Despite the mind-boggling popularity of cats on the Internet, felines haven't found as much favor outside of the virtual world, particularly with conservationists.
In Colorado, the City of Aurora has several pet laws including banning pit bulls and physically similar breeds. Additionally, Aurora fines owners for having "cats at large" which means if a cat is off the owner's property, they can be trapped and the owner fined. The cities of Aurora and Denver both have a mandatory spay/neuter policy.
More Colorado towns are considering enacting similar restrictions on cats. Mary Harris, president of Roaring Fork Audubon Society, is urging the ordinance to protect native and migrating birds from the domestic cats propensity to hunt small wildlife.
Cities all over the nation are grappling with the issues of conservationists and cat advocates. Some communities are trying Trap Neuter Return campaigns while others are passing laws that criminalize feral cat colony caretakers.
The complicated issues surrounding conservation versus predators isn't just a topic here in the US.
Conservation is a big issue in Australia. Australia is home to more species than any other developed country so it's not surprising that the vast continent has also experienced the largest number of species extinctions.
It is thought that the nation has lost 30 native mammal species since the European arrival 200 years ago.
Usually, the top animal imports to blame for native species' decline are cats and foxes, and they’ve been the targets of numerous government-backed eradication campaigns. For cats, that includes a two-pronged approach to limit free-roaming cats.
Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt (lately in the news for threatening to kill Johnny Depp's two Yorkshire Terriers) explains, "By 2020, I want to see 2 million feral cats culled, five new islands and 10 new mainland 'safe havens' free of feral cats, and control measures applied across 10 million hectares,"
The second component to the all-out war on cats is to implement a country-wide "24-hour cat curfew" on pet cats, which is already in place in some jurisdictions.
Michael Archinal, an Australian veterinarian from Canberra has concerns about a "one size fits all approach," because not all cats cope well with indoor confinement."
As quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald, "Some cats are very stressed when they are confined; it can actually induce behavioral issues and some physical problems as well," he explains.
I know from experience that cats who don't have enough space and a stimulating environment have behavioral issues such as inappropriate marking and fighting. I also know that trying to create that environment is expensive.
With those experiences fresh in my mind, I foresee that these widespread cat containment laws will have many Australians relinquishing their pets to shelters at an alarming rate. Many of these cats will also be killed.
Gregory Andrews, the country's first threatened-species Commissioner, has been charged by Hunt to take care of the cat control programs. Much of the funding for the program will go towards killing the 2 million feral cats. This will be carried out by baiting, shooting or poisoning the pests.
Animal rights activist and French actress Brigitte Bardot has issued a statement that the country is "sullied by the blood of millions of innocent animals," and is asking that they "don't add cats to this morbid record." Bardot says the only effective way to lower the numbers of cats is to sterilize them on a mass scale.
“This animal genocide is inhumane and ridiculous. In addition to being cruel, killing these cats is absolutely useless since the rest of them will keep breeding,” she said.
Commissioner Andrews maintains that "we don't hate cats. We just can't tolerate the damage that they're doing anymore to our wildlife."
Conflicts between cat lovers vs. bird lovers and concerns about invasive species vs. native species have been going on for decades. But in this day and age, both animal advocates and conservationists are skeptical of lethal control solutions aimed at protecting one species from another.
Sterilization programs are a humane and effective solution for managing feral cat populations. Cats, as well as other predators, have their place in the ecosystem. They limit prolifically breeding animals such as rodents and, yes - birds. Some scientists claim that eradicating cats would ruin the balance of nature, further endangering birds that would then have to compete with each other for resources.
Despite their role in nature, many cat experts advocate keeping cats confined safely indoors and outdoor enclosures. Indoor cats are safe from predators, parasites, cars, diseases, and other cats.
Instead of spending half of the roughly $7 million budget on the 2-million cat culling project, perhaps the Australian government can provide pet owners with solutions that will keep cats happy in their homes and out of the shelters. If not, at least direct the funds towards the mass sterilization of feral cats - the most humane and long-lasting solution.
Cats may not be the villains they've been portrayed as being, but there's no doubt that they do impact nature as does every other species on the planet. We are all interconnected and vulnerable to climate changes and other environmental factors.
We hope communities can work together to set aside grudges and acknowledge the validity of both conservationists and domestic animal advocates' concerns. Compassion and cooperation can prove that we don't have to choose one animal over another.
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