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Susan Martinuk: If the cat’s away, we’ll all be overrun by mice

It’s been a difficult and esteem-damaging week for those cats who are bright enough to read the daily papers or surf the Internet.

It’s been a difficult and esteem-damaging week for those cats who are bright enough to read the daily papers or surf the Internet.

On Monday, the Twitterverse and Canadian media were filled with pictures of the prime minister eating breakfast while his cat, Stanley, lounged contentedly on a nearby chair. Canadians sighed a collective “aww” and suddenly Stanley was a media darling.

A day later, the papers shifted to highlighting the rants of Gareth Morgan, a New Zealand billionaire who has campaigned for several years to have cats eradicated from his island. He is now essentially offering a bounty to encourage cat killing — $5 for every euthanized cat.

At this point, Stanley probably hid under the bed.

One day after that, there was Stanley again. Only this time, the photo depicted him as an adorable kitten (playing with a string, no less) and it was used to illustrate a blatantly vitriolic op-ed in the National Post entitled “Don’t be Fooled — Cats are Evil.” Its author, Laura Helmuth, who apparently wants to be taken seriously, views cats as “parasites on human civilization” and a “scourge on the landscape.”

As evidence, she notes a study from “a few years ago” of outdoor cats in the Washington, D.C., area. She claims it reveals that in neighbourhoods where “people ought to know better,” outdoor cats “eat basically all juvenile birds as soon as they fledge.”

Really? “Basically all” juvenile birds? Any study that provides such “scientific” findings can hardly be considered credible.

In contrast, Helmuth refers to Morgan’s eradication scheme as “logical and quite correct” because he has called for “elimination” in the most humane way possible.

From media darling to wanted animal (dead or alive, but preferably dead) in just 48 hours. Cue Stanley — and every other cat — to take up residence in a closet far away from humans and their humane plans.

At the root of anti-feline messaging is a just-released research report by the Smithsonian’s Migratory Bird Center and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that estimates cats kill billions of birds and small mammals each year.

The researchers extrapolated the data from a number of local studies to produce an estimate of wildlife mortality that “far exceeds all prior estimates.” The report estimates that cats kill anywhere from 1.4 billion to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 billion to 20.7 billion mammals per year. That’s a rather broad range, and these non-specific estimates must be viewed as such when considering the overall results and implications.

As a result, the media are producing catchy headlines that use words like “killer kitties” and “serial killers” to draw attention to the study. But before incriminating house cats who have responsible owners, it should be pointed out that the study estimates 89 per cent of mammalian mortality was caused by unowned, feral cats. Further, in densely populated areas, the authors admit that mice “can make up a substantial component of mammalian prey.”

So, let’s consider these results in some sort of context. Nine out of 10 attacks on mammals are carried out by feral cats who obviously must kill to survive. Most of the mammals killed are mice and other nuisance rodents.

Are we now experiencing such a profound deficit of mice and rodents that we must call for the eradication of house cats?

As for birds, the report says seven of every 10 kills result from feral cats.

Yet, suddenly the anti-cat people like Morgan believe we now have the data we need to justify and call for the ruthless extinction of all feral and feline pets in New Zealand, where a 2011 survey suggests that 48 per cent of all households have at least one cat.

Yes, cats are killing exotic birds in New Zealand, but the source of the problem is primarily feral cat populations that need to be controlled through neutering and spaying.

Before Morgan and his hired guns start killing off the feral cats, they should consider the resulting health concerns to humans and what that lovely New Zealand countryside might look like if hundreds of millions (or billions) of rodents are left unchecked.


Susan Martinuk is a Calgary Herald columnist.