Weather Updates

Editorial: Keeping cats on a short leash

A cat

A cat

storyidforme: 43905982
tmspicid: 4703529
fileheaderid: 2350103

Updated: March 2, 2013 12:04PM

Not for nothing did the great animated cartoonists William Hanna and Joseph Barbera create the classic team of Tom and Jerry in 1940.

They knew, as everybody knew, that cats were born hunters and mice had better run.

But a major new study concludes that cats, feral and domestic, are far more deadly than we knew. And environmentalists, citing the study’s findings, say we had better do a better job of controlling cats for the sake of the Jerrys everywhere — not just mice, but also songbirds, voles, rabbits and the like.

We’re not sure how big a problem this really is. Other researchers are skeptical. But we do agree on the solutions — spay and neuter feral cats and don’t let house cats run free — for the well-being of the cats themselves as well as for their prey.

The alleged carnage is shocking. Scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service estimate that cats kill 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year. Most of the victims are desirable native species such as the chipmunk, rather than invasive pest species such as the Norway rat.

But those huge numbers are hard to reconcile with observations locally as to the roaming habits of feral cats. By and large, an ongoing Cook County study shows, cats avoid the forest preserves, where they might become a meal themselves to bigger predators, and stick to residential areas. Given how much less wildlife is in residential areas, says Donna Alexander, administrator for Cook County Animal Rabies Control, the chance of cats “doing major types of damage” to wildlife populations are “probably slimmer.”

All the same, the experts agree, keep Fluffy and Kitty indoors. Let them go outdoors only on a leash. And support local “trap-neuter-return” efforts in which feral cats are captured, neutered and returned to managed outdoor colonies, where they are provided basic food and shelter.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.