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  • This article by Betsy Marston originally appeared in the Dec 06, 2012 issue of High Country News.
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Topic: Culture & Communities     Department: Heard Around the West     Comments: 0

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Pussycat kill kill!

News: Dec 06, 2012
by Betsy Marston

THE NATION

Forget denouncing wind turbines as bird Cuisinarts; lovable pussycats rank as the true killing machines. Housecats wipe out some 4 billion animals every year, including at least 500 million birds, reports Wyoming Wildlife. The magazine cites a novel new study by two groups, the National Geographic Society and the University of Georgia, that determined just how fierce cats' hunting instincts are by employing the animals themselves as reporters. The cats were outfitted with "crittercams" -- special video cameras around their necks. When the animals went outdoors to prowl, the camera recorded each gory encounter. The cats averaged about 2.1 kills per week, but they brought home less than one of every four of their victims for their owners to see and/or throw out. Cats preyed on just about anything close to the ground that moved, including lizards, voles, chipmunks, birds, frogs and small snakes.

The crittercam study did not include feral cats, which have their own support systems these days -- advocates who persuade their communities that trapping, sterilizing and then releasing the cats is a good idea. In theory, writes Kiera Butler in Mother Jones, it sounds like a terrific way to reduce the population of starving stray cats. In practice, it costs roughly $100 per kitty and "to put a dent in the total number of cats, at least 71 percent of them must be fixed, and they are notoriously hard to catch." Butler thinks a better strategy is for owners to keep their pets indoors and that soft-hearted animal-lovers need to just "quit feeding the ferals." Yet at least 10 major cities, including San Francisco, have adopted the approach, even though the effort is not only arduous but might also turn out to be never-ending -- unless owners start neutering their own cats, or somebody invents a cat food laced with a failsafe contraceptive.

And feral cat colonies are not a minor phenomenon. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports an estimated 450 colonies in southern Nevada, including about 100 in Las Vegas. To tackle the city's problem, nonprofit animal-welfare groups recently won the right to feed and care for feral cats without getting in trouble with Las Vegas animal control staff. Volunteer Keith Williams said his group's first goal is "to get every cat spayed and neutered -- get them completely out of the kitten business." Williams, a retired Nevada Test Site worker, adds confidently, "As time goes by, the numbers (will) drop. It just works."

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