Friday, August 10, 2012

Cats in the Landscape Controversy

USA Today posted an article House cats kill more critters than thought by Elizabeth Weise, which reported on a study where 60 cats near Athens Geogia were outfitted with tiny crittercams to record what they did while they roamed around their neighborhoods. The results were startling and showed that not only did the cats kill more than previous estimates, but they also endangered themselves.

Screen shot from USA Today

Being a good reporter, I posted a link to the article on Facebook on a couple of different pages. On my own Sustainable Gardening Page there were no comments, but on The Florida Native Plant Society page there was quite a discussion. A number of good points were made so I thought I'd share some of them with you in the order of appearance.

1) They also transmit far more diseases than most people realize, often by their killing spree activities.
2) 'Like, Like, Like, Like, Like, Like, Like'!!!!!
3) Healthier for the cats, healthier for the critters. We keep our cats inside--all eleven.
4) I love my cat so for both her sake as well as the wildlife, she stays inside.
5) tell that to my cats. one is happy to live indoors, the other won't have it.
6) [to poster #5] in addition, I guess ya'll better start rounding up that ferral cat population and euthanizing them.
7) I had one like that, [poster #5]; he was a rescue and was used to being outside...drove me nuts! He would have been outside without my help all the time if only he had opposable thumbs...he used to stand on his hind legs, reach up with one paw and touch the front door knob! Scared me to death the first time he did it...I thought someone was trying to get in the house!
8) I know it's not easy dealing with the strong will of a cat, but YOU are the boss. I have a rescue that used to be an outdoor cat as well. As soon as I got her I had her spayed and vaccinated and she has been an indoor cat ever since. The scientific name for these animals used to be Felis domesticus, which literally translates as "housecat" (it is now F. silvestris). Yes, their ancestors were wild and used to roam around eating rats and other critters, but that was another time... a time before vehicles and dumpsters full of items that can potentially be toxic to cats. If you love your cats and want to protect them from the multitude of diseases they may encounter while walking the streets (Feline AIDS, feline Leukemia, etc), in addition to preserving a dwindling songbird population and maintaining the lizards that eat bugs, and on down the food chain, then PLEASE keep your cat inside. No one wants to euthanize cats. Feral cats would not exist, though, if everyone would keep their cats indoors and have them spayed or neutered.
9) Does this surprise anybody? really? My cats are indoor cats
10) My cat is 19 and has lived inside since we rescued her from starving and freezing as a kitten living outside. She snatched a bird out of the air that flew into the garage. I saved it but any critter that dared come into our house, be it bird, snake, or lizard, she tried to kill it. I'm glad she never really had any interest in living outside.I would not have wished that on the small animals outside. I don't believe domestic animals owned by humans for companionship should be left outside.

Cats don't belong in the landscape.
11) If cats are pets why would anyone just let them go outside like that. Pets are suppose to be indoors,not outside killing all the wildlife!!!! I don't let my dog roam around the neighborhood. Why should I have to put up with someones pet killing the birds that I feed in my own backyard?! A very sore subject with me as well I'm sure with many other people. And not to mention, all the feral cats that get born then colonize and wreak havoc on our wildlife!!!
12) Well, I for one would never have a cat that could not roam our property at will. We have chickens and therefore a healthy rodent population, which would be much worse without our cats. A bird, squirrel, or lizard here or there is an acceptable loss for having "natural" rodent control. And, yes, our cats get along with chickens - not a single attack.
13) [from me] Some of our songbird populations have been reduced by 80% or more since the 1960s. This loss is not acceptable. If your property is fenced so the cats cannot roam into the adjacent properties that would reduce the damage they are inflicting on the birds, but otherwise you are part of the problem. Cats are subsidized predators and do not belong in a working ecosystem.
14) For those who say they'd like to keep their cats indoors, but the cats wail to go outside...Over the past 30 years I've taken in 6 cats, all of whom were used to roaming the great outdoors (and killing songbirds and other critters). With some time and patience, all became happy and safe indoor cats. Indoor-only cats live at least twice as long as cats allowed outdoors, and the songbirds are safe from them. The birds have enough other pressures on their survival without adding housecats to the mix!
15) [from poster #12 to #14], : most of my outdoor cats have lived for 15-20 years, with vet care of course. The proposition that indoor cats live longer probably fits for urban environments, but is total bunk for areas such as my neighborhood (roughly 20 homes, large heavily wooded lots, all on cul-de-sacs with minimal traffic). I am not trying to be an ass about this, but there are exceptions. As soon as people take serious actions with respect to the other "pressures" on bird populations then I will make a concerted effort to reduce my cats' outdoor presence.
16) [from me to #12] Your neighborhood sounds lovely and it could provide a lot of great habitat for birds, but thanks to you (and your cats), birds are not safe there. Your position that other pressures on the birds must be removed before you'll take steps to control your cats is ridiculous. What, exactly would have to happen before you keep your cats inside? My bet is that no matter what happened you'd find another excuse. You are part of the problem.
17) [from #12] Okay, how many of you critics out there are leaving areas of their property "undeveloped" to encourage wildlife to cohabit with their human neighbors? How many dead trees have you left standing so that cavity nesters can have a home? Avoided using any pesticides, herbicides, or other poisons on your land so that there is no collateral damage to the wildlife? Planted native plants over horticultural marvels from other countries? Get off your soapboxes and do something constructive and proactive instead of casting stones at my "working cats."
18) [to #12] I will not attempt to argue with you about whether it is ecologically kosher to let your cats kill songbirds - shouting (or typing) matches have rarely convinced anyone into a change of heart.
Do you often endorse breaking the law, or is this the one exception? As far as I know, it is illegal in every county in this state to allow a pet to roam free. Talk to any animal control officer and they'll concur. Here's the Florida Animal Control Association's website if you need more information:
If I assume that you have diplomatic immunity, and laws are for us lesser folks to obey, then I can only wonder if you value the health of the cats you have put to "work" as rodent controllers? How about your own health? I ask these questions because, given the ridiculous number of diseases that rodents carry, and the potential for your cats to become infected "at work" and infect you by proxy, the trade-off for making use of their hunting skills is hardly equitable. Here's what the CDC has to say about rodents and diseases: Please know that no one is casting stones at your cats - it is YOU they are targeting.
19) [from me posting for FNPS] I believe that the vast majority of the FNPS members avoid pesticides, leave portions of their landscapes natural, plant more native plants, remove invasive plants, leave snags and other actions to benefit wildlife on their own properties. In addition many FNPS members volunteer to accomplish ecosystem improvements on public lands and waterways as well. We post these somewhat controversial links for educational purposes. Many people may not be aware of the damage that cats inflict on their neighborhood ecosystems. We're happy to have discussions to clarify issues because education is one of our goals. You can call it our soapbox, but it's not our only action: FNPS, as an organization, is an active group accomplishing much for the state of Florida.
20) hmmmm, lesssee...I let 1/2 of my 1 acre restore to native and only plant real Florida native plants now. There are 3 snags and one downed tree that are providing habitat...brown headed nuthatches, great crested flycatchers and others have nested, no pesticides....oh....and I let the snakes that live in the brush piles provide the rodent high horses or outside cats here~~

Poster #12 came back again with arguments why the law did not apply to him and more people argued, but I think these posts are enough to demonstrate the strong feelings around this controversial topic.

I thought this was a good discussion on several levels. First, I thought the article itself added new information to this old discussion. The kitty cams proved that cats are killing more wildlife than previously thought and that the cats are endangering themselves with their risky behaviors. So hopefully this information will convince more cat owners to change their routines. Then I thought the comments about how people were able to keep formerly outside cats inside were helpful to cat owners (or people owned by cats) that behavior can be changed. I thought poster #18 had some useful information and links to more. Lastly, the more discussion means that more people on Facebook saw it on their newsfeed.

Cats are subsidized predators

If you care about the health of your cat and the health of your neighborhood ecosystem, you'll keep your cats inside and urge your neighbors to do likewise.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

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