A CAT PREDATION DEBATE IN 1914
Between June and August 1914, a debate was conducted in the form of letters “To the Editor of the New York Times”. What began as a plea to humanely destroy cats rather than abandon them to starve in the summer, turned into a vehement rant against cats as bird destroyers.
Cats Turned Out to Starve.
Will you kindly let me say a word again about heartless people who every year close their houses and turn the family cat out to starve. I found one almost dead from starvation under my window yesterday . Will you please publish this, that all who read it may know that the Bide a Wee Home, 410 East Thirty-Eighth Street, this city, will take and care for any unwanted or sick animal? There is absolutely no excuse for turning a pet cat out to starve in the streets, and anyone must be cruel indeed, who can do it.
MLS. New York. May 16, 1914.
When Summer comes we who remain in town are constantly distressed by the sight of deserted cats, whose very number makes it impossible to care for them all. If the people who leave their pets to the mercy of chance could see how they fare, I believe that even their thoughtless hearts would be softened, and they would realize how much kinder it is to destroy them quickly than to leave them to the hunger and loneliness that is their fate unless they "turn wild" and prey upon the birds in the Park.
Such people deserve social ostracism, but few of us are hardy enough to pose as mentors. We can, however, use gentle suasion and such influence as we have to put a stop to this cruel practice. We can also send suffering animals to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and rest assured that they will be disposed of speedily and without pain.
E.S. Willard. New York. June 12, 1914.
This plea was answered by the President of the New York Women’s League for Animals, detailing their activities in the city, and by a writer who recommended the introduction and enforcement of cat licences.
A Shelter for Deserted Cats.
We are very much interested in the article published June 18 under the caption "Deserted Cats." I am sure it will interest all your readers to know that our league maintains a temporary shelter both in Tompkins Square Park and Seward Park where homeless, unwanted and deserted animals may be brought. We have continued this work from year to year and last season alone we rescued upward of 10,000 animals.
Mrs. James Speyer, President New York Women's League for Animals. New York. June 24, 1914.
Cat Licenses Urged.
May I suggest that the problem of the desertion of cats would perhaps be at least partially solved if the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals would interest itself to the extent of enforcing the now disregarded ordinance which covers the Borough of Brooklyn if not the Greater City and provides that all cats shall be licensed?
If every one owning a cat were obliged the pay therefor a nominal license the value thus set might eliminate the practise of keeping cats solely for children to torture or for adults to enjoy during the Winter and to starve to death in Summer.
I.M.M. Brooklyn, N.Y. June 27, 1914.
Roaming Cats a Nuisance.
Reading the article headed "Cat Licenses Urged," by one of your correspondents, I felt encouraged to let my grievances be known. I have a small piece of ground at the back part of my house where I try to grow a few flowers, &c. The cats are delighted with it, and make common use of it for their pleasure and convenience, committing nuisances by destroying my plants and leaving deposits of filth, even at the front door of my residence. Why should I suffer for the pleasure of cat owners? All I ask is that the cat lovers keep them at home and not send them out to be cared for by others.
James Lindsay. New York. July 5, 1914.
Evidently conscious that a cat should not be abandoned when the family go away for summer (as was common for more affluent households), the next respondent appealed for a home for her 4 month old cat. She described Dixie Daw, his birth and his personality in a style common at that time, but twee by modern standards. Unfortunately, this letter provoked a fierce exchange of letters either condemning or defending the cat.
Needs a Home for A Cat.
An Appeal to Cat Lovers on Behalf of Dixie Daw.
This is an appeal on behalf of Dixie Daw, who is a "Better Cat," although he has received no prize for it. Dixie is in need of a home.
Dixie's mistress is obliged to leave the city, to be gone some time, and her only trouble is to find a home for him. It must be, however, a "Better Home." In addition to having his regular rations, Dixie must receive daily a certain modicum of loving affection and kind treatment. To this he has been accustomed, and for it his gentle heart would pine. Therefore no other than a real cat lover need apply. To any one possessing the proper qualifications, however, full right and title to Dixie will be turned over.
Like most of the Better Babies, Dixie is no aristocrat. His mother is Kittie Daw, an intelligent black and white, with a home on Lexington Avenue. Dixie himself has a handsome coal-black coat with the suggestion of a white necktie and beautiful yellow eyes. It must be admitted, however, that he will rank only about 98 per cent. among cat beauties. This is because of a long, thin, plebian tail and ears too large to be counted as a good point. But then, in intelligence, disposition, and character Dixie is perfect. His mistress says so, and, says she: "Dixie, it more than makes up."
To round out Dixie's history, it must be told how he came into her possession. She had a room in the house in which Dixie's mother. Kittie Daw, lived and was on intimate terms of friendship with her. So much so that one day when Kittie Daw was suffering from a great sorrow she came to tell her friend all about it. She told it over and over in plaintive tones without being understood.
"What does Kittie Daw want to tell me?" asked Kittie's friend of the housemaid.
"Her kittens are all taken away from her as soon as they arrive, all but one, and now they have taken that one and Kittie is mourning for it," answered the maid.
And next time Kittie took practical action. With her next lot of children, as soon as Dixie, the one that was left her, had his eyes open she took him in her mouth and carried him to the door of her friend. She could not make her accustomed demand for admittance with her mouth full, but a little extra squeeze on the tiny black kitten called forth a pathetic little squeak that was heard inside the room, and the kind friend admitted Kittie Daw and her little Dixie.
"What could any one do when an animal bestowed such confidence as that upon one?" asked the friend.
Well, being extra well-nourished, Dixie grew and flourished. He is now four months old, very large for his age, and in the pink of condition, though he has once fallen down the airshaft and had to be set up with all night, and once again, this time while catching a stray fly, popped straight through the open third-story window.
Although much loved, Dixie has not been pampered. Morning and night he has a beaten egg, (store eggs) with a little cat food, and he is fed only twice a day. Two days a week a little raw meat is given to him, and on Fridays he eats a little fish.
Dixie's home manners are perfect. Isn't there someone with a Better Home who wants a Better Cat? Dixie's mistress must leave on Thursday, and she can't take him with her. No small children need apply. Dixie is warranted to repay a new mistress with much love and gratitude.
M.A.T. New York. July 14, 1914.
An Attack on Cats.
Why Waste Sympathy and Care on These Destroyers of Birds?
If the correspondent who filled up a half column of THE TIMES on Wednesday seeking a home for a cat would take my advice, he would give it a good bath in a pail of water head down, and then deposit the remains two feet under ground. Wasting sympathy on a cat is to me the most ridiculous exhibition of misplaced sentiment that the maiden ladies are ever guilty of. Few others indulge in it. There are plenty of children who need the care and thought that cats do not appreciate, and repay by bringing germs into the house, and making hideous noises at night, which, coming from a small boy would rouse the neighborhood. And as a destroyer of birds, a recent report of the Audubon Society puts them as the second most destructive cause, each cat being credited with an average of fifty a year. If into a large group of birds, we could see a cat spring and kill fifty of them, how long would it be before its death warrant would be signed, or who would have the nerve to protest?
Cats should be thrown into the Styx by Charon on his evening trips, and their unearthly wailings from the receding boat would sound like welcoming echoes to the departed spirits from the other shore. A license for a limited number might be granted at $50 per head, half of the amount to go into a fund for the extinction of the remainder. But to pass laws and create public sentiment to protect the song birds, while encouraging the family pet to exterminate them unrestricted, raises the question at once, Which of the two classes is most worthy of preservation? While the ladies have been the greatest champions of the birds, and leaders in the movement for protective laws, they sometimes let their feelings get the better of their judgment and it requires the man's clear-cut power of decision to settle the question which the ladies are still debating. Get rid of the cats!
Observant. Englewood, N.J. July 15, 1914.
CATS A NECESSITY.
Their Reputation as Bird Destroyers Has Little Foundation.
Your correspondent, "Observant," who writes about cats killing birds, would do better to observe a little more. He quotes the stale fiction about cats killing fifty birds a year, which is about as true as would be the statement that automobiles each commit that many homicides a year. Unfortunately. some bird-protecting organizations have carried it along for the same reason that most men carry buttons on their coat-sleeves - because it is an ancient custom. But it has no truth whatever. I have been study the matter at first hand for many years, and I know of what I speak.
Nobody who knows me, personally or by reputation, will say that I have not done my share in fighting for the birds. It is on their behalf, rather than that of the cats, that I am writing this letter. There is not a bird assassin in the land who does not answer every move to curb his activities by a clamorous denunciation of cats. As a matter of fact, cats kill very few birds, indeed, and they destroy many active bird enemies, such as rats, field mice, and tree-climbing snakes.
Nobody stands responsible for the absurd fifty-birds-a-year "estimate". It probably originated with some impudent Egyptian lawyer defending a cat-killer in the courts of Rameses II. It has been repeated since then by men and boys who wanted to "kill something" and at the same time escape reprobation and punishment; by gunners who want to kill off the birds and blame it on the cats, and, finally, by the sincere friends of the birds who accept the moldy fiction without investigation.
The birds are an economic necessity. So are the cats. Without the former the crops would be eaten up by the insects. Without the latter the rodents would get what the insects left. We have had figures on the multiplication stunts which a pair of unchecked insects would do in the course of a few generations. Try the same figures on meadow mice and see where we would be without our one really effective check on their multiplication.
Thomas M. Upp. National Organizer Order of Backwoodsmen. Tompkins Corners, N.Y. July 18, 1914.
A Good Word For the Cats
As a resident of Englewood I should like to disagree with "Observant" when he says that cats are of no use. Has it ever been proved that they really carry germs? Certainly no one has ever accused them of spreading the horrible diseases that are carried by the rat and the mouse, aptly used by the Egyptians as a symbol of plague.
A cat may kill fifty birds in a year, but how many rats and mice does it do away with in the same time? Though owning several cats we are nearly overrun with birds, and enjoy feeding and watering and watching many that are quite tame. We believe that a cat that is homeless and uncared for should be put out of the way, and we have chloroformed enough to prove the strength of our belief.
Charles J. Bates Highwood, N.J. July 20, 1914.
Cats As Destroyers
The letter in THE TIMES on the destructiveness of cats to bird life is sadly at variance with the facts. On my place here I have a cat which has killed, I should say, at least twenty birds in the past six weeks. These included the young and adult of robins, catbirds, Maryland warblers, thrushes, lark-sparrows, Baltimore orioles, and other song birds. I have taken from him and freed all birds not seriously hurt, whenever I could, but these are few in comparison with the ones he eats. I do my best to protect the birds, but cats that have once learned to hunt birds are incorrigible. I should say fifty birds a year killed by the average country cat is striking a fair medium. I am afraid my little fellow has an even bloodier record than that.
Arthur S. Riggs. Northport, N.Y. July 21, 1914.
Interestingly, around this time there were also reports of sparrows being decimated by humans unable to afford other meat due to high prices. Sparrows were also being substituted for other songbirds as culinary delicacies!
Their Lust for Birds Makes Them Dangerous Rural Pets.
Two years ago, on account of the aroused interest in the cat and bird question, I asked my employees to watch carefully our two beautiful cats at the farmhouse and not to "reprimand" them for killing birds during a period of thirty days. This was in June, when many young birds were leaving the nest.
It was observed that the cats would mark the location of each nest near the house by the calls of young birds when they were being fed by their parents, and then would make the rounds of these nests every day, watching for the young when they struggled to the ground, as most young birds do in their first effort at flight. These two cats captured practically all of the young from the nests of birds about the house, the number of young birds killed amounting to over fifty, to our knowledge, in the course of thirty days. The cats were then killed, although we were extremely fond of them as pets.
Cats do not catch young birds while they are rolled up comfortably purring in some one's lap; their chief depredations are carried on at a time when people who have danced the one-step until late are making up for lost sleep in the morning.
Robert T. Morris. New York. July 24, 1914.
A Predacious Cat.
I hate to do it, but the truth demands that I admit our Fritz, a tiger cat, 9 years old, kills and proudly brings in for our inspection and approval about fifty sparrows a year, and he gazes longingly at the canary (whose cage hangs close to the ceiling for safety.) though he walks among the chickens and has never hurt one to our knowledge.
To his credit be it said that he kills about three times as many mice as sparrows.
C.G. Ridgewood, L.I. July 28, 1914.
Said to Have No Advantage Over Cats as Rodent Hunters.
Replying to a certain "defender of the cats," THE TIMES makes an interesting suggestion in regard to owls as the alternative of cats in the extermination of field mice. Let us see. Dr. A.K. Fisher of the United States Biological Survey makes the following statement regarding the long-eared owl: Fifty "pellets" contained the remains of 137 mice, 26 shrews, and 13 birds. Dr. Fisher then adds that it "is both pernicious and cruel to molest so innocent and valuable a bird."
Dr. Fisher may be right, but if this represents fifty days' feed for one owl, it would indicate that in the course of the year this species of owl, having by far the best record of any of its tribe, (the great horned owl has a record of more than three birds to one mouse,) kills about 1,000 mice, 100 birds, and 200 shrews, these last being insect destroyers, quite as valuable as birds, and never taken by cats on account of their offensive glands. So we are called upon to eliminate the "murderous and destructive" cat which takes a thousand mice, one or two birds, and no shrews, and substitute the "valuable and innocent" owl, with its record of 1,000 mice, 100 birds, and 200 shrews.
The question of whether rodents or insects are the more destructive is altogether academic. Either, if unchecked would sweep the earth bare. The problem is complicated by the fact that every rodent destroyer takes some birds. The question is, What species takes the fewest birds in proportion to rodents destroyed? I say - and the evidence is overwhelming - that, with the possible exception of the marsh hawk, there is no rodent destroyer which, in proportion to its capture of rodents, takes so few as does the cat.
Thomas M. Upp. National Organizer, order of Backwoodsmen. Tompkins Corners, N.Y. July 31, 1914.
Want Cats Licensed. "Cat Conference" Hears Of Harm Done By Household Pets
A resolution for legislation licensing cats and providing for killing unlicensed cats was adopted last night at the "Cat Conference" at the Academy of Music in Brooklyn where 250 persons gathered, including John Burroughs and a number of other naturalists and physicians. Samuel Parnass, of the Health Department, said that in the past year the Department had treated seventy-five cases of rabies due to cat bites and called attention to the case of Grace Polhemus, 13 years old, of Brooklyn, who died of rabies long after a cat had bitten her.
Albert H Pratt, President of the Burroughs Nature Club, who presided, said that in Massachusetts, as an example, every cat killed an average of fifty birds a year and that 6,000,000 birds in that State thus lost their lives last year. Had they lived, he said, those 6,000,000 birds would have destroyed 21,000 bushels of plant-destroying insects, and food for many thousands would have been saved. John Burroughs told of the destruction of birds by cats and favored licensing them. Dr C H Townsend, Director of the New York Aquarium, criticised the press for not rising to the seriousness of the cat problem. As the resolution was being adopted by a standing vote, A C Weeks wo was in the middle of the hall launched a defense of cats. One good thing they did, Mr Weeks said, was to kill flies by the thousands. A motion to adjourn silenced him.
New York Times December 19th, 1914
Senate Passes Enabling Bill - Measure to Tax Cats $1 a head.
TRENTON NJ, Feb 2.In the Assembly, Representative O H Hammond ... also introduced a bill providing for a tax of $1 on every cat in the State.
New York Times, February 3, 1915
But it doesn't end there ...
Weekly Dispatch; Mar 25th, 1917: The Case Against the Cat. Why New York Wants to Suppress the Family Pet.
"Suppress the Cat," is the demand made to the Legislature of New York, and measures are to be taken to exterminate a few thousand pussies who are leading lives of vagabondage. The charges made against the New York cat, who walks alone are that he 'slays birds, disseminates disease, carries microbes in his fur, lockjaw in the scratch of his claw, and rabies in the bite of his teeth.' According to one American authority there are not fewer than 25,000,000 cats in the United States, and possibly twice that number. New York believes in the greater figures, and feels sure she harbours most of the cats in her precincts. As a remedy for all the ills with which the cat is charged, the Legislature proposes that cats shall be licensed, and any cat unable to show its licence when called upon and with no definite abode, shall be destroyed. A further proposal is a tax on pet cats.
The Audubon Society, mentioned in this exchange, still campaigns against domestic and stray cats, using the same inflated or unproveable figures to pit bird lovers against cat lovers.
One result of this debate, and others like it, seems to have been The Commonwealth Of Massachusetts State Board Of Agriculture Economic Biology – Bulletin No.12 “The Domestic Cat: Bird Killer, Mouser And Destroyer Of Wild Life; Means Of Utilizing And Controlling It” by Edward Howe Forbush, State Ornithologist which also contains rather a lot of input from the National Association of Audubon Societies!
SOME MORE ASSORTED ANTI-CAT CORRESPONDENCE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES
Mr Tumulty Wants No Cats - Willing To Go To Avon If Pussy Stays Away.
AVON-BY-THE-SEA. NJ May 30. Joseph P Tumulty, Secretary To The President, Has Written local estate agents that he is in the market to lease a Summer residence here, provided a guarantee will accompany the lease insuring his family against molestation by cats. Mr Tumulty's home here last Summer was literally infested with cats and kittens which seemed to have settled upon the cottage as a rendezvous for the entire resort. It is likely that Mr Tumulty's return another year to Avon will attract the State officials who last year gave to the resort an official standing enjoyed by no other Jersey town.
New York Times, May 31, 1914