I’ve been thinking I might get myself a cat. Just a fluffy friendly pet that will keep my house free of mice, and my yard free of songbirds. I haven’t had a cat in decades, and I’ve grown to miss the tattered furniture, the hint of urine in the house, the little gifts of desiccated corpses on the doorstep.
Cats are the most versatile of pets, easily switching roles from cuddly companion to serial killer and back again. Though they may seem lazy lying in front of the fireplace at home, out of doors cats are a marvel of industry and efficiency. A study by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service have determined that cats in the U.S. kill 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year. Where else do you find that kind of results these days?
Killing mammals is the pet cat’s raison d’etre. There’s nothing like a cat to rid your house of mice, your garden of voles, or your granary of rats. Isn’t it great to know that when the job is done, and you let Felix out for the night, he can hone his skills by ridding the planet of small birds and chipmunks? And since the cat, if it’s a domestic cat, sleeps indoors and has a guaranteed source of food every day, it can easily outperform natural predators such as foxes, coyotes and hawks, which means it’s helping to rid the world of those too.
If you’re thinking that we don’t need cats, that there are plenty of ways that humans can decimate wildlife populations and threaten biodiversity without resorting to feline predation, consider this. According to the New York Times story on the Smithsonian report, “More birds and mammals die at the mouths of cats, the report said, than from automobile strikes, pesticides and poisons, collisions with skyscrapers and windmills and other so-called anthropogenic causes.”
The great thing about a pet cat is that if you get tired of it, or have to move, you can simply abandon the animal, secure in the knowledge that not only can Felix fend for himself, but he will find a plenitude of humanitarians to help him through the lean times. And don’t bother getting him neutered before you give him his freedom, the humanitarians will take care of that too.
Humane societies all over the world are adopting the trap, neuter and release, or TNR program. This policy, aimed at controlling the feral cat population without actually killing any cats, is so effective that, according to George Fenwick of the American Bird Conservancy, “the number of free roaming cats is definitively growing. It’s estimated that there are now more than 500 TNR. colonies in Austin alone.”
The beauty of TNR is that while it definitely restricts the breeding habits of the cats involved, it has no effect on the general cat population. The few who escape the dragnet can easily make up the shortfall. Consider that a single breeding pair of cats can produce 12 kittens in its first year of mated bliss. The female kittens will be ready to reproduce the following year, bringing the total to 66. At the end of 10 years, the descendants of that original pair of cats will number 80,399,780.
More good news: those neutered feral cats can still hunt. Felix may not be able to reproduce, but he can live out a long life of slaughter, secure in the knowledge that whenever he has a bad day, there will always be a saucer of milk or a dish of cat food on some kindly doorstep to see him through to kill another day.
Of course there are the irresponsible cat owners, those who neuter their feline friends, keep them indoors, put bells on their collars while they allow them to exercise in a fenced yard, and in all ways stymie their pet’s ability to pursue its natural work of species extinction. Not to worry, as long as there are cats there will be owners who give them their freedom to destroy wildlife and make more cats. Steady as she goes, and in a decade or two there won’t be much left on the planet but cats.
Yes, I’m going to enjoy my cat. When I’m sitting by the fire, he’ll sit with me, cuddling up and purring. When I don’t want to cuddle or be purred at, I’ll turn him loose to rid the world of cardinals and robins, which in turn will get rid of those bothersome foxes and marsh hawks. Cat owners, all you need to do is maintain your current course, and biodiversity will cease to be an issue on Earth. That is what you’re trying to achieve?
Al Pope won the Canadian Community Newspaper Award for best columnist in 2013. He also won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in B.C./Yukon in 2010 and 2002.