Lori Robinson w/ cheetah

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. 

Serval Cat @Billy Dodson AWF
Serval Cat @Billy Dodson AWF

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).

busty sm

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?”

 

 

A PROMISE

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.

 

 

KITTY-CAT DENIAL

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.

 

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10 Replies to “The Cat Lover’s Killer”

  1. Hm…never thought of a cat as an invasive species. The facts speak loudly. My friend takes her cat for walks on a leash to prevent him from harming or being harmed. I always thought it was weird but not any more. I meet my cat’s needs by being cat-like since he is an indoor pet. I respect your position and will regard it seriously.

  2. Yes, I hate to admit it but domestic cats are an invasive species. There are places that exterminate them as such, like Kangaroo Island that I mentioned. A leash is a great idea, and I appreciate you sharing that so that others may read about it. Being cat like to be with your cat is sweet. I so appreciate your thoughtful and thought provoking comments.

  3. Sorry about losing your kitty, Lori. That’s the hardest thing in the world. I just hope that I go before my kitties I have now do, so I don’t have to be in such a quandary … that’s a really rough decision.

  4. Dear Lori,
    It’s as you said-a tough decision. That said , although it’s a sincere expression of your feelings then and now I do believe that there is a line you need to walk so that you do not offend a lot of your readers who ,I am certain are animal lovers and as such have domesticated animals /pets because they LOVE them. And you can relate to that , as a matter of fact you expressed that love very well. Besides these animal species were bred for the purpose of being Pets and would not survive otherwise so having them would amount to saving them.

    You and I, more you than I, know that hunting is what animals do, it’s the food chain, the natural order of things. And our pets are animals first, although domesticated they will instinctively pursue a prey when given the opportunity, albeit with less of an appetite than their relatives in the wild.

    So – I believe you may want to let the other guy write about that subject and you focus on what you have done very well so far- helping us see the beauty of the wild.

  5. Dear Joseph,
    I so appreciate your thoughtful comment.
    I was so shocked by the statistics, I felt compelled to make my commitment, and also to share my quandary with my readers.
    I write this blog to hopefully inspire, and connect, passionate animal lovers so that we learn from each other and can make the right decision for us and the animals.
    This particular issue is, as I said, a quandary, so I don’t expect my answer to be the same for everyone and I also hope people will feel free to share their responses like you have done. Thank you so much.

  6. What a difficult topic! I was using similar research 40 years ago as an educator at Sea World later at San Diego and even later as a humane society director to teach this concept. I remember being called horrible names for not expressing love and tolerance to a cat that brought me a gift of an dead endangered squirrel or lizard. You are absolutely correct as identifying cats as a non-native, invasive, carnivorous, species. As are dogs, horses and house sparrows, an introduced species. Domestic cats and dogs are inventions of man. We even hold patents on the genetic mutations we have created in the animal world. There were never any poodles running across the veldts of Africa as there were never any tabbies in the Amazon rainforest as there were never any horses in North America till they were introduced by the Spanish. These animals were created by man and released around the world. Did you know that if a cat kills an animal in your back yard that the law looks the other way but if your dog kills an animal in your back yard the dog is put to sleep and the owner held liable. Horses and their populations are protected by law and supported by tax dollars. Our laws reflect this double standard as well.

    Like children, animals in my eyes are blameless. It is the human who created the issue and the human who should be more aware of the consequences of their actions more than the image of their action. Our clueless education system cannot convey the simple eco-concept of what happens when you introduce millions of carnivores into a world full of smaller herbivores. Here is a clue, It’s always bad for the herbivore. As a humane society director I had a large picture hanging on my wall of a man being pulled by dog on a leash with the quote “Our business is not with the dog, it’s at the other end of the leash”. A humane Society is in the people business. The animals are just the reflection of the issue created by those people.

    It’s is easy to see why we all have these kind of conflicting thoughts about what loving animals is all about. You are not bad for seeing consequences of your passion that you had not seen before you are wiser.

    As human’s we have an extraordinary penchant for living and loving with a double standard. “We kick kids out of religious schools for cussing and we kick them out of public schools for praying”. We should not be surprised to find see that our children have difficulties with double standards as adults since we taught them this at a very young age. We also teach them that image is more important than substance. No real surprise to see that more money is spent on the image centric cosmetic surgeries, nose jobs, face lifts, than is spent on conservation. Actors make more money than policemen. Our laws protect pets more than native species. Voters tell us that they vote for politicians because of what they look like not for any substantive stands on issues. “They look like they care about me”.

    As a former humane society and zoo director, I applaud and am grateful for all the many animals you have adopted, loved and cared for. I’m sure that they returned that love to you many times over. At this moment, I have 6 rescued dogs,(my Saint Bernard, Phoebe, is wrapped around my feet as I type this) 4 rescued cats, and 2 rescued ferrets (domestic hybrids). We all sit on the couch together and watch TV and roam around this old Victorian home. The dogs have a yard and we go on plenty of walks. The cats stay inside and spend days cuddled with the dogs. They are not permitted outside to roam for the very reasons Lori has expressed so well. I can only try to do my best with what resources I have. I feel good about the animals I have rescued and observing their behavior I have convinced myself that they enjoy their life as well. As a humane society Director I ran a NO KILL shelter. I could not be a part of a euthanize shelter not because I don’t understand other’s reasons behind euthanasia or aborting an animal’s young in the womb, I am just too dialed into the respect for life to go down that road. Just me.

    As a Zoo director I worked very hard to breed animals and have them returned to a more suitable habitat. Suitable habitat is a funny “image” dodge for wildlife reserve and a wildlife reserve is just a zoo with more acreage. Truthfully, there is no wild left, to believe otherwise is really naïve. Every inch of land is owned by someone with a deed that marks the boundaries including fences and gates as to where these animals can live. Sounds like such a bad image but it is true. In Africa, many animals like elephants, zebra and antelope can no longer migrate because of political boundaries, roads and fences. Every wildlife reserve I have visited in Africa, Mexico and China, we drove through a wire or iron gate to gain access to the area reserved for them. They are forced to stay in the same area and the consequences of that is just as frightening, in-breeding, habitat destruction, and really another discussion. It was always so hard to find suitable and trust worthy locations to release the animals you had spent so many years caring for. Returning animals to a suitable wild habitat is really more difficult than most know.

    I think you have made a brave and “loving” decision. You have chosen to love the beauty of native animals that walk through your back yard everyday. You loved your little Purr-box and I am sure she loved you very much in return.

    “We only conserve what we love, we only love what we understand, we only understand what we have been taught”.

    I think Purr-box helped teach you how to love wild animals in the very beautiful way.

    Good job Lori. Good job Purr-box!

  7. How wonderful to hear from you with all your experience and obvious history with this and other difficult animal, pet, wild release topics.( I wrote about releasing into the wild on this blog a few months ago. ) I am sure we could talk for hours. One thing I have been wondering about that you touched on and that I want to mention: “I think Purr-box helped teach you how to love wild animals” you said. I have been around animals all of my life and been working on their behalf forever. At this point I am convinced that our devotion to our pet animals has gotten stronger (there are more dogs, cats, pet owners etc than ever before and we spend more money on them then ever before) because they are a substitute for Wild. The more we loose Wildness and wildlife, the more we look for alternative connections. So maybe my little Purr box was my substitute for what I really needed.
    So, what do you think about that Idea? 🙂 I have been working on a story about it for awhile but it is another difficult topic. Thank you so very much for commenting here and I am sure others will enjoy reading your comment as much as I did.
    And my dog Zia is asleep right next to me as I write this.

  8. Lori,

    I always respect peoples decisions on doing their part for conservation, be it local or international. Cats are natural hunter, just like Dogs. We in Australia have a problem with feral cats and dogs. The devastation dogs are doing to our fragile wildlife and Agriculture is almost impossible to comprehend. Yes these pets and pets gone wild are an invasive species, no doubting that one. However the ultimate most destructive invasive species is us. No matter how we chose to live on this earth – high impact or low impact, our presence affects something negatively. Our home in the city, our house in the country, the amenities that serve us, Highways and roads to get us to our home or other destination, the dammed rivers that provide our water, the lands cleared to grow our food, airports and flights for that annual holiday, Fuel for our transport. We leave a massive foot print, no matter how small we hope it will be.

    I have 7 cats, all the result rescues or tamed from the wild. They are fed regularly, cared for and this is their home. We have bird life abounding on the farm and around the house – parrots, Willy Wagtails, Wrens, Wattle birds, Silver Eyes and so on. They play, they stalk, but I can not remember the last time one hunted a bird. Mouse and Rat, both introduced species, yes they do locate from time to time. My first interaction with an animal was a cat and dog as a child. The interaction I had at that time and in all years following imprinted a love for animals and an understanding and respect for animals. It gave me a connection, this same connection I carry to this day. I have a few friends who grew up without pets, no dog, no family cat. Wonderful people and great friends, however None of them have an understanding of animals and thus their passion for the wild world is much less. This is an observation I noticed some time ago and has been confirmed so many times. They never experienced the Cat and Dog Bond and to me this bond is very special and very important in creating and understanding in us for all animals.

    I will continue to rescue, continue provide a home for all cats and dogs I come across. Yes they have an impact, tho I know it pales into comparison as to “our” impact, no matter how environmentally passive we aim to be in this world. If people provide the right home for an animal, its impact is greatly reduced. I know that if I had not grown up with Cats and Dogs, I would not be the Conservation minded person I am today, because the connection wouldnot be there and it is life experiences / interactions that create this connection. I hope all children can grow up with this, as I am sure this interaction with pets as kids helps us to become better people amongst people.

    Cats will always be a part of my life and me a part of theirs. I sit and look at them, watching their mannerisms and I can see hints of the worlds big cats. The bond we share is what has made me the animal loving and conservation minded person I am today. I would be less of a person without them as reality is, they are not pets, they are family….

    cheers,

    Cam… 🙂
    ps: no time to proof this, sorry for typos etc. Work awaits and I am late 😉

  9. Dear Lori, Europe is not Australia or New Zealand. Cats arrived from the Middle East, it is a natural way for them to reach even islands. In Europe there isn’t the same fauna as in Austalia, and animals catched by cats aren’t endangered. I don’t give up having cats – I built a catio, a sort of enclosed garden for their own protection, although they prefer my company to freedom. And two rescue neutered males that live in my garden are specialized rat and mice hunters, which is honestly a relief not because of the rodents (I love rodents even more than birds) but they need control which dogs can’t provide, no matter what dog breeders claim. When there are big rats those big cats together are a real power. For birds I have a bird seeder which is very high and out of reach of cats, that honestly don’t show that interest in them, they prefer patrolling the territory to defend it from other cats. Best, Francesca

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