I like kitty-cats as much as the next 31-year-old city lady, by which I mean a lot much. Cats are comedy machines and they are also soft—they're hilarious dicks who live in your house and let you snoogle with them when you need it but then look at you like you're the asshole when you wake them up because they sprayed urine all over your eye pillow. I would have a cat if I didn't have face-destroying dander allergies, and also if I were the kind of diligent cleaner who would be able to keep up with urine-mopping in any kind of hygienic way. But I'm not. So I don't. And anyway, all of my kitty-cat affection aside, I think it's important to recognize that YOUR KITTY-CATS ARE NOT SACRED.
New York Magazine ran a feature yesterday about a Maryland bird scientist named Peter Marra who had the audacity to point out that outdoor domestic cats (an invasive species) are currently decimating America's native bird populations. Marra estimated that as many as 3.7 billion birds might be brutally murdered by our feline friends every year, and he said so. It didn't take long for him to begin hearing, um, enthusiastically, from America's cat devotees.
Sure enough, the reaction from Alley Cat Allies, the country’s most powerful cat group, was swift and furious. “This study is part of a continuing propaganda campaign to vilify cats,” railed the group’s president, Becky Robinson, in a press release that, to the Smithsonian’s intense displeasure, made use of an incident in which one of Marra’s researchers was accused of cat poisoning to bolster a long-running claim that his group’s work was “a veiled promotion by bird advocates to ramp up the mass killing of outdoor cats.”
Within hours, comments on the Times’ website numbered in the thousands. There were the unabashedly ignorant: “I’m sorry. I must have missed the news flash that we’re having a shortage of birds.” The crazies: “My best friend is a CAT. How dare you suggest that CATS are killers.” The conspiracy theorists: “This stinks of anti-cat sentiment.” And the truthers: “If this is so, where are the close to 15 billion eviscerated carcasses?”
All day, hate mail had been pouring in, and as Marra opened the door, he glanced cautiously over his shoulder. “You cat-murdering bastard,” a late-night caller told the author of a similar study. “We’ve got you in our sights.”
Gaaaaaaaahhhhhh, first of all, INTERNET YOU CRAZY. But second of all, okay, okay, okay, okay, you guys. Okay. There are so many things wrong with this in so many directions.
1. I know it's hard to stomach, but sometimes the thing you love is bad. You don't just get to make the thing you love not-bad just because you love it. I love driving a car more than I love riding the bus, but I can't just drive my car over the entirety of atmospheric science and squish it and call the world "fixed." My feelings don't change the world that I live in. If your precious baby (or the pack of 40 feral precious babies that you throw turkey necks to in your spare time) is creating bad cat PR by devouring hella beautiful (and bug-eating) bird dudes, maybe campaigning for sterilization and for cat owners to keep their cats indoors would be more productive than harassing some mild-mannered bird scientist who's just doing his job? JUST ONE THOUGHT.
2. We really can't be mad at cats for chomping birds. It is literally the point of them. Birds eat bugs, cats eat birds, coyotes eat cats, dogs eat coyotes, and all of them would eat you if you died around lunchtime. The whole point of being a species is to get as good as possible at making more of yourself, and so assigning some kind of "meanness" or "sport" to cats for munching delicious bluejays is an absurd level of anthropomorphization. Cats eat birds because they're supposed to. And, by that measure, if humans decide we care about the birds that we're currently endangering because of our cat obsession (Great Ape Guilt!), there's nothing morally wrong with attempting to control and cull feral cat populations. (Feral cat populations—which tripled over the past 40 years—seem to be in no great danger no matter what we do, so don't fret.)
I was talking to a friend about this issue earlier today and he said:
City folk have a fucked up relationship to animals, because you don't know them. And the animals you do know are crazy. I grew up in an orchard. We had a cat, she had kittens, and they LIVED AND DIED. That's the thing. No leukemia treatments, no vet trips. My parents have four cats, and their names are Gremlin, Black one, Grey one, Orange one who didn't die. Oh no, a cat got run over? It's a cat—it should be faster and/or more aware of where the cars go. It's not a moving pillow. It's a small killing machine.
3. You can't stop nature. Nature is brutal. It's so entitled (and typical) of humans to assume that we should just get to put nature on hold because of our emotions. No one is coming to your house and taking your cat to cat jail for eating a bird. But if all of the cats are eating all of the birds, and humans decide that we value birds enough (birds, I've heard it said, are the barometer of the earth's health), then your affection for your pet does not trump the best interests of the planet. And THAT SAID, it's also unrealistic to assume that no birds are ever going to go extinct because of the Care Bear Stare of our collective good will, because species go extinct all the damn time. And they were doing that for billions of years before humans even showed up.
4. Not wanting cats to spread deadly diseases to dolphins is NOT LIKE RACISM.
Cat advocates say there are greater threats to wildlife than cats, like habitat loss, and that conservationists are only targeting them because of a deep hatred of cats. “It’s like speciesism, racism, whatever other -ism,” says Becky Robinson.
Conservationists say cat advocates are bullies who prey on people’s emotional attachment to cats in order to promote a practice that is detrimental to the environment and public health. They point to studies like California professor Travis Longcore’s “Critical Assessment of Claims Regarding Management of Feral Cats by Trap–Neuter–Return” as evidence that TNR doesn’t really work, and brandish reports about dolphins in Florida and otters in California infected by toxoplasmosis as proof of harm resulting from their irresponsible insistence on it. “This is not about bad animal behavior,” Fenwick says. “This is about bad human behavior.”
5. So I guess what I'm saying is spay and neuter your goddamn pets and leave the bird scientists alone and stop murdering each other's cats in cold blood and we're all going to die anyway. Good night.