DEAR DR. FOX: Yours is a voice in the wilderness regarding cat problems. Many of us who are trying to address the overpopulation of feral cats appreciate you very much.
I have been doing some research related to cats' effect on bird populations. We often speak only in general terms, but local effects are important. Here are a few paragraphs from an article I have recently had published locally that speak to the situation both nationally and here in New York:
"The effect of the feral domestic cat on wildlife is, to use appropriately chosen words, catastrophic and cataclysmic; it appears on the world list of 100 worst invasive alien species. With evidence gathered from a wide number of resources, researchers estimate the number of birds killed by cats annually in the United States at 1.3 to 4 billion and the number of mammals at 6.3 to 22.3 billion. This represents an average of 750,000 annual bird kills per county, or 800 per square mile. There are, of course, many causes of wildlife mortality, but, compared with other human-related causes, cats represent far and away the major killer...
"... (W)hile we should certainly be concerned about wind turbines, this places their effect in proportion with the effect produced by cats. We have regional evidence that strongly correlates with this drastic situation."
The U.S. Geological Survey June Breeding Bird Surveys are carefully replicated annual counts along designated routes, and they offer a stark population comparison between the 1960s and the 2010s. New York has 99 of these routes. Overall bird numbers for New York state are down 35 percent. Meadow birds that nest on or near the ground and are especially susceptible to cat predation are far worse off, with these specifics: thrashers down 79 percent, towhees 83 percent, meadowlarks 91 percent, vesper sparrows 74 percent, field sparrows 80 percent and grasshopper sparrows 97 percent. Henslow's sparrows are gone; in the 1960s, there were an average of 31 counted each year, but the last was recorded in 2006. It is quite easy to come up with similar data for any state by going to the Survey files. -- G.R.R., distinguished teaching professor emeritus at State University of New York, Buffalo
DEAR G.R.R.: I know that I am not alone in expressing appreciation for your in-field research on the impact of domestic cats on wild bird populations. This has been a long and contentious issue in my syndicated newspaper column. I do not wish to continue to alienate those cat lovers who support releasing neutered cats to live outdoors and kill wildlife, but to help them expand their circle of compassion to embrace all creatures and not just cats, whom I love and respect. In fact, my wife and I have rescued and rehabilitated many to become happy and affectionate indoor cats.
Your findings may help convince cat owners and municipalities that cats belong indoors, just as with our dogs, and apply appropriate laws to help ensure the same. Habitat loss, widespread use of herbicides and insecticides, and climate change are additional factors that harm wild birds and other wildlife, which society must address with nothing less than regional and planetary CPR -- conservation, preservation and restoration.
Social progress demands that we examine the truths we live by, our values, actions and cultural traditions, including the sons of princes, presidents, kings and tycoons who trophy hunt and kill beautiful rare species, the not-so-rich who capture birds and other wildlife for the international market, so many dying in the process, and the English in my original homeland, who put their cats out at night and bring them in with the morning milk and newspaper from their doorsteps, where their cats often deposit the night’s kill -- a nursing field mouse or a mother wren!
HAPPY OWNERS MIGHT MEAN HAPPIER DOGS, STUDY FINDS
A study published in PLOS ONE found that dogs and their owners influence each other's personalities and ability to cope with stress, and humans have a particularly marked effect on dog behavior. Heart rate and cortisol levels were recorded and interpreted alongside survey results, revealing that dogs are sensitive to the emotional states of their owners, and dogs may adjust their behavior in response.
Several decades ago, I termed this phenomenon "sympathetic resonance," and this study confirms how empathic and vulnerable our canine companions really are.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
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