Outdoor Cats: Neighborhood Mascots or Threats?

Zeke is a white and gray shorthair cat who loves to hunt mice and is known around Boston as a fearless prowler.

At one point, a neighbor called his owner, Tricia Brennan, sounding a little alarmed.

“‘Zeke is in the back, seems to be fighting a raccoon,'” the neighbour said, according to Ms Brennan, Minister for Unitarian Universalism.

“‘what do I do?'”

The showdown ends when the neighbors use their brooms to scare the two creatures away, but the story only cements Zeke’s lore. It’s also a reminder that cats are descended from the Near Eastern wildcat, a ferocious, solitary hunter.

You’ve seen them outside – well-fed cats, sometimes in collars, wandering the streets as if they had them, or lounging on warm sidewalks basking in the sun.

Cat lovers find them fascinating. Wildlife conservationists and bird lovers have seen the furry killers and blame them for declining bird numbers and the deaths of countless voles, chipmunks and other small animals.

How you feel about outdoor cats may also depend on where in the world you are. In the United States, about 81% of domestic cats are kept indoors, According to 2021 Demographic Research on Pet Cats. But elsewhere it’s more common to let them roam. According to the same study, in Denmark only 17% of cats are strictly indoor pets.The free movement of feral cats in and out of cafes, restaurants and markets is so common in Turkey that Documentary about the phenomenon. In Poland they have recently been called “invasive alien species. “

In the UK, 2021 research shows that 74% of cat owners let their felines roam outdoors, and many cat charities advise pet owners on the best ways to keep their cats safe outdoors. The idea may come as a shock to their American counterparts, who often refuse to adopt cats to people who want to keep their pets outside.

“We’ve always done that,” says Nicky Trevorrow, a cat behaviourist at Cats Protection in the UK. Encourage owners to bring cats in at night And provide them with a high-quality diet to discourage predatory behavior.

“As a behaviorist,” Ms Trevorrow said, “I have to say I belong to the camp that gives cats space to breathe and be outdoors.”

But should cats have so much freedom?

For most of the 20th century, most cats were outside, says David Green, Author of Citizen Dog: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs and Associate News Editor of Science.

Invented cat litter in 1947 Makes indoor cats more receptive.

“But even so, people still think cats are less domesticated animals,” Mr Green said. “And no one wants to clean out the litter box.”

In 1949, the Illinois Legislature passed the Cat Act, a measure aimed at protecting birds that would impose fines on people who leave cats outdoors. Governor Adlai Stevenson vetoed the bill.

“It’s the nature of cats to do a certain amount of unaccompanied roaming,” In a letter to lawmakers, he said“It seems to me that the state of Illinois and its local governing bodies has enough to do without trying to control feline crime.”

It wasn’t until the 1980s and early 1990s that more Americans began bringing their cats indoors, as environmentalists warned of declining bird populations and veterinarians warned that outdoor cats were more susceptible to disease, parasites and infections, and were susceptible to Attacks come from larger predators like coyotes and eagles, or from speeding cars.

But many owners are also conflicted about keeping a curious, restless animal inside, and Mr Green said he trained his cat to walk on a leash when outside.

Leaving them in “feels wrong,” he said. “Like I wouldn’t keep my kids in it all day. We can only get so many animals out of them.”

Zeke’s owner, Ms Brennan, initially tried to keep him indoors. But he bit his heels, yanked Ms Brennan’s hair, and lunged so hard that her teenage daughter locked herself in the room.

“You make you feel uneasy calm,” Ms Brennan, 65, said. “Having an outdoor cat.”

Wildlife experts often tell the story of Tibbles, a cat who traveled to New Zealand with his owner in 1894.

The couple settled on Stephens Island, home to a small flightless bird.

But when Tibbles arrived, she single-handedly hunt birds to extinctionenvironmentalists claim.

where cats were introduced, they wiped out native creatures, According to a 2011 study by biologists.

“I think it’s a very destructive invasive species,” said Jason Luscier, an associate professor of biology at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., who helped develop an app called “Cat Tracker.” , for a more accurate picture of outdoor cat populations around the world.

Stressing his preference for cats (“they’re very snuggly”), Professor Luscier said feral cat colonies are easy to breed and can overwhelm ecosystems, posing a greater threat to birds and other wildlife than outdoors where they come in at night and feed regularly Domestic pets.

UK-based behaviourist Ms Trevorrow said bigger threats to birds were often overlooked, such as habitat loss and the commercial use of pesticides that kill insects, the birds’ natural prey.

“I just feel like cats are being scapegoated,” Ms Trevorrow said.

RSPB In the UK, the decline in bird populations is largely caused by human-made issues such as climate change, pollution and agricultural management.

While there is evidence that cats may kill up to 27 million birds a year in the UK, “there is also evidence that cats tend to prey on weak or sick garden birds,” said Anna Feeney, a spokeswoman for the group. Say.

“Cats are unlikely to have a significant impact on the population,” she said in an email.

Ms. Trevorrow has written a guide for cat owners who want to keep their pets outside and maintain a garden that attracts birds and other pollinators.

“There is a way to have both without a massacre,” Ms Trevorrow said.

Still, the best way to keep your cat and wildlife safe is to keep it on a leash, keep it in a fenced area, or build a “catio” that allows it to play outdoors without Exposure to these elements, said Dr. Jose Arce, a veterinarian and president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Not all cats like the outdoors.

Kelly Goshe said two of her three cats, Catson and Puff, were determined prowlers. They strolled the decks and backyards of suburban Cleveland, under the gaze of her children Sylvia, 9; Corinna, 7; and Wesley, 4.

Cats give them little choice, she said. Carson “will do whatever it takes to leave,” Sylvia said.

She said Puff already knew how to open sliding doors with her paws.

However, Puff’s sister Luna is afraid to go out.

“We had her stand by the screen door,” Ms Ghosh said. “She would just look at it and run away.”

Susan C. Beach contributed research.

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