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Meow How? Should I keep My Cat Indoors?

Cats...We love 'em or hate 'em....or just ignore them altogether. We think they are kings or nuisances. But America has millions and millions of them. And the fact is that millions of them are free-roaming cats that are having a tremendous impact on our native wildlife.

My sister, who maintains a Bluebird Trail, recently told me that she saw a cat jump straight up in the air about 5 feet and catch a Bluebird. That story stunned me, and I decided to share the following information with my readers who might have been as uneducated about the realities of our pet cats as I was.

If you are a cat lover, will you bear with me until this article is complete? I love cats, and I love wildlife. And that causes a very real conflict in my mind. I like my pets to experience freedom...but what I have now learned has altered my way of thinking about pet cats...and feral cats...and I'd like to share the facts and alternatives with you.

Here are important facts from "The Campaign for Safer Birds and Cats," which is sponsored by the American Humane Association, the American Bird Conservancy and The Humane Society of the United States.

--------- NOTE: The following article contains strong facts...but there are helpful solutions: ---------

Today's cat owners face an important decision: "Should I keep my cat indoors?" Let's consider the realities facing both cats and our native wildlife.

  • Unaltered free-roaming cats are the single most important cause of cat overpopulation. As a result, millions of cats for whom there are no homes must be euthanized each year.
  • Cats allowed outdoors risk exposure to fatal diseases, including rabies, feline leukemia, distemper and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Vaccines are not 100 percent effective.
  • Cats allowed outdoors are more likely to contract debilitating parasites such as worms, ticks, mites, and fleas. And they carry them indoors to our families.
  • Exposure to pesticides, rodenticides and antifreeze poisons and kills thousands of outdoor cats each year.
  • Millions of cats are run over by cars each year. Seeking warmth, outdoor cats crawl into car engines and are killed or maimed when the car is restarted.

    And regarding wildlife:

  • Hundreds of millions of birds and small mammals are killed annually by free-roaming cats.

    Today, birds and other wildlife face more obstacles to survival than ever before. Habitats are destroyed and degraded every day and many species are declining as a result. Even the impact of natural predators is affecting populations. And the presence of an non-native predator -- the domestic cat -- is having an impact as well.

    Scientists estimate that cats kill hundreds of millions of birds each year and three times as many small mammals. Most birds killed by cats are members of relatively common species, like

  • the Northern Cardinal
  • Song Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Eastern Bluebird and some are rare and endangered --
  • the California Least Tern,
  • Piping Plover
  • Western Snowy Plover
  • California Gnatcatcher

    By letting our cats outside, we -- perhaps without intent -- place a higher value on the freedom of our pet than on the life of those birds or chipmunks or voles that it kills.

    As a descendant of the wild cat of Africa and southwestern Asia, the domestic cat instinctively hunts and captures prey. Wildlife in the Western Hemisphere did not evolve in the presence of a small, abundant predator like the domestic cat, and thus did not develop defenses against them. Cats were introduced in North America by European immigrants only a few hundred years ago.

    And cats are not adapted to life in the wild, either. Outdoor domestic cat populations are most commonly found in and around human settlements; most do not survive without direct or indirect support by humans.

    Myths and Truths about Cats and Birds

    "Belled" cats do kill wildlife. Cats with bells on their collars can learn to stalk their prey silently. And wild animals do not necessarily associate the ringing of a bell with danger.

    Even well-fed cats kill wildlife. The urge to hunt and the urge to eat are controlled by different portions of the cat's brain.

    Once caught by a cat, few birds survive, even if they appear to have escaped. Infection from the cat's teeth or claws or the stress of capture usually results in death.

    Tips for Happy Indoor Cats

    Kittens who are kept indoors usually show no desire to venture outside as cats. With patience we can change most adults cats who roam outdoors into happy indoor pets. These tips will help.
    • Provide a safe, outside enclosure, such as a screened porch.
    • Provide window shelves to permit cats to monitor the outdoors from the safety of the indoors
    • Play with your cat each day. Provide play toys...such as paper bags and cardboard boxes.
    • Plant kitty grass in indoor pots so your cat can graze
    • Clean litter boxes regularly.
    • Put an identification tag on your cat's collar -- it's her tickey home if she slips out
    • Where such programs exist, license your cat.
    • Do not feed unowned or free-ranging cats without making a commitment to giving or finding them a permanent indoor home
    • Take cats for whom you cannot care to your local animal shelter to give them the best possible chance of adoption into loving, lifelong homes.

    For more information on how to responsibly manage cats and other predatory pets, you can contact the following organizations:

    Cats Indoors! The Campaign for Safer Birds and Cats
    1250 24th Street NW, Suite 400
    Washington, DC 20037
    Phone: 202-778-9666
    2100 L Street NW
    Washington, DC 20037
    Phone: 202-452-1100
    63 Inverness Drive East
    Englewood, CO 80112
    Phone: 303-792-9900

    For more articles about WILDLIFE GARDENING

    Garden Decor: Aquascaping for Beauty and Purpose
    Butterfly & Caterpillar Gardening and the Environment
    Water Gardening is the New Frontier
    Rocky Sloped for Habitat
    Mailorder Gardening for Wildlife Friendly seeds and plants
    Butterflies are Flowers of the Air

    For more articles about BIRDS, BIRDS, BIRDS!

    Bird Profiles for Young Natguralists
    Red-bellied Woodpecker
    Red Breasted Nuthatch
    Carolina House Wren
    White Breasted Nuthatch
    Tufted Titmouse
    Prothonotary Warbler
    Hairy Woodpecker
    Eastern Bluebirds
    Downey Woodpecker
    Purple Martin