CATS OR BLOODSPORTS - WHICH IS MORE CRUEL?
In Britain, cats are under attack from an new enemy - huntsmen. I don't refer to the fact that every year, hounds kill domestic cats (and other pets), but the fact that the pro-hunting lobby has exhausted its traditional arguments in defence of bloodsports and has resorted to comparing the hunting with hounds with the hunting activities of cats. Having failed to persuade people that hunting is not cruel, they now seek to vilify cats. They can't, of course, vilify dogs since dogs are essential to hunts. And while failing to compare like with like, they try to compare the hunting motives of hunts and cats.
HOW MANY CREATURES DO CATS ACTUALLY KILL?
Different biologists and researcher come up with different totals, but Britain's 7.5 million cats are responsible for almost 80 per cent of all animal and bird deaths caused by humans and their animals according to biologist, farmer and bloodsports enthusiast Dr Nick Fox. Excluding farmed livestock slaughter (37.21m head of livestock and 759.9m poultry per year), of all the animals that die due to humans or their agents, domestic cats account for 79.4 per cent of the deaths, killing at least 75 million birds and 135 million mammals annually.
How are these figures derived? Firstly you have to assume that every cat in the UK actively hunts and that every cat hunts successfully, killing 24 birds, mammals, reptiles or amphibians per year. This means 220 vertebrate kills per year. If an average of 1 kill per week was used, the figure would be 400 million vertebrates per year. Sounds plausible so far, but there are flaws in the estimating methods.
Firstly, the figure of 7.5 million cats only covers pet cats. This figure doesn't include feral cats, but we'll come to them later on. 10% (and rising) of British pet cats are kept as indoor-only pets. A similar percentage are in rescue shelters, boarding catteries or breeding catteries at any given time and aren't doing any hunting. Many of the creatures killed are creatures we'd kill ourselves if we had the opportunity - rats, mice, rabbits and pigeons. These are nuisance animals (humans poison or shoot them) and we can't complain about cats hunting and killing then, so let's drop them from the equation. A large number of Britain's 7.5 million domestic cats live in cities where, apart from rats, mice and pigeons, their effect on wildlife is negligible. Far fewer than 7.5 million cats are actively hunting wildlife.
Of those cats which do have access to prey, a sizeable percentage are incapable of catching anything more lively than an old teabag. Obesity is a growing problem among pet cats. Many cats simply don't master the art of hunting because they are brought up in a household environment and not in a barn where there's plenty to practice on at a young age. Mother cats supply their kittens with disabled prey on which to hone their skills; except that these days the mother cat herself doesn't hunt. Instead, most domestic cats teach their kittens how to eat out of a bowl. The instinct is there, but the accompanying skills haven't had the chance to develop. In the case of breeds like Persians (small mouths, flattened faces), some of which do get to go outdoors, the instinct may be willing but the body conformation is entirely inappropriate to hunting.
The story of course is different among feral cats, but before blaming feral cats for the decline in songbirds (our gardens have become inhospitable to songbirds due to pesticides wiping out insects and removal of weeds whose seeds many birds ate, not to mention the havoc we've wreaked with bird habitats through intensive farming methods) we must look at feral distribution. Many live in towns where they scavenge food scraps and hunt rats and mice attracted to dustbins etc. Some are supported entirely by handouts from cat-lovers (who may also have had the cats neutered). Their impact on wildlife is negligible due to lack of wildlife upon which to prey. They can be dropped from the equation. Rural ferals are more dependent on hunting. Favoured prey species are rabbit and pigeon, though they are opportunists and will hunt and eat anything if hungry.
We've narrowed down the active hunters to only a few million, not 7.5 million. And we've greatly reduced the number of estimated prey caught by discounting rats, mice, rabbits and pigeons (the reason for discounting 'nuisance' prey animals will become clear later on). An estimate of 220 million vertebrate kills is therefore alarmist and inaccurate and, in my view, calculated to show cats in the worst possible light (thereby taking the spotlight off of hunts). The figures need to be adjusted to take into account the proportion of non-hunting cats and a breakdown (by species) of the types of animal caught by cats.
I've owned 15 or so cats over the years and I've taken a keen interest in their hunting prowess. Though I admit I don't watch them every minute of the day, I have a very good idea of what they've caught in the course of a year. One cat killed a mouse, a starling, 2 blackbirds and 4 sparrows in her entire lifetime. I released a further 6 birds and one mouse. She averaged less than one kill per year and succeeded in bringing back prey (dead or alive) less than twice per year. Another killed several slugs (his speciality), 2 sparrows and scavenged an already dead sparrow from the lawn. The already dead sparrow literally dropped out of the sky - I was present at the time. The other 13 cats killed nothing unless they managed to eradicate all trace of prey (feathers, feet, beak, tail, blood/guts etc) from the house and garden and, more importantly, from their faeces in the litter tray. In studies where owners have stored the cat's catches, it was noted that some cats scavenge already dead prey and that others do not hunt at all.
ARE CATS DELIBERATELY CRUEL TO THEIR PREY?
In trying to defend the dubious hobby of pursuing inedible furry creatures and then letting his own animals rip them to shreds in front of his eyes, Dr Fox aims to convince people that cats are far more cruel than hunting enthusiasts. Cats are predators and it is in their nature to hunt for food. The rest of the time cats hunt, not for fun, but to hone the skills which would keep them fed in the absence of can-opening humans.
The dictionary definition of cruelty is "delighting in the pain of others; causing pain or suffering". Cruelty is a deliberate act caused by action or inaction . Cruelty requires the perpetrator to intentionally harm the victim. Where the suffering is unintended, the term used (of human perpetrators) is neglect. Animals are not deliberately cruel. Cats do not play with prey because the enjoy its suffering. Some cats haven't mastered killing techniques. Others are driven by instinct to practise their survival skills. Humans have the ability to judge what is right or wrong, what is kind or cruel. It is wrong to apply human moral standards to animals. Try to do so and we're back to the days when animals were hanged for their 'crimes'.
Cats don't have moral codes, they survival instincts. Hunters however, should have a sense of right and wrong though those who don't chase and shred British fauna just for the fun of it, can justifiably argue otherwise argue otherwise. Cats playing with their prey are not committing premeditated cruelty. Groups of humans who go out with hounds or hawks are committing a premeditated act. Cats just go out and get on with it, human hunters have built up carefully planned rituals around their hunts.
Humans are only part-time predators; we are hunter-gathers and in supposedly civilised countries such as Britain, we prefer to farm our food. In Britain, very little hunting or shooting is done just to put meat on the table. It is termed a sport: a bloodsport, a field sport or a country pursuit. Cats may not always eat their kill, but compare this to humans who never eat foxes or mink and rarely eat hunted deer or hare. Cats are honing skills which might be needed later. What exactly are humans honing?
CRUELTY IN HUMAN HUNTING
Conveniently disregarding the completely different reasons why cats and humans hunt, Dr Fox has tried to persuade people that domestic and feral cats do infinitely more cruel killing than hunting dogs would ever do. He argues that a cat playing with injured prey is more cruel than chasing a terrified fox, hare, deer or mink to exhaustion and then allowing hounds to disembowel their exhausted prey. Quarry which does escape often dies of exhaustion (lactic acid can build up to dangerous levels), injury (to muscles and tendons) or is left permanently damaged by is exertions (the cardio-respiratory system may be damaged leaving the prey 'broken winded').
Aaah, protest the hunts, studies have proven that hunting isn't cruel. They haven't proved the absence of cruelty or suffering. So far, studies have concluded that evidence is insufficient. Can we expect to see a rise in 'scientific hunting' with unbiased scientists present at each kill? The video evidence is pretty damning. Small prey (mink, foxes and accidental catches such as small domestic animals) is disembowelled or torn apart in a scrimmage of hounds. The killing method used by a single dog is to shake the prey like a rag to break its neck or back (as demonstrated by ratting terriers). Coursed hares may be shaken to death or may end up as a living tug toy used by two dogs. Even if released by handlers, the damage done by dogs may lead to death from infection internal injury. Deer have been brought to bay in rivers and attempts to dispatch them by shooting have sometimes been badly botched so that the actual cause of death is drowning.
Cats take less than 30 seconds to pursue their quarry (after finding it), but may spend 30 or more "nauseating minutes toying with their long-suffering prey". Unfortunately for this argument, cats will also play with corpses so those nauseating minutes might not be so nauseating after all. Hounds may pursue their long-suffering quarry for 30 or more nauseating minutes and take more than 30 seconds to kill it. Cats, so the pro-hunting lobby tell us, do their daily slaughter in such a slow, seemingly sadistic manner that they have been selected as the model animal for studies of aggressive predatory behaviour. In fact, cats are model animals for predator studies because they are born predators, not because they are sadists. "Sadism" is defined in dictionaries as "a (sexual) perversion; gaining of pleasure through a love of inflicting pain". Cats are not demonstrating a conscious love of inflicting pain. The pain inflicted is incidental to their survival skills.
Hounds must be taught to hunt in packs. Young foxhounds are placed with experienced hounds and trained to kill inexperienced foxcubs (rationale: it keeps the population down). The pack is taken close to the foxes earth, the cubs are flushed and generally neither party knows what to do. Dogs will chase small moving animals, but their instincts are to kill herbivores bigger than themselves and which provide a meal for all pack members. Hounds have been selectively bred over generations for their stamina; their ability to keep up the chase for a period of time. Foxes have never been selectively bred for stamina and evolution hasn't yet caught up. The only thing that keeps them going is the fact that they are running for their life.
Dr Fox acknowledge the benefit of using cats for controlling pests, particularly rats and mice, around farms and factories and yes, even around stables. Those cats control the population of rodents. Hunts like consider their activities population control. If cat "cruelty" to prey can be justified because the cat is doing a job, then hunts can use the same argument. In the case of the fox, the most effective method of fox-population control has been found to be "lamping" (shooting foxes at night using the reflection of light from their eyes as a target) which doesn't provide a decent gory spectacle for bloodsports enthusiasts.
Rather than admit to their enjoyment of slaughter, they want people to consider the cat - a creature which doesn't need to be taught how to hunt. Cat owners, apparently don't take responsibility for the carnage caused by their cats. Hunts not only take responsibility for their own carnage, they revel in it. Cat owners do, in fact, take a lot of responsibility for their cats' hunting activities. Many try to reduce hunting (with varying degrees of success) through confining the cat overnight or at dusk and dawn or by fitting bells or ultrasonic emitters to cats' collars. Hunters, meanwhile, train and encourage their charges to kill.
So far we have been told that cats are cruel and sadistic. There is, of course, nothing cruel or sadistic about training hounds to chase a prey animal 30 or more minutes before killing it or about coursing a hare for several minutes before using it as a tug toy. Hungry cats kill cleanly. They can't risk losing a meal. The kill is through dislocation of neck vertebrae i.e. a neck-bite method. Hunts in a state of collective denial about how dogs kill prey. Plenty of kills are on video. Dogs surround their prey, each one bites whatever bit of the prey it can and then they pull it to bits. Alive. There is no clean neck bite. Sometimes a human intervenes to kill the prey, but it isn't easy to wade through a pack of hounds all intent on getting to the prey.
For sure, cats and dogs have different killing methods and to human observers, both methods are cruel. But hunts are cheering on killing by canines while condemning killing by cats. Cat owners don't cheer their cats on. Most discourage them from hunting. Apart from farm cats who earn their living as ratters and mousers, cat owners don't select cats for their hunting abilities or train them by pitting them against inexperienced pigeons. They don't destroy their cats at three or four years old because it has gotten slow or lost the taste for blood.
If cats really are more cruel than packs of hounds, it's surprising that hunting with cats hasn't become popular among bloodsports enthusiasts. But then, presumably half the fun is pursuing your prey to the point of exhaustion and causing a trail of damage to other people's property, including their domestic pets, along the way (not to mention thrashing your horse when it fails to clear a fence).
While condemning cats and pleading the case of bloodsports, or at least trying to make bloodsports look humane by comparing them to statistics (which, to quote a well-worn saying, he uses like a drunk uses a lamp-post - for support rather than illumination), Dr Fox avoided mentioning the dozens of pet cats which are killed annually, ripped apart by out-of-control hounds. Excited hounds can be distracted from their intended prey. There is ample and gory photographic evidence of cats being shredded in front of their owners (the League Against Cruel Sports have a stock of photos and accounts from bereaved cat owners) with owners being offered paltry sums by way of compensation.
With the hunting fraternity's usual disregard for the lives of other creatures, a pro-hunt lobbyist once went as far as to say, "I think it's better for a cat to be hounded to death by a pack of hounds than to be kept in the average household, especially in our inner cities."
You can do almost anything you want with statistics. By selecting favourable statistics and ignoring inconvenient ones and then presenting only half of the argument, it's possible to prove almost anything.
Available data indicates that 220 million vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians) are killed or on British roads every year but Fox estimates that a conservative 210 million animals and birds fall prey to cats every year. I've already looked at the flaws in estimating this total which is based on the assumption that all cats hunt successfully.
Fox estimated that cats have a 20 per cent maiming rate, but didn't provide comparable figures about quarry which escaped injured from hounds or for domestic animals and pets killed by hunting dogs. Instead, he claimed that cat owners overlooked the rights and wrongs of their cats' activities because the murder and mayhem is unsupervised by human beings. There is also the assumption that cats enjoy killing and the application of human moral standards which "prove" that cats are cruel and sadistic.
The statistics were presented to societies guaranteed to have an issue with cats. The statistics do not appear to have been presented to cat welfare groups (e.g. Cats Protection, Feline Advisory Bureau, Cat Action Trust) for their comments nor to noted cat researchers such as Roger Tabor who has spent much of his life studying felines, including their hunting behaviour.
Instead, to give the "cats are worse than huntsmen" argument more credibility, the statistics were presented to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds for comment. Birds are prey species and cats are a predator species. RSPB members are therefore not noted for their benevolent attitudes towards cats (as anti-cat letters in the RSPB member magazine indicate).
The response from the RSPB press officer was, "This really is something of a dilemma for us. We accept that a huge number of garden birds are killed by cats, but keeping cats is an ancient and established right. We're just not into saying, `Right, the cat population should be halved'. Dr Fox's estimates are not at all unreasonable, because it's fair to assume a cat on average kills 10 birds a year. The question is really about the impact on small-bird populations. Gardens are really sub-optimal habitats for birds. They have adapted well, but you can get a slight distortion by looking only at garden birds."
Is it fair to assume every cat in Britain kills 10 birds per year? Not at all. Cats choose a food source which provides greatest gain for least energy expended. As already noted, many cats do not hunt for whatever reason. Of those 10 birds, how many are pigeons (classed as vermin) and how many are scavenged? Cats and birds are in a predator prey relationship and it is a distortion of facts to try to exonerate hunts by comparing a 'sport' with the food-chain.
Falconry enthusiasts in Britain kill some 60,000 head of animals or birds (did anyone mention their bird-tally to the RSPB?) . 330 registered hunts annually kill about 35,000 foxes, hares, deer and mink (13,000 foxes by 208 foxhunts alone). That's confirmed kills; the figure doesn't include the number of animals which escape but later die as a result of being hunted; it doesn't include domestic animals or farm animals killed 'accidentally' (sometimes called 'by-catch'). For example, Vale of Clettwr foxhounds killed 26 lambs during a hunt. For every head of prey taken by a falconers raptor, cats take 3,500; for every fox killed by hounds, cats kill about 6,000 creatures.
Again these statistics assumes that all 7.5 million cats hunt and that all animals which elude the hounds survive and it ignores by-catch, thus skewing statistics in favour of hunting and against cats. It fails to take into account the fact that cats kill creatures smaller than themselves and (according to the most basic biological rules) must kill more creatures to provide an adequate diet. Hounds hunt for their masters' pleasure.
The statistics were compared against vivisection statistics. Vivisectionists share an interest in tormenting creatures smaller than themselves, albeit for reasons of science not purely because it's fun. Dr Fox states that cats put into proportion the 3 million animals annually experimented on in British laboratories for worldwide medical and "other" purposes. "Other" purposes includes testing cosmetics, bleaches, skin creams etc and re-testing substances which have been used by humans over thousands of years, but which might conceivably have become toxic overnight. Cats themselves are favourite subjects for brain research and regularly have their grey matter exposed, sliced, diced, dyed and electrically stimulated before being removed completely for further study.
By way of comparison, up to 4 million (and decreasing due to declining targets) migratory birds are shot each year in Malta. Dr Fox does not say by how many hunters. But by how many hunters? How many birds does each hunter kill? The figure doesn't begin to tell us whether the average Maltese male kills more or less birds per year, not how many birds would be killed if 7.5 million gun-toting Maltese males each shot this average number. The figure is worthless as a comparison, it's a case of comparing apples with oranges.
Cats are usually blamed for any decrease in birds, including migratory birds. But what if cats are hunting migratory birds at a sustainable level? The shooting of an additional 4 million migratory birds would tip the balance to cause a decrease in the bird population. Food for thought, but the hunting enthusiasts' sympathies lie with the rights of humans to main and kill, not with the cat's instinct-driven behaviour. Besides, a pro-hunt statistician must vilify cats in order to make his own hunting interests look good.
Dr Fox was keen to throw international light on the feline issue, noting that Americans and Australians were clamping down on cats, implementing legal constraints on the release of cats and the distance from home they're permitted to roam. While the Australian legislation is aimed at reducing feline roaming and is discussed in more detail in The Great Australian Cat Dilemma, the American legislation is reducing the number of unwanted cats which are euthanized or abandoned. 90-93% of American cats already live indoors because of the hazards of motor-vehicles, bobcats, coyotes, large raptors etc all of which kill cats.
Australian scientists are developing biological controls for foxes and dingoes and have developed FTC2, a cat-specific poison for use against feral cats. The problem of cat predation on wildlife and the conservation/reintroduction of rare species in Australian is not comparable to that in the UK, but it was trotted out by Dr Fox since it helped to vilify the cat. Australian wildlife developed in isolation and has no natural defences against introduced predators. Eurpean (including British) wildlife, developed alongside predators such as the Wildcat, Fox, Lynx, Wolf, Stoat, Weasel etc and have been in biological competition for thousands of years. Foxes were introduced into Australia around 1910 for one reason only - to provide bloodsports enthusiasts with something to hunt. With marsupials not proving challenging enough sport, huntsmen needed real quarry - something which would give them a good chase. In Australia, the cat is just one player in an ecological disaster of man's own making. In Britain, human activities such as habitat destruction have made prey creatures more vulnerable to adaptable creatures such as cats. It is pointless to blame it cat as the sole cause of species decline. The cat is often the scapegoat for human activities.
Recent figures from USA's national wildlife body, the Audobon Society, show one kill per week per cat, double Dr Fox's UK estimate of 24 kills per year. So, Britain's cats might in fact be killing up to 400 million, which would push fieldsports kills way off the graph except for the fact which Dr Fox conveniently and consistently ignores - not all cats hunt and some cats don't manage much more than 10 kills in a 16 year lifetime. Far from being a conservative estimate, Dr Fox's figure of 220 million vertebrate kills per year is already an over-estimate, calculated to make the cat look bad and to make the hunts look, well, good by comparison. Where was the Audobon study conducted and did it cover pet cats, barn cats or feral cats? Most importantly, how large was the study sample and did it include cats which didn't hunt? Figures obtained by extrapolation from half a dozen known ratters are unrepresentative. The statistics make the hunts look good, but only because essential information is omitted.
In the UK, there has been concern at the number of small birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians which are killed by cats. The RSPCA, a significant proportion of whose subscribers own cats, recognises that cats kill wildlife, though a press officer stated that it is "part of nature with no cruelty inflicted". Pro-hunting groups have highlighted the "no cruelty inflicted" quote to support their own activities. Cruelty is a deliberate act. Suffering (which can be caused unintentionally through acts which are not deliberately cruel) and cruelty are different things. The quote did not say there was no suffering.
Falconers claim to have lost young peregrines and other raptors to cats, though cat owners have also lost cats to larger raptors, both wild and tame. I learnt of one owl enthusiast who even encouraged his Bengal Eagle Owl to hunt cats.
Dr Keith Corbett, the Herpetological Conservation Trust's rare species conservation officer, claimed, "The whole problem of cat predation of reptiles is so enormous as to have a substantive effect on the abundance, in parts even survival, of certain reptiles." He claimed that instead of hunting for food then resting as feral cats do, healthy cats (this implies that feral cats are automatically unhealthy) spend a proportionately greater time efficiently hunting a given area, almost for fun, and in much greater numbers than they would were they not domestic.
Whole colonies of sand lizard had apparently been wiped out on heathlands bordering urban areas and slow worms, smooth snakes and common lizards were suffering. These areas bordered urban areas and encroaching development and habitat destruction/pollution accounts for a great deal of species decline.
Dr Corbett claimed "Cats are generally a pain in the arse for conservation. He asserted that they unbalance true ecology and are universally hated by field herpetologists who only just stop short of advocating the shooting of them. I find this odd since I've met field herpetologists who keep cats and who blame the destruction of habitat for farming and building as the factor which most unbalances true ecology. If cats unbalance ecology by hunting reptiles, then foxes are equally guilty since Tabor notes that cats and foxes are competitors. Cats are opportunists and take advantage of ecology which has been thrown out of kilter by human activities.
WHO'S THE REAL VILLAIN OF THE PIECE - CATS OR HUNTS?
So are these balance-restoring facts? Not at all. Dr Fox does not compare like with like. Humans choose to set hounds upon quarry. Having exhausted the arguments that it is traditional (as were the now illegal British sports of bear-baiting, bull-fighting, dog-fighting and cock-fighting) and that it is a method of population control (it is not; fox populations are controlled by the availability of food), that hunts kill problem foxes (they don't, they are indiscriminate - and may kill things other than their intended quarry) it seems that hunters must resort to rubbery statistics to support their dubious pastimes.
There are plenty of cruel practices in hunting which have no equivalent among cats. Cats hunt slower, weaker or sickly prey. Hunts prefer strong prey which gives them a good chase. They don't like prey which succumbs too easily.
Cats rely on available prey. Hunts sometimes have to supplement the prey population in order to have something to hunt. Some foxhunts have been found to keep artificial earths where foxes are encouraged to breed to ensure a reliable supply of foxes for the hounds. Food is sometimes provided to ensure that the foxes breed successfully. I've never yet heard of a cat who encourages mice to breed to ensure a reliable source of prey. Others have been found guilty of releasing previously trapped foxes from sacks for hounds to chase or of 'importing' foxes from neighbouring areas. While in the bag, the fox's belly may be crushed to make him urinate (to provide a good scent) and his paw pads may be cut to give a good blood scent. Again, not a behaviour found in cats - it's the sort of calculated cruelty which only a human is capable of.
When it comes to inflicting suffering, the hunt is far more efficient than any cat. If a cat's prey bolts into a hole, the cat may wait for it to emerge. Frequently, the cat loses patience or the prey escapes through another hole, away from the cat. Hunted foxes are not this lucky. Unlike a cat's prey, going to ground or hiding does not help them. Foxes which go to ground are likely to be flushed out for further hunting by terrier men. The methods used are so sadistic that that not even hunt supporters are allowed to witness them at work. Cats don't deliberately hide their hunting activities, hunts do. All entrances to the fox's earth will be blocked except for one. The terriers and fox may fight viciously underground and the fox may be killed. Some terriers are 'hard', that is known killers. If the fox doesn't bolt for his life, driven from safety by the terriers, the terrier men will simply dig him out with spades. Unlike the cat's prey, there is no escape and not even time for him to recover his breath. Sometimes (illegally) to guarantee that he is seen by the hounds, he may be flushed into a sack, crushed (to make him urinate) and tipped out in the open in front of the pack. No cat uses methods this cruel. Such refined forms of cruelty are exclusive to humans and the methods of feline hunters and human hunters cannot be compared.
For cats, hunting is a way of practising the skills which kept cats alive in the days before cat-food, the very skills which led man to domesticate them (rodent controllers in ancient Egypt). Hunting is instinctive and natural. For humans, it's the "unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable" and is planned, sometimes right down to the breeding of quarry to ensure that humans get all the fun of pitting hounds bred for stamina against prey they would not naturally hunt.
CATS AND FOXES
Cats and foxes hunt the same prey, scavenge from the same sources and co-exist in the same habitats. Both hunt rats, mice, rabbits, reptiles and the like though foxes probably eat more vegetable matter than do cats. Both will scavenge roadkill, animals dead from natural causes and the contents of dustbins. Both are found in rural locations (as hunter-scavengers) and living in cities (primarily scavengers) - foxes have been spotted in inner London and around shopping malls. Both hunt at night, though they will hunt during the daytime.
Because they share territory and compete over food resources, they may meet while hunting. Usually they will ignore each other. A cat is well-armed and a healthy adult cat can drive away a fox. Cats have been seen chasing foxes away and sometimes cats and foxes have been filmed playing together.
Foxes will take unattended kittens, but will not willingly tangle with a protective mother cat. Foxes are opportunists and will take injured or weak cats in the same way they will take other weak or injured creatures. They will also scavenge dead cats e.g. road casualties. It's a rare or desperate fox which tackles a healthy adult cat. There are reports of cats attacking foxes, including at least one case where a working cat (a ratter) killed a full grown dog-fog larger than itself. Unfortunately, hounds, unlike foxes, do regard cats as legitimate prey. It has been suggested that more cats are killed by hunts than by foxes.
Cat-lovers are often concerned about foxes, but records of cat/fox interaction and of cat/hound interactions indicate that owners should be far more concerned about the hunts. Hounds will chase and kill cats and hunts show indifference towards this. Some hunt supporters seem to regard it as fun. As well as a woeful disregard for domestic cats, pro-hunting groups wish to vilify the cat and have tried to get support from other animal societies by selecting the cat as a common enemy and resorting to dubious statistics which can be massaged to mean anything they wish.
Let's take a look at the little regard hunts have for cats and other domestic animals. No cat owner wants their cat killed by dogs, but this is exactly what happened to a family on Christmas Eve. It is not an isolated incident. I must warn readers of a photograph towards the end of this article - it shows a cat mauled by foxhounds. The following excerpts are from the League Against Cruel Sports, LACS has helped a number of pet owners get damages following the death of/injury to domestic animals caused by hunts.
Mrs Brown [names have been changed because of legal proceedings] is at her kitchen window when suddenly she hears frantic screaming. Five large dogs charge into her garden - they are in pursuit of the family cat, Smokey. Dashing out, she is confronted by the horrific sight of the dogs "all of which had a portion of my cat's body in their jaws". She shouts for her husband but by the time Mr Brown can reach the garden there are "at least a dozen dogs frantically scrabbling to get at something on the floor. I yelled at them by they were oblivious of me." When he eventually reaches Smokey, "the angle of his head was such that his neck had clearly been broke and I touched his throat and my fingers came away bloody." His daughter was sobbing in the driveway.
In many cases, shocked families are subjected to taunts and insults follow the incidents and to derisory offers of compensation. A 12 year old girl saw her Jack Russell dog savaged and killed by foxhounds. A 61 year old holidaymaker watched as 20+ hounds savaged her pet Spaniel. Chickens and domestic fowl have been killed. Even animal sanctuaries have been invaded and the resident animals terrorised.
"I ran out of the door and was confronted by at least two dogs on my side of the coal bunker and three dogs facing the opposite way ... all of which had a portion of my cat's body in their jaws. The cat was on its back in the air and helpless. It was screaming in pain ... I stood screaming as loud as I could to drown the cat's cries from my daughter and son."
Far from supporting hunts, many farmers are fed up with the damage they cause to property and to pets and livestock. According to a farmer "the attitude of the hunt seems to be that if you don't like them you have to move away." I know of sheep farmers who have patrolled his borders with a shotgun because the hunt was incapable of keeping its hounds under control and off his land.
Another report (not from LACS) has claimed that bagged cats (ferals/stray pets) have been released in front of hounds or thrown to terriers for them to practise on. There have also been reports that cats have been used for training hare-coursing greyhounds. I have not, so far, seen photographic or video evidence, but there is video/photographic evidence of cats maimed or killed by packs of hounds.
The photos are horrific, but show the damage caused by hunts. They may vilify cats and massage the figures and their methods to make it seem that cats are more cruel than hunts.
A pack of hounds kills its prey by disembowelling or dismembering it.
(Photos from League Against Cruel Sports)
Dr Fox's statistics and comments were reported by Rupert Mostyn and published on the website of the British Field Sports Society (for overseas readers, Field Sports = hunting with hounds/falcons, hare coursing and game-bird shooting).
Unbiased information on feline predatory behaviour can be found in "The Wild Life of the Domestic Cat" and "Cat Behaviour" both by Roger Tabor and "The True Nature of the Cat" by John Bradshaw.
Studies of feral and farm cats have been carried out by David MacDonald & Peter Apps and others.
Further information about cats and non-prey animals killed by hunts can be obtained from the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS). LACS have photos and/or information about how hounds kill, the use of bagged foxes and the injuries caused to hunted animals which escape. Descriptions of kills and botched kills are based on information from LACS and Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA). I am not affiliated to either of these groups.
Opinions are my own, based on available evidence. The bias in favour of cats is no worse than the anti-cat bias in Mostyn's paper and Fox's use of incomplete statistics.