Common Sense?

Posted 21 May 2015 at 12:00 am

It’s more of a people problem than a cat problem.

By Douglas H. Domedion
Nature Correspondent

Most families own a pet and many consider them important family members. There are a variety of birds that people have for pets and some folks enjoy reptiles or fish or even rodents. However the most popular are cats and dogs.

There is quite a large variety of dogs to chose from depending on what you really want: a small one for a apartment, a hunter, a guard dog, a devoted companion etc. With this ownership comes a great deal of responsibility, because the animal depends on you for food, water, companionship, a place to sleep and play. There are health issues such as diseases, injuries and just general maintenance that must be addressed that can be quite expensive today.

We are also responsible for the actions of our dogs because they can cause harm to other animals or even humans, other people’s property and wildlife. No one enjoys a “gift” left in their yard by the neighbor’s dog or listening to constant barking. Most places have regulations about dog ownership such as licensing, rabies shots, annoying barking and free roaming.

Cats are very popular. They make great indoor pets because they require they less space, have their own inside bathroom and are more suited to being left alone inside while their masters are gone all day. My son has a cat for these reasons even though he would like a dog.

There is one problem with cats though or should I say with some of the folks who get cats. Cat owners have the same responsibilities as dog owners, especially the one about keeping them under control. Kittens are cute, but they grow up and oftentimes find themselves on the doorstep. Next thing you know they are abandoned by either dumping them off somewhere or just leaving them outside with no food or care.

Now free-ranging cats are necessary around the barnyard because there is a constant rodent problem. As long as there doesn’t get to be too many cats that they have to begin to look outside the farm area for food there isn’t a problem. However the folks who allow their cats to range outside other than on the farm are a problem.

A recent study has estimated BILLIONS of birds and small mammals are killed year in the U.S. by free-ranging cats. Sure they kill a lot of mice, shrews and moles, but they also nail a lot of the young of rabbits, squirrels and other small wildlife. Some will kill adult rats, but many won’t just because rats are a very tough characters.

Folks who let their cats roam are not only doing a real disservice to our wildlife, but also to their cat. First, a cat that is free-roaming has a much shorter life span because they are more susceptible to diseases. Second, coyotes and foxes make tasty snacks of them. Third, many are killed on roads because they just charge across a road and are not seen until it’s too late. Fourth, cats depositing feces in flower beds can cause serious infection problems for their neighbors. And last, eating mice that have poison in them from other people’s attempts to get rid of them will also kill the cat.

In many places feral cat (a cat that has returned to the wild or descendants of) colonies have become a serious problem. A program called Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate, Return (TNVR) is being considered by many places now to solve this problem, but will it? It sounds good, but I’m not so sure. Maybe professional people like wildlife biologists, veterinarians and professional animal control people need to be consulted first. Maybe we should use common sense! After spending time and money trapping, neutering and vaccinating these cats we are going to release them back to where they were a problem? Rabies shots need to be updated as do other vaccinations. A new young feral cat can have a litter of kittens before it is trapped, and if it has rabies, it will be passed on to the kittens and we wouldn’t know it. And when rabies has popped up, how do we know who that cat bit or know if the rabies virus even exists in the colony before it’s too late? Many theories sound great, but turn out to not work so well in reality.

Yes feral cats are a big problem, but the real problem lies with many cat owners who are not held responsible for their cats they originally had for pets. Why not have cat licenses (more expensive for non-neutered) and requirements for vaccination and fines for free-ranging animals? You know, like with dogs! Or maybe we should just allow all pets to roam free uncontrolled and with no health requirements and let nature takes it course as many like to advocate. We manage our wildlife – why don’t we manage our out-of-control cat population?