Everybody's a Critic, Ministry of Controversy

OG Mag on Wildlife-Friendly Gardens: What’s Wrong with this Picture?

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As a big fan of Organic Gardening Magazine, I take no pleasure in expressing my shock surprise at seeing this photo illustrating an otherwise wonderful article about growing wildlife-friendly gardens.  The caption on the right says “Orange Boy watches wildlife from the front porch.”

I don’t imagine he just watches.

Do we need to repost links to research demonstrating the harm done to wildlife by outdoor cats?

Posted by on May 7, 2013 at 4:08 pm, in the category Everybody's a Critic, Ministry of Controversy.
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46 Responses to “OG Mag on Wildlife-Friendly Gardens: What’s Wrong with this Picture?”

  1. Well, Susan: actually, that cat did stay inside or come out to sit on the porch. Anne is especially sensitive about the cat issue. She did not even want this picture to run, except the elderly, feeble cat died soon after this photograph.

    I do hope that you discovered Anne’s sensibilities and wildlife commitment in the story. It’s too bad that the picture caused the focus on it, when again, that cat was not an outdoor cat to eat wildlife!! Best, Linda

    • susan harris says:

      Thanks for that info. It deserved a spot IN THE ARTICLE so that readers would learn that indeed there’s knowledge of and sensitivity to the outdoor-cat problem. Rather than showing that cats in a garden are okay, with no explanation.

    • I am an older student, but many of the “outdoor cats” I have had were loves that couldn’t catch much of anything to eat outside of a mouse or mole now and then.

      Most of the time the birds “dive bombed” the poor things and they just got harassed.

      My past experience was that the “domesticated” cats we had were so well fed and loved they just sat beside us and watched the show. No need to hunt, to well fed.

      I am so sorry that such knee-jerk reactions still control people that can not seem to see the forest for the trees.

      Had to put my “two cents” in, and as far as organic gardening is concerned, we operate on the principle that God has put this world together with carnivores that keep some other species in check. And we are included in that category along with cats and dogs.

      Blessings,

      Charlie

      • Deirdre in Seattle says:

        We free feed. Our cat is never hungry, yet if allowed outside, she will bring in small birds and animals. It’s her nature.

      • jon polvado says:

        ditto on charlie’s comment. my cats SELDOM catch anything other than 4 legged pests. jon

  2. Eileen says:

    Are you seriously suggesting all cats stay indoors?

    We just added two barn cats to our 5 acre mini-farm. I’m thrilled that they can keep the rodent population down. Personally, I think it’s a pretty organic way to deal with rats and mice. I find it preferable to traps and poisons that can harm my children, goats, or chickens.

  3. ks says:

    I must respectfully disagree. My two (elderly) cats are my beloved garden companions; they are well fed and lazy as hell-they have no interest in the birds that visit the two feeders in my garden. But most important to me is living in a seamless indoor/outdoor space. I live in Northern California, and the idea of having closed doors in spring/summer/fall is not an option. My house is open allowing me to move in and out as I wish. Confining Ted and Doobie would require a significant lifestyle change. I can’t imagine any of us being cooped up in the house behind closed doors-screened or otherwise.

  4. Carolyn Furman says:

    Get a grip girl. Our outdoor kitties may have caught an occasional bird, but they outdid themselves when it came to voles, gophers and rats. No regrets!

  5. Linda B Secrist says:

    i have indoor cats and outdoor cats. The outdoor girls are well fed to the point that they lay on the picnic table and watch the starlings and bluejays eat the extra cat food and don’t care. However they are excellent at controlling the mole,vole and chipmunk population which is quite a chore as i am surrounded by wild wooded areas so just being outdoor DOES NOT mean bird killer. If they are starving they will eat whatever they can. MY girls aren’t in that group, have been neutered and upto date with rabies shots.

  6. Sandra Knauf says:

    This is a valid concern. They did a count in England one year of the “kills” each housecat on the island made. Every rodent, bird, snake, whatever “the cat dragged in.” The death toll of birds alone was in the MILLIONS. While I had a cat who did not hunt, our neighbor’s cat has killed everything he can, for years – including bats (which are also beneficial) and two of our children’s pet rabbits! (Ironically, this cat belongs to vegetarians.)

  7. Michelle says:

    I despise it when an all-or-nothing approach is attached to any problem and this one, especially, gets my hackles up. We mustn’t generalize between neutered well-fed pets that are supervised in their backyards and feral cat populations in environmentally fragile locations. I have seen the studies where cats are decimating wildlife on islands where flightless birds have not evolved to avoid predators and that is a sad situation.

    We had an incredible rodent problem when we moved into our home in a heavily-wooded area bordered on one side by a major creek. Vermin were chewing wires in walls, the yard was a holey mess and outbuildings were a health hazard due to the feces and dust. We felt the most environmentally-friendly way to handle this problem was to enlist our two cats to get them under control. Fifteen years (and two cats) later the rodent population is reduced to a manageable number and our bird population has not suffered one bit according to our Project Feeder Watch data.

    • vicki says:

      Amen.
      i bugs the heck out of me when “data” is overused/abused to the point of generating misinformation. i live/garden next door to 4 outdoor cats and i have 4 bird feeding stations. not one song-bird fatality at the paws of a cat in the past 15 years.

      Feral cats are the biggest problem. And people. We are responsible to know and control our pets. I firmly believe that the job house cats and well cared for barn cats do in controlling rodent issues far outweighs the song bird issue–which is also serious, but–again–it is a feral, not a “house cat” problem.

      A benign photo of a cat in the garden is totally harmless in my opinion,

  8. Lisa-St. Marys ON says:

    I live on a street with many well loved, neutered, well fed cats. My cat lives inside only. But we get to see the well fed cats leave multiple birds on our deck. One day it was two cedar waxwings. I watched one cat take a hummingbird out of the air. I get to enjoy them spraying everything in my backyard to try and claim it. I have had garden furniture destroyed by them. My garden is also the toilet of choice for all of these cats.

    I love cats. I just don’t want everyone else’s cat in my backyard.

    I absolutely agree that in the country they should be in the barn taking care of the rodent problems. But in town they are my problem.

  9. Dianna K says:

    I don’t know why we can include one animal (birds) and exclude another (cats) as wildlife. I feel to keep a cat inside is no different than keeping a lion in a cage. they cannot be the way they were made to be and this makes them unhappy. I have had both strictly indoor cats and outdoor cats and they behave very differently. It is sad to me that we cannot let them be who they were meant to be. Let alone they help control bird populations. It is like wildlife discrimination.

  10. skr says:

    I’m curious as to why people think a cat is the most environmentally conscious choice for rodent control when there are breeds of dog specifically bred for rodent control that can be fenced in and not wander the neighborhood? Sure the dogs require some actual work on the owners behalf in order to learn their job, so maybe cats are the laziest somewhat environmentally conscious but not really method of rodent control.

  11. Mark N Denver says:

    Susan – Yes you will probably need to bring the facts out for the benefit of enlightening all the cat lovers who have sprang to the defense of outdoor cats (feral and domestic). All these well fed cats who control rats, mice and voles – also are the same well fed cats that take out 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds a year in the US. I have a dog and I must license him and keep confined or on a leash. I think it is just wrong for folks to enjoy the freedom to let these little killers loose to roam. Beware Susan – the National Audubon Society (yes bird lovers) canned for an issue one of their Audubon magazine writers because he dared to bring up the roaming cat problems.

  12. Ethne Clarke says:

    I am truly surprised at the number of indoor cats there are in the States. All those moggies staring forlornly out into the world from which they are excluded so they don’t get squished by SUVs or turn into some wild raptors dinner.

    When I had my garden in Austin, I was really pleased to have visits from neighbors cats (okay, the litterbox effect of the gravel path in the wildest part was kind of a mistake), but they kept possums and ‘coons out, and I like to think snakes. And at the end of the day the crackles were too fast for them anyhow. So were the wrens and the swallows. And they were welcome to all the mice and chipmunks they could catch.

    Everything gets eaten by something, folks. See you in the compost pile.
    Ethne, EIC OG.

  13. Laura Bell says:

    There are many “well-fed” cats in my neighborhood who come to my yard to prey on the birds in my garden. It’s not always about hunger – more often it’s instinct. As for keeping out the rats, mice, moles, & voles? Get a terrier. They have no interest in birds. Indeed, the very name tells you that they are interested in terrestrial creatures. My Border Terrier has never killed a bird, but has kept my lot vermin-free since we got her.

    • Eileen says:

      I don’t want a terrier, thank you very much. Gee, does no one at all care about the moles? Who will be their advocate?
      Yes, the cats have instincts as do the terriers. They will kill some things. They’ve been doing it long before the the coining of “organic” anything. And you know what? I’m pretty sure we still have birds.
      Personally, I’ve never seen a dead bird since we got our cats, although I don’t doubt that they’d be happy to get one. They’re neutered, well-fed, up-to-date on shots, and they earn their keep! Go cats!

      • Laura Bell says:

        I have seen many a dead bird where neighbors’ cats killed them in my yard. I don’t attract birds to my yard for cat targets. I attract them for both beauty & pest control. Aside from that, I don’t want the cats using my mulch or freshly turned garden soil as their toilet – I eat the food I grow & don’t appreciate having its soil tainted by the bacteria in their feces. Cat owners don’t want my dog wandering into their yard & doing its business there. Why should I have to deal with their cats’ [stuff]?

        As for the moles – just like cats, if they stay out of my yard I have no quarrel with them. If I (or my terrier) catch them in my yard, they will suffer the consequences.

  14. Several of my neighbors allow their cats to roam the neighborhood. Of course, the cats always seem to end up in my wildlife habitat. They climb my fence to get into my backyard. I find them lounging in my patio furniture and perched in my birdbaths. I regularly find bird feathers and bird parts scattered across the garden. If they are going to hunt in my garden, why don’t they ever go after the grackles or the cotton tail rabbits?

    Occasionally, the native wildlife strikes back and coyotes come into the neighborhood for a little hunting. Neighbors panic because Ms. MeowMeow is missing or because part of Puddin’ was found in the alley and another part of Puddin’ was found down the street. It is hard for me to hide my enthusiasm and not break into a chorus of “Circle of Life” when the native predators start to take out the invasives.

    If people really cared about their pets, they would keep them confined and not allow them to roam the neighborhood where they could be hit by a car, tortured by a sadistic teen, consume poisonous substances, or get eaten by a coyote. Not to mention respect for your neighbors, their property and the innocent wildlife.

    Now, about the other neighbors that walk their dogs without a leash and allow them to romp through my garden, the neighbors with dogs on a leash that allow them to “water” the plants along the sidewalk, and the backyard dogs that never stop barking…

  15. Liz says:

    Seriously?! We are supposed to keep one animal inside because it might eat another? Well in that case we’d best keep the birds inside because they might eat the worms which are good for the soil.

    How stupid can you be. Cats are animals, they may have been bred and domesticated but they are still animals and I see no reason why they shouldn’t be allowed outside.

    If the natural animal population is on the decrease do you not think maybe we should be confining humans inside and not letting them grow on any more land which the animals need to live on.

    Complete and utter rubbish and thats the last time I’ll read this blog.

    • Laura Bell says:

      So you don’t mind if I let my dog loose on your cats? I mean, you wouldn’t want me to have to keep her inside, would you? She needs to do what dogs do. And mine is territorial (naturally) & bred to chase vermin, be they field mice, moles … or cats.

      See, the difference is that if I let my dog run in my backyard, he’s not going to jump the fence & poop in your yard, or chase your cat & kill it. You let your cat out & it will go do its thing in someone else’s garden, whether its “thing” is pooping or hunting. I let my dog out & it’s going to stay in the fenced backyard. If it doesn’t, there are leash laws & clean-up-after-your dog codes in every state & municipality, and pretty clear rules regarding what will happen if they are not abided. But some people think cats shouldn’t be restricted … why is that? Cat feces carry a bacteria that can kill or harm a fetus in utero – that’s why pregnant women are advised to avoid cleaning out their cat’s litter box. But they shouldn’t also have to avoid gardening just because some people won’t control their pets.

      • Hilary says:

        Well said! Best letter yet. You bet if your dog killed the kitty you’d be in court. Cycle of life my A-s.

    • Eileen says:

      I love that……keep the birds caged because they might eat the worms. Well said.

  16. kermit says:

    I dunno. I’m sure introducing cats to an environment in which they are not native can be absolutely devastating. But birds always die; we all do. The question is, is the bird population lower in an area in which there are outside house cats *because* of those cats? We have an inside-outside cat, well fed, and I’ve not yet seen evidence that she has killed a bird. I know that our garden, a former yard, and my neighbor with his big trees, have most of the birds in the neighborhood.

    I can’t imagine that wildlife is suffering as much from our pets as from our general encroachment on the habitat. But I’m willing to look at the data if anybody has that info. Not easy to come by, I should think. We would have to compare the bird population of two nearly identical areas, one with outside cats and one without. It’s hard in such studies to separate the effects of our pets from all the other things we are doing – destroying native plants, spraying poisons, noise, etc.

    Google Smithsonian’s recent study of studies on this subject. They concluded that cats are the single biggest anthropogenic threat to birds and small mammals, but in the US mainland, it is mostly feral cats. Our snow-white kitty is a former feral kitten who is now well-fed, neutered, chipped, and shot updated.

    • Elizabeth says:

      and the Smithsonian Institute’s “research” has been since debunked. “Gregory J. Matthews of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst conducted a thorough and independent review of the Smithsonian study which appeared in the journal Nature Communications. Matthews found numerous flaws in the study, like the method used by the researchers to come up with the number of birds killed. The Smithsonian researchers took one study on a small sample of cats over three summer months in one specific geographic area and extrapolated it to cats all across the United States, over all seasons. Some of the studies researchers used to make their case were decades old, including one from 1930. Matthews concluded that had he been a peer reviewer of this paper, he would have graded it unacceptable for publication.”

      This was taken from alleycat.org that also has a link to Matthews’ report.

  17. kermit says:

    Oh, and Liz – don’t go!

    The fun in this blog is the ire it raises in gardeners. How exciting!

  18. UrsulaV says:

    And this is why I trap cats that appear in my yard.

    I have had many beloved indoor cats over the years. But if cats come into the yard, cats go out to the Humane Society in a trap, because I did not make a wildlife garden in order to have an ecological sink.

    If people actually care about their pets, they will be chipped or tagged and there will be no problem getting them back home. If they aren’t, then I guess the owners must not have cared that much after all. The end.

  19. kermit says:

    Interesting. This:
    http://www.birdsbesafe.com/index.html
    …may be a solution for any cat owner who thinks their cat may be hunting birds. The only drawback looks like explaining to neighbors why your cat is dressed like Bozo the clown. I have not tried this, but it seems reasonable.

    And to drag in another facet of all of this, may I mention that I am worried about a generation that is reaching adulthood who have never interacted with a non-human animal. I think we all agree here that there are individual and social benefits to having many of the next generation familiar with gardens. I think that being able to connect with wildlife requires having connected with Aunt Judy’s dogs or Uncle Joe’s cat. I believe that in the US cats are more popular now than dogs, and I suspect it is because they require less space and time.

    • Kristi says:

      I’m more concerned about the current generations that seem to think cats are some natural part of our local food chain. Are you so far removed from nature or so uneducated on your local environments that you think a domesticated HOUSE cat has a place in the Eco system? Cougars, yes. Bobcats, yes. But there are always less of them than the prey. That’s nature’s way. There aren’t thousands of fat, well-fed cougars out there just catching whatever they can for the fun of it. Most house cats don’t even eat what they catch.

      If all the Fluffys and Toms out there had to rely on hunting to survive there’d probably be a lot less of them. I liked the post about the coyotes eating the cats. Hope they come clean out my neighborhood. Circle of life indeed. My indoor cat is welcome to any rodent or bug he catches inside. Other than that he lives for belly rubs.

      • Lisa says:

        Wait – you think a domestic cat is not “part of the ecosystem”? I suppose we humans aren’t “part of the ecosystem” either? How exactly are you defining this word?

  20. Linnea Borealis says:

    never thought cats could be so provocative …

    honestly, aren’t we all making fools of ourselves posting (me included, admitting I read all this – ha!)

  21. Jenny B says:

    It would be interesting to have the owners of the well fed cat put cameras on their innocent’s collar.
    It just might change their minds!

    I tried everything to keep a particular cat indoors including an automatic door for my dogs. The cat won the battle, but lost the war. Within a couple weeks it disappeared. We suspect it was the foxes that roam the neighborhood. Lucky for the birds that one got the other end of the wildlife stick.

  22. Carolyn Furman says:

    There are natural predators in my neighborhood in the country, but not in the numbers there used to be. While I currently do not own a cat, I have, and they are great at keeping the pocket gopher population in check without the use of poison or traps. What has had a more deleterious effect on wildlife here is the increase in the human population.

  23. Carolyn Furman says:

    And foxes eat birds too.

  24. john on the river says:

    I have a Jack Russel terrier and a Belgian shepard. The squirrels and cats, etc get chased out of the yard. Cats, both domestic and feral, kill millions of song birds per year. Fact from US Fish & Wildlife studies. Put a bell on the cat’s collar and if it still kills birds, then they must be deaf.

  25. Anna says:

    It is a cats nature to be outside and hunt. Keeping them couped up in a house all day is, in my opinion, terribly cruel.

  26. BooksInGarden says:

    Fur and feathers flying once more. Please consider the whole ecosystem.

    Where there are scientific studies – not guesstimating – feral cats are identified as the problem. Yes, some domestic cats catch and eat birds as well as other animals. Please spay or neuter your cats. My cat stops the bunnies from eating my veggies and snacks on the gophers that most people in my area poison. (She, cat, keeps pretty close to my yard, but I do worry about the poison and keep her in at night, when he have coyotes passing through.) Please consider the whole ecosystem. Keeping cats inside and putting out poison does not sound like a good solution to me. It may help to read the following article by Emily Green of the Los Angeles Times:

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/home_blog/2011/11/gophers-get-rid-of.html which includes the following excerpt:

    ” . . . the result of a National Park Service study that found the majority of bobcats tested in the Santa Monica Mountains had consumed rodenticide. The toll became more grim when talk turned to common gopher poisons’ effects on mountain lions, coyotes and owls. As a pet owner, I couldn’t help thinking about my dogs. A strong correlation between mange and gopher poison was so unnerving, it had Schiffman’s audience vicariously itching.”

  27. Linda says:

    It is unfortunate that a very good article is being overshadowed by the “cat” issue. Sometimes we have to save our criticism for another time so people don’t get sidetracked.

  28. Fay T says:

    It is difficult when you love gardening and you love wildlife and also cats. Some of the breeds are worse than others for totaling wildlife. I have heard that Bengals are particularly devastating to wildlife. My cats are usually content to chase grass and snooze in the sun and watch me work. My old cat can barely get on the bed let alone chase anything.

  29. [...] readers will no doubt remember our recent dust-up over the issue of cats in the garden.  That post was prompted by a cat-in-garden photo illustrating a magazine piece about wildlife-friendly gardens [...]

  30. Lisa says:

    Oh I TOTALLY agree with you! And thank goodness they didn’t publish that photo that had a CHILD in the wildlife-friendly garden! Imagine the destruction both a domestic cat and AND a little boy could reap on a garden! It’s bad enough that a cat might, instinctively and heaven forbid, kill a bird! LOL at you.

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