Dear Kitties: Please Stop Eating All of Our Birdies

We need more predators. The sheepmen complain, it is true, that the coyotes eat some of their lambs. This is true but do they eat enough? I mean enough lambs to keep the coyotes sleek, healthy and well fed. That is my concern. As for the sacrifice of an occasional lamb, that seems to me a small price to pay for the support of the coyote population. -Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

The story from a week or so ago that domestic cats are butchering our birds and frogs and voles and snakes and every other manner of creature that ever has walked, slithered, or crawled across the face of the Earth wasn’t exactly startling news to me. I own a cat; a sleek, healthy, happy, affectionate domestic shelter-rescue shorthair, and she loves to kill things. I hate it that she kills things, but the killing of things is in a cat’s nature. It cannot be avoided anymore than we can avoid the urge to walk upright.

Reading the story instantly reminded me of the Abbey quote above, and made me wonder whether cats have simply replaced coyotes in the predator-prey relationship. The coyotes are making a comeback, this is true, but there numbers must be nowhere near what they once were. Is it likely that the household cat has simply replace the role once filled by the coyote – the killer of many small living things? I don’t have an answer, but I am always curious by these things. Just like I have long been curious whether domestic cows are worse or better for the range than the multitudes of bison that once roamed the prairies. It seems that the two things may be equivalent – the cow and the bison – but I have read just enough to know that in practice and behavior and ecological impacts of the two ungulates are not the same. So I remain curious about my feline’s role in nature, and whether she is throwing all of nature askew by her possibly un-coyote-like behavior.

I suppose, to be honest, there is something we can do to intervene in this slaughter that Audobon and the American Bird Conservancy and others have warned us about: we could keep our cats indoors. In my opinion, this is a cruel thing to do to a cat if you live in a suburban or rural setting. It is likely a very kind thing to do in an urban environment or densely populated area where the poor cat wouldn’t stand a chance outdoors. But I would no sooner lock my cat indoors all day than I would force my kids to watch 12 hours of TV a day. If you make the decision to adopt a cat, you should certainly be aware and understand the consequences, but likewise you must be willing to allow a cat to be a cat.

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