Stalking big cats may be considered sport in Africa, but in Texas it could put you behind bars. Bird lover James Stevenson, founder of the Galveston Ornithological Society, faced two years in jail and a $10,000 fine for taking aim at feral cats. A retired teacher, Stevenson operates a bed and breakfast that caters to the more than 500,000 birders who come to the Gulf Coast island to enjoy hundreds of bird species. The problem is that feral cats come to the island for the same reason — only their idea of enjoyment includes a mouthful of feathers. When Stevenson decided to take the law into his own hands, he touched off a nationwide debate: birders vs cat lovers. In Texas, the result was a hung jury, but the debate — and the problem — rages on.
Cats are cute and playful — I have four and I keep them indoors where they can’t be a nuisance to my neighbors. I also have a bird feeder in my backyard. The cats and I enjoy watching the birds come to the feeder, though I’m sure for different reasons. Unfortunately, we also have a fair number of feral cats in our neighborhood and they, too, like to watch my feeder. About once or twice a year I find a pile of feathers in the yard that reminds me of the law of nature.
The problem is that feral cats aren’t part of the natural ecosystem. Feral cats have become a serious problem in bird sanctuaries, including those in New Jersey. In a city neighborhood like mine, they can be a downright nuisance: spraying and marking porches and front doors, turning flower beds into litter boxes, leaving fleas on porch swing cushions, and carrying diseases that can be passed to household pets. While I don’t think adding cats to the hunting calendar is the answer, it’s time for communities to take action.