VICTORIA -- Canada's 7.9 million house cats are the focus of intensifying public disquiet. There are those who loudly protest catastrophic predation by cats on wildlife and demand cat control. Others vociferously oppose any sort of cat constraint owing to their unique and iconic status that should exempt them from municipal oversight.
The controversy is pitting neighbour against neighbour.
At issue are the results of many studies confirming that more than two-thirds of house cats are permitted to prowl outdoors. Their hunting activities have been documented, confirming they destroy about 110 million songbirds each year in Canada and the United States, roughly 10 per cent of the total figure in Canada. But accumulating information suggests the actual mortality could be substantially higher still.
A 1987 study in the U.K. by Peter Churcher and John Lawton indicated on average, each house cat at large kills roughly four songbirds a year. That figure, which has since been substantiated, indicates the cat-caused songbird loss in Canada could be as high as 20 million a year.
Really that many???? I highly doubt it. In my lifetime of owning cats, I've only had one birder, the rest have been mousers, as getting birds is a very refined talent for cats.
Several regional and local studies indicate songbird mortality due to cat predation can be very high. Stanley Temple at the University of Wisconsin documented that house cats on the loose destroy 19 million songbirds annually in Wisconsin. Some newer estimates of the total North American songbird toll due to cat predation could top three billion annually.
See comment above. I have seen more hawks get birds at my feeders than cats, an I have 4 that go outside
According to the Humane Society of the United States, outdoor time is not a prerequisite of cat happiness.
I have to disagree with this. I supervise my cats outside (as ALL cats should be), and they go crazy when I get home from work because they get to go outside. This has held true for all the cats I've had in my adult life (all supervised)
Several studies have shown well-fed house cats are just as destructive of wildlife as are hungry cats. Research indicates this is because cats hunt largely for amusement. Neurological studies have confirmed hunting for food and hunting for sport are activities controlled in cats by different and independent parts of the feline brain.
This is true, hunting is a cat's game, just like humans have hockey, biking, etc. It is stimulation for them
Despite irrefutable evidence confirming the scope of wildlife mortality caused by cats on the prowl, there is widespread denial by cat-fanciers, according to evidence accumulated by the National Wildlife Federation.
Some cat owners claim they allow their cats outdoors to help rid the neighbourhood of mice. But studies suggest even if cats do reduce local mouse numbers, their hunting cuts the opportunity for local hawks and owls to catch and eat mice. Raptor nest density in areas regularly prowled by house cats is significantly lower than in areas where the birds do not have to compete with cats.
See comment above, the hawks are the ones that kill the song birds around my place
It is a common fallacy that belling house cats can prevent songbird predation. But domestic cats are not native to North America, and consequently, wild birds lack a natural fear of the animals. As well, decades of research has shown birds do not link the sound of a tinkling bell to pending danger.
Once again, my experience shows this to be inaccurate. Birds will sit high in the tree while my cats are waiting in the bird feeder area for the chipmunks to come out. As for the bells, it doesn't tell the bird there is danger, but does alert them and gets their attention to look in the direction of the bell. However, some cats can stalk so slowly, that the bell doesn't make a sound (tried the bell on my one birder, he was much too good of a stalker so it didn't work)
In addition to their destruction of wildlife, cats are also under fire on account of their extraordinary reproductive rate. Some urban areas are overwhelmed with cats.
AGREE! That is due to IRRESPONSIBLE humans, not the cat's fault!
According to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, "cats can't add but they sure can multiply."
House cats, when allowed outdoors, regularly interbreed with local feral cats, and the resulting hybrid cat population preys on wild birds to the degree that up to two-thirds of their regular diet comprises songbirds.
Hmmmm, must be some mighty good hunting genes in these cats. See comment above about the skill level required to get birds.
Owing to the major impact cat predation can have on local songbird numbers, the matter of cat control has surfaced on the agendas of municipal authorities across Canada. Politicians are sensitive to the possibility of public furore over the notion of any kind of cat control. That is because cats have a special place in the hearts of cat owners to whom the concept of cat control is abhorrent. Since about 40 per cent of Canadian households have at least one cat, the scope of outrage could be very substantial.
Even so, several Canadian municipalities have taken bold steps in that direction.
In early April, Victoria, B.C., became the most recent municipality in which there have been suggestions by members of the public that cat licensing would be wise, owing to "the impact that cats can have on our environment."
In 2007, Calgary put in place mandatory cat licensing, and required that house cats be kept indoors or leashed when outside. Since then, 50,000 cats have been licensed and the number of euthanized strays has been cut in half.
Toronto's municipal code requires all house cats to be licensed -- there are 323,000 house cats in Toronto.
In Kingston, Ont., all cats more than 20 months of age must be registered.
Hmmmm, I live here, they should come visit the Queen's ghetto, or the North End. Many cats running around without collars. The key to keeping cats safe is education, education, education (with a mandatory spay/neuter policy, so they aren't running around looking for a mate and multiplying)
Recently, Hamilton pondered taking similar steps but backed off owing to anticipated public opposition.
Although Canada's wild birds are protected by federal and provincial legislation, there are no laws prohibiting cats from killing wild birds. Cat owners are off the hook if their felines kill wild birds because they can claim their pets were let outdoors to kill mice not birds.
There are close to 220 million house cats in the world. But very few politicians have ventured into the minefield of cat licensing, cat neutering or any other kind of cat constraint, even though dog control has a long history.
That is because, as the old adage points out, "you can own a dog... but your cat owns you."
Robert Alison is a zoologist and freelance writer based in Victoria, B.C.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 14, 2012 J6
I am certainly not advocating for allowing any cat to run free, but I really disagree with this article and the facts that have been presented.
I wholeheartedly agree that cats should be supervised outside, but not for the reasons presented, but to be responsible pet owners by keeping their cats safe from harm and disease. That is really nothing to do with licensing your cat (I do like the idea of mandatory microchipping and altering). I still think it boils down to education.
Cat maid to:
Puddles, female Himalayan (16 yrs)
Jasper, male Ragdoll ?? (approx 9 yrs)
Sweet Pea, female silver tabby DSH (approx 7 yrs)
Rose semi feral, a cpietra rescue, female tabby (approx 6 yrs)
Snowball RIP (1991-2005)
In a cat's eye, all things belong to cats.-English Proverb
“While we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions.” Stephen R. Covey