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.
It’s conundrum. For me I try to take the middle path. As my cats are aging, only one hunts anymore. He likes to announce his soft-mouthed bird catch with a chirp, I ask him to drop it and the bird flies away, most of the time. Not perfect but a compromise.
There is a dilemma there. I have two cats that very much want to go outside and I have to say no unless I am able to go out with them and baby-sit. The truth is though, I worry more for their safety. Cars and cat-hating neighbors are always a danger. I also care about the wildlife and I know this sounds uncaring but wildlife populations tend to be self-regulating. If the population of one species were to fall, for example, the amount of available food for the remainder will increase causing a rise in births. This, of course, is a problem if the species in decline is already endangered.
Recently I heard about a certain endangered animal that was being wiped out by wolves in Yellowstone National Park because of the park’s success in saving the endangered wolves. What a complicated issue.
I do think the bird studies are highly biased and using inaccurate information. And I think SOME bird people use it as an excuse to be cruel to cats, and to legislate for killing feral populations, including cared-for colonies. If these people REALLY cared about birds, they would spend their energy fighting more against bird habitats getting encroached by the biggest destroyer of wildlife… man. Humans have done more to destroy bird populations, and other forms of wildlife, than cats have ever done.
All that said, we are all indoor cats here, except sometimes I am allowed outside time on a harness and leash. I get to watch birds and even sometimes I’ll try to chase after them… but I never get very far!
Well said, Summer – I agree!
Considering the source of that paper, I’m not surprised at the high estimation of kills..
My dog killed a crow one year! Quite the surprise. But our felines are indoors, and that is why one is 14 and one is 8 and they have no diseases, injuries, or parasites. It’s not for the birds – hell, the Ravens rooks and crows here are HUGE so I doubt they’d have much of a chance anyway. Maybe the finches or European robins would be in danger, though. In Florida, we had indoor/outdoor cats. They caught more anoles and legless lizards than birds, however. Occasionally they would bring home a bluejay or brown thrasher. But they also brought home fleas, and feline leukaemia. So. Indoors for me from now on! Being as they are huddled next to the heater right now, I think they rather agree with my decision.
I love this blog, Anita. Jonathan Franzen is an avid birder, and friend of a local Fayettevillian he grew up with in the streets of Webster Grove, St. Louis area. I too love birds and back yard bird watching at my stocked feeders. My only living cat, Rosemary, has never hunted. She was found as a tiny kitty in a Mt Sequoyah neighborhood in the bushes barely a few weeks old by the police, who whisked her to the animal shelter. Where Ben found her and fell in love. At the time we had Tiki, our beloved male who lived sorta taken care of by a neighbor who refused monetary care for him, so we adopted him away. Tiki lived 8 lives in the streets by the age of nine months. He had to kill rabbits and birds for food. So Tiki used a cat leash in the back yard where I could keep an eye on him to not escape. He never really liked that, but it was long enough to traverse a good amount of yard yet not get near the bird feeders. Rosemary never, ever wanted to go outside until after Tiki passed away. He was only ten years old and I miss him dearly. I can’t figure that out why Rose would not venture out with us. Now, at age 13, she goes out for about 15 minutes each morning, and returns on her own. She’s not yet returned with a critter. I feel safe letting her out if I watch that she stays in her own back yard. She’s not attracted to the bird feeders. Usually Hopper, our beloved rescued black Tibetan Terrier is out with her, too, and they do care for each other. She feels very safe with Hopper around. Amazing, these creatures that are compassionate both to us and others.
Those numbers are absurd, and I know one was backed by someone who literally advocated killing cats with poison. I have had cats that did considerable hunting on the side, sadly, and my experience with them was that a bird kill was very rare indeed compared to mouse, rabbits and lizards. And the birds used to harry them in their yard and drive them inside until the trees outside the yard were destroyed by the landscapers.