Cats far from kind to their neighbors... they're killers | As I See It

Chris Wilson - Contributed photo
Chris Wilson
— image credit: Contributed photo

By Chris Wilson

As I read the story in last week's edition, July 2, 2014, “Elusive slug-eating snake revealed,” about the first recorded sighting on San Juan Island of this small snake that a cat bought home, I was reminded of a story I read last year about cats, which shocked me at the time.

It was about a study of U.S. cats and their affect on the environment.

I goggled the story I read last year and found many similar ones. It is about a systematic study done by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that found that cats are one of the top threats to U.S. wildlife, responsible for the deaths of between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds, and 6.9-20.7 billion mammals annually. Billion, with a "B".

While no specific study on reptiles and amphibians has been conducted in the U.S., extrapolation of data from many other countries gives estimates that hundreds of million of these creatures are killed each year as well.

The study said that feral cats are responsible for three times the deaths that house cats are, making them mainly responsible, however, that puts house cats, already feed by their owners, as also being responsible for a very, very large number of wildlife deaths as well. These findings showed that cats have had a negative impact on the environment far, far in excess of what was commonly thought.

This study shows that it is not cute or even okay when cats bring home their dead prey, prey house cats did not even need. It shows that cats, un-owned as well as owned, are a terrible scourge to our wild birds and other small animals, and really should not be tolerated. It is an area that has no really pleasant answer.

Neutering and releasing feral cats may spare the cat but dooms hundreds of birds and other small animals. However, as cats have been revealed as the top human-related threat to birds and other small animals, something must be done.

These birds and other animals perform valuable parts of the ecosystem, while cats are invasive and in fact compete with native small predators for food. Islands, in particular, have been severely impacted by cat predation.

I am not advocating a mass killing of feral cats, but I do not see what else can be done. Do any of you have another viable idea to protect our birds and such from all these cats?

As domestic cats also contribute to the decline of bird species, a new look at how they live in the home would be appropriate. One article , written by a veterinarian, suggested that cats who live inside and do not roam live longer, healthier lives. She also suggested building what she called a “catio”; a secure, enclosed outdoor space.

Data in the study showed that cats who wore a snug-fitting collar and bell were able to kill 50 percent less, but still did hunt. That's better than nothing, I suppose.

I know there are people who are really into feral cats and might be “science deniers” in this situation. Wherever you come down on the spectrum of feeling towards cats, it is clear from these studies that business as usual is only going to cause more bird and small animal species to slide further into decline.

Since we can do something about it, starting by keeping our own cats indoors, we need to for the sake of all these other animals. Ultimately, we all benefit from the services these birds and animals perform, as well as their beauty.

Please educate yourself and help change our cat situation.

— Editor's note: A retired high school science teacher, Chris Wilson, and wife, Jenny, first bought property on San Juan Island in 1997 and, after more than a decade of summer time stop-ins, became year-round residents in 2010.



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