I thought I’d set these people straight a few months ago, but here the same culprits have come out with yet another “study”, what’s known as a “derivative study” which uses the data and results of other studies to form its own conclusions. This is not uncommon, but it stands a good bit of a chance of being inaccurate because some of the pertinent data included in the studies used is old, some of it 30 or more years old, and much of the total figures cited were extrapolated from very small samples of cats and people and area covered. It works like taking a small and slightly blurry digital image and enlarging it over and over until it’s big enough to fill the space you want but it’s lost its definition and you really can’t tell what it is, so it’s lost its meaning.
What this latest study, “The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States” states and hopes to prove is:
We estimate that free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4–3.7 billion birds and 6.9–20.7 billion mammals annually. Un-owned cats, as opposed to owned pets, cause the majority of this mortality. Our findings suggest that free-ranging cats cause substantially greater wildlife mortality than previously thought and are likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for US birds and mammals.
The abstract doesn’t mention that one of the early participants in the study, Nico Dauphine, was convicted of killing outdoor cats outside her apartment building during the study, and that she had also been charged with animal cruelty—against cats—in the past and had publicly stated her dislike of cats as well. A slight bias, perhaps?
I’ll leave it to Peter Wolf’s Vox Felina to pick apart the study in “Garbage In, Garbage Out” and “The Show Must Go On” for the technicalities of the data collection and use, and already—after reporting the sensational headlines—mainstream media have questioned the data in “Do We Really Know That Cats Kill By The Billions? Not So Fast” and “Cat-astrophic threat? Scientists declare war on kitties”.
I am more concerned with the impact on cats because of the data they are claiming to be true.
The study uses a figure of 30 to 80 million for the number of “unowned”, meaning stray and feral, cats and states they are the ones who do the most damage. Those of us who are in the front lines of caring for stray and feral cats would be the most likely to know this figure since we’re the ones out there trapping and feeding and caring for them, and we don’t even know how many there are—and taking the figures we have and extrapolating them out to the entire country doesn’t give us a figure anywhere near that even counting the fact that we are working in an urban area with higher populations, which counts for a limited amount of the United States.
What we do know is that the real culprit species is the human—both in bird predation and in unowned cat populations. Just as humans are degrading and fragmenting habitat with development and building more tall reflective buildings and communications towers that hundreds of millions of birds fly into and die each year, using more and more pesticides and insecticides and growing more GMO foods that poison birds and wildlife, deforesting rain forests and generally destroying the planet which you can read all about in the American Bird Conservancy’s own publication, humans are also the ones who toss the pregnant cat out in the street, drop the kittens in the woods, shove their deceased mothers’ cats out of her house so they can sell it, or just leave their cats behind, outdoors, when they move.
Most of those unowned cats were once owned by someone—and still might be if given the chance—so where do you draw the line?
Where do stray and feral cats come from? They come from careless, cruel and abusive human beings. If you want to reduce the populations of stray and feral cats, you need to go after the people who put them there. And until then, the best answer is TNR, or to trap the cats, spay or neuter them, find homes for the kittens and friendly ones and return the rest to a place where they can be fed and cared for, be that outdoors or in a protected area, stabilizing the populations—read about just such an instance. Just a few weeks ago the Homeless Cat Management Team in Pittsburgh served 108 cats in a clinic that was totally free for stray and feral cats, hoping to catch as many as possible before the breeding season begins. The next answer is to make affordable spay and neuter services available to everyone so that they don’t toss cats out when they don’t know what to do with them. Locally and across the country many shelters and specialty clinics offer spay/neuter services on a sliding fee scale or a flat fee that just gets the job done.
In the meantime, don’t let this “study” get in the way of TNR and don’t let it endanger the lives of cats whether they be someone’s pets or a feral on the streets. TNR programs constantly battle with people who don’t want cats on the streets and who think the only solution is to round them up and kill them, even shooting them on site, or poisoning them like a bunch of rats. If TNR programs are inhibited or prevented from caring for cats, there will be even more cats on the streets and that certainly isn’t the answer.
Alley Cat Allies has a petition you can sign, Tell the Smithsonian: Stop spreading junk science that will kill cats. Please take a moment to read and sign it.
Also read a number of other opinions on the subject. I wrote an article in September entitled Scientists Prove That Feral Cats Killed the Dinosaurs that cites the studies above and a number of other studies.
Browse some rescued cats and kittens!
And yes, many of these were trapped as stray/feral cats, spay/neutered and vetted and socialized from the clinics I mentioned above!
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