ARE AN ENVIRONMENTAL DILEMMA
by Whit Gibbons
January 23, 2005
recently asked if we were going to let our two kittens, Jack and Rita,
be outside cats. My first response was that "letting them outside"
was too moderate a term, noting that the next time Jack shredded the living
room curtain into strips of spaghetti he would not have to be "let"
outside, he would already have been thrown out. Probably at least into
the neighbor's yard. Of course, the real question was whether having outside
cats was the proper thing to do environmentally.
scientific articles have documented that domestic cats have a serious
environmental impact on native wildlife. Outdoor cats kill staggering
numbers of songbirds, lizards, and small mammals every year. Some environmentalists
would go so far as to place bans on letting cats roam free in a neighborhood.
Others take the position that a person can be a proponent of native wildlife
and also have cats that live outside.
is not like a jellicle cat, black and white, but instead has many levels
of gray. Anti-outdoor-cat advocates take firm positions that domestic
cats turned out for even part of the day cause great environmental harm
by relentlessly killing small wild animals. Nonetheless, providing justification
for letting typical house cats have free rein out-of-doors is not that
difficult. The following are some of the comments I have received in support
of letting cats have their way outside (as they are accustomed to doing
commented, "I am puzzled by the concern some people have for native
wildlife that suffers because house cats go outside. What exactly is the
problem? No animal has ever gone extinct because of cats. In fact, I have
never heard of any species of wild animal even being eliminated from a
region because of `killer' cats. Lizards still seem to be around my house,
along with chipmunks and small birds. I ask again, what is the problem
people have with outdoor cats?"
person wrote, "Cars kill far more native wildlife than my cats. One,
named Kat, kills a few mice, bunnies, and lizards a year how many of the
same are killed by automobiles? I can assure you more population damage
is done by cars (thus, by people) than by Kat. Also, does the fact that
cats are not native exclude them from being a part of the legitimate food
other cat, Spencer, is not even part of the equation. The only `kill'
he has ever brought home was a dried up lizard that had been run over
by a car days earlier. I did turn on the deck light recently to find Spencer
and a possum eating out of the same food bowl. Spencer looked a little
confused but kept eating. So did the possum. But I bet that possum will
kill a lot more wildlife over the year than Spencer and Kat put together.
So why shouldn't my cats go outside?"
an interesting environmental perspective: "House cats that go outdoors
and kill small animals need to be viewed from the position of whether
the environmental impact they are having is any greater than native predators
would extract if they were around. Would not all these small animals have
to deal with bobcats and coyotes and foxes in the real world of native
animals? Maybe house cats are simply filling a role that we have already
eliminated by our removal of natural predators. Maybe house cats are actually
returning the outdoors closer to a natural system than what we have now
without native predators."
people should be required or at least encouraged to keep their cats indoors
will never be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. As far as Jack and
Rita go, they will probably stay inside, in part because we enjoy watching
the birds in the backyard. And to be sure, the cats would take their toll.
But also, as accurately noted above, cars kill far more animals than do
outdoor cats. I am less worried about our backyard wildlife than about
finding either of our kitty cats dead in the street that runs in front
of the house.
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