Apologies in advance for the rather emotional blog post to follow.
I had planned a rather more joyful one about all the local crow babies, including two belonging to Marvin and Mavis. I have hundreds of photos, and posts will be coming soon, but this morning I am upset.
Every morning, when I’m out walking the dog in the early hours, I see cats in the neighbourhood. Many of them are clearly in hunting mode.
Early today I watched in horror as a cat about half a block ahead of us clawed excitedly at a baby bird on the sidewalk as the fledgling fought to get away. Although I am not one of nature’s runners, I pelted, with Geordie, towards the cat, yelling like a maniac. The cat kept right on toying with the bird until we were a foot away, when it backed off a very short distance. The bird (a juvenile starling, I think) hobbled off into a nearby grapevine. The cat stayed close, waiting for us to leave so he could finish his mission. I stayed there and called Phillip to come from home with a box and towel. The bird clearly had a broken wing, so I tried to capture him for delivery to Wildlife Rescue, but failed, and the bird flapped off into a dense brush area. I spent a long time looking for him, but eventually had to give up, feeling by now that I’d made the poor bird’s fate even worse than if I’d just let the cat get it in the first place. I’m feeling very sad and guilty about that.
But I also feel angry.
It’s upsetting when an eagle gets a baby crow, or a crow snatches a baby robin, but I know they’re just doing it to feed themselves and their family. A cat killing a bird is not a legitimate part of this circle of life and death. A cat will not cleanly kill a bird to eat it — it will maximize the entertainment by playing with it first. The cat is not hungry. It’s a pet, fed and pampered at home and is out killing wildlife recreationally.
I know this sounds hard, but it’s the truth.
I love cats. Cats are wonderful, and anyone who knows me knows I adore our cat, Edgar.
Many cat owners contend that their particular pet is too gentle, too lazy, or too old to be a hunter of birds. You may tell yourself that, but I present our aforementioned genteel Edgar as proof to the contrary. Although he’s an indoor cat, Edgar is allowed onto our back deck, under supervision, where he usually lays in the sun, keeping out of trouble except for the occasional verbal exchange with the crows.
One day, however, he accidentally got left out there for a couple of hours by himself and by the time we figured out where he was, I found him sitting, looking pleased with himself, beside a beautiful, but very dead, juvenile yellow warbler. Clearly the baby bird had landed near him on the deck and nature just kicked in. Not Edgar’s fault. Mine for leaving him out there and allowing it to happen.
Thirty years ago we had another cat; Elvis. At that point, we hadn’t realized the perils for both cat and wildlife, and allowed him to be an outdoor cat. Some vivid memories of Elvis: the time he brought a live pigeon into the house when I was home alone with a newborn and a two year old; the time he got sliced open by a raccoon and cost us several mortgage payments to have him sewn up again; the sad day we found him dead in a neighbour’s garden, having drunk anti-freeze that someone allowed to drain into the gutter.
Elvis lived outdoors, and to my regret, probably killed hundreds of birds, as well as suffering through, and finally dying from, his neighbourhood adventures. I will never have an outdoor cat again.
- Some tips on bringing an outside cat indoors (Humane Society of the US)
- Cats the Number One Killer of Birds in Canada (CBC, 2015)
- The Moral Cost of Cats (Smithsonian, 2017)
24 thoughts on “Keep. Your Cat. Inside.”
I am so sorry you witnessed this. Just yesterday the mail lady dropped off a package and I opened the door to say thank you, and she told me I had a dead animal on the lawn. A squirrel. So very sad. I have two INDOOR cats, but my neighbours cats find my yard a great hunting ground. Not only have we found birds/squirrel bodies, but one has sprayed my white window frames on the bottom level. I have a HUGE problem when wildlife is interfered with by domestic animals. My neighbour told me he doesnt like that his cat wanders so far (he’s a redneck and I’m not confrontational) and I am thinking…Uhhmmm, YOU have thumbs, YOUR cats dont, how did they get out of the house in the first place. Wildlife has enough problems to deal with in life, adding domestic enemies into the mix is unfair. People dont open the doors and let their dogs, horses, cattle, pigs…etc run free, why do the cats need to. Not only that, we have really big coyotes here that patrol the streets and crazy drivers, something that will shorten their dear pets life.
Exactly. I imagine there’d by quite a hue and cry if every domestic animal were let loose to “live their best lives” in the great outdoors.
Excellent post. There are options if you feel that your cat must have fresh air. Everything from a single cat solarium on a window to giant multi level catios can provide safe outdoor spaces. Also some cats can be trained to go outside on a leash, supervised at all times of course.
Word! I hope you’re preaching to the choir here and that all your readers are in agreement. I’ll be sharing.
Grrrrrr. We weren’t as informed as we are now about the detrimental effects of domestic pets on wildlife and the environment.
According to Audubon, 50% of all the birds in the world are gone. GONE. We lose another 3-5% per year. Cats kill 4.2 billion birds and small mammals in the US, ANNUALLY.
Here in Baltimore City, Md., it is against the law to let your cat run loose. But you wouldn’t know it, just judging by the amount of people who let their cats out for ‘recreation’. As a professional horticulturist, I planted my yard for habitat for birds and pollinators and got rid of my lawn many years ago. I now keep old golf balls, rocks, anything handy that I can hurl at the many damned cats stalking birds and chipmunks in my yard. I love cats, BTW, and have had many over my 66 years. But the reality of the impact of domestic pets, just for the horrors of sourcing raw materials for manufacturing pet foods, and the industry that is cat and dog poop, alone, is a detrimental environmental burden.
But, the loss of the birds is really the tipping point to me.
Humans are oblivious consumers. Most of them are completely unaware that there is an impact of every thing they purchase or do.
We can and should do better to protect our natural ecology.
Well said, Devra!
YES, thank you for writing this. I have no idea why people still let their cats roam. You covered the very logical, sane reasons why they shouldn’t. I could go on, as I am very passionate about this topic.
I used to let BadKat outside believing in my own mind that somehow it was cruel to have a natural born hunter cooped up inside.
Even watching in horror as BadKat terrorized his victims before they ultimately died and were abandoned where they lay for the Magpies to find, I still continued to let him out. This went on for 5 years. Then coyotes began patrolling the neighbourhood. BadKat narrowly escaped being torn to shreds 3 summers ago. Fortunately I was nearby and BadKat was able to scooch under a shed. I can still see the look of utter shock on his face when I scooped him up to take him inside. My heart still pounds when I think of how close I came to losing him. I often wonder if the notion of realizing he was not at the top of the food chain (as I’m sure he believed hecwas) has led to his being somewhat compliant with staying in. Not sure. BadKat is now a very pampered indoor kitty. Fussed and fawned over. Over fed. Loved immeasurably. Occasionally he yowls at the door to be let out but accepts my No Out as the final word on the subject. Begrudgingly.
I have to tell you I still feel guilty for depriving him of the lifestyle that brought him joy and gave him purpose but, like you, I agree the hunting/killing simply for his own entertainment defies nature’s intentions. Although….the magpies certainly benefitted 😉
Have you thought about constructing a catio for BadKat? I see there are lots of plans online, some of them quite big and elaborate for the indoor adventure cat!
Our former indoor/outdoor cat has made a very smooth transition to being a full-time indoor cat. Much better for her (no risk from coyotes and cars), much better for our nerves (we don’t spend time worrying about whether she’ll make it home alive), no vet bills from cat/racoon fights, no risk of being skunked again and much better for wildlife.
I wish we’d made the transition sooner. We hesitated to confine her as she’d come to us after living outdoors as a stray but it was a smooth process. Yes, you will need to be mindful of doors and windows but you may be surprised as we were by how quickly your cat will adapt.
P.S. She is a very happy cat who still has access to the outdoors on a leash or an outdoor deck when we can supervise her.
At one point in my career, I did humane education for both a domestic animal shelter and wildlife rehabilitation center, both under the same organizational umbrella. I never did a presentation or created collateral without talking about this issue and offering safe, creative ways to keep cats away from wildlife. I hope seeds sown germinated in at least some people. We have always kept our cats safely indoors, but have next door neighbors who are not in the least responsible. Their young cat was in a small tree of ours hunting early this morning, and was met, as he always is when we see him, with a stiff spray of water from the hose. He leaves, but still takes a toll on the birds, and is in danger himself when they put him out at night to face coyotes and raccoons. Nothing we’ve said to our neighbors makes a difference, but we’ll be the first they call for help when he is injured or disappears.
Such a terribly sad experience for you and for the fledgling, as well as its parents! Indoor vs. outdoor is a big controversy where I live in California, not only because of the danger to the birds but also because of the danger to the cats from other animals and from humans. And the bird population is dwindling because of this.
Great reminder! Our tortie, Fiona, is our first indoor cat. She was a stray 2 year old when we adopted her at our local Humane Society. Not only is it better for local wildlife that she’s indoors, it’s better for her in the long run. She’s a healthy, happy 13 year old and frisky as a kitten. Outdoor cats really do cause a lot of carnage to birds and squirrels.
There’s something called a “catbib”, a neoprene square they wear on a collar around their neck, so that it hangs down and blocks (or at least causes them to mistime) their pounce. Since wearing one, our indoor/outdoor cat has stopped killing birds but continues to kill mice, which is his role on our farm (and he prefers them to cat food). I also keep my cat inside when it’s fledgling bird season because babies on the ground are too easy to get with a bib. But the bib can really help for people whose cats are used to being outdoors and have difficulty transitioning to fully indoor cat.
In my neighbourhood, most cats I see are sitting on the window sill watching the outside world. The major predators are the crows. I have saved many baby sterlings from the crows. Not a pleasant situation to witness the nature of things. Now, how do you stop the murder of crows.
Thanks for your post June. I absolutely %100 agree with you.
Tina, thank you for your reply and agreeing with me.
It’s true that crows will sometimes prey on the young of smaller birds, just as larger birds (eagles, hawks, ravens, owls) will prey on young crows. This is sad, but part of the natural food cycle. Domestic cats, however, are not part of the natural ecology. Cats killing birds is a human-caused stress on birds, and results in the death of an estimated 2.4 billion birds a year in the US alone. I also see lots of cats inside the house watching the world through the window, or from a catio — but I also see, every early morning, plenty of other cats out and about seeking to satisfy their natural urge to catch and kill something. It’s not the fault of the cats — the owner’s should take full responsibility for their pets, as other pet owners are required to do.
I get it that you are a bird enthusiast, however, I disagree with you. There are more birds dying due to toxic environments. Historically in China, the sparrows died due to Mao Tse Tong (sp). Recently CBC aired this:
The Mao inspired elimination of the sparrow (which led to even more famine without the sparrows to eat crop eating insects) is yet another example of ill-advised human activity contributing to bird decline. The toxicity of the environment, removal of habitat, creating tall buildings that thousands of birds crash into, are some others that spring immediately to mind. My argument re cats is that, as it is people who have introduced cats to the environment, and allow them to roam free, they another part of that human-caused decline in bird populations. It’s not the fault of the cats, of course, as they are just following instinct.
As distressing as it can be to watch one species of wild bird prey on another bird ( and I know it is, from experience) crows attacking other birds it’s far from the main reason for bird population decline. It could also be argued that the proliferation of crows in the city is also human-caused in that the environments we have built are quite inviting for the adaptable crows, while far less hospitable for other species of birds.
Did you watch the video?
Not yet — but I will. It sounds like a beautiful documentary.
Thank you for this piece that personalizes a terrible statistic of outdoor cats killing more than 2 billion birds a year and as the number one cause of bird mortality. https://abcbirds.org/program/cats-indoors/cats-and-birds/