In Canada, as in many countries, domestic cats are a major cause of garden bird mortality. But with a little adjustment, it’s possible to create an environment that is safer and healthier for felines and finches alike. BirdLife Partner Nature Canada’s Cats & Birds campaign shows you how
For cat owners, is there a more comforting sound in the entire world than the satisfying ‘ker-chunk’ of the cat flap?
After hours of worrying what Tiddles has been up to while she roams around the neighbourhood, that reassuring clack-clack indicates that your beloved has finally returned to the warmth and safety of your home. But sometimes, she doesn’t return alone. Sometimes, to the horror of the owner, Tiddles bears in her teeth an unwanted gift – a dead (or worse, half-dead) garden bird.
Cats are born predators, so there’s no point in chastising them for doing something that comes naturally for them. Instead, owners have to accept that they are responsible for bringing a domesticated animal into their home and feeding it, and thus they are responsible for its actions.
Putting a bell on your cat’s collar is a simple and well-known way to limit the mischief your pet gets up to while it frolics outside, but Nature Canada (BirdLife Partner) suggests that cat owners should consider going further still, and wean their cats away from roaming around outdoors unsupervised altogether.
Sacrilege? To many cat owners, putting limits on their pets’ freedom will seem exactly that. But, as Nature Canada’s Cats & Birds campaign is keen to impress on the Canadian public, reigning in your cat doesn’t just saves birds’ lives – it also helps keep your pet safe and healthy, too. “We partner with organizations such as the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies,” says Project Manager Sarah Cooper, “precisely because they’ve been recommending keeping cats from roaming unsupervised for years, purely for the well-being of the cats.”
The Cats & Birds initiative was set up to increase public awareness of the risks to cats and birds of the common practice of allowing cats to roam unsupervised. Outdoor cats are exposed to disease, vehicle collisions and scraps with other cats and wildlife, not to mention the risk of getting lost. Cats are more often abandoned by their owners, and there are twice as many cats as dogs in Canada’s shelters. While an estimated 30% of dogs are reclaimed by owners, the same can be said of less than 5% of cats. More than 17,000 cats were euthanized in Canada in 2015 because they could not find homes.
And that’s just the toll in the shelters. In 2012 alone, more than 1,300 dead cats were collected from the streets of Toronto, Ontario. That’s why author Margaret Atwood, (former co-chair of BirdLife’s Rare Birds Committee) published a graphic novel series in tandem with Nature Canada’s campaign. Atwood describes Angel Catbird as a “walking, talking carnivore’s dilemma” whose conflict – “do I save this baby robin, or do I eat it?” — illuminates both sides of the issue.’
All things considered, preventing your cat from going outside unsupervised seems a win-win situation – saving the lives of both birds and, potentially, Tiddles. But cats are notorious free spirits. Can they ever be convinced to embrace the indoor life? The answer is yes, and Nature Canada has five tips to help you get started.
1. Make the transition gradually
Many cat experts agree that a gradual approach to indoor life is best. If your cat currently spends most of his or her time outdoors, bring it in for increasingly longer spells.
If you can synchronise the transition period with the beginning of winter, then all the better – since cats prefer warm, dry places. By time spring is sprung, your cat could be a full-on convert to indoor living!
2. Make the indoor environment stimulating
The more stimulating you can make your house for your cat, the less it is likely to want to roam outside. The Cats & Birds website has plenty of great ideas to keep your cat amused – from building a DIY cat shelf so it can peer out and survey the outdoors, to food puzzles, which allow them to express their instincts in a productive manner.
Scratching posts, cat furniture and interactive play are also positive ways to keep your cat stimulated and happy.
3. Consider if your cat is a candidate for harness training
It seems unlikely (and might earn you a few double glances from the neighbours at first!), but yes – many cats can indeed be trained to walk with a harness. (It’s best to use a harness rather than a collar and leash, which can cause injury to the cat).
Check the video below to see if this is an option for your pet:
4. Invest in a cat enclosure – or ‘catio’
If you have a nice big garden, there’s no reason why your cat shouldn’t still be able to enjoy the great outdoors. Buying (or creating) a cat enclosure gives them a protected outdoor space to run around in. In Canada, ‘catios’ can be purchased from outlets such as Habitat Haven (Ontario-based) and Catscape (British Colombia).
5. Cat-proof your garden
Finally, cat-proof mesh fencing helps not only keep your cat in your yard, but also keep others out. Purr…fect Fence’s pivoted arched design is sold both as a free-standing fence, or as an extension to existing fences. Cat Fence-In, who ship worldwide, also sell guards that stop cats climbing trees.
For more information about Nature Canada’s Cats & Birds campaign, please visit their website at catsandbirds.ca