Another Inconvenient Truth

Our posts tend to be full of ideas for attracting wildlife to the garden. I love my lizards, birds, and pollinators, and Country Mouse even has a heart for rodents. And we don't like to write about trouble in paradise...

In last week's New York Times, in the Science section, I found an interesting article "Give Birds a Break. Lock Up Your Cat." The author, who's been a cat lover all her life, expresses it like this: "if there is one thing I don’t want crossing my path right now, it’s another bored, carnivorous tourist, another recreational hunter on the prowl." And I know what she's talking about. One neighborhood cat enjoys an occasional visit to our garden, and I always run after her with a large stick. It seems she's come to prefer gardens where no stick-wielding maniac disturbs her (or him). Still, I'm not always home, and I worry about the finches enjoying the lavender seeds.

I researched the issue a little further and came across a site by the American Bird Conservatory, which sponsors a "Keep Cats Indoor" campaign. "...scientists estimate that nationwide,
cats kill hundreds of millions of birds," they state. There's a lot interesting information about outdoor (and feral) cats and their effect on wildlife (no, the little bell does not help, though a hanging bird bath like this probably does).

But it's not just about the birds, the cats themselves actually benefit the most from staying inside. Here's again from the New York Times article: "It isn’t fair to the cat. Regular stints outdoors are estimated to knock three or more years off a pet cat’s life." And the American Bird Conservancy had a lot more useful information about why your cat will be happier and healthier as an indoor cat -- In fact I think I'll order a batch of their very attractive brochures to hand out at next year's garden tour. After all, gardening with natives really is about more than saving water.


Emily said…
we have 90% indoor cats. Which means that some mornings they get to wander outside and get their pounce out of them. The birds who love our fruit trees and the feeder hear them coming (the little bell and the fact that they meow with glee the minute the door opens) and fly out of reach. It's pretty comical to watch my cats try to hunt the birds and the birds taunt them. After about 45 minutes I round them up and we come inside where they curl up in the sun and pass out.

I'm not saying that feral/competent cats aren't a threat to the bird population because they are. But my cats are happier on the days when they get to have their little bit of "wild" time. It's all about balance.
I second that on the safety of the cats. After seeing a beloved cat die a scary and uncomfortable death (despite choosing the euthanasia without dragging it out) from an easily communicable disease outside, I agree. I want my furbabies to die of old age, and nothing more.
Country Mouse said…
I agree. And in the country there's another side to the story too - as evidenced by all the "Missing Cat" posters you see pinned to telegraph poles. There are bigger badder predators than kitty cats in our neck of the woods - bobcats, coyotes, even mountain lions. My dad brings Duncan in at twilight. My neighbors have sad tales of small dogs being cajoled by Coyotes - C'mon and play with the wild boys there fella! - Only to be snatched up and taken home to feed the coyote children. Let the natural predators keep things in balance, and keep cats out of it.
Town Mouse said…
Well Emily, if the cats stay in your garden, that's great. I agree, we cats need some "wild" time.

I'm just not too happy when someone's cats come over to my garden because it's set up to attract birds. I don't want to feel as if I constructed a death trap for birds - or a fine dining experience for cats.
Susan Tomlinson said…
I pretty much agree with this. Koho, our big cat, has always been an indoor cat. We rescued him when he was a teeny baby, and so it was easy to train him to be that way.

Bill, on the other hand, was a cat that was not being cared for by a former neighbor. He was sick and starving and so we "cat-napped" him and took him to the vet for treatment. After that, we decided the neighbor wasn't going to get him back. Unfortunately, he was an all-outdoor cat at that stage of his life. Slowly, over the years, he's come to prefer being inside, and probably spends 80% in the house. We'd lock him up all the time, but he'd go in and out the dog door anyway...

It's a dilemma, but I'm not sure what the solution is, otherwise. We do hang bells around the cats necks. It takes two bells for each, though, since a cat can learn to walk without ringing the bell if there is only one.