Infest the Waters: A Blog About Design, Life and Making Stuff


Stray cat on porch of 4101 Spring Garden Street

This morning, I let the dog out in the backyard to do his business and discovered that one of the neighborhood felines had dug a hole and taken a crap in the middle of my vegetable garden.  FOR THE SECOND TIME THIS WEEK.  When the first incident occurred earlier this week, I took to Facebook to complain about what happened and suggest that perhaps I was planning on poisoning the neighborhood cats.  Of course, I knew I was inviting the ire of that special breed of human who believes that cats are God’s gift to the earth and we should try to save every last one of them, even if that means we turn the planet into one big litter box.  (Fair warning: If you happen to be one of these people and are easily offended, you may want to stop reading at this point.)

And I did get a number of feline-friendly, but completely useless, suggestions about what I should do.  In fact, when I’ve lamented the cat situation in my neighborhood before, I’ve usually gotten the same battery of useless responses.  Let’s take a look at them.

  1. Cat Hotel - 4101 Spring Garden StreetYou should talk to the owners.  Um, that might work if there actuallywere owners.  These cats are strays–some feral–and there are no owners.  As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, to make matters worse, my neighbor has set up a cat hotel on his front porch.  (See picture on right–oddly devoid of cats at the moment I took the picture, but you get the idea.)  He feeds the cats, gives them shelter, watches them mate (I wish I were kidding.), and does nothing to control their population.
  2. Try citrus peels.  Tried that.  It doesn’t work.  I’ve also tried hot pepper.  It also doesn’t work.  I even went to the trouble to spend $40 on an ultrasonic cat repeller device.  It worked for a little while, and then it was stolen from my front yard.  That’s how it works in West Philly.
  3. Call animal control.  BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!  In Philly?  Are you kidding me?  Have you heard about Philly’s animal control?  Besides which, I’ve called them on my neighbor in the past, and when I tried to follow up (because of course they don’t bother to let you know if they’ve been out to investigate), I couldn’t get a real person.
  4. Get a trap and take them to a shelter.  Why should I have to waste my time doing this when I haven’t caused the problem?  Plus, I don’t even like the damn animals.

As far as I’m concerned, no one would suggest any of these solutions if we just called these stray cats what they actually are–vermin.

 And really, that’s exactly what they are.  They dig in the garden, like squirrels.  They can carry disease, like rats.  They get into the garbage, like possum and raccoons.  And maybe even worse than all of these things, they defecate wherever they please.  And in fact, their feces can be toxic to the point where the CDC even warns pregnant women against the risks of cleaning a litter box.

It’s acceptable to poison rats and mice and dispose of raccoons and possum with whatever means necessary.  And as a society, we’ve long held the belief that packs of stray dogs are a danger, and they need to be “managed.”  What about herds of stray cats?  Somehow society has deemed it unthinkable–and in many cases, a crime–to kill a cat.  According to the Philadelphia Animal Control website, they’ll respond to dogs running at large, but they won’t respond to complaints about feral cats.  In fact, they encourage you to trap-neuter-return these animals.  Well, let me ask you this.  Would you trap a possum and take it to a shelter to have it neutered and returned to your neighborhood?  No?  So what’s the difference?  They’re all vermin.

And I don’t buy the argument that they’re controlling the rodent population.  I easily have dozens of stray cats roaming my neighborhood, and this spring I had a steady stream of mice parading through my kitchen.  In fact, for several days I was catching three mice a day.  Where were all of those “helpful” cats then?  And let’s not forget about all the other native wildlife, like songbirds, that they’re actually detrimental to.  A 2010 study released by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln cites that cats kill an estimated 480 million birds per year.  (That same study also reports that house mice are more abundant in areas with cats.)  It also suggests that lethal methods are essential to a good feral cat management program.

Let me be clear.  I don’t have a problem with domesticated cats owned by responsible pet owners who don’t let them defecate in their neighbors’ vegetable gardens.  In fact, when I was a kid, I loved cats so much that I even subscribed to Cat Fancy magazine.  But the cats in my neighborhood aren’t that kind of cat.

In the course of the lively discussion on Facebook about my neighborhood cat problem, I did receive a few suggestions that might actually be helpful–putting chicken wire over my garden and calling a local news station about my neighbor.  The chicken wire is kind of a nuisance to me, but clearly no more so than the repeated defecation.

And of course, if all else fails, there’s always the other solution that was suggested–get a .22.  That’s legal in West Philly, right?

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