I have lived with pets my whole life and cannot imagine living without a dog, cat, bird, or some other furred, feathered, scaled, or quilled animal. Every pet I have ever owned has been a stray. That would include every dog, cat, snake, bird (yes, one of our volunteers found a cockatiel on his front yard and brought it to me) and even a hedgehog.
With that being said, I have some pretty strict rules about pets. A pet is a pet and stays indoors, (except for dogs, of course). (Wildlife are not pets and never will be.) Cats stay indoors no matter how much they whine, cry, or ask to go outside. So, I found it interesting when I heard about research conducted by the University of Georgia and the National Geographic Society’s Crittercam.
The “Kitty Cam” is a light, waterproof camera fit with LED lights to record activity at any hour of day or night. According to Treehugger.com, “Kitty Cams allow recording of a cat-eye view without disrupting behavior. We used Kitty Cams to investigate the activities of urban free-roaming cats in Athens, Georgia, from November 2010 to October 2011, with goals for wildlife conservation and for improving the health and well-being of pet cats.”
The results of the study showed that of the 60 cats wearing the cameras, 30 percent captured and killed prey with an average of one kill every 17 hours spent outside. The study also showed that cats bring home less than one quarter of their kills, so owners aren’t fully aware of the amount of killing their pet is undertaking.
The American Bird Conservancy feels the news is fairly dire. “If we extrapolate the results of this study across the country and include feral cats we find that cats are likely killing more than 4 billion animals per year, including at least 500 million birds. Cat predation is one of the reasons why one in three American bird species are in decline,” said Dr. George Fenwick, President of American Bird Conservancy, the only organization exclusively conserving birds throughout the Americas. Further, a study by the University of Nebraska found that feral cats are responsible for the extinction of 33 species of birds worldwide.
Freedom for cats does not only mean havoc for birds and small animals, it also means a shorter lifespan for the cat. Most animal organizations agree (including the American Humane Association and the American Bird Conservancy) that free roaming cats live less than five years, while their indoor counterparts will see their 17th birthday or more.
If a free roaming cat is actually able to dodge a car, then it is very likely to contract or carry a serious disease such as feline leukemia, feline AIDS (FIV), FIP (feline infectious peritonitis) feline distemper (panleukopenia), or upper respiratory infections. Cats also pick up parasites such as fleas, ticks, ear mites, and several types of worms. I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.
Warm weather is here and cats are going to want outside. For their sake, and that of the birds and other wildlife, please keep them indoors. It is the green thing to do.
Lynn Youngblood is the Executive Director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City, Missouri. Reach her at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net