Now, I must point out that I was not raised a cat person. Indeed, I was raised with a certain amount antipathy towards stray and feral cats. That’s because cats kill birds and squirrels, which were the animals that my grandpa liked to preserve on his property. Now, he taught me most of what I know about nature and wildlife, and most of it I’ve read repeated in scientific wildlife journals and publications. He had a deep hatred of feral cats and opossums. For some reason, he regarded opossums as a non-native species. It didn’t really matter. He saw both as mortal threats to game birds, song birds, and squirrels.
Now, he always kept dogs. His preferred breed was the Norwegian elkhound, especially the black breed of Norwegian elkhound. He liked them because they had enougn variation of hunting instincts to be used on a wide variety of game. His dogs, as a result, were very fierce cat hunters. However, that often caused a problem whenever he took them to the small animal vet for vaccines and check-ups. These dogs had to enter through be back door, because they would go so crazy at the sight or smell of a cat that they would forget all of their training and go berserk.
Well, today, the number of cat hating dogs on the property is zero. My golden retriever thinks cats are just very strange looking dogs, and she wants to play with them. My skunk-killing golden boxer had a penchant for cat hunting, but since her death from osteosarcoma last year, we’ve been without cat control.
Ah, but mother nature has decided to help keep the cat numbers low.
In the past few years, a weapon of feline destruction has established itself in my part of the world.
We now now have a healthy population of coyotes, and they have a taste for cat meat. When they first arrived here, people complained that they would kill all the deer. That’s nonsense, because the deer population is higher than it ever was, even with some predation from coyotes (mainly on the fawns). They also complained that it would be the end of foxes, but I see foxes of both species rather regularly. And the bobcats seem to be doing fine, despite some competition from the coyote for prey.
The only animals that seem to be affected by coyotes are cottontail rabbits, which nearly disappear in the winter months, and feral cats. The coyotes more easily pick off the rabbits when the ground becomes bare in the winter, and the rabbits lose their hiding places in the dense weeds.
Feral cats don’t last long around here. The coyotes must hanker for cat meat. I don’t know what it is, but the coyotes eat lots of them. In fact, cats must be such a delicacy for coyotes that I’ve known people to lose cats off their front porches. One local was feeding his cat off the back deck. He poured the cat food out one morning and went inside to turn on the coffee pot. He hadn’t been gone 30 seconds when he heard his cat screaming. When he rushed out to see what was the matter, he just caught a glimpse of the coyote rushing off with the cat in its jaws.
So mother nature has figured out a way to keep the feral cats under control. However, I don’t think they are the main solution to the problem everywhere. Even though coyotes live very well in urban and suburuban environments, I don’t think they can exist in enough numbers to really control the cat population. That’s not because the coyotes can’t live well there. It’s just that cats, as domestic animals, can live at even higher densities in those environments than do in rural areas. In that case, the best solution is to have euthanize feral cats. In rural areas where coyotes can’t make a dent in their populations, I suggest hunting them.
I’m not an advocate of trap, neuter, and release. I’m sorry. I know that not PC.
But cats are major hazard to the ecology of so many species. They are currently the most widespread carnivore on the planet, and while they do keep pest rodent numbers in check, they have been responsible for extinctions, like the Stephens Island Wren, which once thought to have been wiped out by predation from a single cat.
Now, I think what we have to do is have a licensing system for cats. That’s going to be necessary if we are ever going to do the cat control measures that are going to be necessary. We need some way to prevent killing owned cats. Currently, only one state has a licensing system for cats, and that’s Rhode Island. When a similar bill was proposed in the West Virginia legislature, the legislators meowed at the legislator who proposed it.
However, I don’t think this is a laughing matter. We dog owners know that there are lots of laws that prevent our dogs from running at large and from trespassing on property of others. We know that a dog can be shot if it wanders on to a farmer’s property and even looks like a threat to his livestock.
In most jurisdictions, the laws for cats are far more lenient. Cats can do whatever they want. It doesn’t matter how many species they kill. Many people would like to shoot cats that kill birds and squirrels.
But because proving ownership is so hard with cats, one would be worried about doing something like that in this day and age. Consider the case of Jim Stevenson, founder of the Galveston Ornithological Society. He was tired of cats killing native bird species, so he took matters into his own hands. He shot a cat with a .22, and he was charge under a felony animal cruelty law and faced up to two years in prison. The cat was about to kill a piping plover when Stevenson shot it.
However, the prosecution said that he had shot an owned cat, even though the cat was a stray. A toll booth operator had been been feeding the cats and even providing bed for them under a bridge. The operator caught Stevenson and yelled at him. It was the operator who called the police and got the whole criminal proceedings started.
The jury could not come to a consensus on convicting Stevenson, and a mistrial was declared. And then, as a result of the Stevenson case, Texas passed a law making it illegal to kill feral cats– an incredibily stupid law.
Now, if every state would license cats, we would be able to prove ownership, and it would be okay to have cat controls. If every state would also pass laws allowing municipalities to regulate free roaming cats, we could solve this problem.
But most states and municipalities let cats have free range. Dogs do not get the same liberties. If we would start regulating cats in just a few ways we regulate dogs, we might be able to end the feral cat problem.
Otherwise, the coyotes are our only hope.
(I’m not against cat ownership. I’m against the blasted things killing all the birds and small mammals. I’m also not opposed to keeping barn cats to control rodents around agricultural enterprises. I am opposed to letting cats roam, but in my area, this problem is largely solved by Canis latrans.)