Oh, So Outdoor Cats Are “An Evil,” Huh?


Flowers are blooming, grass is greening, the days are getting longer, and spring is in the air. That must mean it’s time for another round of the OMG FERAL CAT DISEASE BIRD MURDER DOOOOM game.

This year’s episode comes to us courtesy of a recent op-ed in the New York Times with the not-too-inflammatory-at-all title “The Evil of the Outdoor Cat.” Nature writer Richard Conniff has shared about 800 words of mindless drivel about how horrible outdoor cats, and especially feral cats, are for birds and other small animals.

Here’s a synopsis of the article: “When I was a kid, I had a cat that went outdoors and caught birds and mice. Then that cat died and got picked to death by scavengers. Given all the pseudo-scientific bullcrap I’ve been reading — and here, let me share it with you in the most inflammatory language possible — it was a good thing that my outdoor cat died.”

Conniff breathlessly informs us that cats are three or four times more likely than dogs to carry rabies, that they the leading source of toxoplasma infection in humans and that they’re carriers of all sorts of nasty parasites like roundworms, hookworms, giardia and campylobacter. Obviously, anyone foolish enough to get near a cat is just asking for an appearance on “Monsters Inside Me.”

Since Conniff isn’t the least bit ashamed to use reams of anecdata to prove his point, let me offer some anecdata of my own: The only pet I’ve ever seen completely infested with roundworms was a dog that got infected by eating roadkill. Not only that, but in my day job at a pet insurance call center, I’ve seen dozens of claims for treating dogs with giardia, but have I seen even one claim for a giardia-infected cat? Nope.

Naturally, Conniff also shares the argument that outdoor and feral cats are primarily responsible for the wholesale demise of songbirds. “But the peculiar thing about what biologists have called ‘the second Silent Spring’ is that people tend not to hear it,” he writes.

I was intrigued by the phrase “the second Silent Spring,” so I decided to consult the almighty Google oracle to see if I could find its origin.

Guess what I found? It comes from a commentary in the August 12, 1999, issue of Nature. And guess what the abstract reads? “The drive to squeeze ever more food from the land has sent Europe’s farmland wildlife into a precipitous decline. How can agricultural policy be reformed so that we have fewer grain mountains and more skylarks?”

Hmm. Not much there about the role of cats in this article on the avian holocaust. I wonder why. Maybe because we humans are the ones doing most of the bird killing with our habitat encroachment, factory farming, poisoning of the land with pesticides and toxic byproducts of industrial processes like papermaking, fracking, smelting, and so on.

Sure, Conniff does mention human influence in the bird die-off, but it doesn’t take him long to bring it back to cats, and naturally, TNR.

How horrific, he says, that shelters and rescue groups are practicing TNR. It’s just a way for those organizations to make their kill numbers look better, he says, apparently because he has drunk about 100 gallons of the PETA Kool-Aid. PETA, of course, justifies that more than 90 percent of the animals entering its “shelter” in Virginia are killed by saying that they are doing the dirty work others won’t.

What a load of crap.

PETA’s arguments against trap-neuter-return and research done under the cover of reputable organizations like the Smithsonian Institution (even when that research is done poorly enough to fail a high school biology lesson, and it’s done by a person so biased against feral cats that she actually took it upon herself to poison the ones living near her building), make it easy for someone with an agenda to have volumes of anti-cat sound bites to use.

I wish mega-media outlets like the Times would give the same amount of space to pro-TNR advocates — and, you know, maybe a little real science while they’re at it — as they give to the cat haters. And for once, I wish the flowers of anti-cat rhetoric would fail to bloom in the spring.

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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

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