December 02, 2007

It's All About the Humans

by PG

Today's New York Times magazine takes a more extensive look at the animal cruelty prosecution of ornithologist Jim Stevenson and the reason why he shot a feral cat: because cats brought by humans are a menace to native birds. The cries from cat lovers that cats are only doing what's natural are nonsensical, given how unnatural cats are in the first place. Even feral cats are domesticated kitties left to fend for themselves, though their very existence is a shame against our own species for having abandoned them to die of starvation and exposure. This quote from the article infuriated me: "People who own cats are very emotionally attached to them -- even feral cats that arenít their own -- and they're extremely vocal." If those people are so emotionally attached, they should have the decency to take the cats home with them, instead of forcing the birds and the people who like them to bear the burden of cats' feeding on whatever they can find when a human hasn't been charitable that day. The legal claim that Stevenson was shooting someone's pet is ludicrous. A pet cat isn't left outside 24-7-365, with "gnarly" fur and its kittens mostly killed by predators.

The article's focus on animal rights versus environmental ethics struck me as odd, because in reality the question is simply what humans most value. People who value wild birds in their habitats will shoot the feral cats that predate on them; people who value cats -- domestic creatures that belong in homes, not under highways -- ought to take responsibility for them. Moreover, how can a cat be said to have a "right" to kill birds, particularly if it is actually a domestic cat that does so for sport rather than survival? Surely the bird has a right to life that trumps the cat's right to sport, which means that a human that defends the birds has acted rightly, at least under our normal concepts of permissible killing.

I've never been fond of birds, and in New York, I fear their aerial excretions. But I do want to minimize efficiently the effect of humans on the environment. Inasmuch as people care whether there are birds, simply keeping cats under control, whether by upholding our responsibility to keep them indoors, or killing the feral predators, is a much lower cost way to delay birds' extinction than is reducing humans' incursions into their habitat in the first place. Though the article warns against coming "at the feral-cat advocates with blunt force," that would be my blunt force: feral cats' advocates can house them, and if they run out of homes, the remaining cats should be killed if they pose a threat. The potential threat isn't just to birds; a cat that bites or scratches a human can cause a serious infection from its bacteria.

December 2, 2007 10:24 PM | TrackBack
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