small redneck town, way too many loose dogs) but in a sprint she could probably stun a greyhound.
posted by Ber at 8:41 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


We have two indoor cats who used to be indoor/outdoor cats when we lived in our old house. Having them inside full-time is better in almost every way -- no pissing off the neighbours, no fleas, no random shit and dust and vegetation tracked inside, no bloody mangled things with long horrible tails on the kitchen floor every week, no fearful shame-faced sobbing if they don't come home for dinner, no obvious and undeniable destruction of the local ecosystem, etc., etc. Still, for one of the cats in particular, it has been such a very cruel thing to do. My poor little love hangs out of windows all day long, staring and sniffing at the air and sun and trees and butterflies. He'd be so much happier outside that the inevitable getting mauled or run over is a price he'd probably pay if he could -- but I'll never have it because I just cannot imagine my life without him anymore. So AFAIC keeping him indoors might be the responsible thing, but it ain't right.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 2:12 PM on March 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I feel like forcing a previously outdoor cat to become an indoor cat is one thing; but the other side of it is: all the cats I've ever owned have only ever been indoor cats, and none of them seemed bothered by the restriction in the slightest. In fact, many of them I'd let out in the backyard on sunny days while I was working on the lawn or something, and I was always amused at how they'd poke about at this or that before happily scampering back inside where they had food and a bed. Whenever people talk about how it's cruel to force cats to be indoor animals, I wonder if they've met cats who've never been outdoor animals, because most of them I've known have been plenty happy. Ultimately, I think cats remember something like having lived outside, but I don't think they have some innate spiritual need to roam free.
posted by koeselitz at 2:50 PM on March 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think cats remember something like having lived outside, but I don't think they have some innate spiritual need to roam free.

One of the "five freedoms", which are widely accepted standards of animal welfare and are built into various bits of legislation and codes of practice internationally, is the ability to express normal behaviours. Cats are semi-domesticated, but are not usually regarded as fully-domesticated like dogs, soI thinlk it's reasonable to say that wandering around outside and hunting prey is a more 'normal' behaviour than being confined to a small indoor area all their lives. The semi-domestication may mean that they're more resilient to this kind of thing than other animals, but it would be surprising if this was true of every cat and probably depends on how 'enriched' the home environment is.

I'm pretty sure most of the people with indoor cats would be appalled by a zoo that put no effort into providing rich habitats that allowed the animals to express their normal behaviours, regardless of whether the animals appeared happy in their cages or not. In some places allowing cats to roam outside may be hazardous , but indoor cats are more likely to have illnesses associated with their comparatively sedentary lifestyles, so this is far from an obvious choice in terms of health risks. So, why are many people who care about animal welfare so ready to accept this compromise when it comes to cats? It might be the right compromise, but it isn't self-evident.
posted by xchmp at 4:09 PM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love cats, but if the choice is between no housecats and outdoor/indoor housecats people should not have housecats. Sometimes you just can't responsibly have what you want.
posted by Justinian at 6:59 PM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


soI thinlk it's reasonable to say that wandering around outside and hunting prey is a more 'normal' behaviour than being confined to a small indoor area all their lives.

I think the freedom of songbirds not to be exterminated out of my neighborhood by an invasive species is a right that I will prioritize, and if that means that people just can't have cats, well, you're the one who insists they just can't be happy pets without being little machines of slaughter that run rampant and unchecked through a shared neighborhood.
posted by maxsparber at 7:22 PM on March 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


My cats have plenty of normal hunting behavior indoors. On toys and bugs and pieces of paper. No outdoors necessary.
posted by agregoli at 7:06 AM on March 30, 2015


I think the freedom of songbirds not to be exterminated out of my neighborhood by an invasive species is a right that I will prioritize

I wish that people who prioritize birds over cats would stop pretending it's anything but personal preference. You like birds, great! Some people have expressed they like to feed birds - also not natural behavior for the environment! But don't pretend that you're doing some noble protection of the endangered songbird. Most of the birds cats kill are common as dirt. Just because you like to play Lady Bountiful with birdseed doesn't mean cats are monsters because they would also like to eat.
posted by corb at 9:08 AM on March 30, 2015


It's not personal preference. I don't think a cat owner in a neighborhood should have the right to unilaterally decide that their pet gets to decimate the bird population. That's not preference. That's civics.
posted by maxsparber at 9:25 AM on March 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


And, honestly, false equivalence. "I feed birds" (which I don't) is not the same as "my cat eats birds."

They would be the same if I was picking between what animal gets to eat what animal.
posted by maxsparber at 9:27 AM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Additionally, I don't think the people who are fine with their outdoor cats eating birds would be fine if I had an outdoor dog who ate their cats.
posted by Justinian at 1:56 PM on March 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


if that means that people just can't have cats, well, you're the one who insists they just can't be happy pets without being little machines of slaughter that run rampant and unchecked through a shared neighborhood

You're arguing against something I haven't said. What I've said is that applying well regarded animal welfare standards to the idea of keeping cats indoors highlights means carefully considering whether the (potentially) lowered welfare of domestic cats is justified. Far from insisting on outdoor cats being the only right answer, I specifically say that that keeping cats indoors is wrong, I said that "[keeping cats inside at the cost of limiting their ability to express natural behaviour] might be the right compromise, but it isn't self-evident."

Really, your response, vehemently defending the rights of birds against these rampant 'machines of slaughter' helps underline my point: Why is the idea that the welfare of all the animals involved should be part of the discussion so emotive that "this might be the right compromise" looks like inflexible argument?

Where I live, the major bird conservation organisation doesn't believe that domestic cats are much of a problem for bird populations except when located next to scarce habitats or very small populations of rare birds. In fact, "Populations of species that are most abundant in gardens tend to be increasing, despite the presence of cats." (RSPB). So the assumption that cats killing birds decreases bird populations everywhere is questionable. It's entirely possible that, just as there are places where the presence of cats is a complete disaster, there are also places where predation by cats is a net positive for many bird species.
posted by xchmp at 2:31 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


RSPB advocates for bells on cats so they'd probably suggest this collar is also a good idea. They also have a series of recommendations for cat owners: "Keep your cat indoors when birds are most vulnerable: at least an hour before sunset and an hour after sunrise, especially during March-July and December-January, and also after bad weather, such as rain or a cold spell, to allow birds to come out and feed."

Animal welfare standards apply to zoos and laboratories, both places that animals are kept from engaging freely with nature. The argument from those standards is to keep them entertained in captivity not to let them roam. Like "I'm pretty sure most of the people with indoor cats would be appalled by a zoo that put no effort into providing rich habitats that allowed the animals to express their normal behaviours, regardless of whether the animals appeared happy in their cages or not." - yes. Put some fake trees up in your house, give them some raw meat, etc. Zoos don't introduce live goats into tiger cages to make the tigers happy. They also don't let the tigers wander around a forest (or mate freely) so they can experience their natural level of behaviour. A semi-domesticated cat can be happy inside.
posted by hydrobatidae at 11:14 AM on March 31, 2015


Animal welfare standards apply to zoos and laboratories

Animal welfare standards apply to animals. For example, the Federation of Vetinarians of Europe's code of good practice specifically states:
  • Veterinarians shall endeavour to ensure the welfare and health of the animals under their care in whichever section of the veterinary profession they work.
  • Veterinarians shall always take into account the five freedoms for assessing animal welfare.
And in British law, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 is mostly concerned with pets and its provisions are very clearly based around the five freedoms. I'm in no way suggesting that keeping cats inside or putting stupid looking collars on them amounts to cruelty. Rather, I'm pointing out that there is a common basis to the widely accepted ethical standards that apply to pets, zoo animals, laboratory aniamls and livestock.

As you point out, animal welfare is curtailed in a variety of situations. The common goal is to maximise the welfare of animals wherever possible and practical. A cat in a house having many of its needs met by its owners clearly has a higher standard of welfare than a cat used for medical research in a laboratory. But just because the laboratory animal's reduced welfare can be justified (and, in UK law, must be justified) doesn't mean we shouldn't seek to maximise the welfare of the pet wherever possible and practical.

I don't actually care very much about whether you keep your cat inside or not. I'm much more interested in the way that this issue appears far more emotive than it should be. I'm suggesting in pretty moderate terms that the issue might not be quite as simple as many people think and that the welfare of the pet animals involved is a factor worth considering. Why is this so controversial?
posted by xchmp at 1:20 PM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


Right. I'm not saying that animal welfare standards just apply to zoos and laboratories. But that animal welfare standards are okay with animals being confined (in cages or compounds) but environmental enrichment which is applied to the place where the animal is kept. So cats require enrichment in their environment but that doesn't say anything about what exactly that environment should consist of (it being consistent with outdoors and indoors).

On the other hand, keeping a wild animal confined or having it killed by another animal is another tier up in the animal welfare standards. When I worked with wild birds, we weren't allowed to keep them in a bag for banding for more than, I don't know, 5 minutes? We had very very strict rules for killing birds. Probably the most relevant bit of the standards was that live animals (mice, pigeons, etc.) weren't to be used to attract birds of prey. This is done with the prey animal in a cage so the falcon or eagle or whatever can't kill them. We're talking about lab-bred animals so they were 'for human use' but the stress level of those critters was so high, even if they survived, that it was unethical for us to use live prey.

So if we compare the ethics of two cat habitats, the indoor situation seems obviously more ethical because there is no prey species being harassed or killed. The cats get an enriched environment either way. And this would be true if the prey species are either native or introduced. It doesn't matter. It reduces suffering.
posted by hydrobatidae at 1:42 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


cats are monsters because they would also like to eat.

This is ridiculous. Cats are not wild animals, birds are. I know there is controversy over indoor/outdoor, which is strange to me since we don't have this for other animals but it's silly to say cats should be allowed to kill birds because they need to eat. People need to eat, too, but shouldn't kill songbirds for it. Dogs need to eat, we shouldn't feed them songbirds.
posted by zutalors! at 1:43 PM on March 31, 2015


Cats are not wild animals, birds are.

I think this misunderstanding is honestly part of the problem. Cats are only semi-domesticated. They are not dogs. They are effectively, for many intents and purposes, wild animals that simply don't mind being around people as much and that occasionally have relationships with them.
posted by corb at 2:37 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


But that animal welfare standards are okay with animals being confined (in cages or compounds) but environmental enrichment which is applied to the place where the animal is kept.

This is fundamentally wrong and isn't how animal welfare standards are formulated or implemented. Animals in human care should always be provided with the highest possible standard of welfare given the constraints and circumstances of their use. Environmental enrichment is a way to mitigate the lowered standard of wellfare incurred by keeping animals in captivity; it is not a standard that can or should be universally applied. Published standards for specific animals and industries are contextual: They represent a consensus on the minimum level of welfare that can be justfied and usually provide guidelines intended to maximise the welfare of the animals involved given the use they are required for. So it doesn't make any sense to say that just because we can justify keeping a tiger in a cage in order to pursue legitimate conservation goals it therefore follows that it's justifiable to cage all animals.

the indoor situation seems obviously more ethical because there is no prey species being harassed or killed

I don't think your assessment of the ethics of the situation makes much sense. There's a clear difference between animals that we have direct power over (and therefore serious ethical responsibilities towards as individuals) and animals whose lives we impact indirectly (where our ethical responsibilities are lower and generally more diffuse - for example, when looking at destruction of habitats, our concerns are almost always about the populations that live in the habitats at risk and very rarely about individuals within those populations.) There are arguments that could be made about the responsbility of humans towards animal populations that are impacted by human activity, but they don't derive from the idea that animals eating animals is wrong.
posted by xchmp at 3:11 PM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


Cats are only semi-domesticated. They are not dogs. They are effectively, for many intents and purposes, wild animals that simply don't mind being around people as much and that occasionally have relationships with them.

I keep seeing people claiming this sort of crap without any proof or support. I call bullshit. This is just cat-lover propaganda. I say this as a long-time cat-owner (21 years with indoor cats, and before that 15 years with barn cats). I like cats. But they are domesticated pets. You think a cat like "grumpy cat" or any of the weird highly-selected cat breeds are going to survive in the wild? If you go to many places in the world, dogs run around feral in packs or are left to be free-roaming. There have been lots recent of articles about the problem of 10,000s of feral dogs in Detroit. It wasn't that long ago that people everywhere also believed dogs should just be chucked out the front door and left to wander -- it was considered cruel to keep them indoors and fenced. I know that was the case out in the country in the USA and Canada when I was a kid, where free-roaming dogs were the norm. So what if a lot of cats can survive feral? So can a lot of other domesticated species. Feral pigs are a big problem. Why should everyone else living around you have to put up with your animal because you want to let it wander around?

Last night I came home to the new mat at my front door reeking like cat piss. Keep your cat indoors, in a properly cat-fenced yard, or on a leash. Just like what is required for all other domesticated animals.
posted by fimbulvetr at 9:02 AM on April 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


yeah, it's not a misunderstanding, cats are domesticated pets. My cats' vets have always been very clear on indoor vs. outdoor (please keep cats indoors, in case there's mystery on that opinion), and I think they would have some idea what they're talking about.
posted by zutalors! at 9:14 AM on April 1, 2015


I keep seeing people claiming this sort of crap without any proof or support. I call bullshit. This is just cat-lover propaganda.

Hey, I'm glad you asked this! Because actually, there's plenty of evidence that scientists - to be fair, who may or may not be filthy cat-lovers - use to argue the point.
Scientists working on the cat genome sequencing project compared the genomes of domestic cats and wild cats to analyse how they differed.

And although they discovered that in certain areas there were significant variations, they concluded that felines are only “semi-domesticated”.

Senior author Wes Warren, an associate professor of genetics at The Genome Institute at Washington University, said: “Cats, unlike dogs, are really only semi-domesticated. They only recently split off from wild cats, and some even still breed with their wild relatives."
posted by corb at 10:46 AM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ah yes, the Independant, that Bastion of Science. Despite that reader-grabbing pop-science article, if you read the original cited study you will see it is looks at genetic markers, not behaviour. Domestic cats, similar to other domesticated animals, do show a lot of neonatal behaviours - kneeding and suckling as adults, meowing to humans (adult cats do not meow to other adult cats), physical size and shape, docility, etc. What does "semi-domesticated" even mean? Dogs will go feral. Dogs will hunt. So will cats. Being a predator does not mean they are not domesticated. Anyways, from the cited article:

"Specifically, the signatures of selection in the domestic cat genome are linked to genes associated with gene knockout models affecting memory, fear-conditioning behavior, and stimulus-reward learning, and potentially point to the processes by which cats became domesticated."

So, the cited study discusses a putative process by which cats became domesticated. It also discusses many genetic sites where domesticated cat genomes differ from wild cats. And it also discusses the fact that domestic cats do not differ as much from wild type as some other domesticated species. Not surprising, given that say, dogs and horses, have been domesticated for a longer time. Then again, turkeys have been domesticated for a much shorter period of time than cats.

From the study conclusion:

"In conclusion, our analyses have identified genetic signatures within feline genomes that match their unique biology and sensory skills. The number of genomic regions with strong signals of selection since cat domestication appears modest compared with those in the domestic dog (41), which is concordant with a more recent domestication history, the absence of strong selection for specific physical characteristics, as well as limited isolation from wild populations. Our results suggest that selection for docility, as a result of becoming accustomed to humans for food rewards, was most likely the major force that altered the first domesticated cat genomes."

This is also a commonly proposed process by which dogs became domesticated -- rewards from hanging around humans, then selection for docility. They may not have been selected as long as dogs, but they certainlyare domesticated, not "wild animals that choose to live with humans."
posted by fimbulvetr at 11:20 AM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


In conclusion: keep your damn cat off my lawn. Also, birds are cool.
posted by fimbulvetr at 11:20 AM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


But they are domesticated pets.

So what? Domestication is not an objective category with well defined criteria. You even quote something claiming that by some measures cats can be considered less domesticated than dogs. Domestication says very little about how specific living arrangements may affect an animal.
posted by xchmp at 12:27 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


More accurately, the results of the study are that genetic markers indicate that cats were domesticated more recently than dogs as there are fewer genomic regions which have been altered from "wild type". The article also mentions that domestic cats can still interbreed with wild cats. However, dogs and grey wolves are the same species, and dogs can interbreed with both wolves and coyotes.

Anyway, so what? Why should people be allowed to let their pet cats run free and be a pest to other people and destroy local wildlife? All this crap about cats being "semi-domesticated" or "wild animals that choose to live with people" are just excuses for people to allow their pets to run wild. If I had pet alligators and let them wander the neighbourhood where they could eat local dogs, cats, and wildlife, I think people would rightly get more than a little upset. Of course, alligators aren't as cute, cuddly, and charismatic as cats, nor are they really domesticated.

If we were talking about actual wild animals such as skunks, raccoons, rats, coyotes, gophers, etc. that were being pests (i.e., were somewhere they were not wanted and through their behaviour being a problem or destructive), and not domesticated pet cats, then we would use trapping or other control measures to deal with them (NB - I am not suggesting that anyone should trap, poison, or shoot cats). When my neighbours' cats are pissing on my front porch, tearing up my gardens, and killing the songbirds in my yard they are most certainly a pest and I don't want them there. It is a matter of perspective. Simple politeness and good neighbourliness would mean keeping your animals in check - your pet, your responsibility. I expect dog owners to clean up after their dogs when they crap on my lawn and to have them on leashes when they walk them.

My personal experience in owning animals over the years has included dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, horses, goats, many species of fish and other small aquatic organisms, several species of exotic birds, frogs, mice, hamsters, gerbils, hedgehogs, salamanders, and hermit crabs. By far the most domesticated of these animals were the dogs and cats.
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:23 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


More accurately, the results of the study are that genetic markers indicate that cats were domesticated more recently than dogs as there are fewer genomic regions which have been altered from "wild type".

That's more specific, but no more accurate. You're talking about the data, but the issue that you've been objecting to is how that data is interpretated. We're discussing whether it's valid to describe cats as semi-domesticated (or, as I'd put it, less domesticated than dogs by some measures) and the paper you're quoting clearly supports this interpretation. I think you were responding to someone quoting a story about the study and were objecting to the fact that it was from the Independent newspaper. Here's what the original press release says, quoting one of the authors:
"Cats, unlike dogs, are really only semidomesticated," said senior author Wes Warren, PhD, asso ciate professor of genetics at The Genome Institute at Washington University​. "They only recently split off from wild cats, and some even still breed with their wild relatives. So we were surprised to find DNA evidence of their domestication."
(link to press release
Why should people be allowed to let their pet cats run free and be a pest to other people and destroy local wildlife? All this crap about cats being "semi-domesticated" or "wild animals that choose to live with people" are just excuses for people to allow their pets to run wild. If I had pet alligators and let them wander the neighbourhood where they could eat local dogs, cats, and wildlife, I think people would rightly get more than a little upset.

Characaturing opposing arguments as 'crap' and 'just excuses' instead of engaging with the substance isn't a very effective way to persuade people. I'm not even arguing against keeping cats inside; I'm interested in the irrationality and inflexibility of the arguments from people who have decided that cats belong indoors and the complete refusal to consider that different conditions may lead to different conclusions; i.e. it may be right to keep cats inside in some places, but it may be better to allow cats free access to the outdoors in others.

Why should people be allowed to let their pet cats run free? Here, the answer is mostly: Because it's always been that way, few people object, many others consider it cruel to keep cats inside (including many vets and animal protection/rescue organisations), there are very limited concerns about the effect of cats on wildlife and the laws around damage caused by pet animals is different for cats. Probably none of those things apply where you are. And that's kind of the point. The idea that cats belong indoors which has taken hold in the USA is massively parochial (and recent); it's a bit strange to proclaim your perspective (which is not unreasonable in context, but would be regarded as completely batshit insane in many other places) as obvious truth when it's clearly a cultural thing.

Plus your preferences about your lawn and your ideas of what constitutes neighbourliness aren't at all relevant if the question is really about the welfare of the cats involved.
posted by xchmp at 3:35 PM on April 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


If the welfare of your cat affects my lawn, it's relevant.
posted by maxsparber at 4:09 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


To be clear, your point here is "Kids Cats, get off of my lawn!"?
posted by corb at 4:27 PM on April 1, 2015


Metafilter: If the welfare of your cat affects my lawn, it's relevant.
posted by maryr at 4:48 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Plus your preferences about your lawn and your ideas of what constitutes neighbourliness aren't at all relevant if the question is really about the welfare of the cats involved.

I don't care if you let your cat outside or not as long as it is in your own yard or on a leash. I do care if it is in my yard. Why should the supposed welfare of someone else's pet mean I have to put up with piss on my new entrance mat? Shit in my kids' sandbox? Gardens dug up? Why should my yard be the playground of someone else's pet? Why should I care about the welfare of somebody else's cat? It is their animal. It is their responsibility.

Many people object to cats messing up their yards. Many people don't like cats. I know these concepts are completely shocking to many cat lovers, but it is a fact. It boggles the mind that anyone would argue that everyone in their neighbourhood should put up with their cat whether they like it or not because it is good for the cat's welfare. How about the welfare of pregnant women from the risk of toxoplasmosis from cat crap in their gardens and kids sandboxes?

While I may not agree with it, if you let your cat eat songbirds in your yard, that is your choice. I do care if your cat eats songbirds in my yard. Now here is a $10,000 question -- if I had a dog (I don't) and it ate a cat that came into my yard, would you care? I might not (this is a lie). But maybe it would be good for the dog's "welfare" to exercise its natural instinct to hunt prey and eat it, and to protect its territory from interlopers.

My neighbourhood is surrounded on two sides by an urban wilderness with coyotes and fox, and adjoins some very busy roads. Every fall when the new crop of student renters move in there is a sudden influx of free-roaming cats. Within a month or so, the cats have mostly vanished and the "lost cat" posters start going up. Being outside is good for their welfare indeed. Ottawa winters are cruel, so by spring it is hard to find any free roaming cats except a couple tough old specimens that have been around a while, including a particularly unpleasant black and white one that systematically pisses on everyones front door at least once a week. I can assure you that nobody on my street likes that cat.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:48 PM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


[A couple of comments deleted. People need to take a step back from making it personal in here. If you're too annoyed to engage productively, go ahead and close the thread for the time being.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:01 PM on April 2, 2015


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