To die as a feral cat is to die so ignobly that your existence might as well have been nonexistence.
This feral cat fell to the motor car sometime earlier this summer. The maggots and carrion beetles made quick work of its flesh, and the sun pelting down upon the bones is bleaching them so white. All that remains of its tabby pelt is the hide on the face, which retains the striped markings of the generic wildcat in domestication.
We dream of cats now. The digital era has unleashed an epoch of cat worshiping not seen since the Egyptians. The urban and techy and prole youth are forced to forsake the noble dog for the ersatz carnivoran companion, and some do so willingly, because they like an animal with felid autonomy and wit, which a true dog person like me would never be able to appreciate.
But for every cat that is loved and coddled, at least one is out there trying to make a go of life as a wild animal. They are not so far removed from their Lybica wildcat ancestors to have lost their wild instincts and essence, and although we’ve certainly produced a few domestic strains that wouldn’t last five minutes in the wild, the vast majority of cats born into this world are still very much what their ancestors were.
And we can romanticize their wildness, their proclivities that allow such feral lives, but we cannot gloss over the fact that a domestic wildcat gone feral lives the life of a mesopredator. It is not the tiger of any urban jungle or farmstead. It is a predator that targets the small and the meek, for it is a small and meek predator.
Coyote jaws and speeding cars take out so many cats, as do the various communicable diseases that sweep through cat populations.
We love this animal, yet we allow so many of them to live such terror-filled and fleeting lives. We must surely be doing better by this species than we were several decades ago, but the vast throng of ferals living at the edges of our civilization are still with us.
And they will always be with us. So long as people let their queens roam and get bred in the great outdoors and so long as those same queens drop their kittens in the wild, never giving them a chance to become imprinted upon people, there will always be a supply to fill feral cat colonies.
And the cars and the coyotes and the feline leukemia and distemper will take out the excess.
And we’ll claim to love our cats and post beyond stupid memes about them online, and we’ll still cast a blind eye.
The crisis of cats is a big part of the pet overpopulation problem, such that it exists. Yes, I would totally agree that our frame about pet overpopulation has been misguided and stupid for quite a long time. I generally support the goals of the No Kill movement, but I think that those goals can be applied only to dogs.
Dogs don’t readily breed out in the wild, and no place has the same tolerance for big populations of free-roaming or feral dogs as currently exists for feral cats.
It is always said that cats are more popular than dogs, but this statement is misleading, at least as it applies to Americans. More homes in the US have dogs than have cats, which is a better metric of which animal is actually more popular. It’s just that there is a larger population of cats as a whole. If you like cats, you can keep scores of them, and no one will ever know. Dogs require some public display of their existence, and they are a lot more work than any cat.
So many cats are born feral and can never become socialized to humans, and the only hope for these cats is that they are part of one of those TNR programs. I remain hotly skeptical of TNR, simply because this problem is next to unsolvable, even with dedicated people trapping, vaccinating, and neutering thousands of ferals every year.
And I am leaving out the ecological aspect of what goes on with this most permissible and innocuous of mesopredator release.
This problem is usually trivialized with the wonderful fallacy of relative privation. Cats might kill billions of birds and small mammals, but cars and pollution and deforestation kill more. True, of course, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that cats still kill all those animals, and if we had more rational and humane policies towards these animals we claim to love, we would not become so defensive.
And the cars, at least, do take out quite a few cats, as the bones of this poor customer reveal to anyone with a bit of curiosity.
But the cars pass its bleaching bones and rarely cast a glance in his direction. For these are the bones of another feral cat that died so ignobly that he might as well have never been born. And so he is forgotten and the wheels keep turning.
And each night the wheels keep turning and taking out the surplus in this Malthusian world of the feral feline.