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Your Fluffy Kitty Is a Killing Machine

Froma Harrop on

Many cat lovers argue that it is cruel to make felines stay indoors. I'm in the opposite camp. We say that letting the kitties outside is cruel -- and not just because coyotes and speeding cars threaten them. It's because cats kill birds, chipmunks and other small mammals in shocking numbers.

This is not a new tension. In 1949 then-Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson vetoed a bill titled "An Act to Provide Protection to Insectivorous Birds by Restraining Cats." Stevenson quipped that "to escort a cat abroad on a leash is against the nature of the cat."

Look, I understand the affection for cats. I grew up with them. A favorite was Gata, a stray who seamlessly moved in with us and had outdoor roaming rights. At night, Gata would jump onto one of our beds, cuddle and purr.

Another memory of Gata, though, is of her prowling around the garden, looking for prey. We used to call her "the fearless hunter," thinking, at the time, that this was cute.

It is definitely the nature of cats to stalk and kill birds. But when cats are inside and birds are outside, each species has its own lane. Everyone lives.

In this country, about 81% of pet cats are kept indoors, according to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information. They're not a problem. It's the 19% that are out massacring birds, added to the untold numbers of feral cats.

 

Biologists tell the story of Tibbles, a pet cat taken to New Zealand in 1894. She is said to have single-handedly hunted a vulnerable bird species to extinction.

In Britain, only 26% of cat owners keep their felines inside. A pro-cat group called Cats Protection advises bringing cats indoors at night and feeding them healthy diets to deter their predatory behavior.

The idea that providing gourmet meals for a cat will turn off their urge to hunt is highly questionable. Gata adored the liver patties that my mother cooked specifically for her. (The patties were individually wrapped and frozen so that Gata could get one every morning.)

Nonetheless, Gata one day came back into the house with a bird in her mouth. She dropped it at my mother's feet and looked up to her for thanks, which she didn't get.

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