One argument in favor of keeping cats indoors is that they kill birds. I think I also remember a counter-argument, when I began writing this blog five years ago, saying they don’t kill that many.
Bugs might like to try his luck out there.
Recently, though, I became aware of a 2013 study, reported in the New York Times, showing that “the estimated kill rates are two to four times higher than mortality figures previously bandied about, and position the domestic cat as one of the single greatest human-linked threats to wildlife in the nation.” The study claimed that they kill a median of around 2.4 billion birds a year.
What’s a billion? One billion minutes ago would put us around the time of Jesus, times two and then some. 2.4 billion birds slaughtered, every year, just in this country.
There is some doubt about those numbers, and there can be grim consequences to the safety of outdoor cat populations as a result. “Cat advocate organization Alley Cat Allies says that the study is so ‘biased’ that it amounts to an invitation to ‘ramp up the mass killings of outdoor cats.’”
Whatever the math, carnage came to mind when I read Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. There’s a bit there where an environmentalist was so distressed about a neighborhood cat killing birds that he kidnaped the cat and drove it away to a distant shelter – and then stood by, silent, as the heartbroken kids called in vain for their lost kitty.
I think I might know, from Bugs’s most recent walkabout, how the kids may have felt.
The face that launched a thousand ships.
Franzen writes most beautifully and whimsically about birds. Here’s a taste, set in Central Park, from his memoir The Discomfort Zone:
“I followed . . . as if in a dream in which yellowthroats and redstarts and black-throated blue and black-throated green warblers had been placed like ornaments in urban foliage, and a film production unit had left behind tanagers and buntings like rolls of gaffer’s tape, and ovenbirds were jogging down the Ramble’s eroded hillsides like tiny costumed stragglers from some Fifth Avenue parade . . . . as if these birds were just momentary bright litter, and the park would soon be cleaned up and made recognizable again. Which it was. By June, the migration was over . . . .”
Here’s another taste, this one taken from Franzen’s New Yorker article on the climate melt-down: “Not everyone cares about wild animals, but the people who consider them an irreplaceable, non-monetizable good have a positive ethical argument to make on their behalf. It’s the same argument that Rachel Carson made in Silent Spring, the book that ignited the modern environmental movement. . . . [T]he moral center of her book was implicit in its title: Are we really O.K. with eliminating birds from the world?”
The answer is no, no, and no again.
So I see, in this, a collision of love. The love of those who want their outside-kitties to be free, to be their wild predatory selves, colliding with my own love for the birds about whom Franzen writes so passionately.
I also like what I just read in a book on empathy by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman, Emotional Awareness. There are two sides to empathy. “Compassion is focused on the suffering of the other, on the wish to see others free of suffering. Loving-kindness is focused on happiness, on the wish to have others happy. They arise together. When you wish others to be free from suffering, the wish for others to enjoy happiness arises side-by-side. Crucial for compassion is connectedness, a sense of endearment to others. This cultivates a state of mind that makes the sight of others’ suffering unbearable to you.”
Bugs in a drawer, being endearing.
So if I focus on the silent suffering of dying birds, if I am endeared, as I am, by the birds, if the slaughter of the birds is unbearable to me as it is, I must keep my cats indoors.
From: Feathers in the Snow
If I focus on the happiness of my cats, if I am warmed and made joyful by their grace and dignified affection, as I am, I must do all I can to keep my cats amused and vigorous indoors, and hope that it’s enough for them.
Bugs may have his doubts about that – and much else, too.
It’s the confounding tension in a collision of love.