Difficult choices

At the risk of opening a large can of worms… We have two rescue moggies who the children love; who David keeps threatening to make into slippers; and about whom I have extremely conflicting feelings. Being a cat-owner and a nature-lover is not easy. I will let the cats sit on my lap and stroke them, I feed them, take care of their vaccinations, etc, but I absolutely hate their cat ways: despite the fact that they’re extremely well fed, their hunting instinct is strong. They catch creatures and sometimes they kill and eat parts of them and sometimes they bring them indoors still alive and kicking. We found a wood mouse nesting behind the freezer (definitely a cat ‘gift’), we’ve searched for hours for the source of the ‘back of the throat’ smell of dead mouse (if you’ve ever smelt it, you know what I mean), we’ve chased shrews up the stairs (yes, they can climb very well), we’ve been woken up by rustling in our bedroom (another wood mouse), we’ve had newts carefully deposited on the kitchen floor with a puddle of pond water, ditto goldfish, and a rabbit in the garden (see my previous post). We’ve found parts of dead rodents and even slow worms by the back door where the cat flap is.

Worse than all that for me, though, is the fact that they hunt, catch and often kill birds. I’ve found dead baby robins, wrens, blackbirds and even a blackcap. This does not sit well with my ex-RSPB staff credentials at all! In the past month, one cat has carefully carried indoors a robin which it deposited, still very much alive, under our bed and a coal tit (again, alive) which it took into my daughter’s bedroom. Luckily, in both instances, we clocked this happening and managed to open the upstairs windows so the poor creatures could fly out.

As it’s breeding season I’ve added ‘vigilant cat watch’ to my daily list. There are birds nesting in the garden hedges and one pair in particular that we’re on high alert for. Coal tits are nesting in a hole in the wall by the back door where the cat flap is… There are definitely chicks in the nest (we can hear them) and the parents have been diligently feeding them. We’ve watched the adults flit from the cherry tree to the fence, to the honeysuckle that’s overhanging the wall and then, when the coast is clear, zipping into the nest in the wall. The cats, however, know they’re there. They’ve been keeping watch. And every time we notice the cats hanging around, we’re shooing them away in no uncertain terms.

I know we should probably keep them indoors for the next couple of months (or even for the rest of their lives) and dust off the litter tray but they would go bonkers. They are very outdoors cats and no-one is volunteering to deal with the cat poo; it’d be down to me. So, there you have it, I love birds but probably not enough to have to incarcerate the cats and shovel their bodily waste every day. And it’s not that simple. There’s the issue of which cat litter to buy (not sustainable) and how to dispose of it (landfill). What’s more important – protecting a few garden birds from predators or avoiding unsustainable products (litter, bags, etc) and adding to the waste mountain?

Isn’t that a metaphor for the bigger problems in our world – we love the Earth but humans still fly in planes and buy goods wrapped in plastic and use disposable nappies and eat foods containing palm oil that’s farmed on land that used to be pristine rainforest. The latest UN report from an intergovernmental body on biodiversity and ecosystems that flagged up in the strongest terms that the natural world is under threat like never before must surely jolt everyone out of complacency. One million species are at risk of extinction and our wild places are under extreme pressure.

As well as revealing the incredible beauty of Earth, an amazing tv programme is revealing some of the impact humans have on our planet – BBC’s Earth from Space. Have you been watching it? One particular shot of huge fishing boats lighting up the oceans off the coast of Argentina to attract squid (they swim towards the light, which they think is the moon) has stayed with me. Thousands of squid swimming up towards the light only to be caught in massive nets and hauled on board. Thousands and thousands of squid, all to be factory processed and to end up on someone’s plate. Sigh.

There are difficult choices ahead and it’s all bloody complicated but we – governments, companies, people – have to do our best to make the right ones.

 

 

22 thoughts on “Difficult choices

  1. I am on baby bird watch at the moment we have fledgling great tits in the garden which is visited by up to seven cats including one we were left with when daughter number two moved away.I removed the cat flap due to rodents still alive being brought in and now have to maintain the cat tray! Once the fledging period is over it is not so critical. I have said it before we will NOT have another cat!

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  2. Cats kill 27 million birds a year in the UK. They are hardwired to kill. They’d probably kill you if they were a bit bigger. I don’t have a cat but I am worn out trying to protect the birds in my garden from 3 neighbouring cats. And to add insult to injury, they use my garden as a lavatory. Don’t get me started.

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  3. I grew up with cats and I loved them, but that was before I understood how destructive they are. There are just too many of them and at a time when wildlife is massively under threat I couldn’t justify having another one. I think we are all going to have to start making difficult decisions soon, giving things up that we’ve been used to having/ using/ consuming without thought. I think may people still don’t realise how serious things are – if our wildlife goes, we won’t be far behind it.

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    1. We need some inspirational leadership and for those in power to grasp the enormity of the situation so that the entrenched ways of capitalism are amended. Huge complex stuff 😦

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  4. I hate cats always have and always will. They kill garden birds and poo in other people’s gardens(often mine).We should adopt the Canadian approach and only allow house cats that never go outside to kill wild life.

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  5. It really is so very hard to do the right thing when almost everything has a negative impact isn’t it. I am cutting right down on meat and fish in this house. We are now two vegetarians, one vegan and two who eat a little meat and fish but not much. It’s a difficult situation with the cats. I had one once who never caught a thing – after reading your list of creatures you’ve had brought home I am thanking my lucky stars. How lovely that you have nesting coal tits. I have been watching the blue tits going in and out of our nest box with caterpillars for their chicks. They keep it up almost the entire time it seems, I am exhausted just watching. Good luck with cat watch. We have magpies and crows stalking the frogs in the pond. When they catch one it’s really quite gruesome. CJ xx

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    1. It’s very hard to do the right thing. I’m trying to cut down on waste, to reuse or recycle as much as possible and buy carefully. You were lucky with your cat 🙂

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  6. Maybe you should open an even bigger can of worms and debate the rights and wrongs of any sort of pet ownership! When my sister in Australia enquired about a rescue cat, she had to commit to keeping it inside for ever. Somehow, that seems as wrong as letting them out to wantonly kill and destroy.
    So many decisions that we need to make every day to do the right thing.

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  7. Dear Sam

    As ever you speak from the bottom of my equally conflicted soul.

    I watch what’s happening on TV and in the world directly around me and – depending on my state of mind that day – either lean towards despair or frustration with a hint of hope.

    It’s good that – finally! – a more public, mainstream acknowledgement of the scale and urgency of the problem is developing.

    The kids are demonstrating, politicians have clocked on and – even if for some it’s only because it’s popular rather than really something they care about – are endorsing the necessity for change.

    I can even walk around in my Greepeace member shirt and not get ridiculed as a radical these days.

    However, with all that’s going in the right direction I also worry if it’s too little too late and whether human nature as you describe it so aptly isn’t always going to compromise between the what’s right on the one side and the what’s comfortable, cheap or easy for us but wrong for the planet on the other by coming down of the wrong end of the sliding scale.

    The problem is that the consequences of doing the wrong thing aren’t immediately felt where and by whom the action was taken. It’s all affecting far away places and times, not tomorrow in our town, so it’s easy to push it away in everyday life.

    I’ve recently met quite a lot of people who very consistently live by greener standards at quite considerable discomfort and cost to themselves and I am awed and humbled and shamed I’m not meeting that standard. My greatest weakness is travel and no matter how much I placate my guilty conscience with recycling, reusing and avoiding purchasing bad products, I know the carbon footprint I’m racking up with flights can’t really be offset by that or the planting of trees I pay my extra fee for when I book. And yet it’s really a central thing in my life to stay in touch with friends and family around the world and to discover and experience our beautiful earth in different places myself.

    Your conflict about the cats is a painful one but I think you’re doing the right thing. If it wasn’t your cats chasing the birds would they not maybe get hunted by a neighbour‘s ?

    I hope the chicks make it and we all find that through proper policies it becomes easier for all of us in the future to make the right choices , eg by environmentally bad products being more expensive than greener ones. A VAT reform to that end could be a really good starting point for example.

    For now I’m going to vote Green at the European elections and keep on being as green a consumer (and cat owner ) as I can.

    Thanks so much for your thought provoking writing. Hope we see you soon

    Love

    Petra

    Im just as guilty of this as the next person. I still shop in supermarkets misting thevtime and that means a lot of unnessary plastic packaging despite bringing your own bags >

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  8. Our old cat Phoebe was an avid hunter, and she also liked to provide us with gifts, though she never brought live animals into the house. Her gifts were always dead and usually disemboweled. I too was especially horrified when she caught birds. She’s gone now, and we think about getting a couple of kittens at some point in the future. If we do, we will try our best to raise them as indoor cats. It seems to me that some individual cats can tolerate being kept indoors better than others.

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  9. I have gone from having enjoyed having cats as pets as a child to being very anti-cat. Since we don’t have a cat, the neighbouring cats use our garden as a toilet. I want to be able to dig without unearthing cat poo – cut the grass without having to shift dollops of poo. And I hate the hunting of birds. It seems that there has been an explosion of general pet ownership in the last 40 years. In my childhood up here in the north of Scotland, most dogs were working dogs. Now I am in the minority going for a walk without a dog. So many are not even badly trained – they are not trained at all – and our rural community has an ongoing problem with dog poo, including the bagged variety left by the path for eternity. People ask me if I’m not going to get a dog, given that I’m retired and live in the country. I have no desire to spend my retirement picking up dog poo! Given finite resources, it amazes me in the supermarket to walk down aisles of tins and pouches and sacks of dog and cat food, in a country which has food banks.

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    1. Hmm, yes, the cat latrine issue isn’t pleasant, and dog poo is the most contentious issue among locals here! Pet ownership in general is a conundrum.

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  10. Sam, Have you thought about putting collars with bells on the cats? When I was growing up, my mother was an avid birder and our cat always had bells to “warn” the birds. It seemed to help quite a bit, although the cat occasionally caught chipmunks. Some cat owners apparently worry that the bells might be stressful to the cats, but our cat never seemed bothered, and better a slightly stressed cat than all those dead birds.

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    1. They’ve both been wearing collars with bells on for the past few weeks. Previously they’ve managed to wriggle out of any collar we’ve tried but these have thankfully stayed put. I’m hoping it gives the wildlife a fighting chance!

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  11. Our cats had bells. Not sure if this was the reason why they never brought garden birds in. In fact one of them did actually catch a bird (by flopping on top of it) then looked at me as if to say “what do I do now?” They did, however bring a coot’s leg in once, and a rabbit that my husband had to kill because it was so damaged. I sympathise with the dead mouse smell! We searched high and low until we found the dead one sitting on the freezer compressor. Live mice too. I have a photo of two small kitten cats spread eagled on a curtain because there was one trapped between the curtain & the lining. I remember the weasel they cornered – we removed the cats for their own safety. I don’t think they’d have won that fight!
    I won’t have a dog because I refuse to pick up poo! My father wouldn’t let us have a dog or cat when we were little – because he said there was no work for them to do. (Farming background) He had a point.
    I do acknowledge the health benefits of pets – companion animals – but they need to be cared for and controlled properly. There are so many of them now that the predator/prey balance is seriously skewed.

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    1. I think you’re right – the balance has tipped. Humans rarely look at the long view and the consequences of our actions (eg rabbits in Australia, grey squirrels here, etc).

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