Wondrous Wildlife
By Vern and Lori Gieger
A Reversible Cat-astrophe

     One of the more common questions we are asked is about the impact feral cats has on wildlife. They are detrimental, comparable to the introduction of a non-endemic specie. However, the ordinary “pet” cat that is allowed to roam freely causes just as much damage, if not more.
     Most wildlife attacked by cats are killed outright. Of the ones that do make it into care, many are so badly injured that they do not survive more than a day or so. Examinations of cat attack victims reveal massive internal hemorrhaging and soft tissue damage even when external damage appears minor. Even small puncture wounds expose the victim to over 60 types of bacteria in cat saliva, as well as rapidly progressing infection from a claw scratch or puncture. Typically less than 15% survive.
     Worldwide, cats have been responsible for the extinction of more bird species than any other cause, except habitat destruction. Many cat owners believe their pet can’t possibly have a significant impact; however, the cumulative devastation of cat attacks on wildlife is substantial. With many species in danger due to habitat loss, predation by house cats is yet one more hardship facing wildlife already struggling to survive.
     Wildlife rehabilitators are frequently approached by people who tell them, somewhat abashedly, that their cats are constantly bringing in birds, lizards and other small mammals. They seem to feel compelled to share this information, but when suggestions are offered, they brush them aside - they seem to be seeking absolution instead of a viable solution. When it is suggested there is something that a single individual can do to positively mitigate cats’ impact on wildlife, their eyes glaze over.
     If you really love your cat and value it, you will never let it out of doors unless it is with you in a carrier. If you allow your cat to roam freely; chances are your cat will be hit by a car, poisoned, attacked by a dog, etc. Not to mention the risk of your pet contracting diseases, fleas, ticks, ear mites, fungal skin infections, intestinal parasites, etc., which can be transmitted to your other pets, or even you.
     By keeping your cat confined to your property at all times, in a special enclosure or cattery, you will protect your cat, and our wildlife. Cats can live happily in specially built cat-runs, which are relatively inexpensive to make. Or you can simply enclose your patio. A kitten which is not allowed to roam will not expect to do so as an adult. Cats don’t have an innate need to roam.
     All wildlife is protected by state and/or federal law, to varying degrees. Certainly they deserve the additional, so easily ensured protection from domestic cats. In many places, a dog chasing livestock can be put to death; this is not so much out of consideration for the livestock as it is that such animals are deemed personal property, and the owner’s rights are thus imperiled by harm to them. Surely our wildlife merits at least an equivalent protection—not as personal property but as a shared resource that provides benefits for all of us. Limiting the toll that cats take on wildlife is an action that is immediate and effective.