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    Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife: “Conniff is a splendid writer–fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can’t resist quoting him.” (NY Times Book Review)

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

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Readers Respond To “The Evil of Outdoor Cats”

Posted by Richard Conniff on March 31, 2014

(Illustration:  Christelle Enault )

(Illustration: Christelle Enault )

These letters appeared today in the NY Times, in response to my article “The Evil of the Outdoor Cat.”

The letter from the Humane Society executive is the most interesting.  It says that neither the Humane Society nor other groups can sell euthanasia of feral cats to the public, and therefore we should leave feral cats free to kill wildlife, as we have known them to do for almost a century.

This is a highly selective, even perverse, notion of “animal welfare,” for an outfit that describes itself as “the nation’s largest animal protection organization” dedicated to preventing “cruelty before it occurs” and seeking “a humane and sustainable world for all animals.”

Maybe they mean they are for preventing cruelty, “except when we can’t sell it to the public.”

To the Editor:

Re “The Evil of the Outdoor Cat,” by Richard Conniff (Sunday Review, March 23):

Thank you for addressing a portion of the litany of problems with allowing cats to roam outdoors. There is a new trend by “no kill” “rescue” groups, which oppose all euthanasia, to release even tame cats into the not-so-great outdoors to take their chances as part of trap-neuter-release programs. In addition to killing wildlife and running afoul of it, these cats succumb to freezing winter weather, traffic, infections and infestations, human beings with evil intentions, and other perils.

As a humane officer for many years, I’ve seen it all and can attest to the fact that cats’ predation on other animals aside, it is not kind to allow them to come to such harsh and painful ends. Trap-neuter-return is illegal in most states because it constitutes abandonment of an animal, and should be in all.

President, People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals
Washington, March 24, 2014

To the Editor:

Richard Conniff sensitively explores an issue that is an impossible dilemma for cat owners. Keeping a cat indoors amounts to caging an animal that was meant to run and roam, and it can make life miserable for both cat and owner. Yet being responsible for the death of small animals, birds especially, is also unacceptable.

I do take issue with Mr. Conniff’s offhand comment that he put a bell on his cat and “she shed it in some bush,” apparently the end of his efforts. Seven years ago we adopted a male rescue cat who loves the outdoors. We were dismayed when, the first week we had him, he made multiple deliveries of dead birds to our front door daily.

We put a collar with a bell on him (an elastic collar with a quick-release clip is the only safe collar for a cat, by the way). Our avian deliveries stopped immediately. In the seven years since, we’ve seen only two dead birds in the yard.

Yes, he routinely loses his collar in the bushes, but having an extra supply on hand is the answer. For us, with this particular freedom-loving cat, it is a compromise we have chosen to accept.

Charleston, S.C., March 24, 2014

To the Editor:

The outcry over cats and their predation hasn’t been this feverish since a Massachusetts ornithologist, Edward Forbush, published “The Domestic Cat: Bird Killer, Mouser and Destroyer of Wild Life” (1916). That this issue has gone unresolved for a century testifies to its complexity.

In recent years, humane organizations have pressed the idea of keeping pet cats indoors with great success; the percentage of indoor cats has risen from 52 percent to 64 percent in the past 15 years. It’s unfortunate that some have chosen to campaign against these trap-neuter-return programs, one component in the broader solution to the outdoor cat challenge.

Local animal care societies and agencies appreciate what Richard Conniff doesn’t: Americans support nonlethal reduction approaches that save cats and wildlife, not cat extermination programs that governments and private agencies cannot manage, afford or sell to the public.

Washington, March 24, 2014

The writer is a senior policy adviser and special assistant to the president for the Humane Society of the United States.

To the Editor:

Richard Conniff sets up false dichotomies. There is a middle ground between free-roaming diseased cats and those confined indoors for their whole lives — for example, well-cared-for, vaccinated cats allowed some supervised time outdoors. Cat lovers and bird lovers are not necessarily enemies or even mutually exclusive. I am a naturalist who has cultivated bird habitat, and I share my life and home with cats.

Yes, free-roaming and feral cats are part of the problem, but as Mr. Conniff acknowledges, humans are as well. For example, the precipitous mid-20th-century decline of bluebirds was largely attributable to habitat destruction, pesticides and the invasive house sparrow. Nothing is harder on birds than rampant sprawl, sanitized suburbs full of nonnative trees and plants, and killer skylines. A 2005 Forest Service report estimated that between 500 million and 1 billion birds die nationwide from collisions with buildings, communication towers, power lines and other structures.

Today my heart broke to find on the side of the street, killed by a car, a cedar waxwing. Two years ago a fledgling hawk perished on a neighbor’s wire fence. If outdoor cats are “evil,” then so are we.

Richmond, Va., March 25, 2014


5 Responses to “Readers Respond To “The Evil of Outdoor Cats””

  1. Susan said

    Over 21 days in January 2014, a Saudi prince killed 2,100 Houbara Bustards. The population of these globally protected endangered birds is less than 110,000. The prince killed the birds presumably because the bird meat is an aphrodisiac. The kill occurred in Pakistan, who issues special hunting permits for Gulf states’ royals. In other words, endangered and protected birds are sold for slaughter on a regular basis. Money changes hands for the kill. See

    So, Mr. Conniff, lets do some math. Lets assume that a cat who will kill a bird for food (the cat has no concept of money), lets assume the cat will kill one bird per day to eat. How many cats does it take to kill 2100 birds in 21 days? Yes, the answer is 100 cats are needed to kill the same amount of birds one Saudi prince killed in 21 days.

    Mr. Conniff, your opinion on cats causing the decline in bird populations is grossly misplaced.

    • You are entirely correct to liken the killing by your outdoor cat to that of the houbara-slaying Saudi Prince. But there are between 100-160 million house cats plaguing the wildlife in this country.

      How many Saudi princes are there? And why host either in your home?

  2. Susan said

    Another way to look at the math: It would take 1 cat (killing 1 bird per day) 5 years and 9 months, to kill the same number of birds the Saudi prince killed in 21 days last January. Sadly, humans killing migratory and songbirds enmasse is common. Even if they are protected. Even more sadly, the killing is for sport.

    Mr. Conniff, you should write an article on these mass killings.

  3. […] Readers Respond To “The Evil of Outdoor Cats” […]

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