Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cat Lovers for Birds Coalition

Cats killing wild birds has been all over the news lately. And I feel compelled to comment. First I’d like to point out that I’m a cat lover. I grew up with cats – indoor and outdoor. And I’ve been a part of a fantastic organization in Texas that works extremely hard to get cats off the streets and into loving, safe “forever” homes. While I fostered for this group, I provided a temporary home for 14 wonderful cats and kittens over 2 years. Having said all of that, I love wild birds and have devoted my life and career to studying them in hopes that my research will somehow contribute to their conservation.

My friend Chris gave me the idea for the title of this blog. There are many people who are both cat and bird lovers – even though it seems unlikely. And I feel like this so called “attack against cats” has gotten a bit out of control. There are some people who hate cats—but for the most part this isn’t a cat issue, it’s a people issue. And just as Alley Cat Allies says on their website, “Environmental experts say we must change the way we are impacting our environment.”

You are absolutely right Alley Cat Allies—we have a people problem! More so than I plan to get into in this blog! But what you have obviously completely ignored is the fact that one way that humans are impacting the environment is by releasing non-native predators (such as cats) into the environment. And as humans that allowed this problem to get out of control in the first place, we should be responsible for reducing the number of cats (and other animals) in the environment—we should educate the public and promote spaying/neutering, vaccinating, and keeping them indoors (just as your group does) -- so that they all live safe and happy lives as our companions and pets. An outdoor life is not certainly ideal for any pet—they get killed by coyotes and hawks, hit by cars, they contract diseases, and they deal with the elements. What kind of life is that for a domesticated animal?

Cats kill native wildlife. There is no question about that.  And there are tons of stray cats out there. When I was a kid, one of our outdoor cats used to bring home dead or mangled birds, snakes, rabbits – you name it. And she was obviously well fed at home. We have always taken in cats off of the streets as pets and never got any of them from pet stores or breeders--because some stray cat always needed a home. And after seeing too many kitty “gifts” of animal carcasses at the front door and spending too many nights wondering if Fluffy would make it home alive the next morning—we decided to keep all of our cats indoors. Of course the rest of the neighborhood didn’t have the same idea and there were always hungry, cold, and abused/abandoned stray cats and kittens that came to our door for food, water, shelter, and affection.

I think there are ways to compromise on this issue and I know many cat loving groups are already trying to do this to make a difference. I do believe that strong TNR programs with low- or no-cost spay/neuter, aggressive adoption programs, and educational efforts can make a significant difference over time—but we have to be realistic about our current situation. Strong TNR programs do not exist everywhere that there is an overpopulation of outdoor cats—and in cases like islands we simply do not have the time to eliminate cats through TNR—we will lose valuable biodiversity! Non-native species (including cats, but also many other species) are causing declines of native species at alarming rates, especially on islands, and we can’t just sit back and wait for TNR programs to work. In the case of islands, all non-natives are being treated equally. They must be removed to protect the native wildlife that has lived there for thousands of years without these predators in the landscape. They are incapable of adjusting to the rapid changes humans have created.  Yes its sad for any cat lover to hear about something like this--but native wildlife has the right to be protected as well.

An overpopulation of any species (including humans) has consequences and leads to a reduced quality of life. The conversation needs to start with coming to an understanding that cats are not under attack, but that an overpopulation of outdoor cats is a serious problem in many places -- and that we need to make changes before it gets worse.

Yes, there are MANY things that contribute to declining bird populations—and yes, they are pretty much all human caused. Conservationists conduct research to better understand what changes need to be made, and they suggest reducing our impact on the environment in as many ways as possible. To me, and many other cat lovers, keeping our beloved cats healthy, spayed/neutered, and indoors is something we can easily do to make a difference for the birds.


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Lisa said...

Thanks for the feedback!

kimbybrow60 said...

I am thrilled to see your website promoting dialog. If you were to look at my facebook page, you would note that I am an avid birder and cat lover. In my spare time, I am out hiking the forests and wetlands, identifying and photographing birds and other wildlife. When I am at home I am caring for my beloved cats. I also love dogs, but have none at this time. My first cat came into my life twenty-six years ago with my first cat, Jasmine. Since then, I have shared my life with eight cats, four of which are still living. They have all been happily kept indoors. All but one has lived to an elderly age,18 (nearly 19), 17 and 16 1/2 years old. Sadly one of my cats died of an illness acquired before I adopted him at the age of eight months, FIP. Like most of my cats he was a rescue, and he was a lovely and gentle little soul. Of course, they all are sweet and dear to me. Still, I recognize that no matter how sweet they all have instincts. It is my job to make sure that the birds that come to my feeder do not become victims of those instincts. To keep neighbor's cats away, I have used behavior therapy, like the scat spray cans that startle unwanted visitors with a harmless blast of air. I have to do this because of all of the less than responsible cat owners in my neighborhood. I also have a cat, Vincent, a rescued Maine Coon, who is very agitated by other cats. Their presense can be upsetting to him. The cans keep them away from the windows and doors too. I truly hope that your blog has an impact. We really need voices for the helpless. In this case, the birds and cats are both quite helpless. As always, it is the human behavior that is unfortunate. Thank you so much for what you are doing.