by Barbara Walvoord
(First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, Oct. 8, 2016)
A resident recently saw a cat kill a bird on our campus and asked that I write about it. The web photo at the top of this post shows what it looks like.
House cats kill 3.7 billion birds per year in the U.S. and are a major factor in the decline of songbirds. (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/01/29/cats-wild-birds-mammals-study/1873871/). Domestic cats are among the world’s 100 worst invasive species (“A Plague of House Cats,” Smithsonian, Oct. 2016, p. 20).Any cat that is outdoors is dangerous to our birds. Unlike domestic dogs, which have evolved to be quite different from their wild ancestors, domestic cats are about the same, except they have somewhat smaller brains and longer intestines to deal with the enormous array of things they eat in our homes and cities. Cats know how to hunt, even if they are kept indoors from birth. People may think that because the cat does not bring home a dead bird, it hasn’t killed any, but most of a cat’s prey is not brought home. One cannot train a cat not to kill birds, nor assume that a well-fed cat, an old cat, or a lazy cat will not kill birds–it will.
Some of us own cats that want to be outdoors, and we love our cats. Despite their small brains, cats can be brilliant at sulking, yowling, or dashing out an open door.
But if your cat lived totally outdoors, its life expectancy would be 2-3 years. Cats get run over in traffic, catch fatal diseases, and get poisoned (remember, we still use pesticides and herbicides on our lawns on both campuses). Lathrop’s bobcats, foxes, hawks, and coyotes love to see cat on the menu for dinner.
We all signed a residency agreement at Lathrop: no pets outdoors except on leash, and the owner is responsible for cleaning up after the pet.
Experts say that cats can get all their needs met by living totally indoors, and perhaps being walked on a leash, even if they have been accustomed to being outdoors. You don’t let a child wander outdoors unsupervised or disturb a nest of baby birds just because the child wants to. PAWS has a guide to helping your cat make the transition to being a totally indoor cat, and how to accustom your cat to a leash (https://www.paws.org/library/cats/home-life/keeping-your-cat-happy-indoors/). Veterinarian Sarah Crawford recommends this site to help your cat have a healthy life indoors: https://indoorpet.OSU.edu/cats.
What about other peoples’ cats, or stray cats? That’s a tough one. You may have to let it be. But there are places to take stray cats: the Dakin humane shelter in Leverett (https://www.dakinhumane.org/) as well as Second Chance Adoptions and Pet Rescue, both in Springfield.