Pet Tales: Cats outdoors ruffle feathers

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Is there a war on cats?

Some cat lovers think so, and they've reacted with yowls of protest over a new report from scientists who say cats kill more birds, bunnies and other small mammals than anyone ever imagined.

"That cuddly kitty is deadlier than you might think," according to a headline that ran on Page 2 in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Jan. 30. The story by a New York Times reporter summarized the findings of scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Indoor-outdoor pet cats and feral cats kill "a median of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year," the report said. The scientists used mathematical formulas to crunch numbers from multiple studies, including some that observed the hunting habits of cats.

Cat lovers on Facebook and other social media damn the study, which was published in the journal Nature Communications. Cat lovers demand that the mainstream media report the "other side" of the story, including the response from Alley Cat Allies.

So here it is:

The "biased study" is a "veiled promotion by bird advocates to ramp up the mass killing of outdoor cats," according to a Jan. 30 news release from ACA, a national organization "dedicated to the protection and humane treatment of cats."

"The study conveniently sidestepped the primary culprit of decline of wildlife populations which, of course, is human activity including habitat destruction," said Becky Robinson, president and co-founder of Alley Cat Allies.

Nowhere in that release is there any suggestion that cat owners should keep pet cats indoors. Nor is regret or concern expressed for birds and mammals killed by cats.

Alley Cat Allies supports Trap-Neuter-Return, "which stabilizes and then reduces the population." TNR cats live in "managed colonies" and a "colony keeper" feeds them.

Opponents of TNR say the number of outdoor cats continues to increase, the cats live longer because people feed them, and neutered or not, they still kill wildlife.

Another national organization attempts to take a more balanced stand.

"The HSUS values both cats and wildlife," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. "There is a legitimate issue with free-roaming cats preying on birds and other wildlife, and we are working to change that in a meaningful way."

He continued, "The presence of free-roaming, abandoned and outdoor cat populations in and around human communities and in other settings has proven divisive within the humane, conservation and scientific communities. We believe we can find solutions."

Last December HSUS convened a conference in Los Angeles to try to integrate the "research and science concerning outdoor cats" with "better policy that protects cats, birds and other wildlife."

Mr. Pacelle praises "the thousands of organizations and individuals who manage cat colonies through trap-neuter-return." He said, "The outdated strategy of trapping and killing feral cats is generally ineffective."

Further, he said, "Cats are an important part of our lives, and whether owned or free-roaming, are loved and cared for by millions of Americans. ... The best way we as a society can reduce impacts on wildlife from cats is to spay and neuter our pets and keep them indoors."

Here's my opinion: Cat lovers should stop attacking the "science" and the numbers in these kinds of studies and quit pointing the finger at other factors that kill birds.

Not all cats kill birds, say many of the people who emailed me. Some refuse to concede that some cats kill birds. They don't seem to care about the many people who are saddened or angered by the killing of birds, rabbits and other mammals.

Many of these emails come from people who spend time and money neutering, inoculating and feeding outdoor cats. That makes them part of the solution rather than part of the cat overpopulation problem, in my opinion. Locally, the Homeless Cat Management Team has neutered more than 14,000 feral cats in the past 13 years.

There is some basis for their fear that the outdoor cats they love will be rounded up and killed.

"Please stop any and all support for feral cat colonies," says a Feb. 1 email release from the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology. Outdoor cats "are subsidized recreational killers," said John Fitzpatrick, director of the lab. "... we now have a clear understanding of the scale of carnage they bring to our wild bird communities. Please also keep pet cats indoors."

"The people involved in this study are of the highest scientific integrity," said Ken Rosenberg, a conservation scientist at the Cornell bird lab. "The bulk of the killing is being done by feral, non-owned cats." With "the incredible proliferation of trap-neuter-return" programs, outdoor cat colonies "are ballooning. ... This study is not part of a cat-hating campaign. ... It's about the inappropriateness of cats having freedom to roam and policies that support the proliferation of top predators ..."

I'll end with this: Don't hate the cats. It's not their fault. This is a people problem.

People who allow pet cats to "free roam" are part of the dead wildlife problem. People who don't neuter free roaming cats are part of the cat over-population problem. And people who dump their pet cats are contributing to the "ballooning" population of outdoor cat colonies.

Appreciating animals

Pittsburgh Public Market at 17th and Smallman streets, Strip District, is having its first Animal Appreciation Weekend from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow. Going Home Greyhounds and Animal Rescue League and Wildlife Center will bring adoptable animals, but everyone else is supposed to leave their pets at home.

Gala for pit bulls

The Lovers Not Fighters Gala is 7 to 11 p.m. next Saturday at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland. It's a fundraiser for Hello Bully. Tickets are $50 general admission and $120 for VIP. Go to www.hellobully.org for tickets.

Bowling for greyhounds

The fifth Annual Bark Bowl on Sunday, Feb. 17, benefits retired racing dogs at Going Home Greyhounds. Bowl 1-3 p.m. at AMF Mt. Lebanon Lanes, 1601 Washington Road (Route 19), Pittsburgh 15228. Registration is noon-12:45 p.m.

Registration is $20 for adults, $10 for 13-17-year-olds or $60 for families. It includes one pizza per lane, soft drinks and shoe rental.

Mingle and meet greyhounds available for adoption -- but leave your own dogs at home.

Email mrpatom@verizon.net or greyluvr@verizon.net for more information.

Tom Cat Special

Because Feb. 28 is National Spay and Neuter Day, male cats will be neutered at a special rate on that date at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society. The $50 Tom Cat Special includes rabies and FVRCP vaccines and a microchip. Call 412-321-4625, extension 213, to register and pre-pay.

pets

Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3064.


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