I come from a large family: five sisters, two brothers and almost everyone has kids. Most of my family lives in Indiana, but thanks to social media we can easily keep in touch. They are all wonderful people and they are all animal lovers. But I’ve learned we love animals in very different ways.
Case in point: some of my family members have become active with feral cat colony organizations. It started with donation requests for spay and neutering cats but then quickly transferred to a trap, neuter and release organization. I have mixed feelings about TNR. On the one hand, it’s better than doing nothing with a feral cat colony. But I don’t agree with the supplemental feeding that happens with feral cats–if you’re gonna call them wildlife, treat them as such. And if a feral cat colony is near an endangered species, the colony should be eliminated.
When the notices popped up on Facebook I initially hid them, figuring it’s better to pick my battles with my family. Then one of my nieces started updating about a feral family she was watching. She captured the cats, the “mom” kitty and her kittens were all taken from their neighborhood where they were not wanted, all were fixed and then…all were released in her yard.
I snapped. Against my husband’s warnings that talking about this on Facebook was a bad idea, I forged ahead.
“Why can’t the kittens be adopted,” I asked in her comments section.
“These kittens aren’t socialized or domesticated,” she said. “They don’t want to be inside. We do what we can by giving them food, shelter, and getting them their shots and fixed to prevent more feral litters.”
I argued that the kittens were young enough to be socialized and pointed out that she had pictures of them letting her hold them and pet them. But as she gave me the reasons behind her decision from the feral cat organization it was all based on emotion and anthropomorphism and not science: they still need to be around their mom, the feral cats have names and this was my favorite argument, “Even if they were to be adopted out, it is not preventable that the owner wouldn’t place the pet outdoors where it can still harm/be harmed.”
Then my sister weighed in who is as passionate for cats as I am for birds, “Nature is nature. Cats are a breathing warm blooded creature like so many others. They did not ask to be put where they are nor should they be treated like a plague. I have a dog, cats (domestic and feral), birds raccoons, hawks, owls, coyotes, foxes, bunnies and mice…they all share the yard and the woods. There times when nature takes its course, but honestly it is the true cycle of life in nature. Just my two cents worth…don’t expect anyone to make change from it.”
“That’s all well and good,” I answered, “but cats are non native to the US and the ecosystem hasn’t quite had time to catch up to this introduced predator. And if we are going to count cats as part of nature, they’re like a foxes or coyotes. Are we going to put out food for coyotes? Does this mean we’re going to start trapping, neutering and releasing coyotes?”
My sister said, “Sounds like a plan to me :). Unfortunately the worst predator of nature is the human being…we selfishly take the land of the animals and give them nothing in return and that is all over the world. Cats may not be native to the US, but I don’t think they asked to be brought here and I know the didn’t swim here on their own :). This is like discussing religion and same sex marriage…You Just Don’t Do It! All joking aside, everyone has a purpose and a cause, I am just grateful that you, me and (our niece) have channeled our purpose to help rather than destroy those creatures we love. Now, go eat some bacon.”
And the conversation shifted to stories about how our mom drives us crazy (the universal bonding of all sisters).
I took my furlough due to the government shut down as a chance to go down to Indiana and visit my family. My sister was waiting for my arrival and had a shirt made based on our feral cat discussion. Well played, older sister, well played.
But this discussion taught me a lot–First: it is possible to have a discussion on this issue without it resulting in disownership of family.
Second: I think my silence on this issue for so long may have led my niece to listen more to the feral cat people. She made the best decision she could for those cats with the information she was given by that organization, which wasn’t the best information.
Third: Science can’t trump emotion (wasn’t that the eternal issue between Kirk and Spock), you’re going to have to keep that in mind when talking with pro feral cat people. And that’s a tough thing to do without sounding like a condescending twerp. These cats have names and personalities and are like friends and in some cases family to them. Maybe we should go back to giving individual wild birds their own names. That’s something that’s frowned on in science but if that Yellow Warbler was called Zippy McFlashersons that maybe would make them seem less like just some random bird that a cat killed and more along the lines of something special that’s important to birders. I don’t think feral cat people see birds the way a birder does. We see several different types of species. Since cats come in all shapes, color and sizes but it is still at the end of the day a cat, I think they have a tough time realizing why something like a Piping Plover is special and different from a Killdeer or House Sparrow. If one bird is gone, there’s always another.
So, don’t shy away from talking with those you know well about the feral cat issue. Try listening to their argument and understand where they are coming from. Don’t just dismiss them as some crazy cat lady who slept through her biology classes in school. Maybe we should talk about individual birds that are important to us that are affected by cats rather than the millions cats kill in a year–because that number is ignored by the cat people anyway. And they tend to love individual cats. Let’s show them why we love individual birds.
This post is why I think you’re simply the bee’s knees. I also laud anyone who is passionate about doing something, anything, for the better. As hard as it is for me at times to not get a bit preachy or start teaching lessons, my tactic is to whip out my top and cane (metaphorically) to emote about why I think this bird or that bird was so cool, point out the extraordinary in the ordinary, and try to personify even the average bird in my cutest “have I won you over yet?” approach. I think sometimes it even works.
Also? That t-shirt is a scream. Two points for Catchick!
Considering that most of the psycho cat lovers I know who think they all belong outdoors also claim to care about living things in general and claim to be environmentalists, I have no problem kicking them out of my life because I don’t like hypocrites. I also like when they get all up in arms and claim I hate cats. Yes, I do. I grew up with them as indoor pets, and out of all the pets I’ve had, they were the only ones that were truly disgusting. I have had to call Animal Control to come pick up seriously diseased and injured cats that had infections because these people have zero actual respect for life and the property of others.
If the solution is to show people why they should love individual birds, I am a wildlife rehabilitator who has written a whole book about taking in injured and orphaned wild birds, helping them recover/grow, and then releasing them. Each one is an individual with a personality. They are not pets and never have been. I describe in detail what happens when a bird is caught by a cat. I have had countless emails from readers who said after finishing the book, they never let their cat out again. It’s called “Flyaway: How A Wild Bird Rehabber Sought Adventure and Found Her Wings” published by HarperCollins.