Cats: you either love ’em or you hate ’em. But if you’re a staunch dog person, you might be pleased to hear that conservationists are on your side when it comes to reining in the domesticated neighbourhood predator.
Killer kitties are estimated to wipe out between 100 and 350 million birds in Canada every year, according to Peter Blancher from Environment and Climate Change Canada, making them one of the biggest sources of avian deaths. Blancher’s 2013 paper assessed that 38% of these deaths are from pets and the rest from the feral cat population, which is currently in the midst of an overpopulation crisis.
The not so purrfect crime has terrible environmental consequences
The real issue here is the catastrophic effect that cats have on endangered bird populations. The number of endangered Canadian birds has nearly doubled between 2001 and 2015, and some have declined by as much as 95%.
“If we even step back from Canada and we look globally, we know for a fact that cats have contributed directly to the extinction of 34 species of birds,” said Ted Cheskey, a conservationist with Nature Canada, while speaking to CBC in 2015. “Next to rats and humans, of course, that’s the biggest factor.”
Down under, the Australian and New Zealand governments have enacted controversial plans to cull feral cat populations in a bid to save endangered species. In New Zealand, cats found without a microchip in an ecologically sensitive zone are allowed to be killed by pest control.
Time to control cats to the degree of dogs?
Let’s face it: cats will never understand the concept of an endangered bird, so what can we do as the owners of 8.8 million adorable murderers? Board up the cat flap and keep them inside, says the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS).
It might seem cruel or unnatural given cats’ independent nature, but it’s in their best interests as well – letting your cats roam freely puts them at risk of a variety of diseases and threats. Common conditions for outdoor cats include cancer, heartworm, and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), which is a chronic illness that progressively degrades their immune system, leaving them vulnerable to secondary illnesses.
According to Cats and Birds, twice as many cats end up in shelters than dogs, and less than 5% are reunited with their owners. 50,000 cats were euthanized in 2011 alone.
Then there’s vehicle collisions – 1,300 cat casualties in Toronto in 2012 – as well as fights with other cats and creatures. Inter-cat tangos are serious business: they are one of the most common reasons for a visit to the vet. An estimated 40% of Canadian pet cats are allowed outside, exposing them to all these risks.
Who cares what the neighbours say: cat walkies are a viable alternative
“For the cats’ sake, for the birds’ sake, and for our own sake, we need to change how we care for our beloved feline friends,” says Cats and Birds.