Killing cats won’t solve anything

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Sir: May I add a comment on feral cat issues, in response to the letter from Al Farquhar? While I agree with his reasons not to let your cat out – my own cats are confined to the house and a backyard enclosure – there are other points he makes which are more questionable.

First, “small cats are not a part of the natural ecosystem” is simply untrue. England, which he discusses next, is home to felis sylvestris, as is most of Europe. The small African wildcat from which the domestic cat descends still exists, as do many small cat species in most of the world.

In North America, jaguarundi, margay, and bobcat all still exist. The fact that we have extirpated them from much of their range does not make his statement true, it just means that in some ways the domestic cat has filled in the gaps. It’s true they’re introduced here, but so are house mice, wharf rats, Norway rats, English sparrows, and starlings, all of which they hunt.

Second, while he is correct that a number of studies have estimated huge numbers of bird kills by cats, the methodologies of such studies typically involve huge logic jumps and multiple extrapolations of data. In the famous Smithsonian study, widely quoted recently, the already unrealistically high per cat average they arrived at was then extrapolated to the entire U.S. cat population, including full-time housecats.

This is how the really hysterical kill number estimates are achieved.

I have some relevant experience, as part of the management of a TNVR (trap-neuter-vaccinate-release) colony in Chatham-Kent. Because there were several of us, we probably covered about a quarter of the cats’ waking hours, far more observation time than you would see in a typical study.

In a little over two years, three of the cats were seen with birds, five in one case and one in each of the others. If we extrapolate to cover all their waking hours, which we really shouldn’t (but the Smithsonian studies did) that is still only 28 for a 24-cat colony.

The truth is, successful bird hunting is a specialized activity in cats. An honest study would try to determine the proportion of bird killers in the population, and find an average for them to estimate the total. This leads me to believe that the destructiveness of cats has been grossly exaggerated by many studies.

Third, Mr. Farquhar does not give a reason for rejecting rodent control as a function of cats. The fact that they sometimes kill species he likes does not mean that they do not help to control other more destructive species, including the introduced species I mentioned above.

Fourth, cats do move in to replace cats, as long as the territory and shelter are there. Releasing the spayed cat means she will hold the territory and not reproduce; removing her will allow an unspayed female to move in and reproduce. Like most small predators, including us, cats will respond to lethal control methods by producing a baby boom. This is why lethal control is not only cruel, but also ineffective.

Our local OSPCA shelter, serving a much smaller human population, has about double the cat intake of the main shelter in Toronto. In a little over two years, the colony I described experienced seven dump offs, not including the kittens stuffed in a nearby trash receptacle. Everyone I know with multiple housecats has taken in strays/dump offs.

We don’t have a feral cat problem in Chatham-Kent; we have an irresponsible human problem. Until that changes, no solution will really work.

Our new, Orwellianly named bylaw is useless, since it will mostly punish people who are trying to be part of the solution. However, TNVR has the best medium to long-term prospects. With no new dump offs, populations would eventually decline.

Lani Wallace

Erieau

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