Smithsonian/Wildlife cat study generates outrage


A feral kitty at a local trailer park. (Photo by Mary Johnson)

A feral kitty at a local trailer park. (Photo by Mary Johnson)

The rage is palpable among my cat colleagues in response to the recent Smithsonian/US Fish & Wildlife’s condemnation of community cats and their affect on the bird population.

It seems like an all-out war on cats.

My first thought was to look for statistics to refute their claims. How skewed are their numbers? What about the other factors that contribute to declining number of birds? Pollution. Eroding habitat. Glass buildings. Changing weather patterns.

But then no one really knows the extent of the community cat population. It’s been estimated at equal to the owned cat population. According to the American Pet Products Association, approximately 64 percent of owned cats are indoor/outdoor.

I shot off an email to Alley Cat Allies. What can one person do? Despite the flood of criticism, Smithsonian and friends are not going to say, “So sorry. Nice kitties.”

Here’s Alley Cat Allies’ response to me in part:

Clearly, cats are not the real culprits, and irresponsible articles like those published this week only confuse the issue, cause backlash against cats, and distract attention from the real dangers to birds and other wildlife.

The article isn’t news; rather, it’s just a desperate response to all the great progress we’re making as more and more communities turn to effective, compassionate, and sound programs including Trap-Neuter-Return. TNR works, and the fact is, entire colonies of feral cats have stabilized, and many have died out from natural attrition and no longer exist.

Here’s the organization’s press release in full.

The attack against cats comes on the heels of Gareth Morgan’s call to ban cats in New Zealand. (You would figure that Fox News would jump on that.)

There are no harder working animal advocates than those involved in TNR and caring for community cats.

There’s a battle brewing in my own town. (Here’s my story in the Branford Eagle.) A colony of ferals in a trailer park has been cared for by the Branford Compassion Club for 15 years and now one or two residents have decided that the cats are responsible for damage to the underpinnings of the trailers. Over the years, offspring have been trapped and adopted out, as is the custom with most TNR programs. Bottom line is that they’re looking for barn homes for the 20 or so cats and BCC, animal control, trailer park management, and the health district are attempting to create a plan to keep track of cats and their owners within the park.

A well-maintained feral kitty habitat.

The Branford Compassion Club meticulously maintains around a dozen colonies in town. The cats are trapped, neutered, vaccinated, socialized (when possible) or released, and fed daily; they have snug huts. They’re cared for rain or shine.

There is agreement all around on one point: Feral cats are the result of human neglect. Despite the love of cat videos and LOL Cats, on so many fronts they’re still considered second class citizens in the pet world. They’re considered disposable. How often do we hear about cats in shelters that are surrendered because their owners moved? Or had a baby? Or were allergic? Or simply abandoned?

Feral kitties at a local colony.

Feral kitties at a local colony.

Until that mentality changes, feral cats will populate our towns and cities. Those of us involved in writing and cat care, rescue and education must keep preaching about the need for responsible cat ownership, the importance of keeping cats indoors, the opportunities for environmental enrichment (including safe access to the outdoors), the availability of help for behavior problems.

The Internet is a powerful resource. Look how quickly and intensely we all responded! Alley Cat Allies will be creating a petition on its website; signing it, when it becomes available, is a start

As the saying goes: Don’t mess with the Cat Ladies and Guys!

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About ExclusivelyCats
Sally Bahner is an expert in all aspects of cat care: Writer, consultant, speaker, instructor.

15 Responses to Smithsonian/Wildlife cat study generates outrage

  1. And we’ll add one more to your list of excuses people have made when surrendering cats (that SHOULD be family members!!) – “he didn’t match my new carpet.” I’m not kidding – it actually happened at our shelter. You nailed it – sadly they’re considered disposable. The problem originated with humans.

    • With a surrender like that, the person should be blacklisted from adopting at any shelter! Yes, indeed, it’s a human problem — I never stop reiterating that. As much as many of us cherish cats, so many consider them disposable! Thank you for commenting!

  2. Jamie says:

    Loss of birds are caused by loss of habitat by human activity. Predators such as cats help keep bird population under control and birds healthy.

  3. I’ve signed a petition to stop this bogus “study” which uses old data and junk “science”.
    If there is a decline in wild songbird populations, and I don’t think there is, then it would be the fault of unscrupulous industries generating pollution, and would have nothing to do with feral cats.

  4. Just call me Madcatlady says:

    Who funded the bogus “study”? I knew it was going to turn out to be bogus, glad to hear others mentioning it was. With all of the big hunting dogs now kept in cities, too, interesting to note that THEY were never mentioned because their well-heeled owners would not like that. Dogs in these “Dog parks” are a menace to everything including the health of one’s own dogs.

    Anyone watching feral cats for enough years knows they aren’t getting the healthy birds when they get any at all. Where is their outrage about loss of trees & habitat when everything is paved over for more buildings and parkings lots and bigger tornadoes are taking out so many big, longtime trees as in the ones last weekend?

    I don’t name where I visit the feral cat family I know just because of these villains as in your town. Until they follow every last pit bull and loose dog large enough to kill cats & humans they can quit their monitoring cats at all for my money.

    As I am sure you know, do the background on cat haters and you will always have a lurid story. Always. Don’t forget that! Remember how serial killer Dahmer harmed dogs first and if he had been stopped then so many lives would have been saved.

  5. I have a family in New Zealand and so I am pretty familiar with the cat vs bird issue there. Unfortunately, there are no other predators for birds in New Zealand other than the domestic cat or humans. New Zealand is very attached to their birds. When the British explorers arrived in the country they decimated a significant number of species in addition to exploiting the land resources. I am confident that the cat lovers will mount an aggressive campaign to keep their kitties. The answer in New Zealand as in everywhere in the world comes down to responsible pet ownership.

  6. Christine says:

    Please see cat advocate Peter Wolf’s Vox Felina blog as he has been shedding light on these bogus studies for a few years now. See his site and especially his resource pages, http://www.voxfelina.com/

    As the newest member of the Best Friends Animal Society’s National Programs team, he will have the opportunity to improve the lives of stray, abandoned, and feral cats on a scale I could only dream of three years ago when he launched Vox Felina.

    Peter writes: “My position—Cat Initiatives Analyst—includes a broad range of responsibilities, but most of my attention will be focused on the intersection of science, policy, and communications. In other words, using the relevant science to strengthen Best Friends’ legislative and outreach efforts on behalf of the country’s community cats.

    Clearly, this is a job made for the “feral cat nerd.”

    Read more on his 7th of May, 2013 blog post.

  7. Kim says:

    This is a really excellent blog. According to the HSUS, even the authors of the study, Loss, Will, and Marra, acknowledge that it is deficient, possibly just some fancy guessing. This is not the way science should be done. Science needs to be exhaustive, ideally, not leaving any holes. I agree that the real responsibility is being taken off of those who deserve it, the humans, of course. This is so typical of our society right now. “It’s not my fault!” or “I didn’t do it!” The study also gives more fodder for those who already dislike (misguidedly) cats. Frankly, I think hatred of cats is associated with misogyny, but that’s just my opinion.

    • MadCatLady says:

      Kim, you are exactly right that this is not how studies should be done. I agree with you about cat haters, don’t believe in associating with them at all, think they are rather dangerous and need to be watched really. Our yard is quite the bird sanctuary and there are many cats, both feral and pet, in our neighborhood and they often pass through our yard.

  8. Kim says:

    I would like to reiterate what someone else said. The single greatest threat to bird species (and every other species), is habitat loss due to humans. The Smithsonian paper detracts from this fact.

  9. Kim says:

    Also, it’s nice to hear your backyard is a bird sanctuary. One of our three cats, Oliver, is predatory. He likes to hang out on our back patio area, but I make sure to be out there with him to make sure he is safe, as well as the birds and lizards.

    • We’ve had a bird feeder in our back yard for 20 years with a lovely assortment of birds, perfectly positioned to deter the squirrels. A neighborhood cat comes around occasionally, but there seems to be a detente. We needed to have some trees removed a couple of weeks ago and the bird feeder was a casualty. I was not happy. DH has to pour another concrete pad and reposition the plantings, then coax the birds back.
      Yes, it’s a human thing. Even something as “minor” as knocking down a bird feeder.
      JustCallMeMadCatLady: The petition sponsored by Alley Cat Allies garnered 55,000 signatures and was delivered to the Smithsonian about a month ago, according to their Facebook page. There’s also this: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/544/193/633/tell-the-smithsonian-stop-spreading-junk-science-that-will-kill-cats/
      Thanks everyone for your thoughtful cmments!

      • Kim says:

        We just have to do the best we can. And I did sign that petition. I’m on the e-mail list for Alley Cat Allies. I started doing a search on this subject a couple days ago because Ventura Wildlife Care posted a piece about cats effects on bird populations. I was thinking about making a visit to the facility but not anymore. It is interesting that when I tried e-mailing them to give my opinion, the e-mail bounced back. I guess I will just have to print out a hard copy and mail it to them.

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