Working Cats

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As we all know, cats are perfect pets and companion animals. They purr, they are fluffy, they are lovable, entertaining and beautiful. They sit on you and sleep on your bed. They talk to you. Cats have nothing but good sides. Right? Well… I have discovered one small drawback to cats. A drawback to cats?? I hear you say! Yes. Well. They like to catch mice and innocent birds from time to time.

Ah. Yes. The hunting instinct. A small inconvenience that we prefer to forget about. Except that some cats make it very hard to forget. One of my house cats is a ferocious hunter. She likes to hunt mice, bugs and geckos. Her specialty are grasshoppers. She likes to bite their back legs off and watch them crawl around stunted, batting at them every now and then. She also catches birds sometimes, young sparrows or even fully grown doves. I do my very best to take them away from her, but she is on to me. She runs off with her prey as I approach.

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Kali, our master huntress, just killed a roll of toiletpaper.

You see that collar she’s wearing, with the little bell on it? It has no effect at all. Besides, she loses it as soon as she possibly can. Her taste for hunting really is a problem, especially at this time of year, when young birds are trying to fly out of their nests and end up on the ground. We try to keep her inside as much as possible, but it is hard in a house with three young children. I do feel guilty, yes, that the birds pay the price for me having this cat.

Interestingly, I only feel guilty towards mice and birds when it concerns my house cats. In my pet zoo, I have two cats that live outside. We adopted them specifically to control the mouse problem, and they are doing their job admirably. There are a lot less mice around, and as mice attract snakes, this summer we fervently hope not to encounter any snakes in the pet zoo. The “barn cats” are called Tseli (shadow) and Stav (autumn). I have seen them catching numerous mice and birds. They also keep the crows on a distance, which is a good side effect. Crows steal our eggs, kill our ducklings and eat the poultry food. So no, I really don’t mind these two cats catching birds.

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(I imagine Tseli and Stav wearing shades and camouflage, like security guards.)

Our “working cats” are by no means unique. There are mouse-catching cats all over the world in farms, stables, cafés, hotels, police stations, building sites and many other places. Many people appreciate their pest-reducing qualities. The domestication of the house cat is rooted in their ability to catch mice, rats and other small animals. As people began to settle down and invented agriculture, the need for mouse control arose. Cats showed up and fit into that gap perfectly. And of course, it helped that they were pretty, cute and cuddly!

The need for effective and environment-friendly rodent control continues to this day. There are even rescue groups who specifically connect cats that are not suitable as pets to people looking for a way to reduce their mouse population, like these: Working Cats Program. For more fun info about working cats in history, have a look at this: Purr-n-Fur Working Cats. Did you know, for instance, that some hotels used to employ cats as bed warmers? 🙂

So, our feline friends’ hunting instinct definitely has its upside. Unfortunately, it also has a downside. Roaming cats can severely damage wildlife populations. It is estimated that cats – feral and house cats – have been responsible for the extinction of at least 33 species of birds worldwide. There is even a story of a pet cat, Tibbles, who is said to have wiped out the entire population of the Stephens Island Wren single-handedly.

The only effective way to stop your cats hunting seems to be to keep them inside permanently. Unfortunately, this is virtually impossible for me with our lifestyle – half in, half outside, and the door is always open. Besides, the number of feral cats around here is far greater than the number of house cats. It seems to me that the most effective way to protect small wildlife is to control the population of feral cats. And the only right way to do that is by trap-neuter-release programs. I do my bit, adopt and neuter some strays, try to limit their wildlife-damaging activities, and hope that one day, the feral cat problem will be taken seriously.

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Tseli might be a good mouse hunter, but she can’t take on a fully grown New Zealand rabbit.
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30 thoughts on “Working Cats

  1. In Australia they are contemplating making it illegal to let cats outside, because of this problem. But this is a human problem, not a cat one. They can’t control natural instincts, it’s our responsibility as pet owners to do small things, like don’t let the cat out early in the morning, and remember to bring them inside before sunset. cats are nocturnal so they are a lot better at hunting at night. And in all reality, it should be a rule to get your cat neutered, if you can’t afford to do basic things like de-sexing then you shouldn’t really own animals.

    1. What’s more wrong is letting a female cat breed and breed until their deathbed, then abandoning kittens on the street when the cat has gotten pregnant too many times, and there are too many to look after, so they end up in shelters (or as strays) where they sometimes have to be put down due to lack of space in the shelter. Human stupidity never ceases to amaze me sometimes.

  2. Painful process of educating cat owners to get their cats fixed. Reduce the number of cats being dumped and therefore feral cats. Jamima is a mostly indoor cat. The backyard which is enclosed and she is now too fat and lazy to climb the fence(lucky for us both). She has great voice ewes for the Windows and due to her anxiety(I believe a natural temperament of a tortoise) birds actually freak her out. She is definitely not a mouser and I’m not complaining. No two cats the same.

  3. I understand the ewwww factor completely. 🙂

    Every once in a while I’ll find a dead rat near the front steps, a gift from one of my furry felines. But there’s nothing like waking up to a dead bird a few feet away from you that a proud kitty has brought you as a gift.

    To see them walk, sleep, and leisurely eat, you would never suspect that my boys are such gifted hunters.

    1. It’s more like the “oh shit my cats are hunting birds to extinction” factor! 😛 But yes definitely not a very nice sight first thing in the morning! LOL

  4. I love that my cat Blue is such a great hunter, except when he bothers the birds. Rodents can become a problem quickly. Blue keeps them away from us. Go Blue.

  5. I have three cats. THREE! All indoor. Do you think they did anything about the mouse (possibly mice) I had in my home two years ago? Nope. Not a thing! In fact, I wrote a blog about their dismal failure. haha I swear they were in cahoots with the mouse, and would tell it where the traps (humane ones only) were!

  6. We used to have a mouser and so we put a bell on her collar. She learned quickly how to walk without making it jangle. The solution? 2 bells! Try putting another bell on the cat collar and she if this helps

  7. Have you ever checked out this account — https://www.facebook.com/CATMANTOO? I follow it on Facebook. This bloke lives in Australia. He’s a cat trainer, and what he has his cats doing is WONDERFUL. I LOVE witnessing what they do (like skateboard, surfing the waves, riding on the back of a dog, riding in the basket of his bike.) Have you seen these cats? 🙂

  8. Yes Marc. I read it and love it. I can relate WELL to this whole story and post. Great, great job! The photography is just outstanding and priceless too. Thanks so much for sharing this with Cat Lover Group. We are mostly ALL cat crazy; “we’ve got CAT CLASS and we’ve got cat STYLE”! Right? I have gotta just love this post!

  9. Before Blossum and Petals, we lived in the country and had Paco. Paco was an inside/outside kitty and quite the hunter. He was so, so lovable to us, but good thing I wasn’t a bird. He’d go out even in the winter and gingerly walk thru deep snow, over to the dog house and sit inside…..waiting. In the spring, I’d feel terribly cleaning out the dog house from all the feathers. But we’d say, “there goes Paco, to the office today” as he strolled across the yard. I guess it’s their nature.

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