Life in the Box: Who Needs Feral Cats?


Cats are the leading cause of death of birds. Now, is that a nice thing to say about those lovely felines that make us laugh so much on YouTube?

Sorry, but you gotta keep your cat inside. And that feral cat you keep feeding? Gotta take it for neutering or whatcha call it. Then it will only kill one cat’s worth of birds, not the geometrically appalling amount it would be responsible for if it keeps breeding.

What do I know about this? Our local feral cats have been “gifting us” with a new batch of hairballs to the tune of 6 to 9 per year. Multiply that by 10 years, and then multiply their kids’ and grandkids’ contributions, and gee, BIG numbers of cats are prowling.

And isn’t it kind of mean to keep bird feeders—cat smorgasbords—in the same back yards that house the predators?

Almost every house on our block has adopted lovely descendants of “Momma Kitty,” ourselves included. Our most recent household addition is “Dibbs” (as in he called dibs on living with us.) He is five years old now, and has adapted well to living inside. He loves piles of covers, being groomed on “his” table, and recently he became addicted to watching train videos in bed. dibbs-train-sm-redo

Sure he likes to spend hours looking out the windows and smelling the breeze through screens, but we don’t let him outside.

Two years ago, I convinced the humans next door who were housing Dibbs’s Momma under their garden shed to allow me to catch and neuter the critter. After all, I was the one who was capturing her kittens and distributing them around town.

Unlike her babies, Momma was never caught in a live trap. She wasn’t hungry enough, for one thing. I convinced my neighbors to stop dishing it out, and I put her food in a plastic dog carrier. Each day, I shoved the food bowl deeper and deeper into the container. She started to trust it. Nyah ha ha!

After several days of watching her, I hooked up a rope system I could pull from a distance to close the door, and put some stones on top of the plastic house so it wouldn’t flip over… and I caught her!!
Success at last!

I took her to the no-kill shelter I had taken her kittens to, and to my surprise, the shelter people were not happy. This time, they said most cats her age (over 10) would somehow return to their original neighborhoods after neutering. Some kind of “cat GPS.” But, they would neuter her and put her out on a cat-friendly farm anyway. After all, they were the ones that told me “You need to bring in the mother.”

Momma never returned to the shed, to my great relief.  dibbs-cave-sm2

Our first year without Momma went well. No kitty paw-prints in the snow. No extra cute roly-poly additions to our family. But, year two was different. Paw prints on the cat trail. Eww.

Turns out our neighbors on the other side, two down from us, have been feeding “Daddy Kitty” for 10 years, too. Sheesh! The phrase “it’s like herding cats” should be changed to “it’s like herding your neighbors.”

Fighting feral cats is a little easier now that more and more of our neighbors have dogs in their (fenced) backyards. Dogs that kill squirrels and other things that run fast. But, if you befriend an outdoor cat, please do your town a favor and at least “catch, neuter and release.”

It’s kinda fun to outsmart a cat. Almost as much fun as watching an oriole and a cardinal eat from your bird feeders. And way more fun than watching those pretty warblers get decimated!


Nancy Heather Brown is a retired, Emmy Award-winning television producer whose career has included interviewing, writing, and editing for a span of four decades. Today, she enjoys learning new things and reflecting upon the creative process and the world of ideas both inside and outside the box. 


American Bird Conservatory talks about numbers of birds killed by cats

How to keep birds from smashing into your windows

Nature Conservancy “State of the Birds” reports

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