Defending Felines: False Statistics & Soundbites

large versionA couple years ago, I composed a letter to two media sources correcting the blatantly erroneous and shameful misinformation published regarding feral and outdoor cats. This false statistic has been circulating the interwebs and media for ten years. Of course we keep our feline children strictly indoors, but I cannot stand to see cats, as a species, defamed. Here’s an abstract of my letters:

My husband is a physicist; I’m an author and collegiate English instructor. We have been involved with animal rescue for the past few years. As a scientist, it really irritates my husband when he sees bad statistics misquoted and embellished by the media at large. One horrible lie that’s resulted in the demonization of feral cats is the infamous 450,000 number of kittens from one cat in seven years. This soundbite of stupendous error regarding feline reproduction has been quoted by pro-animal groups, such as Animal Planet and PETA, when it is a statistical impossibility.

The best, hard science source I can pass on to you is this:  JAVMA, Vol 225, No. 9, November 1, 2004. There’s nothing like the solid facts and math to debunk gross misinformation. The exaggerated number of 400,000 something is an urban legend and completely baseless. This is further debunked by several professors of the University of Washington’s Math Department. In looking at the population study in the above article, the consensus was that a more reasonable number would be somewhere between 100 to 400 cats by the end of 7 years. Furthermore, it is very important to remember than even 100 to 400 means that every female cat must be healthy, produce all healthy kittens and live at least 7 years outdoors. We all know that this simply doesn’t happen. All species have natural predators, health issues, and mankind to deal with.

Also, the correct and true facts debunk the gross and often purposefully slanderous numbers floating around regarding cats and bird populations. Popular blog, Vox Felina, addresses and corrects lies regarding cats, which are unfortunately promoted by ignorant environmentalists looking for a scapegoat. Blog author and Arizona State University professor, Peter Wolf, states:  “They claim cats are responsible for killing 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds in the U.S. annually. That represents an astonishing 28.5 to 75.5 percent of the estimated 4.7 billion birds in the entirety of North America.  Were these figures even remotely accurate, there wouldn’t be any more birds in the whole continent. What they’re claiming simply isn’t true. I’m calling attention to it because this kind of paper can cause deep trouble for outdoor cats – people are using it as a lever to justify killing community cats. It’s not right.”

We, of course, believe that all pet parents should spay and neuter. We even have house-bunnies and they are spayed too. However, pet parents should spay and neuter for the health of their furry kids, not because of some erroneous statistics demonizes and blames cats instead of pet owners. This ubiquitous lie is used to excuse the eradication of feral cat colonies and to promote out-right cruelty to cats. Cats who are fixed live longer, healthier and happy lives, especially females. The quality of life for that little bundle of fur should be the primary reason to spay/neuter, not fear-mongering.

As Alley Cat Allies state on their site, “…for more than 10,000 years, cats have lived outdoor lives, sharing the environment with birds and wildlife.” Luckily, we have products and medical technology where we can keep our beloved fur-kids inside, safe from the attacks of humans. Alley Cat Allies is simply pointing out that cats have been here for a long time. Humans did not create a brand new species 60 years ago – we are not gods. However, anyone looking at this oft quoted statistic should be able to realize one thing – if one cat really produced 450,000 in 7 years, after 10,000 years we would – quite literally – be “swimming” in cats.

Please feel free to pass this information around! Too many people willingly believe any and everything they hear or read without doing their own research. No one sees my beloved cats because they are strictly indoors, which I believe to the appropriate place for fur-kids. However, outdoor cats need to be protected from the cruelty and scapegoating of humans.