It is only thanks to Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day, which awaits me each morning in my e-mail inbox, that I know that I am an ailurophile (from the Greek ailuros for cat, and –phile for lover). To read the entire online dictionary entry, or to sign up to receive a free daily word in your inbox for the fun of it, click here.
But today’s post is not about the fascinating branch of linguistics dedicated to etymology. Rather, it concerns one of the unintended consequences of humanity’s love of felines. (Shouldn’t felinophile be in the dictionary? It is not. Interestingly, its opposite, felinophobe, is an accepted entry, as is ailurophobe.)
Some of you might remember the shocking result of a comprehensive longitudinal study published in the journal Science in September 2019 that concluded that since 1970, the bird population of the United States and Canada has suffered a 29 percent decline, resulting in the heartrending loss of nearly three billion birds (I am not familiar with other countries and continents, but suspect that statistics are similarly scary on a global scale).
Rather than resign ourselves to a bleak, silent future without birds, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology recommends seven actions we can take to help birds (https://www.birds.cornell.edu/home/seven-simple-actions-to-help-birds). They include: 1) make windows safer so birds don’t fly into them; 2) keep cats indoors, to prevent bird deaths; 3) replace lawns with native plants, to give birds more shelter and food; 4) avoid using pesticides in yards and gardens, which are lethal to birds and the insects they consume; 5) drink shade-grown coffee, which preserves forests; 6) reduce plastic use, to prevent pollution and harming wildlife; and 7) observe birds and report your sightings, to provide important information to scientist monitoring their populations.
I would like to address action #2: Keep cats indoors, to prevent bird deaths. According to the study, an estimated 2.6 billion birds are killed by more than 110 million feral and pet cats annually (again, these numbers pertain to the US and Canada only). This is not acceptable. I know that many cat owners think they owe it to their cat to let it outside, but what do we owe to the ever-shrinking population of birds?
While we have limited influence over what happens to environmental degradation and habitat loss, we have complete control over what our cats do. Not only is it irresponsible toward birds to allow our cats to roam freely, it is irresponsible toward our cats as well. How many of your purring friends have you lost to predators? To disease? To injury or even death inflicted by cars? I lost two favorite felines as a child because they were run over by cars, and I vividly recall my pain and sadness. But what about the pain our cats suffered?
I understand that in some situations cats are kept to keep rodents at bay and that it’s not realistic to expect those cats to stay indoors. But our well-fed, pampered pets, who only hunt birds because they follow their instincts, should be prevented from doing so. For owners who think their cats need to have access to the outdoors, a short video on the Cornell website suggests the use of cat patios (“catios”), or training cats to walk on a leash.
Take a look at the images below. What do these felines have in common? Are they beautiful, even adorable? Yes! Fierce? Possibly. Bird hunters? Probably. I encountered all of them out in the open, away from their homes, their owners, any oversight. The red and white cat close to the front wheel of my car has a right foreleg foreshortened by a fracture sustained when it was caught under a tire. The creature was lucky to be alive! As a matter of fact, outdoor cats have only half the life expectancy of a house cat.
By contrast, the following two cats, Zoro and Spunkmeyer, have lived perfectly happy, fulfilled, and much safer lives without ever killing a single bird.
I thank you, my fellow ailurophile, for taking these things to heart. And If you think it’s cruel to change your current cat’s lifestyle, would you at least consider keeping your next cat indoors, which is a safer option both for your cat and the world’s beloved birds?