At 5 pm on 8th April 2016, Alexis Myers wrote an article about feral cats and how they successfully keep down the rat population in parts of Chicago. Around four hours later, at 9:26 pm an article written by John Kass is published rebuffing Myers’ article and denigrating the feral cat. It is a war of the sexes as well!
The gist of Kass’s article is that feral cats attack birds; the classic anti-feral cat argument. The problem for Kass is that he is writing from the gut. He admits he is allergic to cats and reading between the lines he dislikes cats at the very least. Because he lacks knowledge about feral cats and dislikes them he makes a fundamental mistake. He says feral cats would prefer to attack birds rather than rats because the evil Chicago rat is too fierce.
He is wrong. Birds are down the priority list of prey items for feral cats. The feral cat will always go for ground dwelling mammals first. Rodents are by far the major prey of the feral cat. Then reptiles also feature and insects too. The bird is often a relatively low priority unless the feral cat is living near seabirds – on an island perhaps.
It is a bit weird that Mr Kass writes that Alexis’s headline, “Feral Cats Enlisted in Urban Rat Battle” is “frightening”. How can this be frightening?
His reasoning is the usual one that the feral cat is an invasive species and it kills lots of birds. Of course the feral cat has been around as long as the first settlers to America in the early 1600s so it is hard to call them invasive over 400 years later.
Mr Myers cannot resist having a go at cat lovers. He says that they are too stubborn to admit that cats love to chew the heads of baby birds. Cat lovers will never admit that as the truth because it is plainly wrong. Cats are natural predators. It is instinctive and therefore “loving” to do it is an incorrect description. Cats neither love or hate predation. They just do it.
There is a lot of misinformation about cats killing birds and Mr Myers has regurgitated the same old scaremongering stuff. It does not work anymore. If feral cats are keeping rat populations down, the cats are occupied and useful and the residents and cat lovers are pleased. That is a lot of happiness and success.
Alexis refers to a lady, Andrea Swank, who used to see rats outside her home and rat paw-prints in the snow. Now there are no signs of rats because she took in three feral cats.
The Tree House Humane Society instigated the Cats at Work programme several years ago. There are now 50 feral cats participating in the program! The cats successfully cleared out the rats from a local business.
“This is nature taking care of nature…It’s a whole lot safer for the environment and ends up being more cost-efficient over time in comparison to rat poison and other abatement traps.” (Jenny Schlueter – director of development at Tree House)
There are concerns about worsening rat infestation problem due to demolition work and warm weather. All of the feral cats in the work program are sterilised, microchipped, ear tipped and vaccinated.
There are many examples of the success of feral cats in removing rats. One concerns a property in Lake View. A resident’s backyard was infested with 400 rats apparently because of dog faeces. Within two weeks the rats were gone because three feral cats were adopted from Tree House. A neighbour said that “dead rats were everywhere”.
In this instance the cats moved away from the property. The resident bought three more from Tree House because she was so pleased. She considered it money well spent. Let’s give feral cats a chance and make their presence useful rather than vilifying them. You can’t eradicate them. Use them as working cats. It is more natural, humane and respectful of the fact that humans created the feral cat; we have an obligation to treat them decently.