Cats: The evil that stalks, kills and purrs


@ChuckLane1 (Twitter)

Former President George W. Bush’s dog Barney has gone to that great kennel club in the sky.

But I’ll bet Barney died smiling. He lived to see the day when humans finally acknowledged that cats are a menace.

In fact, government-affiliated scientists have produced statistical proof of feline perfidy, in a new study showing that cats stalk and kill 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals in the United States each year, give or take a few billion.

This “kill rate” is two to four times higher than previously believed, and worse than that attributable to windmills, cars and other “anthropogenic” threats.

The victims include not just rats and mice but also songbirds, chipmunks and other valued wildlife species, according to The New York Times.

Feral — “stray” — cats, which number 80 million or so, are the main culprits, the study concluded. But the nation’s 86.4 million domestic cats account for about 29 percent of cat-on-bird killings and 11 percent of cat-on-mammal slaughter.

Scientific though it may be, the report is not irony-free. It brands cats an “invasive” species, imported to North America by humans and unchecked by natural predators. Yet three of the 11 most victimized bird species in the study are also invasive: the house sparrow, the rock pigeon and the European starling.

In my book, that means every time a cat takes out one of those winged pests, it’s a case of justifiable avicide.

But never mind that. “Scientifically sound conservation and policy intervention is needed to reduce this impact,” the study notes.

I don’t think they’re talking about federally subsidized tummy rubs.

Some environmentalists think that euthanasia may be the only way to prevent an uncontrolled killer-cat population from ravaging wildlife, given the absence of a natural predator.

Others recoil at mass cat-killing to cure mass bird-killing. Some animal-welfare advocates think the solution is to sterilize feral cats and then release them. A variant is to rehabilitate freshly neutered or spayed stray felines as “working cats,” who keep rats out of human hangouts, including — in one actual case — a Los Angeles police station.

But it has been rightly noted that the life of a stray is pretty miserable, what with the constant threat of cars and disease. Useful as mousers may be, the supply of working cats will probably always exceed demand.

Our frontier ancestors surely would have marveled at a society so civilized and affluent that it can indulge in such quarrels. And arguments don’t crop up only in the context of cat vs. bird. Controversy rages in the D.C. area about how to control Rock Creek Park’s population of white-tailed deer. The National Park Service recommends a hunt to cull the herd, but critics favor strictly nonlethal means, such as mass administration of contraceptives.

For my part, I don’t have a dog in any of these fights. My only semi-serious point is that it is much easier to declare one’s concern for animals, their welfare and even their rights than to act on that concern in a logical, consistent manner. When it comes to moral reasoning about animals, we’re all sort of chasing our tails.

Science can help describe issues and inform debate. But it still takes human judgment, leavened by instinct and intuition, to balance the interests of the various species affected — homo sapiens included.

Even The Times, in an earnest editorial on the feline “superpredator” study, conceded that, while restocking suburbia with coyotes would help control cats — just as Australia got results by siccing dingos on them — “most Americans will never put up with a burgeoning coyote population.” So much for that otherwise promising idea.

At least domestic cat owners can help by keeping their pets inside, The Times suggested, echoing novelist Jonathan Franzen’s call for “a movement to keep cats indoors.”

But even that innocuous recommendation could be a prescription for cruelty, depending on your perspective.

Mietzi, our long-haired Norwegian forest cat, is not allowed out. She spends hours each day crouched against the window, glaring at birds and squirrels as they impudently hop by.

Her tail twitches. How she longs to spring at her prey, as her ancestors did among the pines of Scandinavia!

But the glass — that incomprehensible transparent hardness — frustrates her every time.

Mietzi feels better when we feed her tuna, ground up and packed into a little can with a convenient pop-top lid. I’m pretty sure it’s dolphin-safe.

Charles Lane is a member of The Washington Post’s editorial board.

© 2013, The Washington Post

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald



    U.S. has a history of encouraging free expression

    If it comes from the United States it must be bad. That is the conclusion some critics of ZunZuneo, the U.S.-sponsored Twitter-like platform that the Obama administration promoted in Cuba to disseminate information and encourage personal communications on the island.

The ring of Bishop Agustín Román.


    The bishop’s ring

    One evening two years ago, Bishop Agustín Román limited his supper to a handful of grapes. Urged by Father Fabio Arango to eat a healthy diet he answered that he felt no appetite. As was his custom, he helped his fellow priest wash and dry the dishes at the rectory. Then it was time for him to teach the evening catechism classes at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, a routine that he had carried out with apostolic zeal since 1968.


    Solutions must go deep

    For the past 23 years, I have worked in Florida’s child-protection system as a front-line case manager, investigator, supervisor, manager, policy director, deputy and district administrator.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category