Adorable little kitty or stone-cold killer?
Three years ago, our family moved into a newer home in a quiet neighborhood on the south side of Traverse City. We fell in love with the mature trees in the front yard, and my husband and I looked forward to having an attached garage for the first time in our adult lives. But our favorite feature was a small private patio and garden that we could enjoy through French doors from the den.
Shortly after moving in we purchased and stocked several feeders, and I was thrilled to receive a birdbath for my first Mother's Day in the house. It became a habit to watch for wildlife while drinking our morning coffee from the comfort of the couch. We saw an incredible variety of birds — from cardinals and blue jays to sparrows and doves. Squirrels and chipmunks scavenging the seeds beneath the feeders and cottontail rabbits kept our weeds in check. And one rainy day, we even saw a red fox running through the side yard to take shelter on our porch!
But the following year, as winter turned to spring, we noticed a marked decrease in the number of birds enjoying the buffet, while more outdoor cats were stopping by for our attention. Only after my daughter wrestled a baby rabbit away from one of these kitties did we make the connection. Best case scenario: These cats were scaring the wildlife away. Worst: They were maiming and killing our little woodland friends (we nursed the rabbit for a day before placing it in a makeshift nest where it sadly disappeared the following day).
According to a 2013 study by scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service, domestic cats in the United States slaughter a median of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals annually. By comparison, if these cats were killing people, every year they would wipe out the entire world population. Twice.
The domestic cat is one of the single greatest human-linked threats to wildlife in the nation. More birds and mammals die at the paws of cats than are killed by cars, chemicals, and poisons, or collisions with buildings and windmills combined.
“Cats are responsible to the extinction of at least 33 species of birds that we know about,” says former Director of the American Bird Conservancy George Fenwick. “They are for the most part fed and inoculated, with no natural enemies, which makes them a sort of super-predator.”
Most environmentalists and animal lovers agree that cats shouldn't be allowed to prowl around the neighborhood any more than a pet dog, pony, or potbellied pig should. Some go so far as to say that owners who insist that their kitties are entitled to a bit of freedom are being irresponsible, and by extension, not very cat-friendly.
The University of Georgia's Kitty Cam Project (where miniature cameras are attached to the collars of indoor-outdoor pet cats to track their daily routines) has shown them lapping up antifreeze and raw sewage, dodging moving vehicles, and fighting with much larger animals, for example.
Most shockingly, the project finds that the felines typically spent one-third of every day hunting and killing small animals — and not just mice; free-roaming cats hunt and kill more than 80 native species.
So, this is what we know: One in three cats kill prey; of these, they average about two kills per week; 21 percent of these killers bring their victims home; 30 percent of their kills are eaten; and 49 percent are left to suffer, die, and eventually rot.
Keep in mind these are well-fed, domesticated house cats. They're not killing for food; they're doing it for sport. And the corpses we see account for less than a quarter of the actual body count.
How do we remedy this? Experts recommend “conservation and policy intervention” in order to reduce the impact of bloodthirsty felines. And some, like New Zealand economist and environmentalist Gareth Morgan, have proposed more drastic measures. He urges cat owners to neuter their pets and resist the temptation to add any more to their households. He has also called upon property owners to set traps in order to catch stray cats so they can be put down.
So now that you know the truth, will you do your part to help save our fragile urban ecosystem? I encourage you to stop being an accessory to the killing and join other responsible pet owners by simply keeping your cats inside or building an enclosure for them.
If you feel that feel that you must let your cats roam outdoors, know that bells rarely work. The only proven deterrent is the CatBib, a flexible shield that attaches to your cat's collar, hanging loosely over its chest. It works by gently interfering with the precise timing and coordination needed for successful hunting, and is estimated to have saved several million lives since its introduction.
Dogs may be man's best friend, but cats are our little serial killers. Let's stop the carnage and keep them under house arrest.
Christie Minervini is a Traverse City resident who owns Sanctuary Handcrafted Goods in the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. She is passionate about gender equality, community development, and ending homelessness.
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