By Sharon Wootton
Passionate describes most readers’ reaction to last week’s column on cat-and-bird interactions and the trap-neuter-return (TNR) approach.
Readers reacted to the 2013 research on the number of birds killed (estimated at about 2.5 billion birds, more or less) by feral and owned cats allowed outdoors, several times more than previous estimates.
This issue goes beyond statistics to our perceptions of reality.
One reader has been on both sides of the divide. For 25 years, Sue Madison’s cats lived indoor/outdoor lives. She moved to the city and decided that her new cat would live indoors.
“Hannah is extremely happy and well-adjusted living indoors, and I have a large number and variety of birds,” Madison emailed.
“Several types live in the yard and produce babies (for example, towhees and fox sparrows), and migrants such as black-headed grosbeaks and tanagers return every year to breed again.
“I have become a strong believer of saving our dwindling bird populations by owning indoor cats,” Madison added.
Three readers said that they have indoor/outdoor cats. They’ve never seen any evidence of their cats killing birds. However, absence of dead bodies is not proof of innocence. It’s uncommon to see a feather despite the billions that molt or are lost every year.
Bill Best, who lives between Arlington and Oso, has first-hand experience with feral cats and disagrees with the trap, neuter and return approach.
“I cannot fathom the logic. I’ve seen a number of wild birds wandering by my house in the mouths of cats,” Best said. “I’ve been plagued with abandoned cats in my heavily vegetated nine acres. (They) have nothing to eat except feeding themselves on local ground-nesting or ground-feeding birds.”
It’s not so cut and dry, said Nancy Wahl of the Community Cat Coalition of Washington.
“People get their emotions involved. Cats are here because of the irresponsibility of humans,” she said.
“Like any species, humans who care about other species are going to work and assess the situation and see the personalities. People who don’t care about other species just see the nuisance.”
CCC advocates trapping, neutering, vaccinating, treating any illness, and finding a new owner. If none is found, it is returned to the trapping site. Rescuing feral cats saves them from euthanization; neutering them prevents reproduction.
Sometimes the returned cats are fed.
At communitycatcoalitionwa.org, several stores are thanked for hosting feral barrels; those who donate food are also thanked.
“There are a number of people doing that in Snohomish County.” Wahl said. “Most do it quietly, without recognition. You’d be absolutely shocked at how many well-educated, well-off people are doing it. It’s not only ‘crazy cat ladies.’ ”
She called the birds-killed-by- cats statistic “worthless.”
“I’m really fascinated with the statistics bird people give,” Wahl said. “How are they knowing that? Honestly, I have done cat rescue for 13 years, and have not seen the issue with the birds.
“The majority of cats are not going after birds because cats in managed colonies are fed, not starving, and don’t want to work getting a bird that is able to get away easily.”
(The National Audubon Society strongly disagrees that fed cats won’t kill birds, as do other ornithology experts.)
CCC has worked with management of apartment complexes and trailer parks to require mandatory neutering.
“It made a huge difference in an apartment complex in Granite Falls,” Wahl said. “We checked four years after (the program started) and they were not having any cat problems.
Even if researchers’ numbers are wildly off, the cats-kill-birds point stands. Many songbird species are threatened or endangered; many find their food or nest on the ground; many nest in shrubbery.
When we get another cat, its territory will be under our roof.
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.