The Debate on Outdoor Cats
For many people with house cats, their natural proclivity for hunting can be seen as helpful, annoying, gross, or a combination of feelings. Cats are known to be natural hunters; all it takes is to see big cats acting in the same way as our pets to know that they are more than capable of preying on unsuspecting creatures. While this is a fact of nature, some environmentalists and urban policymakers are seeking ways to protect the ecosystem from a widespread predator, almost as ubiquitous as humans.
Why Toronto Wanted to Ban them Outdoors Off Leash
The City of Toronto recently proposed an outdoor cat ban which would require all cats to be on leash at all times when outdoors. While humane societies and pet adoption centers often dismiss adoption applications for people intending on keeping outdoor or hybrid cats, this has not stopped people from doing so. The city cited damage to the city’s natural environment as the main reason for the proposed ban, as cats (and to a certain extent, dogs) have long been blamed for declines in bird and rodent populations. As with any issue, there are those for and against such proposals. The city ultimately voted against this measure, but a proposal such as this could open the door for other cities to enact measures to protect the environment as they see fit.
Cats are natural predators. Even domestic cats have a reputation for hunting. From basic playtime cat toys to dropping a present on the front step, domestic cats are hardwired for hunting. The effects of domestic cats in natural environments has been studied in the past to better understand their potential for damage and the validity of these claims. Spokesperson Andrew Holland from the Nature Conservancy of Canada, cited that cats are considered among the 100 Most Invasive Species in the world, with regional differences moving their position higher or lower based on local situations. Further research has shown that cats are responsible for up to
200 million bird deaths a year in Canada alone.
While the proposed announcement also cited the potentially traumatic experience of bystanders witnessing a cat that has been injured in the road, the major push for the ban came from environmentalists within the city. Holland also stated that keeping a cat on leash or simply indoors is moving in the right direction. This proposal, if it had
been enacted, would have met with problems of the city’s pre-existing stray cat population. For those animal lovers, bans such as this could lead to its own inhumane treatment of the cats
Others Against the Ban
Others will cite that feral cats have long been a presence in human civilization. Like other invasive or introduced species within an ecosystem, removing feral cats may cause its own problems. Cat eradication, a controversial practice, has been used in scenarios where introduced cats have been seen as a threat to environmental protection. Eradication efforts on islands such as Amsterdam Island in the Indian Ocean and Macquarie Island in the Pacific Ocean led to spikes in the rabbit and mouse/rat populations respectively, which themselves caused considerable damage to vegetation and native fauna. While isolated islands are quite different from Toronto, these
scenarios can demonstrate the reality that removing predators has the potential to allow their prey to wreak their own damage.
Furthermore, studies have shown that birds (a frequent mention of conservationists) do not represent the majority of feral cats’ diets, but rats and mice instead represent the majority of what they hunt when they choose to not scavenge. As rats and mice are among the most widespread animals on the planet, alongside humans, their invasive status is also frequently cited for introduction of diseases and pathogens.
While the debate of pro or anti outdoor cats will likely rage on for decades, Toronto cat owners might want to buy a leash and harness just in case they want to bring their cats outside in the future.
- Abbey Obrien (2022) Toronto eyeing new plan to ban cats from going outdoors unless on leash Retrieved December 1, 2022 from https://www.cp24.com/news/toronto-eyeing-new-plan-to-ban-cats-from-going-outdoors-unless-o
- Anna M. Calvert, et.al (2013) A Synthesis of Human-related Avian Mortality in Canada Retrieved December 1, 2022 from https://doaj.org/article/c6e4f1cd03bb4a389fae9b7fd2228926
- Feral Cats Are An Important Part Of The Environment (nd) Retrieved December 1, 2022 from https://www.adoptananimalkits.com/companions/cats/feral-cats–the-environment/
- Keep cats inside to reduce toll on birds, small mammals and other urban wildlife: conservation experts (2020) Retrieved December 1, 2022 from https://capitalcurrent.ca/keep-cats-inside-to-reduce-toll-on-birds-small-mammals-and-other-urban-wildlife-conservation-experts/
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