Q: Recently, you responded to readers who wanted to know how they could keep raccoons from eating the food that they put out for feral cats. You gave very good reasons why they should not feed the raccoons but yet did not explain why they should also not feed the feral cats. Outdoor cats kill untold numbers of birds each year.
There is a cat lady on my block who traps the feral cats and has them neutered and then turns them loose with the tip of one ear cut off. She contends that since she feeds the cats they will not hunt the birds anymore. But just this morning I saw one of her ear-tipped cats dart out of a bush and grab a beautiful male red cardinal that was bathing in the garden pond that I have in my backyard. I have set up my backyard as a little bird sanctuary with native plants and shrubs, running water and bird feeders and houses and her cats are always killing birds that I have worked hard to give sanctuary and shelter to.
I have also seen cars pull up in front of her house and then drop cats off as the whole neighborhood knows that she cares for the cats. Lest you think that I am not a nice person, I just want to let you know that I have three cats of my own that I adopted from shelters that live indoors all the time with me and thus do not have the opportunity to kill birds or poop in my shrubs as my neighbor's cats do.
--Cindy Tanner, West Islip
A: If a person is doing something that is perfectly legal then I cannot judge them or take them to task, and feeding cats in your own backyard is perfectly legal. That being said, you are 100 percent correct that outdoor cats wreak havoc on the natural world, and I refer to both feral cats and cherished pet cats that are allowed to walk about outside.
One of my teachers about the natural world when I was a child was Kitty, my one-eyed black cat, who regularly brought home birds and mammals that he caught; small birds, shrews, moles, white- footed deer mice, chipmunks . . . nothing was safe from him. Sometimes his prey was still alive and I would pry the poor creatures out of his mouth, patch them up and keep them for a while before turning them loose. By studying them while they were in my care I actually got an education about the natural world that could not be gotten from books or TV.
Kitty was my cat and, of course, he was well fed and cared for and yet he still hunted these creatures. However, had he not been fed then I am sure he would have killed many more than he did. Lest anyone judge me for allowing Kitty to run free like this, you must remember that this was a half century ago. At that time nobody would have kept a cat indoors all the time. I was lucky my parents would buy him his boxes of Purina Cat Chow. Allowing me to keep him indoors with all my mother's Victorian furniture would have been pushing it.
So my point here is that if your neighborhood cat lady did not feed the cats at all, they would kill many more birds. I know it is a small consolation, but it is true even though you may not see the results firsthand.
There will always be feral cats around and there will always be those who dump their unwanted cats, so it is better they are managed rather than allowed to bloom out of control.
However, if you do have a pet cat, do not allow it to venture outdoors as the world is a different place now than it was 50 years ago when Kitty and I wandered freely about the neighborhood.