Cats to Go

I was very surprised by the number of households with cats in New Zealand. With all those nearly extinct native birds that have evolved to live in a habitat free of mammal predators, I was assuming that cats could not be popular pets, or at least they were mostly kept indoors. Well I was wrong.

But fact is, the cat happens to be one of the most efficient killer on planet Earth. In addition to that, the density of domestic cats in an anthropized habitat is much higher than the density of feral cats in the wild. Add hunting, poaching, pesticides and habitat loss, and of course what you obtain is extinction. The problem of struggling wild birds being killed by well-fed domestic cats is obvious everywhere people live with their concrete, their noise and intensive agriculture. Jonathan Franzen deals with it extensively in Freedom.

But NZ is a very special, very vulnerable case, so I was wondering if someone was noticing the paradox of kiwis allowing domestic cats outside and it appears someone actually is noticing, albeit in a somewhat disturbing fashion.


This interesting initiative Cats to Go informs people about the number of native birds killed by domestic cats, providing fact and figures. For example personally I was shocked to learn that NZ shelters release cats in the wild, which is totally absurd under the circumstances. But I was also shocked to discover that the main solution advocated by CatstoGo is the so called euthanasia, for stray and house cats alike, with the final goal of eradicating cats from NZ.

It seems to me a rather emotional final solution, that considers the impact of one predator only and ignores the possible consequences of a targeted removal, as this very interesting comment points out. In addition, the core of problem, why there are so many unwanted cats around in the first place, is not addressed at all, and therefore cannot be solved.

In many countries strays are kept alive in shelters for a couple of weeks and if no one shows up to adopt them they are killed (in some cases they are sedated first, then killed). While unwanted pets are killed in shelters, more pets are being purposely bred for selling, then bought, later abandoned, and eventually killed. It’s a routine than involves a number of animals you wouldn’t believe. No-kill shelters do exist, but running them costs a lot of money, normally paid by volunteers and associations. Some countries allow only no-kill shelters, that are partly sustained with public money.

What alarms me in general and specifically about the CatstoGo page including the comments, is that no one seems to be interested in the reasonable, practical, affordable and ethical ways to reduce the number of unwanted pets, ie primarily limiting the breeding, selling and buying of pets. Everyone just seem happy with vague philosophical considerations and the breeding-killing routine.

Anyway, of course CatstoGo also proposes that cats be kept indoors (which is frustrating but reasonable, especially in NZ), provided with a bell (ok), microchipped (great), neutered (of course) and carefully suggests that you consider your cat to be your last cat (which in NZ should really be considered).

Keeping a cat indoors is indeed frustrating, especially for me, but it can be necessary. When I was a kid cats were allowed outdoors all the time. Back then there were hundreds, thousands of sparrows in everyone’s backyard. My neighbour used to shoot a dozen of them everyday, in his backyard, with his rifle, using cartridges that were four times bigger than the sparrows themselves. A relative of mine used to kill them with a trap that would crush them, of course in the backyard. And we would find chicks fallen from the nests everyday. There were so many sparrows, and the world was so ugly, that the occasional bird killed by the house cat seemed just natural. Now sparrows are nearly extinct (it seems it’s the pesticides mainly), the world is even uglier, people keep on shooting in backyards (I had to call the police twice this winter – the police!), and finding a songbird is such a complicated ordeal that I couldn’t stomach my cat eating the few surviving chaffinches outside my window. So now I feel sorry for the sparrows that don’t even exist anymore, for the chaffinches that have to hide while I call the police, and for the cat who can’t hunt.

Help me Jonathan Franzen.