Dear Editor(s)- My Response to the Cats Killing Birds Study

Dear USA Today, Huffington Post, The New York Times, NPR, the Nightly News with Brian Williams and anyone else who has endlessly been reporting on a study released in the journal, Nature Communications, that free roaming and feral cats are responsible for killing up to 3.7 billion birds annually in the continental United States, I want to state, that yes, cats do kill birds. Humans also kill birds. And I’m not speaking just in terms of the effects of mankind – pollution, construction, pest control, toxins, and the “sport” of hunting. I am talking about our everyday life.

Yes, we humans are responsible for an astounding number of deaths that not only includes birds, i.e., chickens and turkeys, but other warm and cold blooded creatures. It is estimated that over 10 billion cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, and other animals are raised and then slaughtered for our consumption. 17 billion fish face the same death for our eating consumption and 45 million turkeys are slaughtered so that we can serve them on our tables for Thanksgiving. Are we to conclude that just because these creatures are not considered wildlife that their lives are any less valuable?

The study also concludes that cats kill over 12 billion small mammals per year — mostly mice, moles, squirrels and shrews. Again, who are we to play God, but hasn’t man been trying to eradicate the rodent population since the beginning of time? We have pest control companies, mice and rat traps, and other means to exterminate these creatures. Gloss over it any way you want, but killing is killing. And ironically, the very reason that we have such staggering numbers of feral cats living on the streets, is because of man. Domestic cats were initially brought to our country by traders, explorers and colonists during the 1600′s to kill rodent populations. Back then, we did not know of the benefits of spay/neuter, so as a consequence, we now find ourselves as a nation with over 70 million cats living on the streets and in shelters.

I’m not here to judge as I know we’ve evolved as a nation that no longer hunts for survival and it is far-fetched to think, much as I wish it could happen, that we become a full society of vegetarians. I also realize that rodents can be a menace and carry diseases, but let’s just put this article into perspective and use it for positive measures rather than overblown and manipulated statistics to be used as an excuse to trap and euthanize cats.

Cats may be killers, but they are also loving, intelligent, warm, compassionate, and fascinating creatures that have been revered since the beginning of time. Studies prove that they can lower stress levels in humans and are devoted companions. According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are approximately 86.4 million owned cats in the United States and thirty-three percent of U.S. households own at least one cat. Clearly we are a nation of cat loving people, people that I am sure don’t want to see birds killed. But can’t we find a way for the bird and cat people compromise? We are a civilized society, so surely there has to be a better way of saving birds than by trapping cats and bringing them to shelters where they will likely be euthanized as the solution to reducing free roaming and feral cat populations.

You can see from the tip on the left side of this cat’s ear, that it has been part of a successful TNR program. A clipped ear is a universal symbol that the cat has been trapped, spayed or neutered, then released back to its outdoor home.

February is National Spay/Neuter Month and here in lies the solution. There is a better way that is safe, humane, and effective. Educate communities on the benefits of a program called TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) to reduce and manage outdoor cat populations. Less cats outside, less birds killed. Simple math. Simple logic. For pet owners that have cats, keeping them indoors would be the best solution – not only is it safer for the cat, but it is the responsible thing to do. Unfortunately, not everyone will do that, but the more people we educate with the consequences of letting our cats outdoors, the more who will be inclined to try to keep them inside. Lets use the study to encourage nationwide responsibility so that people understand that there are consequences for every cat that roams the street, whether it be a pet, stray, or feral.

It’s time to stop using life as a disposable commodity in our society. Cats will kill birds, it is in their nature.  But that does not mean we can’t manage that fact in a humane way to reduce the numbers. In the meantime, maybe we could take more responsibility for the equal fact that humans are also responsible for the death of birds and stop all of this over-sensationalized mudslinging with headlines that perpetuate misleading and misguided information. People kill people too… it unfortunately seems to be in our nature as well. Maybe that is the real headline to concentrate on.

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  1. Deb, you and Janiss knocked it out of the park today. Wish we could syndicate yoru posts and make them go viral!

    Thank you both for writing such eloquent commentaries on this ridiculous spurt of (yet again) irresponsible journalism. Oh how it reinforces my skeptic’s tendency to “trust but verify” on every news story I hear reported these days…!

    I won’t rant on about the laziness of journaists these days (I already did so in a post last August when this dustup firsts reared its ugly head). But…GEEZ!!! It makes my blood pressure rise!

    • Deb says:

      Thank you Lisa. I agree, Sparkle/Janiss did a great job today. If only these kinds of posts could go viral. Maybe if I featured a video of a cat playing the piano… Anyhow, my mind has been simmering all week with the absurdity of it all and I just had to vent my thoughts. I get so incensed at the abundance of mindless stories that are reported about everyday and just don’t understand why cat stories that promote responsibility can’t make headlines. The same thing happened with the Loews cats and you are so right, journalism has become lazy.

  2. (and I really wish I’d spell check before I submit a comment! *grin*)

  3. Cindy says:

    Yea I heard this news on CNN but my thoughts on this is that people just need to spay and neuter their own. We dont want another plague like what happened in England a few centuries ago because of lack of cats. No cats means lots and lots of rats!

  4. Thank you Deb for this important post.

    Sadly it all boils down to money–sensationlism draws readers despite the lack of scientific validity. Sadly readers only read the headline and not the entire article to read the one or two lines when a scientist admits there is not conclusive evidence to suggest outdoor cats are mass predators. Yes cats kills birds. That is the nature cycle. But cats are NOT killing birds in the millions.

    But we are making progress and as cat educators mobilize, we will overturn these myths. It will take time and planning. But we will overcome!

  5. Deb says:

    Hi – Deb Barnes here – interesting update that I hope becomes a trend due the efforts of all of us cat caring individuals and organizations – seems more publications are surfacing that are questioning the validity of all the statistics in the cats vs. bird killing debate. This one is from the NPR – I know I personally contacted them with my concern about accuracy of the study and apparently so did lots of others! http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2013/02/03/170851048/do-we-really-know-that-cats-kill-by-the-billions-not-so-fast

  6. RumpyDog! says:

    excellent letter! And I agree that the solution is spay/neuter!

  7. Susan Chait says:

    Agreed of course, whoever thinks it’s OK to just dump a cat and they can survive on their own? Well they do sometimes but they need help. I live in a gated community in Virginia and 5 years ago, cats started showing up in my yard. They can smell a cat person a mile away!!! Anyway, 15 TNR later I know longer see wandering cats, and 3 female ferals live on my deck. I have bird feeders in my yard and they pay no attention. Mostly because they are well fed and even have a heated hut to live in. I have 7 indoor cats so I really can’t take in any more, but I really love these girls, they are so sweet.

  8. Rebecca Ventouris says:

    It always distresses me when these so called studies, make out the gorgeous creature the cat, to be a villain, endangering our highly successful TNR programs through the USA>

    Hunting birds is an acceptable practice? Is it okay for humans to kill for sport But ,cats cannot kill for food?

    Would they Have us hunt cats, killing them to protect birds? SO MANY OF THEM ALREADY WIND UP IN ANIMAL CONTROL BY BEING TRAPPED, AND WHERE THEY MOST ASSUREDLY WILL BE KILLED.

    Killing cats has been proven NOT to reduce the numbers of ferals, AND IT IS HUMANS THAT HAVE MADE THE PROBLEM, in the first place. If spay and neuter were done responsibly by pet owners, we would not be fighting to save the lives of thousands of cats in shelters every day..

    TNR is the only way of reducing the population. It is a proven fact.

    • Deb says:

      Rebecca – I feel your heartfelt words and completely agree. While it hasn’t made major headlines to the same extent as the study, I am happy to see that everyday, more and more articles are being written that are giving cat advocates a voice. It’s a start…