by Jack McShane
Recently, I met with a couple of local friends who are very concerned about the pet cat population, their care, protection and increasing numbers. We plan to work together collaboratively with the Humane Society to get our town supervisor and town board to set aside a small amount of funds for the neutering and spaying of pet cats particularly those that are free roaming. We hope to encourage caring cat owners to take advantage of the Humane Society’s program.
My interest and concern is not only for the cats, but primarily for our wild song bird population and for our overall natural environment. I have been a keen observer of the domestic, free roaming and feral cat predation on the wild songbird population. The results of the scientific research are alarming. The numbers put forth by many researchers and endorsed by a multiple of conservation groups, including the National Audubon Society, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, The Nature Conservancy and the North American Bluebird Society among many others, are ghastly. A research report by the University of Wisconsin ornithologist, Dr. Stanley Temple estimates that twenty to one hundred and fifty million songbirds are killed each year by “outdoor” house cats and feral cats each year in Wisconsin alone! Even if one half of the low end of these estimates is correct, they engender great concern among environmentalists. Numbers authored by the Audubon Society show that our neo-tropical migratory songbird population has decreased to twenty per cent of what it was in the nineteen forties and fifties.
Cat predation is only one of many factors involved in this decline. Others include the destruction of winter habitat in South and Central America and the Caribbean nesting habitat here in North America, insecticide use and other environmental pollutants. These are real and on-going threats.
We who love our cats and all wildlife can take steps to reduce cat predation on already endangered songbirds. We can keep our pet cats indoors, (to which most will easily accommodate), or when outdoors, on a leash, or kept in a spacious pen or run.
Some friends have commented, “Jack, my Tabby only catches mice and other vermin.” To which I reply, “You probably don’t see all that Tabby catches.” Cats are excellent hunters. If per chance, Tabby was only catching rodents, i.e. mice, voles, shrews, chipmunks etc. (by the way, these are not vermin), then they are depleting the food supply of our endangered raptors, (hawks and owls) and other natural wildlife that are dependent on these species for survival.
We all love our pet Tabbies, and we are all against torture. Natural wild predator species like raptors, foxes, coyotes and bobcats hunt in order to feed themselves and their young. When hunting they are hungry and quickly dispatch their prey so that it will not escape. A well-fed house cat will hunt because that is what it is hard wired genetically to do. The prey is caught, maimed and because they are not hungry, is then toyed with for a long period of time. This activity increases the cat’s hunting skills. Remember the cat is not hungry. It is well fed and is practicing its innate hunting instinct, and the result in my mind is torture of the prey. This torture should not be blamed on Tabby. Tabby has no empathy for its prey. The blame lies with us- the owners.
What about barn cats? Farmers have historically used domestic cats to control rodents damaging their feed supply. How many cats are required? I don’t think an awful lot. Two or three neutered cats should be able to do the job. Hawks and owls are now protected and the fact that milk snakes are now known as rodent eaters and not “udder suckers” should help ameliorate the rodent problem around barns.
Another important reason for restraining Tabby is the protection of Tabby herself. In the past, I have observed feral cats and my neighbors free roaming cats hunting on my property. They usually last less than one month. Why? The Catskill countryside is the territory of our natural predators: bobcats and coyotes. Research has shown that these species will not tolerate domestic cats on their territory; they eventually get them. I don’t think letting Tabby free- roam in this environment is being fair to Tabby. It is akin to letting our kids go out and play in a jungle of man-eating tigers. And what about those multi-ton vehicles roaring down the road at high speed? Odds are that Tabby will be crushed or eaten and who is at fault? We are!
I implore my Tabby-owning friends to care for, nurture and protect their beloved Tabbies from the perils of the outdoors.
These efforts will also help protect our endangered songbirds. Let’s work together and pass the word about these important issues.
Finally, I want to remind anyone reading this that it is but one man’s observation and opinion. I gladly accept criticism and especially positive comments on how to protect songbirds as well as Tabby. ~