Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cat fight

No, New Zealand is not about to ban cats. No, it’s not a “thing”. Yes, there really are serious issues, but, no, they won’t get discussed.

Yesterday, economist Gareth Morgan really sent the fur flying when it was revealed he’d set up a website saying that New Zealand should eliminate cats over time. "That little ball of fluff you own is a natural-born killer," the site declares. “Every year cats in New Zealand destroy our native wildlife. The fact is that cats have to go if we really care about our environment.” He then asks people to pledge to make their current cat the last one they own.

This was transformed into, as the NZ Herald titled their story, “Morgan calls for cats to be wiped out”, and people said he wanted to kill cats. Is that fair? Well, yes, actually.

On his site’s FAQ, the very first question is, “So are you suggesting that I just go out and have my cat euthanised?” The answer begins, “Not necessarily but that is an option.” In fact, if he got his way, it would be required in some form.

Morgan wants people to spay and neuter their cats (everyone does—or should—agree with that). He wants cats registered and microchipped, as dogs are. He wants people to keep their cats inside 24 hours a day, which is unheard of in New Zealand (when I arrived in New Zealand and mentioned cats were kept inside in Chicago, I was made fun of).

But the most lethal part is that Morgan wants people to pledge to never own another cat. If they did, and demand for cats dropped, obviously the unwanted cats would have to be killed. So, somewhere along the line, yes, cats would be killed.

Kiwis aren’t going to listen to him—not even his neighbours. In fact, most people merely made fun of him—as loudly as possible, it seemed to me, judging by social media. There were plenty of critics, and some were more forceful; the types who ring talkback radio, well, they were less humorous, we’ll say.

On Twitter, I referred to this as a “tempest in a litterbox” once the story went international and my American friends started asking me about it. That’s because the idea is dead on arrival. Which is a shame, because there’s actually some validity in what Morgan says.

Cats have, indeed, had huge negative effects on native wildlife—not just birds, but reptiles and insects, too. On the other hand, they’ve also helped to control rodents, and rodents eat the eggs of native birds. So, it’s not as simple as cat = natural born killer, as Morgan puts it.

There are sensible things amid his more hated suggestions. Cats should be spayed and neutered, and they should wear a bell when they go outside (because it alerts birds to give them time to get away). And, people should think twice about whether they really need a cat. We wouldn’t have one now, but Bella adopted us (and, for the record, she’s never killed anything and very rarely leaves the house or yard, though she’s free to do so whenever she wants to).

Gareth Morgan is frequently similarly curmudgeonly, and often coughs up rhetorical furballs that rile people up for no apparent reason. Just today, he attacked fans of the Phoenix professional soccer team he co-owns in Wellington. In the past, he’s attacked people for owning a home. So, this is basically standard for him.

As Kiwis dismiss his suggestion, they’ll also dismiss the things they could and should do to protect the environment—shoot the messenger AND the message. In this case, I don’t think that either is called for. But it was kind of a dumb campaign to launch.

The photo of Bella, above, is from September last year. Right now, she's too busy sleeping and dreaming of being a natural born, sadistic serial killer to pose for photos.


Jason in DC said...

Who knew I had such a terrible menace in my home. Well actually I have two Charlie and Linus.

As you say there are some good points to be made, like not having the cats go outside. As a vet told me keeping your cat inside increases its life expectancy greatly.

I saw the story on Slate and the comments were hysterical.

Just keep one eye open when you sleep you never know when they might strike!

Arthur Schenck said...

Actually, Bella has been known to sit and stare at us when we're sleeping, and if that doesn't wake us up, she'll bat at us—with claws—so we'll go give her some food. Mind you, she's also been known to press her cold nose against ours or lick our cheek, so she has many methods.

It's an interesting thing about keeping cats inside. I think it's mostly about avoiding dangers, like cars (especially in cities), but also diseases they can pick up or poisons they might encounter. But I'm pretty sure that MOST Kiwis would think it was insane to keep a cat inside 24/7. Still, at least in areas with vulnerable wildlife, it does seem prudent.

I kept my cat-related puns to a minimum in this post, but much of New Zealand's mainstream news media was not so restrained, which kind of shows how silly everyone thought Gareth was.