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Feral cats: A dangerous threat to birds and domesticated animals

Michael Swickard.

Michael Swickard.

My mother rescued a half-starved feral cat one time. He seemed like any of her other rescued cats but even after neutering, he was anti-social with the other cats. Also, he had a great desire to mark territory pungently, which he did. She had to cage him, where he lived out his days. At no time during his years with us was he able to join her other cats.

There were always about six cats, all inside cats, living in our house. They came into our lives one by one, a rescue here and there. And then there was that feral cat named “Yoohoo” who could not live with domesticated cats.

My mother almost taught her cats to use the human toilet instead of the litter pan. She lacked just one hold-out, a black female named Witch. We kids had to make sure we left the seat down and the lid up. But that knucklehead Witch would not do it.

I would have drop-kicked Witch through the goalpost of life and then had five cats with no need for kitty litter. Not my dear mother, who shrugged and went back to full-time kitty-litter for six cats. Anyway, she was always going to have kitty litter around because of Yoohoo.

Certainly on ranches and farms, the most damning comment for man or animal is, “He’s undependable.” That was Yoohoo. Some days he was almost pleasant. Most days he was not. But he was always undependable.

I was thinking about my brush with a feral cat this week because city leaders in several communities have struggled with the problem of feral cats. These non-domesticated cats live away from humans and prey mostly on wild birds and other small animals. Some people even put out food, which makes the problem worse.

Many of us have watched with alarm as “do-gooders” want these cats to have “freedom” and not be gathered up and put down by the town authorities. Feral cats are somewhere between a nuisance and a disaster. The plan has been to neuter feral cats when caught, give them some shots and then turn them back loose.

Feral cats have lots of liabilities for the community, not the least of which being that they are murder on the wild bird population. This is especially so for migrating birds. Further, feral cats can and do carry diseases, even if later they get shots from a vet. Feline leukemia is often spread by these feral cats.

So here is the dilemma: Something is going to die. It will be the feral cats when caught by the authorities, or if they return the cats to the community, then thousands upon thousands of wild birds will die. It is one or the other. It seems more important to have wild birds than feral cats. More so, it seems important that we not listen to the people who have a nutty vision of a world free of death where all animals live side by side in harmony. That is not what happens with feral cats.

No, the truth is, as many have written, “Nature, red in tooth and claw.” You let those killing machines live unmolested in your community and the wild birds will suffer. Some will be wiped out of existence in your community by the predation.

The legitimate role of government in a free society is to maintain order and protect the citizens. I will admit that wild birds do pose a few liabilities. In the late 1960s, the president of New Mexico State University was giving a speech outside when a grackle pooped on his head. In a fury, the president commanded that all grackles on campus be shot. A biology professor got wind of this and informed everyone those were protected by international, national and state law. Oops.

What city leaders need to do is capture and destroy all feral animals inside the town limits. Yes, that even means coyotes running through our backyards feasting on poodles. Forget capture and release. Protect our birds and domestic animals from the feral animals.

Please do not feed wild animals. For many wild animals, a fed wild animal turns into a nuisance and subsequently a dead animal by the authorities.

(Michael Swickard hosts the syndicated radio talk show News New Mexico from 6 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday on a number of New Mexico radio stations and through streaming. Email: