Kitty elicits lots of advice — and criticism — from lovers of cats and birds

Courtland Milloy
Columnist January 21

In the weeks since writing about the stray cat that showed up at our home, I have received lots of welcome advice on feline care. Don’t give her milk. Get her vaccinated. Have the vet implant a microchip with contact information on it. Buy her toys.

“You’ve done it now,” wrote Cathy White of Fort Washington. “Every cat nut, obviously including myself, is coming out of his or her cloud of cat hair to say welcome to the club.”

Well, not every cat nut.

Turns out that some people were chagrined to read that Kitty, as we call her, gets to go outside and act like a cat. Anything fluffy that shows up in our yard — including squirrels and birds — gets her attention. And if they don’t go, they get got.

Caroline Hayes of Arlington wrote that I had “failed to acknowledge the tremendous damage that outdoor cats inflict on our native wildlife, and especially to fledgling and migrating birds.”


Courtland Milloy's cat, Kitty, takes comfort from the cold weather on a sofa in the Milloy home. (Photo by Courtland Milloy/The Washington Post) (Courtland Milloy/TWP)

Kasha Helget of Alexandria wrote: “This is a horrible perpetuation of the notion that it is natural and normal to allow cats to hunt outdoors.”

Macky Miller of Cornelius, N.C., weighed in: “It’s not considered fun to bird lovers (or to the birds), who see more and more of the bird population depleted because people like you think it’s cute to let your cat out, only to come home and show off her kill.”

The fervor of the indoor cat people (and their bird people counterparts) appears to have been primed in part by a New York Times report on cat kills that was published in January 2013. The story, headlined “From Cuddly Critter to Killing Machine: Cats Are Much Deadlier Than Once Thought,” featured a photograph of a cat chomping down on a cuddly rabbit.

The story, which was based on a major study, blamed cats — house cats roaming outside as well as feral cats — for killing “a median of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year” in the United States.

Scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Fish and Wildlife Service had used a “mathematical model” to distill “existing scientific literature on cat-wildlife interactions.” The results, said the Times, “admittedly come with wide ranges and uncertainties.”

None of the bird lovers who wrote to me mentioned the uncertainties — like what kinds of birds are being killed by cats. They only cited “songbirds.”

But the crows that land in my yard don’t sing. They squawk. Better that the cat chases them away than having me shoo them off.

Worst of all are the mockingbirds. Kitty could be lying in the grass, basking in the sun, minding her own business, when one of those ill-tempered, loud-mouthed modern-day pterodactyls begins a dive-bombing attack. They swoop in, peck at her, then perch in a tree and make mocking sounds.

And if I happen to look out of a window and see gray feathers scattered about the yard, what is there to say except that bad bird got what it deserved?

As for the mammal killings, why show a photo of a dead rabbit in a cat’s jaws when it’s the rat that a cat is more likely to kill? Then again, that would make the cat a hero instead of a villain.

Having joined the cat people’s club, I certainly want to be regarded as a member in good standing. I appreciate how much cat people care about their pets. I believe that keeping Kitty indoors makes her safe from raccoons, foxes and dogs. I don’t have to worry about her getting hit by a car or simply disappearing.

Judy Gordon of Rockville wrote to say that my column and photograph of Kitty made her “wonder if and hope that it could possibly be our wonderful cat.” Peri, also a 2-year-old Tabby, has been missing since April.

We exchanged photographs of the two cats and concluded that they were not the same. The longing that Judy expressed made me want to keep Kitty close.

But the cat likes going outside. She’ll paw and try her best to slip out whenever the door opens. Being locked in seems to dampen the cat spirit that makes her so endearing.

Except on days such as Tuesday, when snow is on the ground and the temperature is freezing. She prefers to curl up on a sofa and catnap the day away. I couldn’t make her go outside even if the yard was full of birds.

To read previous columns by Courtland Milloy, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.

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