October 16 is designated as “National Feral Cat Day” or “Alley Cat Allies’ Global Cat Day” and it’s a highly charged and controversial topic among birders. Personally, I can’t stand the day, I abhor what it represents, and I cannot condone “celebrations” of stray and feral cats.
But I don’t hate cats.
Admittedly, I’ve always been more of a dog person, and I haven’t always had positive experiences with cats (bitten and clawed by others’ pets, with blood drawn while others laugh at “just the way cats are”). But I don’t have anything inherently against cats at all. They can be admirable pets and wonderful companions. They’re sleek and elegant, and can help hunt mice and insects in one’s home, naturally controlling those unwanted pests. A cat’s purr can be a soothing form of stress relief, and stroking a cat’s silky coat is luxurious therapy.
What I hate – and I don’t use that word lightly, as hate is the ultimate in strong emotion – is irresponsible pet owners of any variety. And when it comes to cats, there are so many variations of irresponsibility, it’s inexcusable. Anyone, anyone at all, who permits the following to happen is an irresponsible cat owner…
- Intentionally letting a cat outdoors to freely roam, at any time of day or night. Yes, indoor pets can and do occasionally escape, but if you “let the cat out” for any reason, you’re irresponsible to your pet, your neighbors, and local wildlife.
- Refusing to spay or neuter a cat and giving away resulting kittens without deep and thorough investigation of the homes they will go to. If those new kitten owners let their cats roam freely, you’re just as culpable as they are.
- Putting out food or shelter for stray cats of any variety. Oh, you want to feel good about helping the “poor kitties” but don’t want the responsibility of full pet ownership to take them in, socialize them, and protect them.
- Supporting trap-neuter-release programs. These programs make it acceptable to introduce predators to an area, and in the years of life that cat may have, it will have an incalculable effect on the local ecosystem, even without further breeding.
- Dumping a cat in any way, whether that means abandoning it to fend for itself, or surrendering it to a shelter because you’ve tired of the pet. Yes, there are legitimate reasons for surrender, but your own changing mood should not be one of them.
- Using euphemisms to make these unwanted pets seem more acceptable. They’re not “neighborhood cats” “community cats” or “colony cats” – they’re feral and stray. To call them otherwise only hides the problem and disguises the threats these cats pose.
My opinions aren’t necessarily popular, nor are they the opinions of every birder – nor should they be, as we all have to make our own choices and be comfortable with them.
I could inundate you with data, hard research, and numbers that illustrate the grave problems cats pose to birds, wildlife, and ecosystems (consider this excellent research from the American Bird Conservancy as well as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology). I could create charts and graphs, show videos, or debate until the sky turns green. But the truth is, this is such a divisive issue, one that is so charged with judgement and emotion, that it’s nearly impossible to reach a consensus, as each side wants to feel they’re right. But the only right, correct, and appropriate thing to do is to offer respect – respect to cats, respect to wildlife, and respect to both sides of the issue. To do so…
- Take proper, safe care of your own pets. Keep your cats indoors or closely monitor their outdoor exercise time, always in a way that won’t impact wildlife.
- Take steps to protect birds and other wildlife from cats, such as providing shelter cats can’t penetrate, predator-proofing bird houses and feeders, etc.
- Support local shelters either financially or with material donations or volunteer time so they can care for as many unwanted cats as possible.
- Gently seek to educate others about the problems cats can create, but always do so respectfully and with great care for others’ emotions and beliefs.
This isn’t a problem that is going to go away quickly or easily. But we can all be civil about it, and that is something that is so often lacking in this charged debate. It is entirely possible to love, enjoy, and appreciate both cats and birds, just as it is entirely possible to see both sides of this issue.
But you still won’t see me celebrating Feral Cat Day, when in the end, there’s nothing to celebrate about an unwanted pet.