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I’m sitting here after a day at work eating my dinner and watching one of my house sitting dogs wandering out on the balcony in the sunshine. It’s so relaxing – and believe me, it has been a mildly stressful day to say the least. For some reason I had the bright idea of visiting http://garethsworld.com/catstogo/ – Gareth Morgan’s website dedicated to his ideals that every single cat in New Zealand ought to be eradicated. Not exactly light reading for someone like me.
If you aren’t from New Zealand you probably won’t be very familiar with this, but lately we have had somewhat of a debate arise. Gareth Morgan, a businessman and economist (and several other things but I didn’t know much about him until this point so I’ll leave it at that) publicized his view that cats should not exist in New Zealand, due to the many flightless native wildlife species we have that are threatened by our pests.

I have a degree in conservation. I completely understand the fact that many of our native species are threatened – mainly because they evolved without the predators they are forced to face today and therefore are severely lacking defenses. But, as anyone who knows me or has read through my blog will be familiar with, I am also a complete animal welfare advocate – and a kitty supporter. I foster kittens for the Lonely Miaow ( http://www.lonelymiaow.co.nz ) – kittens that would otherwise live feral lives, eat what they can (including caught wildlife), breed without hindrance, fight and spread disease. The four beautiful young kittens I have rehomed so far are now going to live safer, ‘happier’ lives, they will be well-fed, have any ailments treated and have been desexed – meaning they cannot add to the feral feline population in New Zealand or the domestic cat population.

I do feel an emotional response to the “Cats Must Go!” claims. You never hear anyone say “humans are a pest, let’s eradicate them.” Well, not around here anyway. We have shaped our environment to suit our lifestyles, economy and industry. Native fauna is not going to flourish with the eradication of cats. We have done well abolishing keeping ferrets as pets, but there are possums, stoats, rats, mice, rabbits – many introduced pest species either hunting our native wildlife or competing for resources. And, of course, we are the ones responsible for bringing them here.

Just clarifying – I support conservation. I want native species numbers to increase. I love the thought of a pest-free New Zealand, but to me that would also mean humans would have to go. We are constantly polluting the environment around us; native species will never, ever be as they once were so many years ago before humans arrived. New Zealand will never be free of invasive species unless we get rid of our main industries. Cows, pigs, sheep for our massive agriculture… Deer and wild boar seem to be tolerated – popular hunting targets… But then there are animals such as the wild Kaimanawa horses that cause a stir and need to be controlled. Whatever species we don’t have a use for, it needs to go. Native conservation is not our priority – we are. But I guess that is the same everywhere you go.

I thought I might just go through a few of the points on the ‘Cats to Go’ website that particularly captivated me.

“Should cats have to be registered as dogs do?” – I actually do agree with this. The country is inundated with cats. We have so many breeders, and it takes absolutely no qualification, recognition or registration to breed cats. If owners were more responsible for their feline companions, and if we didn’t have random ‘breeders’ spread across the country promoting their kittens as opposed to getting animals desexed, we would have less of an issue.

I also want to point out that the ways Mr. Morgan gets his points across command no respect as they seem to give none. “You are a cat owner and you are probably upset at the thought of getting rid of your beloved pet. Before you fly into a rage, have a read of some facts…”
Fly into a rage? Why, that’s hardly respectable. Thanks for automatically assuming and talking to me like I’m an emotional crazy cat lady (shhhh don’t tell him I actually am!).

I giggled at the part where it is pointed out that “If they [cats] are not bringing home native birds it’s because there are none around left to kill. I’m going to point out my current house sitting place as an example. We have a cat in the neighbourhood. His name is George. George lives in a completely enclosed apartment complex. His owners let him outside each day and he spends his time down in the large garden area. We are in the heart of the city. I don’t think there are zero native birds here because George has already eaten them all.
This is one thing that annoys me – getting things into perspective. Many domestic cats these days don’t live within earshot of a native bird. Companion cats and their owners are not the ones to blame. If you are going to spend resource and time trying to help native species out, start somewhere that matters most.

“[Killing] is one of their most pleasurable activities.” Anthropomorphic. Just sayin’. Hunting and chasing is, most definitely, an instinctual behaviour taught from kittenhood. I use anthropomorphism all the time, but it is inappropriate when you are trying to win a scientific argument.

“Imagine a New Zealand teeming with native wildlife, penguins on the beach, Kiwis roaming about in your garden. Imagine hearing birdsong in our cities.” A lovely ideal, but realistic? No. As if the incredibly shy, quiet-craving kiwi would be comfortable enough to breed in our backyards. Another case where as long as people are thriving, this native species will want to be far away from it.

I think targeting the SPCA is absolutely disgusting. He goes on and on about the poor efforts of the SPCA, how they aren’t doing enough. If there weren’t charities such as the SPCA or the Lonely Miaow out there trying to do something about stray and feral populations, they would be breeding uncontrolled. At least these groups are doing something. While a Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR) scheme is not going to completely abolish all stray and feral cats, it is a sight more effective than letting cat colonies exist without interruption. Saying “All in all, TNR is about as effective as herding cats,” is another rude (in my opinion) and untrue statement. Again: at least these groups are doing something.
Gareth Morgan believes all unowned cats should be euthanised. That’s something I can hardly even get into. From my background, I personally do see every animal as an individual with a right to live. Even a possum. I understand they utterly destroy wildlife, but I am torn because I have a strong belief in individual rights as well as overall species rights. I am completely against poisoning – a slow, painful death is something I just do not support. As long as it is guaranteed animals are killed quickly, I don’t have such an issue with it. To be fair, untreated feral cats do not live ideal lives. I have seen dozens of feral cats brought in to veterinary clinics I have worked at to be desexed or euthanased and they are never in a good state. Still, I do not like the idea of simply trapping animals and killing them when they could potential lead more positive lives – again, such as the kittens I have raised, from a completely feral background (as in 100% unable to be handled) to beautiful relaxed purring creatures of content and companionship.

As a ‘key thing’ to actively do, the Cats to Go list includes “Overcome your denial. Wowww. Again – such amazing respect. I know this particular blog entry has not been so passive or scientifically worded, but I do find it difficult to respect anyone who obviously is not going to respect me.

‘Frequently asked questions – are you suggesting that I just go out and have my cat euthanised…’ “Not necessarily but that is an option.” Amazing. The countless paddocks full of livestock we have in New Zealand have utterly obliterated the habitat of native species. Cows do not actively kill wildlife but having them around certainly means native animals and flora won’t every have the chance to replenish as much as we might like. And yet we are being told to go and consider killing our companion animals, many of whom are viewed as members of the family, eat and live well, and seldom catch a thing.

While I’m sure I will read over this later and decide it was a terribly written, pointless post, I will stop here and publish it. The main point I wanted to get across is that I think the target is completely off here, and the way it is all put across. G. M. does admit that rats are also a problem – and let’s face it, we are better off putting more resources into eliminating rats than we are cats. Again, I do agree we should have more control over our companion cat population, people should not, ever abandon cats and leave them out to become strays, and breeding should also be more controlled. But I also have a tie to individual welfare and rights to live, and I think by being more responsible pet owners and supporting groups who are trying to make a positive change we will at least begin to make a difference. By having a go at cat owners he is targeting the wrong people and causing a stir. But I suppose that was half the point, wasn’t it, and it sure worked!