If you are a cat person, I’m sure you can relate to this statement: I’ve never met a feline I didn’t love. I’m that person at a party you’ll find crawling on the floor making soft clicking noises, with an outstretched arm, moving toward a ‘just out of reach domestic cat’, hoping to make their acquaintance. Is that you too?
My love for cats includes the domestic kitties, large African lions, and everything in between. The sleek cheetah, and evasive leopards, the fearless mountain lions, and royal tiger – I love them all.
On one particular safari in the Serengeti I had my first, second and third sightings of Serval cats, all on one day – my Birth Day.
I took it as an omen of good luck.
On another safari in the Maasai Mara I saw my first, and to date only, African wildcat. It was hiding under a bush, and I was struck by it’s uncanny resemblance to my feline pet waiting for me back home in the States.
There are many cat species I will never see in my lifetime, but I’m fascinated nonetheless.
My pet cat died a few months ago. She had been the 7th domestic cat I had the pleasure of sharing part of my life with. Her eyes were bamboo green and her purr was louder than a mountain lion’s. (I have heard captive mountain lions purr on two different occasions).
At the veterinary office the day she died, holding her sedated body, her paws and chin resting on my shoulders, I danced her around the room – the way we always danced – whispering memories shared during our 15 years together. “Remember how I found you tucked under an eave during a California rainstorm – you were only 8 weeks old? Remember when you got stuck on the roof of our big house? Remember when we got Zia, our first dog? Remember when you saw your first fox outside the window of our log cabin?”
And then I made her a promise. “I will never replace you, my precious purr box”, I said as her soul left her soft-furred body and piercing emerald eyes, to soar with the Eagles.
At that moment I never wanted another cat. It would be a betrayal to her. Besides, I would forever (unfairly) compare any new cat to her. But there is a bigger, more important reason why I will never again have a pet cat. It’s because, no matter how much I love feline companions, I know that having a domesticated kitty goes against everything I believe in and stand for.
THE SHOCKING TRUTH ABOUT OUR PET KITTY
As a research experiment, a man in England handed out plastic bags to every household within a mile radius asking all cat owners to collect the animals their cat killed during the following week. What he found was astonishing. Birds, lizards, snakes, mice, moles, bunnies, butterflies, moths, squirrels, baby skunks, raccoons and chipmunks are only a few of the victims of the predatory domestic cat. The domestic cat is a highly skilled predator, capable, as in the case of the tiny penguins on Australia’s Kangaroo Island, of wiping out a species.
THE NUMBERS PUT IT INTO PERSPECTIVE
The 2013 figures for the ‘Leading Causes of Non-habitat-based Bird Mortality in the United States’ were recently released by the American Bird Conservancy. And guess what the #1 cause of non-habitat-based bird loss is? The domestic cat.
The estimated figure for birds killed by cats (pets and feral combined) last year in the US alone is 2,400,000,0000.
Yes, almost 2 ½ billion.
And the estimate for small mammals killed by cats in the U.S. last year is 12 billion.
Considering the number of cats in the United States has tripled over the past 40 years, and that there are now 188 million of them, cats are having a devastating effect on small wildlife.
Like any non-native, invasive species, the domestic cat has the capacity to overwhelm and alter the natural functioning of ecosystems.
Which made me wonder, when I spend most of my waking hours working to protect wild animals, how did I allow myself to harbor such efficient wildlife killers?
The answer: I never saw my cats kill anything but two mice.
But now I know I’ve been in denial about my pet predators because as the researcher in England pointed out, the animals collected in the plastic bags for his experiment represented only a small minority of the victims. In other words, cats don’t always bring their prey home to their humans for show and tell.
Cats, wild and domesticated, are predators, with an instinct to chase and hunt. Period.
The expert’s solution to the devastation of wildlife caused by our pet kitty cats? Kill (or at least neuter) all feral cats (this is a complicated subject deserving its own separate post), and confine all pet cats indoors.
I don’t know about you, but owning a cat who will never touch the earth, climb a tree, or roll in dirt, would be torture for me, as well as (I believe) the cat.
I understand the expert’s point – to deny the cat their innate predatory calling – but to me, it’s akin to putting a cheetah in an enclosure, depriving the fastest land animal in the world their ability to run. Or a tiger in a circus. I couldn’t do it.
And that is why I plan to keep the promise I made to my sweet cat.
Instead of having another one, I will get my feline fix from photos, films, and any cats that honor me with their presence in the wild.