Bringing Cat and Bird Advocates to the Table
A scientific conference promotes understanding between two passionate groups of animal lovers
by Nancy Peterson
The impact of outdoor cats’ predation on wildlife—especially birds—has proven to be a contentious issue between the companion animal and wildlife communities, and a recent study indicating significantly larger numbers of cat kills has fed the controversy.
To find solutions, cat and wildlife advocates need to come together to work effectively toward the goals of treating all animals humanely and reducing the impact of outdoor cats. Believing that the discussion should be informed by good science while keeping humane values at the forefront, in December 2012, The HSUS hosted 145 cat and wildlife advocates in Marina Del Rey, Calif., for the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy’s second conference.
“The Outdoor Cat: Science and Policy from a Global Perspective,” co-sponsored by Found Animals and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, brought attendees and speakers together to address the challenges to resolving conflicts involving cats, wildlife, and people. Speakers included ecologists, biologists, wildlife conservationists, veterinarians, lawyers, research scientists, and others from universities, research centers, nonprofit organizations, and municipal and state agencies.
The “cats versus wildlife” conflict has frequently pitted stakeholders in the animal protection, conservation, and scientific communities against one another. While there may not be universal solutions, there are definitive steps that will yield progress toward a solution, but these will take time and require mutual trust building. “If we don’t figure out ways to solve these problems, we’ll be fighting these problems forever,” Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS, told those at the conference.
Speakers agreed that better science is necessary to inform the discussion, but that the moral and social questions related to the conflict must also be considered. Applying techniques of conflict resolution may help bring about more trust and understanding among cat and wildlife advocates. “The lack of willingness to talk is what I find most tragic,” says Dr. Andrew Rowan, chief international officer and chief scientific officer for The HSUS, and president and CEO of Humane Society International.
Caring for Cats−and Wildlife
Focus groups and surveys conducted by The HSUS in 2002 and 2012 showed that people who allow their cats outdoors are more strongly motivated by concern for their cats’ welfare than for the local wildlife—even in Hawaii, which has some of the rarest and most at-risk bird populations in the world. Moving forward, The HSUS hopes to instill an ethic of stewardship for wildlife—indeed, for all animals—in more people, while aiming to continue promoting spay/neuter and educating cat owners about enriched indoor lifestyles for cats. Starting with small steps may make the challenge easier. For example, rather than demanding that owners of outdoor cats make them year-round indoor cats, advocates might start by suggesting they keep their cats indoors at dawn and dusk (when many birds are active), or in springtime, when cats are mating and birds are nesting. People who have bird feeders on their property can also use our simple solutions to make the birds safer.
Managing outdoor cats is an issue made up of equal parts ethics and science, noted Bill Lynn, research scientist at the George Perkins Marsh Institute at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. In his presentation, “Outdoor Cats: Tracking Their Implications for Ethics and Public Policy,” Lynn said people should not be asking simply, “Who is right?” but “Who is right about what?”
Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland, Ore., described his organization’s collaboration with the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon. Its campaign focuses on an area of fundamental agreement: the need to reduce the number of free-roaming cats to address predation and reduce the flow of new cats into feral populations. Other topics included disease issues, targeted TNR programs, free-roaming cats in urban parks, and a look at legal issues surrounding outdoor cats.
It was encouraging to discover that speakers and attendees shared concerns for both cats and wildlife. Several speakers and the organizers met after the conference to discuss next steps in carrying engagement forward. A white paper distributed at the conference, “The Outdoor Cat: Science and Policy from a Global Perspective,” a post-conference statement, and many of the conference presentations are available at humanesociety.org.
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