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Protect wildlife, keep house cats indoors
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Over the years, a number of felines have lowered their standards enough to share their lives with me, and my life was richer for the experience. I wouldn’t call myself a “cat lady,” but I am definitely a cat fan.
Before you dog lovers start hating me, you should know that even more dogs have been part of my family, along with rabbits, horses, goats, snakes, hamsters and assorted poultry.
When I was a child, our family cat would be allowed to enjoy the great outdoors, free to wander the fields and woods surrounding our Pennsylvania home. As a result, we would routinely receive “gifts” of mangled, furry creatures left on the doorstep where an unsuspecting foot might step. Sometimes, lifeless birds were placed there like some unwelcomed offering. Of course, none of these wildlife victims had been in the house or were in any way threatening our health or safety. They were simply living their natural lives until they had the misfortune of meeting our cat.
As a wildlife biologist, I read the results of scientific studies. Supporting what I saw as a child, wildlife research shows that house cats kill billions of wild animals every year. Like the cat of my childhood, these cats often belong to people who love them and provide them with plenty of nutritious food. Feral cats -- those without homes and owners -- are even more aggressive hunters.
Many wild animals are facing difficulties. As neighborhoods, cities and farms get larger, natural spaces and places for wildlife get smaller. This habitat loss is the biggest threat to many species. Add other human impacts like pollution, vehicle accidents and non-native predators such as house cats, and their situation becomes even worse.
This is where the average person can make a difference in helping wildlife. Research shows cat predation on small creatures is lower when cats are brought inside for the night. This precaution will not only help wildlife, but also protect your cat from becoming a meal for a bigger predator or the victim of a passing car.
Wildlife is also saved when cats wear bells on their collars. The bells serve as an early-warning system and give birds and other small animals a chance to escape an untimely death.
Remember that cats are not native wildlife. They are simply not part of our natural environment. Research shows that returning feral cats to their homeless state after surgery will not end significant losses of native creatures, even when the cats are supplied food by the catch, spay/neuter and release program.
For the sake of the health of our native wildlife, we should keep cats inside and not let them run wild. My current cat is one I rescued from homelessness, starvation and early death. From the safety and comfort of my home, she just dreams of catching the birds she sees through the living room window. Outside, life is still risky for “my” birds and other wildlife, but at least I took away one threat to their lives. Think of the difference it would make for wildlife if others did the same.
Editor’s Note: Extension Outdoors is a column authored by several different experts in the Mississippi State University Extension Service.