I spaced out my mother's medications Sunday--my sister and I alternate weeks filling her pillbox (remind me to tell you about the assisted living/nursing home industry some time, in case you haven't already guessed)--and I flat forgot until five o'clock, about the time I was pulling a roast chicken out of the oven.
So we ate sorta hurriedly and left the wine bottle unopened on the counter, and drove off to the Westside in the dark and the horizontal rain. "Have you seen the Carnival at the (other) end of the street?" my Poor Wife--who'd volunteered to go along thinking I'd let her drive, because I'm blind as a bat at night, and wound up hanging on for forty-five minutes of Death Car VI--asked as I pulled off in the opposite direction. I knew which two viral Christmas lawns she meant. You do, too, probably, assuming you live anywhere in the US of A where they favor lawns. Growing collections of jumbo blow-up Santas and Snowglobes and Bears--a happy-visaged brown bear with his own chimney filling the last available cubic meter of one of the yards was the 2007 addition my wife was anxious for me to catch--are the new obligatory addition to public displays of Podunk taste.
"Yeah," I said. "I wonder how many copies of An Inconvenient Truth they passed around last Christmas?"
Then I added, "Like I should talk, with five florescent tubes burning fourteen hours a day to keep a bunch of tender perennials alive in the basement 'til next May." (Honesty compels me to admit that I didn't say this in order to be honest, but to reinforce the idea of my honesty to my wife, except she knows better, anyway.)
Last August she undertook the care and feeding of her baby brother's menagerie (two cats, one bunny) while his family was on vacation. About mid-afternoon the first day I asked her if she'd forgotten about it. "No, I have to go at night," she told me, and explained that the second cat in the household wasn't actually in the household, but was a neighborhood dumpee they'd taken to feeding and now called their own, but didn't allow in the house because they hadn't yet decided whether to subject it to a lifetime of pain from medieval claw-removal torture like they did the other one, on the grounds that they have small children. Humanitarians. (I happen to believe the real reason is they have furniture of which they're inordinately fond, but then I also believe that a good swat from a cat it has agitated beyond all tolerance is one of the best and swiftest lessons a young child can learn.) And it turned out that their neighbors, with whom they've had quite friendly relations for the decade they've shared a corner of Subdivision Nirvana, were birding enthusiasts, and had begun a war over the cat that had escalated to not-speaking and threats to harm the animal if he killed any birds. So the cat had to be fed in secret. "Tell him to ask if they shoot hawks, too," I said, though I've come to realize my bons mots never really carry the day unless I'm a lot bigger than the other guy. So she carried on the stealth feeding for a week, and last I heard the cat is still associated with them, though his winter quarters were yet to be decided. The bunny owns the garage.
This is not the only sense in which I have a personal stake in Barcott's story (which followed the hung-jury trial of the Galveston birder who gunned down a feral cat).
At the center of it stood Jim Stevenson, unrepentant and sure. “What I did was not only legal,” he told me. “It was right.”
Which, of course, is why he ran like a tweener spotted egging a house.
One Texas birder, a fourth-grade science teacher, suggested that Stevenson be given a medal for his actions.
There's a surprise.
My own suburban space counts more bird feeders (four, freshly filled), birdhouses (five), and drinking sources (three, one winterized) than cats (two, one strictly indoor). We've had as many as four cats, all allowed outdoors to some extent, at one time. We've lived here twelve years. In that time we've had six bird kills, four definitely by one cat and a fifth suspected. The sixth kill is merely attributed to cats; the leavings actually suggested a hawk. I've seen hawks take two birds in flight near the feeders. They've also grabbed a squirrel, a small possum, and a rabbit. The cats have all been more avid hunters of ground game: field mice, voles, and chipmunks. Lucky for us the number of people with a Lifetime Rodent List is relatively small.
So from my personal experience in a decade-long study of developed, mid-continent, new-growth scrublands with a considerable number of cat-hours available to hunt over seed, if desired, birds were only 1.5 times as likely to be killed by a domestic feline as by window glass. Shoot them out, why don'cha?
There's more, of course. That Wisconsin study, which causes Barcott to note
Cat advocates love to attack the Wisconsin study, but the more you delve into the scientific literature, the more the Wisconsin study looks like a red herring used by cat defenders to divert attention from more grounded research.
while ignoring the fact that that particular stinking fish led to a proposal of open season on cats in Wisconsin, hastily withdrawn, but not hastily enough to keep virtual animal-torturer and war hero Jonah Goldberg from sticking his head above his office sandbags long enough to applaud a proposed new avenue for exercising our Second Amendment rights.
In the past decade, at least a dozen studies published in top scientific journals like Biological Conservation, Journal of Zoology and Mammal Review have chronicled the problem of cat predation of small mammals and birds. The takeaway is clear: cats are a growing environmental concern because they are driving down some native bird populations — on islands, to be sure, but also in ecologically sensitive continental areas. At hot spots along the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf Coast, cat predation is a growing threat to shorebirds and long-distance migrants. And as wild habitat becomes more fragmented by human development, even some inland species are under increasing pressure from both house cats and their feral cousins.
Here's the other side of my experience. My wife and I lived for a couple of years in a rented house owned by a guy who'd been seduced by those Make A Fortune In Real Estate Without Using Money infomercials, and he'd bought a couple of places in a speculatively gentrifying area downtown. And while he struggled to find renters he fed the feral cat population in an effort to keep down the rodents. There were six every morning back of the garage, waiting for food. And we had three of our own, who went outside sporadically, so it represented a problem, but we kept feeding them. Within a month we were down to four, then two, then one persistent big guy--the only one you'd let within a foot of your face--who'd obviously begun life as someone's pet. And he, like the others for the duration of our brief acquaintance, would turn up with the most horrific injuries on a regular basis, the result of mating fights, rat bites, accidents in vacant buildings, and who knows what else, until he, too, disappeared. Their lives are brutal. Feeding them prolongs the brutality. Feeding feral cats in coastal areas or on islands isn't tender-heartedness, it's wrong-headed cruelty to the cats, let alone their prey.
Like Stevenson's Texas, my brother-in-law and his nature-loving neighbors live in a rock-ribbed Republican enclave dedicated to squeezing profit out of every available plot of land; so far as I've heard the neighbors haven't threatened to shoot the mayor. Maybe they should study that in Wisconsin.