Let me be the first to say that I love cats. I’ve had them my whole life; I’m a big fan. And I understand that the question of indoor/outdoor cats is a complicated one, mostly because cats are complicated little critters. Some cats are perfectly happy to stroll in and out through the cat flap, snoozing in the yard for a few hours and never bothering any other living creature. And then there are the cats that, if birds had television, would belong on the Bird True Crime channel.  

I keep my cats indoor-only and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future (or at least until I save up enough money to build an enclosed “catio” on the house). This is honestly less out of concern for the ecosystem in general and birds in particular as it is for my cats. I’ve had enough (two) pets hit by cars in my life. My cat Juno, in particular, cannot be trusted outside because, while too lazy to hunt, she is also not afraid of anything and is one hundred percent willing to pick a fight with something larger than she is. Once, a few years ago, she bolted out an ajar door and came back with most of the skin missing from her back legs. The vet said it looked like she’d been picked up by a bird of prey. 

I’ll be honest, my first thought when I saw that someone wanted to add cats to the list of animals who could be cited for animal trespass was: “Has this person ever met a cat?” Cats have many wonderful qualities but they are a lot more independent than dogs and, despite their size, harder to control (smaller means more slippery, in this case). I’ve had cats who would wait diagonally from the door and, when someone entering the house opened it, would rush through their legs and outside. And, while stray and feral dogs are fortunately very rare in Maine, stray, feral and other “community” cats are somewhat common. 

What worries me about this particular law is that it could be used vindictively between neighbors or as an excuse to punish, remove, kill, or injure community cats. In addition, cats also frequently serve as pest control. My mom’s cat Neko has a mouse record that would put any sniper to shame. If chipmunks had post offices, her wanted poster would be displayed in all of them. However, I also like birds, and I do understand that domestic cats are a deadly threat to them.  

Maybe it’s the bisexuality at work but I think I’m pretty good at seeing both sides of an issue. That definitely doesn’t mean that both sides are always equally important or correct, but in this case, the cat people and the bird people have good points. Birds have enough to deal with right now, what with climate change, habitat destruction, light pollution and regular pollution. They don’t need to be constantly looking over their shoulders for Mr. Mittens. 

Caring for a pet is a responsibility. Sometimes it’s a big one. Owners of indoor-outdoor cats have a responsibility to make sure they are as bird-safe as possible. Rep. Vicki Doudera is right that cats have gotten “a free and unfettered pass” to harm bird populations. I don’t think this bill is the way to do work on that issue – for one thing, it would allow for cats to be cited for trespass, but can’t cats kill plenty of birds in their own yard? I know Juno could if she wanted. (Again, Juno is so lazy that she once watched a mouse run by directly in front of her face and did nothing.) 

If you have a cat that goes outdoors, they should have a bird-safe collar. I like the ones from a Vermont company, Birdsbesafe, which sells bright fabric collar covers (you can put them over your cat’s own collar if you want, or they sell breakaway collars on their website) that make it easier for birds to see cats and fly away. In addition to protecting birds, they also have the delightful effect of making your cat look like a proper little Shakespearean gentleman.

And unlike traditional belled collars, the ruff collars still allow your cats to sneak up on ground-dwelling rodents (I am fully in favor of cats as organic, all-natural mice control). The collar covers are all under $15 and need to be used with a cat collar underneath. I’d love to see these publicized and put into wider use, but of course, I’m wary of unfunded mandates. Maybe the Legislature could set aside a few thousand bucks to purchase a bunch and distribute them to local animal control departments so that cat caretakers could request them as needed? We definitely need to figure out something, though. The only critters who like birdwatching more than humans are the cats. 

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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