For the Birds Radio Program: Cats

Original Air Date: Oct. 11, 1989

What’s the solution to the cat problem? Laura Erickson is looking for a few good ideas.

Audio missing


(Recording of a House Cat)

I’ll always think of the 1980’s as the muddy gray decade. Something seems to have permeated our civilization until every issue polarizes people and no one talks things over reasonably in a sincere desire to find real solutions. Whether the issue be gun control, education, abortion, drugs, or deforestation, when people are unable to see anything but stark black or white, the arguments become so muddled that ugly gray is all that remains.

During Hawk Ridge Weekend, I saw a perfect example of this. A woman complained to me about the cat problem in her neighborhood, and said that every time a cat comes on her property she pulls out a gun. The man next to her leaped to the defense of cats, pointing out that cats have a right to their existence and that she had no right to interfere in their natural hunting activities. I was, as usual, caught right in the middle. Firing off a gun sure doesn’t seem to be the right solution to a cat problem, but then again, cats aren’t natural predators—they are fully subsidized by humans. Pet cats stay in prime condition by receiving shelter, food, and water from humans, which gives them an unnatural advantage over the hungry natural predators. And the feral cat population is the direct result of irresponsible pet owners. Dr. Stanley Temple of the University of Wisconsin conducted a study which found that cats kill 1.2 million birds in Wisconsin rural areas alone every single day, and are having a serious impact on several species of grassland birds. Anyway, when I pointed this out the man got angry, and when I said that guns don’t have a place in the battle against cats, the woman got mad. Both of them had more at stake in their own egos than in facing the problem realistically and searching for practical and civilized ways that the number of outdoor cats can be reduced.

Birds aren’t much better than people when it comes to reaching compromises. Disputes over territories or food are heated, and there’s virtually always a winner and a loser—only rarely do two birds actually sit down and figure out a way to share. But when two birds fight it out, at least no one else is affected. Human arguments have a way of spilling over and hurting a lot of others. Whether it’s a child custody battle or an argument about cats, the issues aren’t truly resolved unless we really want them to be, and no one wins when an argument over issues degenerates into a battle of egos.

The cat problem, in both urban areas and in the county is a real one. But when a sweet elderly woman tells me about her kitty’s adventures in hunting down chickadees, I somehow don’t feel comfortable chastising her. Leash laws have always seemed to me to be a reasonable solution, but many people decry them as cruel and inhumane to cats.

As long as we do nothing, cats will continue to decimate birds. But if we really want to solve the problem of cat predation without starting a civil war, we need some creative ideas. Any listeners who’d like to contribute to the discussion please send your comments to “For the Birds”, KUMD Radio, 130 Humanities Building, University of Minnesota-Duluth, 55812. Try to mail your letters by October 20. Kids often come up with the most inventive ideas, but we’ll even read comments from grown-ups on the air.

(Recording of a House Cat)

This is Laura Erickson and this program has been “For the Birds.”