The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Feral felines not for hunting

Chris Kemp

I met her in a barn.

She was tiny enough to fit into the palm of my hand – a tiny swirl of long orange and white fur. At 6 weeks old she already vocalized herself through a cross between a chirp and a cry: “Meh.”

I fell in love as I swooped her up in a towel and brought her and her three siblings into my house – far away from the cold October winds that howled at the metal sheeting of my barn.

I appropriately named her Puff, and I’ve been smitten with her ever since.

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Puff is nearly 3 years old now, and is the epitome of a spoiled house cat. She lounges in sunny windows and snuggles up next to me when I sleep. She has yet to meow, and communicates through a series of chirps.

For the first six weeks of her life, Puff was a feral kitten. On Monday, the Wisconsin Conservation Congress posed the question of legalizing feral cat hunting in the state to those attending annual hearings held in every Wisconsin county. If hunting cats were to be legalized, outdoor cats and kittens that do not have collars, like mine, could be legally shot by hunters.

Puff is not the only kitten born in my barn. By conservative estimates close to 50 kittens have probably been born in there or on our property. We live in the country, and in the country, cats happen.

In our case, we welcomed having cats in our barn for years primarily because we had horses. This necessitated having large barrels of grain and enormous amounts of hay, which act almost as a magnet for rodents and other pests.

Since we picked up our first pair of cats from a local farmer, I have only seen dead mice and rats, which our cats often tenderly lay by our front and back doors. What I have not seen is an abundance of dead birds or piles of feathers lying around.

Part of the reasoning behind some people’s push to open up hunting on feral cats is that they kill songbirds. By some estimates, the roughly 2 million feral cats in the state kill between 7.8 and 219 million birds per year, some of which are considered songbirds.

The cats that live in my barn kill birds. They kill sparrows. They kill starlings. They very rarely kill bluebirds or robins. In essence, they kill “nuisance” birds, which my family would probably have to find other means to control.

While our brood of about 15 cats are sometimes an annoyance, such as when we have to pick four or five of them off the hoods of our cars, by-and-large, they are productive members of our household that are loved. We feed them twice a day and provide medical care for them when they are sick. We try to find litters early to handle and tame them. In many respects, they’re pets.

In a recent article from United Press International, Jessica Frohman, program manager for Alley Cat Allies, a national non-profit clearinghouse for information on feral and stray cats based in Bethesda, Md., said that most feral cats live in a situation similar to mine. They’re fed and healthy.

These are outside cats. They want to be outside. We’ve tried frequently to acclimate adult cats that live in our barn to houses without success.

When we rescued my cat and her littermates, who were born late in the year, we also tried to bring in their mother. She sat in our window and cried until we put her back out. This does not mean that they are wild; it means they prefer the outdoors, much like some dogs do.

Some advocate hunting as a means of population control. The truth is, feral cat populations will control themselves. More kittens often die in their first few weeks of life than survive because of genetics or weather. Many adult cats’ lives are shortened by living through bitterly cold winters and sweltering hot summers.

Good, bad or otherwise the life expectancy of feral cats is not long. In fact, I often marvel that some of our outdoor cats have been with us for upwards of seven years.

I realize there is a need for hunting some species, such as deer, which could cause a safety hazard if populations were uncontrolled. But to kill cats that are probably under the care of farmers is lunacy.

And really, if we are so concerned with population control, maybe we should look at a solution that appeases all people, like live-trapping, neutering or medically euthanizing.

I’m just thankful that our gang of cats stays close to home. The thought of having one of them die of a gun-shot wound because they might kill a songbird someday is atrocious.

Luckily, statewide measures are being taken to ensure that cat hunting is not legalized. At the Eau Claire County meeting that covered the topic, a show of hands revealed that most in attendance were not in favor of the measure, according to an article in Tuesday’s Leader-Telegram.

Let’s hope Eau Claire residents aren’t the only ones who understand the awful consequences of this measure if it is brought to statewide vote.

MacLaughlin is a senior print journalism major and staff writer of The Spectator.

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Feral felines not for hunting