A hardline new policy on cats: shoot on sight!

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The Independent Online

When it was recently revealed that every year about 30,000 cats are killed - shot, mostly - in the state of New South Wales, concern was expressed in the letters column of a local newspaper. "Why so few?" readers asked. Surely it was time to get tough with these loathsome pests who, year after year, did inestimable harm to native species of wildlife?

When it was recently revealed that every year about 30,000 cats are killed - shot, mostly - in the state of New South Wales, concern was expressed in the letters column of a local newspaper. "Why so few?" readers asked. Surely it was time to get tough with these loathsome pests who, year after year, did inestimable harm to native species of wildlife?

Many Australians, for whom cat-shooting is not just a sport but also a social duty, would be entirely unsurprised by the finding of the UK's Mammal Society, published this week. We are a cat-dependent society. The animals that in Australia have the status of rats or foxes have, with the sleek, purring insincerity for which they are famous, inveigled their way into British homes and our hearts. As a result, we have, at the centre of our emotional, domestic lives, an animal that does more harm to the environment than any other creature with the exception of humans.

The Mammal Society may be slightly prejudiced in the matter, but the figures they produce are startling. Having studied the behaviour of 964 cats from around 600 households, its investigators found that the pets killed 14,000 animals, including 4,196 mice, 3,383 birds, 1,949 voles and 946 shrews. Because they are essentially cowards, cats were completely useless in the one area where they could actually do some good - taking a mere 162 rats.

Put on a national scale, the survey suggests that the average household cat kills between 30 and 40 animals a year, totalling 275 million. They seem particularly partial to species whose numbers are in decline, notably water voles, thrushes, house sparrows and, most shockingly of all, bats. By waiting at the places from which bats emerge at dusk - a typically lazy and unsporting feline trick - cats kill around 230,000 every year.

What is to be done about this terrible massacre? Hardline supporters of The Independent's Save the Sparrow campaign might well advocate an Australian shoot-on-sight policy.

Others, looking at the current political agenda, will suggest that the greyhounds, whippets and beagles that currently earn their keep by tearing limb from limb the harmless and beautiful brown hare might usefully be retrained. A Waterloo Cup with cats as the prey would undoubtedly be something of a bloodbath, but at least it would significantly diminish the threat to bats, voles and frogs in the area.

I'm not sure I would go this far. We have only ourselves to blame when it comes to our thraldom to the cat. Unlike the Australians, we are a neurotic and lonely nation and cats, forever masters of spin, have simply taken advantage of the situation. For many people, their presence provides that sense of haughty independence, of untamed savagery within, which would otherwise be lacking in their lives. Cats may be parasites and killers, but against the harm they do must be set the positive effects they have on the mental health of the nation.

New Labour has taken a briskly unsentimental view of these matters in the past - one of the Blairs' first actions after the last election was to boot out the Downing Street cat, Humphrey, on the grounds of alleged incontinence. Perhaps, when returned to power, the next administration will introduce an advertising campaign to persuade cat-lovers to moderate their obsession for the sake of the environment. People who own too many of the things - four will be a maximum - might be subjected to spot fines. Over-feeding, which has the double benefit of making pets too fat to catch anything, while also leading to their early demise through heart attacks, will be encouraged.

Above all, those guilty of putting out their cat at night should be reminded that, while they slumber, their little darling is cutting a wide, bloody swathe through our beleaguered, ever-dwindling wildlife.

terblacker@aol.com

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