I’m a cat lover, and we’ve always had a domestic cat in our lives. In fact, I’m an animal lover in general, a term that includes both domesticated “companion animals” and Mother Nature’s “other animals.”
I believe most people will say they are animal lovers as well, which includes birds, small mammals and all wildlife. Naturally, most of us don’t want innocent wildlife to become victims of injury or death.
But I need to address a myth that has been too long-standing — that their cat “needs to go outdoors — to just be a cat.” There is no such need.
Cats are perfectly fine being indoors, and they should be kept that way. They like to look outside and, of course, can be allowed outdoors, but they should at least be on a leash or in the presence of their guardians.
One great way to allow domesticated cats outside is through a catio. Not everyone is willing or able to provide a catio, but everyone should be willing to keep their cat out of potential danger.
For example, they might get into a fight with another cat, a dog or some other creature. They might get hit by a car or hurt by a person who doesn’t like cats — especially if the cat is “doing his/her business” in a person’s yard or garden. An unspayed female cat may become pregnant, causing her guardian the problem of an unwanted litter and adding to the ever-existent issue of “too many kittens for too few homes.”
It’s undeniably true that cats are at risk for injury, diseases like toxoplasmosis, and unplanned pregnancies when left out on their own. That scenario is obviously bad for the cats, but what about their natural predatory instincts — and the impact of those instincts on our wildlife?
Adding to the “predatory problem” our domesticated cats can cause for wildlife is the fact that we have thousands upon thousands of community/feral cats in our area. So far, these multitudes of cats have been largely beyond effective community control.
I applaud the efforts of trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs orchestrated by good-hearted people and organizations to control the feral cat population.
Once the necessary surgery has taken place, the cat is returned to its original location. Volunteers provide food and some minimal veterinary care at their own cost.
While I give credit to these organizations, a simple math equation will show you they are doomed to fail. There is not nearly enough trapping and, therefore, not nearly enough spaying and neutering. As a result, we have an ever-increasing number of feral cats preying on wildlife, causing untold numbers of injuries, “orphan” situations, and death to the victims of their predation.
Do the math and you’ll see the reality: A female cat can become pregnant at only 5 months of age and she can have up to three litters per year. According to the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon, “one unaltered female and her offspring can produce 1.398 million cats over the span of 10 years.”
The coalition, based in Portland, has already trapped over 100,000 cats and as laudable as that accomplishment is, I note that it took them 25 years to get there. It’s an average of just 4,000 a year. Considering that a mama cat and her offspring are capable of producing an average of 139,000 cats per year, there’s just no way any organization can keep up with the rate of increase in cat population.
Our wildlife species are being diminished by cats. The loss is in the billions. In fact, cats have been responsible for an estimated range of between 33 and 40 avian extinctions worldwide. This profound and permanent loss of birds is indeed tragic, given the fact they are key to protecting ecosystems from the stresses of climate change. They save plants from marauding insects as the world warms up.
Unfortunately, these feral cats will still prey on birds and other small mammals, because that’s what cats instinctively do.
Our local Turtle Ridge Wildlife Center is one of only two full species rehabilitation center in the entire Western region. Its mission is to provide care to injured or orphaned Oregon wildlife — with the goal to release the victims back to their natural habitat.
I concede there are other impacts to wildlife, include land development and government policies, but why do we irresponsibly allow our cats to be such a large part of the problem?
Most people who love cats and other animals, including me, don’t want to employ euthanasia to solve the cat problem. However, euthanasia would prevail as the most expeditious and effective cure for cat overpopulation and the manifold problems for which unrestrained cats are responsible. Most favor TNR as the more “humane,” and therefore more acceptable, cure.
According to one study, to properly and effectively employ TNR means that every community must trap, neuter and return approximately 75% of its feral cats — every year. Presently, we are nowhere near that percentage. So a really bad situation will clearly continue to get even worse unless we change our modus operandi.
In the big picture, we are stewards here on this earth. We need to take some dramatic measures to cure our community cat problems, which include community discussion and action to create public funding for TNR. I would like to see at least two full-time employees in our area — one for Salem/Keizer and one for Marion County. In addition to TNR, they would keep an eye out for animal abuse, cruelty, and neglect situations as part of their duties.
We could replicate the efforts of the Oregon Humane Society, which has designated “humane officers” on staff to address animal abuse.
We need to be self-reliant and that warrants more public discussion on this topic.
To our state’s credit, the Legislature passed ORS 336.067, a state statute which requires “humane treatment of animals” be given special emphasis in instruction in public schools. Other states may have, or should have, a similar statute.
To me, all life is equal. It’s unjust if we allow the life of the cat to be of greater value than the lives of our wildlife. We should remedy the injustice that presently exists.
Don’t be led by myths. With a bit of personal action, we can work together to save our cats and our wildlife from fates we don’t want them to suffer.