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Volume 15, Issue 36 ~ September 6 - September 12, 2007

Cat Versus Bird

The extremities of advocacy

The problem of cat versus bird is as old as time.

—Adlai Stevenson: 1949

This year for some reason or other the eternal hunt of our beloved cats for our equally beloved feathered friends appears to have created more controversy and has made more news than for as long as I can recall. Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson had reason to say no more on the subject.

The guv — who in several years would be campaigning for the presidency — knew a lose-lose situation when he saw one. Go with the birds and lose millions of votes; go with the cats and lose millions of votes.

Noted for his political courage on just about any issue, Stevenson sidestepped this one. He vetoed a bird protection bill of the Illinois legislature with these words:

The problem of cat versus bird is as old as time. If we attempt to solve it by legislation, who knows but what we may be called upon to take sides as well in the age-old problems of dog versus cat, bird versus bird, and even bird versus worm. The State of Illinois and its local governing bodies already have enough to do without trying to control feline delinquency.

Fine words from a man who later became a noted statesman. But his words weren’t enough. He lost two campaigns against Ike.

The Case of the Cat that Swam

I know a fellow name of Francis up Joppatowne way who is a big loser in his campaign against cats busy chasing and occasionally catching songbirds in his on-the-water backyard. A couple months ago, after he rescued a goldfinch from a neighborhood stray calico — or thought he did (the finch died the next day), he was determined to rid his lawn of the predator.

He offered kids of the neighborhood a dollar for delivery of the cat; a couple days later they delivered and he paid. Then he took the cat, put it in a plastic bag, walked to the end of his pier and tossed it as far as he could. Almost as soon as the bag hit the water, he saw the flimsy plastic grocery bag open and watched the cat swim away. One thing’s for sure: Francis is now on the bandwagon of those who are campaigning to get rid of plastic bags.

But that isn’t the end of the woes of Francis. The cat, though it avoids Francis, frequently visits his back yard, where it does its business — which isn’t really business and so Francis has no choice but to wear gloves when tending to his flowers. Serves him right.

The Case of the Missing Jay

Up here in Riviera Beach in North County, I have a problem with birds, one I can do little about, and I can’t blame all of it on stray cats (my two felines, Zelda Zoo and Karla, are kept indoors).

Normally, I have a dozen blue jays in residence; this year there is but one, a haughty and aggressive bird that seems to enjoy nothing better than grabbing a peanut thrown by me for squirrels. Every time, the blue jay wins.

I don’t think jays face problems with many of the feline species other than tigers. The blue birds are quite cautious and in a scrap they’re no patsies. They don’t give a hoot how big their adversary is. Next time the jay-hunting cat goes looking for dinner, it will choose something smaller.

I recall the time wife Lois’ late father Max Doggendorf, a bird lover, tried to rescue a fledgling blue jay that had fallen from its nest. He was about to put it back in it nest when one of its parents played kamikazi. Max was bald and wearing no hat; his battle scars were evident for weeks.

I’m speculating the dearth of blue jays hereabouts can be attributed in part at least to West Nile disease. They are among the species most vulnerable. What’s more, the recent death of a Cooper’s hawk on the lawn turns out to be blamed on West Nile.

Birds have enough problems without marauding cats.

The Cases of Plovers

At Assateague Island about 20 years ago there was a big controversy when part of the beach was closed to beach buggies to protect an endangered bird species, the piping plover, a favorite among bird watchers. The plovers nested near some of the best sloughs for fishing. In the angler-versus-plover fight, the birds won, but not before things got messy.

Today, plovers bring off their hatches there, and fishermen catch fish — though at nesting time they cannot invade plover territory.

In New Jersey there’s even a bigger hassle along the beaches of Cape May, this time not involving beach buggies and plovers but cats and plovers.

Though the coastal plover population is rebounding, now 1,743 from a low of 722 pairs in 1985, New Jersey’s plover population stands at only 115 nesting pairs.

Assateague has no cats; it’s a barren island. But Cape May is mainland, and so fired up are the bird watchers and cat lovers that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — charged with the protection of all rare and endangered species — might have to intervene.

It’s those who think cats have a right to roam where they please fighting those whose interests are preserving a species in trouble. Fish and Wildlife can regulate where beach buggies go, but how is it possible to send that message to a feline whose tastes run to fluffy, feathered creatures?

The Case of the Frustrated Bird Feeder

All this plays into the hands of humane extremists whose goal is pretty much to spay and neuter all cats. If a family wants a new cat to replace the family pet, they say, go to an animal shelter and pay the price to adopt a homeless kitten or cat. My last two cats came via this route. But to get down to the nitty-gritty, one can appreciate the thinking of those who want the continuity of a new generation descended from their pet cat.

People like Claire Butcher, a 76-year-old grandmother of Lynne, Mass., don’t see it that way. She’s a bird fancier who got the shock of her life when the City Health Department slapped her with a fine for feeding songbirds on her neat lawn.

The tab was $50. Next time, she was told, it would be $1,000.

“I’m an animal lover, that’s the only crime I’m guilty of,” she responded when a health inspector wrote her that feeding birds and squirrels “may be injurious to the public health and is a nuisance, source of filth or cause of sickness.” This lady who spends $125 every two weeks to fill the bellies of her birds and other wildlife has taken her case to court. Will the judge be a cat or bird lover? Or another Adlai Stevenson?

The Judgment

Being a fan of cats, birds and the Stevenson, methinks the solution to felines-versus-birds is obvious. Cats belong indoors, birds on lawns where they can be fed — and never the twain should meet. Enough said.

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