I find it quite interesting that one of the national television networks recently ran a piece about how domestic cats are taking a toll on song birds and other wildlife animals. They offered some very convincing evidence that roving house cats as well as feral cats are killing a significant number of animals that we outdoorsmen value very highly. I feel sure that the ire of a lot of the owners of domestic cats will take great offense at these figures that project our warm and fuzzy little house pets as being vicious killers.
It’s about time that some of us well meaning cat owners became aware that our well-fed and pampered cats are in fact, causing harm to a good number of our native wildlife.
We live in a wooded area with our closest human neighbors being maybe a quarter of a mile away. The surrounding woodlands abound with songbirds, deer, bear, squirrels, chipmunks and a host of other native wildlife.
Our pet cat is, for the most part, kept inside and is extremely well fed. However we do occasionally let the cat outside to wander around in the woods. Sometimes the cat spends the night outside and seems to be comfortable in doing this. The TV program that portrayed pet house cats as being vicious killers of wildlife really hit home when we began to realize that the little “gifts” that our pet cat brought home to display to its owners contained ample evidence that our domestic cat was killing a significant number of our prized wildlife.
A partial list of these little gifts included voles, field mice, chipmunks, an adult gray squirrel, moles, adult short tailed weasels (an invasive species), and a scattering of feathers that indicated that our cat was killing songbirds. The real “eye-opener” for us was when our cat brought in the remnants of an endangered eastern flying squirrel. Maybe our fuzzy little house cat wasn’t as domesticated as we’d like to believe.
Being brought up in a very small eastern North Carolina town we’d always had pet house cats that spent most of their waking moments outdoors. We always kept the cat’s outside food dishes filled and felt there was little need for the cats to kill wildlife to supplement their very ample food at home. The cats occasionally brought in remnants of birds and such and we didn’t think much about it. That’s just the way cats operated.
In those days it was practically unheard of to have one’s pets spayed or neutered and all of our female cats bore lots of kittens. Our neighbor’s cats did too. By the fall of the year the small town was overrun with what we locals called “our barn cats.” Before long we couldn’t begin to feed all these animals and the now-feral cats were depending on whatever they could catch and kill to live.
Animal control officers were unheard of in those days and when the numbers of feral cats became a little too obvious, neighbors began to complain that the cats were killing too many songbirds. The most logical solution to the problem of too many cats was to hire us kids to control the number of cats running around town.
With our trusty little 22 rifles we went out cat hunting. To help us out with the cost of ammo (a box of fifty, 22 long rifle cartridges cost 50 cents then) we were awarded trophy fees of a quarter for every cat we killed. We seldom had an over abundance of cats for the following year and no one ever complained about our methods of controlling the problem. We of the Town Cat Controlling Brigade were very sure that our shots at these cats were all head-shots and meant instant death to the animals.
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission also recognized the problems with too many predators (feral cats, hawks, foxes, wildcats, feral dogs, etc.) and actually (and discretely) looked the other way at our efforts to control some of these predators. A very fine and understanding game warden in those days was a fellow named Carleton Spain and he mentioned to us that such and such an area outside town was developing a feral cat problem.
Apparently some of the neighbors had attempted to limit the numbers of the barn cats by taking the half-grown kittens out into the wooded areas outside town and just dumping them to forage on their own. It was obvious that the numbers of bobwhite quail and rabbits were decreasing as the numbers of feral cats increased.
On the other hand, the NCWRC game wardens didn’t take kindly to fire lighting deer at night so we of the Town Cat Controllers Brigade always made sure that Warden Spain was made aware that we were on a reconnaissance mission out on the Sparrow or Campbell’s Creek Roads before we took to the roadways in whatever vehicle we had at our disposal. With rifles and spotlights in hand we’d cruise the roads looking for and killing feral cats. The cat populations declined dramatically and the quail and rabbit populations grew larger. Predator control worked!
Even though the American Veterinary Association approves of a well placed bullet to the head of an animal needing to be humanely euthanized, the general public shudders at the thought of shooting animals as a humane way to “put an animal down.” In today’s world it’s considered to be a far better way of controlling too many cats (or other animals) to simply have these pets neutered and kept penned up and well fed within our homes.
Our domestic cats are one of the few animals that will kill simply for the love of killing and, as I can well attest, they will kill native wildlife that we’d like to see around our homes or on our farms.
There are usually free clinics in local areas that offer to neuter your pets either free or for a very nominal fee. No doubt this is the best way to control the populations of pet animals without having to use more controversial methods of animal control.
I can’t think of anyone who appreciates that keeping the numbers of feral cats down more that our North Carolina quail and rabbit hunters. Along with such things as habitat loss, insecticides, herbicides, and other known predators on small game, feral cats play an important role the loss of quail and rabbits.