To My Fellow Ailurophiles

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.

Monsieur Zoro (from Canada, where he will return after living in Colorado Springs for the last 3 years). Unfortunately, he will take his Mom, Isabelle, with him. I will miss you, Isabelle. ❤

Madam Spunkmeyer, the focus of a previous post (https://tanjabrittonwriter.com/2018/05/02/meet-the-cat/). As I learned only recently, Spunkmeyer entered cat heaven in February 2021 after living 17 (!) long years. RIP, Spunky.

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?

30 thoughts on “To My Fellow Ailurophiles

  1. It used to be considered a linguistic faux pas to combine etymological elements from different foreign languages rather than have all parts of a compound come from the same language. In that tradition, felinophile, however euphonious, would be gauche for having its first part come from Latin and its second from Greek. Nowadays, with a general loosening of what’s considered proper, English has moved a step closer to Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes.”

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  2. I am a dog lover who likes cats. We live in a “mouse house.” Without cats, our house is overrun. (Yes, we’ve tried it.) So I guess that qualifies me as someone who has cats to keep the abundant rodents at bay. Back in the olden days, when I was young, cats roamed at will, and the bird population was apparently doing all right. Lots of birds in Maine. On the other hand, in some places there was a “Silent Spring.” I’m rambling, I know. Anyway, here’s the question: Do you think it’s cats driving the bird population down or is it all the things that humans are doing? I go back and forth on this. But you are right that outdoor cats tend to have dangerous, shorter lives.

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    • Thank you for your comment, Laurie. I think it might have been ok one hundred years ago to let cats roam freely, because there were fewer people, more birds, and fewer challenges for those birds.
      Of course cats are only one factor that drive down the bird populations, but as I tried to point out, it’s a factor we can control personally. While we can (and need to) try to influence what is happening globally to the environment, it’s a lot more challenging.
      I think the numbers of birds killed by pet and feral cats is horrendous, and we need to try to find solutions to this problem.

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  3. I have friends in the country who keep mousers in the barns and around the house. As you say, that’s a different issue. In my neighborhood, it seems that nature herself is helping to keep things in balance. When feral cats begin appearing, it’s not long until a coyote or two is sighted. Over time, the cats disappear, and then so do the coyotes.

    Sometimes, the birds themselves take care of the problem. On a dock where I occasionally work, a new live-aboard arrived with two cats in tow. She allowed them to roam the docks, but the birds were having none of it. By the time the gulls and grackels were done attacking those cats, they refused to get off the boat, and now they spend their time napping in the cockpit.

    As for my beloved Dixie Rose, from the time she came to live with me at four months of age, she stayed indoors for eighteen years. I arranged it so she could watch the feeder birds from a chair at the window, and that did just fine. Contrary to what some people think, cats can be trained, and I trained her never to set paw on the balcony, either. I could go out to do ‘whatever,’ and she’d just sit in the open door and watch.

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    • As for Laurie’s question, it’s important to remember that cats are ‘one thing that people are doing.’ Even with feral cats, there are solutions. A yacht club I often visit was overrun by cats. They began a serious trap/neuter/release program, and within two years the cat population was down substantially. Today, I haven’t seen a roaming cat in months.

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    • Thank you for your comment, Linda, and for your perspective. I’m glad your Dixie Rose lived a long and happy life, and I know there are many more cats like her.

      I have to question whether nature is helping itself enough to keep things in balance, though. If it did, we wouldn’t have to bemoan the death of 2.6 billion birds per year. I really can’t wrap my head around this number.

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  4. Learning what I have these many years, I would choose Owl or Rat Snake to manage rodents outdoors as they are more effective at hunting and eradicating them than Cat. Alas, due to the irrational fear that drives many us, Snake’s life is often cut (literally) shorter than Cat’s. I love domestic cats, but I would prefer to see them suitably contained as domestic dog, for the benefit of the environment we ALL share — wildlife and humans. Neither species would have evolved without us; we owe it to them to get more knowledgeable and responsible with our care.

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    • Thank you for your comment, Shannon, and for your perspective. I agree that natural predators would be a better solution to help solve the rodent problem some people deal with. Owls and snakes work for the outdoors, but I don’t think most of us would tolerate a snake in the house to help deal with potential rodent infestations. Poisons or traps have their own problems.
      But I agree that pet cats should be contained, and I hope more cat owners will come to that conclusion.

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      • Rodents have their place in the environment too, the main reason against using any chemical rodenticides! However, the easiest and animal-free way to care for an indoor rodent problem is to plug the holes into which they come in. (And, of course, don’t feed them with a pantry buffet or crumbs left around a favorite lounger.)

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    • Thank you for your comment, Neil.

      I agree, cats are only one factor that drive down the bird populations. But as I tried to point out, it’s a factor we can control personally. While we can (and need to) try to influence what is happening globally to the environment, it’s a lot more challenging.

      I think the numbers of birds killed by pet and feral cats is horrendous, and we need to try to find solutions to this problem.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Difficult one, isn’t it. I love birds, and I love cats, and I love just about every other living thing too. Cats are free souls, and I worry that living an entirely indoor existence denies them the chance to be what they were born to be. On the other hand their impact on bird populations – and some small mammals too – is undeniable. No easy answers here, I’m afraid.

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    • Yes, difficult. But I have to say that the situation is so dire for birds, I find it hard to justify letting cats roam because of our notion of what they need. As many cat owners confirm, cats can live perfect lives without roaming wild.

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  6. We solved the problem with our three little Egyptian cats by building an expensive cat fence around part of their garden. It is made of flexible metal and they were never able to climb it. There was one death of a baby cardinal but the only other victims were lizards and I captured them alive to release. Once the cats died we donated the fence to a local charity that looks after feral cats – they were delighted to have somewhere safe for the cats to play. In our area, vets recommend that you keep cats inside because of the many predators and mosquitos. Great post, Tanja.

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  7. Yes! I couldn’t agree more with this post! I have lost cats to both cars and coyotes–both heartbreaking! I’m contrast, my deaf cat, Gatito, lived a long and happy life! He was safe inside, and found all kinds of creative ways around his deafness.

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