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Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer Hardcover – September 20, 2016
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One of Forbes.com's 10 Best Conservation and Environment Books of 2016
"We know that nature's theater bristles with industrious carnivores and omnivores--hawks that pluck cardinals right off a bird feeder, squirrels that grab eggs from crows' nests, and crows that grab babies from squirrels' nests. What makes free-ranging cats such an exceptionally dangerous threat to birds and other wildlife? The book describes a number of factors."--Natalie Angier, New York Review of Books
"Peter Marra and Chris Santella base their case in the end on an appeal to the scientific evidence, which they set out as calmly as they can. . . . What they fear most, however, is the inaction of ordinary, decent people who have just not grasped how quickly the tapestry of the world's ecology is unravelling before our eyes."--Jeremy Mynott, Times Literary Supplement
"Marra and Santella thoughtfully examine the severe ecological damage caused by feral cats and outdoor pet cats. Highly readable. . . . Cat lovers are presented in a sympathetic light throughout, making the book worth reading no matter a reader's position on free-ranging cats."--Publishers Weekly
"This deeply researched overview by conservation scientist Peter Marra and writer Chris Santella interlaces discussions of feline domestication and avian conservation with the science of decline and of feline spillover diseases."--Nature
"Marra and Santella make an impassioned plea for action in this compelling report on an often overlooked threat."--Scientific American
"Cat Wars is a work of commanding reasonableness, with plenty of facts and figures and the testimonies of experts to support its unpalatable conclusions. There are some fascinating digressions, too, including sympathetic profiles of activists on both sides of the debate in the U.S."--The Australian
"Cat Wars has a broader, more ecological focus, documenting the global impact of cats on wildlife, both by preying on animals and by transmitting diseases. . . . Marra and Santella explore the solutions (keeping cats indoors, catios--an enclosed area outside the home--and killing strays). . . . This is an important and eye-opening book that clearly says: 'keep Tiddles a house cat.'"--Adrian Barnett, New Scientist
"Cat Wars is valuable that it calls to attention a huge problem (set of problems, really) of which many people have, hitherto, been unaware--or ignored."--10,000 Birds Blog
"Cat Wars, a brilliantly crafted book, describes numerous scientific studies that link bird disappearance to free-ranging feral domestic cats."--NSTA Recommends
"TNR advocates and birders with outdoor cats are encouraged to read this book."--Birdwatcher's Digest
"This necessary book provides the science-based case for removal of free-roaming house cats from our environment. . . . If you are unfamiliar with these important issues, you should find this book a useful starting point."--Gerry Rising, Buffalo Spree
"Cat Wars covers not only the data corroborating the problems posed by loose cats but also the people involved in the story. Marra and Santella interview researchers and activists on both sides. The readers learns of efforts to bridge differences between factions, so the massive mortality caused by cats can be effectively reduced. This is a well-written summary of a complicated problem that deserves great attention."--Joel Greenberg, BirdWatching Magazine
"In this book, the authors provide a detailed examination of the threats to global biodiversity, the environment and public health posed by free-ranging cats. They describe many scientific studies that use population modelling, feline diseases and extinctions, and they share the history of how small, but extremely vocal, special interest groups successfully prevent any action being taken to deal with the vast population explosions of feral and free-roaming cats. Cat Wars examines this complex global issue and proposes scientifically sound real-world solutions to this problem. This painstakingly researched and readable book is a must-read for all pet owners (whether you have a cat or not) and is an iron-clad argument that the best thing for local wildlife, people and the cats themselves is for cat owners to keep their pets indoors, always."--Forbes.com, a "10 Best Conservation and Environment Books of 2016"
From the Back Cover
"Very few people enjoy thinking about the calamitous problem of free-roaming cats and biodiversity, and even fewer dare to talk about it openly. Marra and Santella's book is therefore doubly welcome. It's not only important reading for anyone who cares about nature. With its engaging storytelling, its calmly scientific approach, and its compassionate handling of a highly fraught issue, this is also a book that a person might actually read for pleasure."--Jonathan Franzen
"Cats, most of them unowned free-ranging cats, kill as many as four billion birds in the United States each year. What, if anything, should be done about it? Cat Wars tackles this difficult dilemma. If you are a cat lover, a bird lover, a philosopher, an ethicist, or just anyone interested in gut-wrenching dilemmas, you will find this a gripping book."--Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel
"Here, at last, is what native-ecosystem advocates have been waiting for--a complete, dispassionate examination of America's free-ranging cat debacle. It's all here--from the horrendous bird mortality to the cat-borne pathogens blighting wildlife and humans to the cruelty and futility of Trap-Neuter-Return. Everyone gets to speak--including the feral-cat lobby."--Ted Williams, environmental journalist
"The level-tempered approach of Cat Wars will win many advocates. Anyone interested in the broader topics of a healthy environment and healthy human society will benefit from reading this book. It's as powerful as TV ads featuring the 'crying Indian' in the antilittering campaign of the early 1970s."--Bill Thompson III, editor of Bird Watcher's Digest
"In Cat Wars, Peter Marra and Chris Santella lay out the extraordinary (and extraordinarily devastating) toll that America's favorite pet inflicts on America's favorite birds. At a time when native bird populations are in desperate trouble, and the number of free-ranging cats has never been higher, the authors bring clear-eyed science and commonsense solutions to one of the most polarizing issues in avian conservation. This is an important book, even if the message is not a comfortable one."--Scott Weidensaul, author of Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds
"A great overview of a complex and often emotional challenge. Cat Wars unravels yet another layer of the global decline in biodiversity and frames the potentially drastic consequences of inaction."--Grant Sizemore, American Bird Conservancy
"Cat Wars is a brave, engaging, and careful accounting of the cats we love and the devastation they inflict on birds and other wildlife."--John M. Marzluff, author of Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife
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Top Customer Reviews
I have absolutely loved cats since I was a child, but my cats have been indoor cats since 1975. That’s when the first ovenbird (a type of warbler) that I ever saw was in the mouth of one of my then-outdoor cats. As a beginning birder, I was horrified and got the ovenbird away from my cat. I released the ovenbird, but it probably died as my cat had punctured its belly. From that point on, all of my cats, including my current beloved cat, have been indoor cats.
Cat Wars is a much-needed, clearly written book because it scientifically documents and quantifies the devastation caused by outdoor cats, whether they are owned or feral. All outdoor cats are subsidized non-native predators that kill 2.4 billion birds in the U.S. each year. Yes, native birds face so many threats, from loss of essential habitat to collisions with automobiles and windows, but killing by cats is completely preventable and needs to be stopped immediately.
Indoor cats are healthier because they don’t get into fights with other cats or killed by native predators like coyotes and great horned owls or hit by vehicles. Trap, neuter and return (TNR) is ineffective at reducing the number of feral cats – read p. 135 – 137 in the book for specific details of extensive university studies.
Politics, religion...and cats. Our feline friends have worked their way on to the list of subjects that are taboo within polite conversation.
I've experienced it myself. When hanging out with otherwise like-minded people, the topic of outdoor cats can split the room in unpredictable ways between the five star folks and the one star folks.
It isn’t obvious why managing cats has become such a touchy issue. Regrettably, our society is ceaselessly brutal to animals -- whether it be the pigs, chickens and cows we eat or the wild fish and bycatch we commercially persecute. Why do cats stand out? I suppose it is because we live with cats and therefore empathize with them. The brutality of industrial farming and fishing is kept out of sight and out of mind. It is tougher to empathize with a bluefin tuna.
I have a cat (like many five star reviewers here), so I've got some empathy too. I admit that I know my cat would be happier outside (even though he lives a mostly content life as an indoor cat). But letting a cat loose outside should not be a personal decision guided by one's own moral compass. The problem with the personal choice to let one's cat roam outdoors is that this choice infringes on everyone else's right to live in a world that has plenty of native wild animals in it.
The decision to keep a cat indoors or to turn it loose to maraud our native wildlife is akin to every commercial fisherman being offered the opportunity to personally decide how many fish to take home. That is a risky management strategy! It's likely that many a fisherman's moral compass would point toward "as many as I can catch," leaving fewer fish in the world for the rest of us and our descendents.
When it comes to cats outdoors, the notion of personal entitlement is trumping the public good. And that public good is to keep nature intact to the maximum extent possible (given our many human foibles).
Dogs are no longer allowed to roam free (in most places by law), but this is likely because free-ranging dogs infringe on our personal safety. The harm that leashless packs of dogs might do to the environment is a secondary concern.
Rather than a few short walks on a leash that this policy mandates, I am sure a dog would be much happier roaming around the neighborhood all day. But society has come to the conclusion that, at the expense of dog’s ultimate fulfillment, we collectively don’t want to live in a world where the streets run wild with other people’s dogs (not to mention feral dogs).
Imagine if domestic cats were just a little bigger and fiercer... in this scenario, outdoor "catios" would be common and a wandering outdoor cat would quickly be reported to animal control.
As the authors note, it is difficult for the average cat owner to believe that billions of animals are wiped out by cats every year. Our senses are simply not equipped to perceive such a subtle yet far-reaching phenomenon.
But we can look to white-tailed deer as an analog. The equally subtle work of deer browsing can vastly change the plant composition of ecosystems as varied as old growth forests and backyard gardens. And the changes deer wreak on plants translate to consequences for other animals (including birds). With the aid of science that helps us understand this difficult-to-perceive phenomenon, we collectively have bought into the reality that deer are a powerful force of change in nature. Now deer management is geared toward making sure populations are maintained at sustainable levels (in the absence, these days, of any predator other than humans).
In a given suburban neighborhood, without management, we could have deer quietly browsing the habitat away and cats quietly browsing the birds and small mammals away. The Rambunctious Garden can become awfully lonely place if we let all of this continue.
Feral cat colonies represent the extreme expression of cat advocacy's infringement on the rights of nature and the present and future generations of people that wish to enjoy it. In a dune near my home, there is a publicly-sanctioned feral cat population. Compassionate folks provide all sorts of accommodations for the cats. The dunes are studded with hand-made wooden hutches where the cats can take refuge from the heat, cold and rain. There are dishes of cat food and water scattered about in the matted down vegetation.
By the entrance to the colony, there is a table that looks like a Santería shrine, replete with a weathered statue of the Virgin Mary, rotisserie chicken carcasses and gallon jugs of water. And, yes, there are the bones of the dead. A cursory inspection of the colony grounds reveals the remains of small animals throughout -- feathers, fur, and bone in various states of decomposition.
And then there are the cats.
Are they sleek and healthy like my indoor cat? No, these feral colony cats look like hell. Imagine the feline version of Dorothea Lange's portraits of human survivors of the Dust Bowl.
Why we should afford near-human rights to cats, to the exclusion of most other animals (wild and domestic), really is a question for ethicists. I've read a round up of opinions on the cat issue from animal ethicists, but they often consider cats in isolation from other animal rights issues.
A common refrain across the Amazon one-star reviews that favor keeping cats outdoors and feral is that, "There are a lot of other human enterprises that kill birds. Why single out cats?" To that, I say, "Why single cats out as sacrosanct -- treating them as our sacred cows -- while other animals receive less respectful treatment?"
Although we ought to treat all animals with respect and humanity, part of managing animals is killing them. This has been a matter of course during our long human history as animal domesticators, farmers, hunters and fishermen.
As we grapple with reconciling human population growth and development with the needs of the Earth's ecosystems (conservation biology in a nutshell), we bear a particular responsibility to manage those animal populations that have an unnatural distribution or population trajectory as a result of human activities. If those populations are causing undue harm to the ecosystem, we must be willing to take action.
We need to manage deer populations because we eliminated their predators. We need eradicate introduced non-native rats from islands because they are driving seabirds extinct. And we need use humane means to reduce and eliminate introduced non-native feral cat populations because they are having a profound impact on bird and other small animal populations. Simplest of all, we need to keep our pet cats indoors.
Thanks to Peter Marra and Chris Santella, this important conversation has been brought to the fore. I hope Cat Wars sparks many more uncomfortable dinner party conversations across the country and the world. Maybe after these conversations, some of us will move to the middle and offer this book three stars instead of one. More importantly, I hope this dialog generates a change in our collective mindset that will convey some of the same compassion that our cats enjoy to wildlife as well.
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