Type to search

Is Your Cat A Cold-Blooded Killer?

Memo Pad

Is Your Cat A Cold-Blooded Killer?


Sitting on my front porch a while back, I was watching two bald eagles perched on a cypress limb overlooking the bayou while hummingbirds swooped and buzzed around my ears—an everyday event around here in summer. Struck by simultaneous sightings of the largest and smallest birds in North America, I wondered if I was in danger of becoming a Bird Nut.

I began compiling a list of bird species commonly seen around our farm: barn swallows, scissor-tail fly catchers, bluebirds, Canada geese, mockingbirds, and several species of duck, goldfinches, kingbirds, meadowlarks, bobwhite quail, red-bellied woodpeckers, killdeer, cattle egrets, great blue herons, finches, cardinals, robins, and several kinds of sparrow. Two summers ago, a roadrunner set up housekeeping in our barn. Pelicans and snow geese fly overhead in winter.

Anyway, I quit counting at 40 species. I’m confident that friends who are certifiable Bird Nuts could do better.

And then there’s Albert, aka “The Orange Dog.” Albert is a three-year-old tabby tomcat with a quirky personality unlike any cat I’ve ever known. Our neighbors rescued his pregnant mother from a Walmart parking lot; Albert grew up on their front porch, along with two dogs and a flock of free-range chickens.

We brought him home at 12 weeks, roughly the size of my fist. Confronted by Maggie, our intimidating Great Pyrenees/Anatolian mix, Albert immediately pounced on her head. Fortunately, she loved it. Although the kitten objected loudly to being carried around in Maggie’s mouth, the two became fast friends.

Leery of anything with a motor, Albert appears to fear no living thing. He spends large parts of his day with the big dogs, who treat him as a pack member. When I go outside, he follows me everywhere, especially to the barn. It’s quite a parade: three guard dogs, one honorary Orange Dog, and me. He’s been known to sit on cedar fence posts purring while Mt. Nebo, the Tennessee walking horse, nibbles his fur.

Partly because I’ve never fed Albert anywhere except inside the house, he nearly always comes running when I call, and stands up on his hind legs for petting. Basically, that cat thinks I hung the moon.

Anyway, if you’ve been reading the socially responsible newspapers, maybe you can guess where this is going. Because during the remainder of his waking hours, it must be reported, lovable, oddball Albert spends his time trying to kill things.

He’s gotten awfully good at it, too. As there aren’t enough surviving mice in the barn to keep him busy, the cat has taken to ranging farther afield—stalking fencerows and lurking among the branches of a fallen tree. He chases sparrows full-tilt along barn rafters 15 feet off the ground. Yesterday I watched him slipping among sleeping cows, trying to ambush ground-feeding birds. He tried the same stunt in the chicken pen until the rooster ran him off.

To an increasing number of public scolds, this makes Albert Public Enemy Number One. “That Cuddly Kitty Is Deadlier Than You Think,” headlined the New York Times recently. According to a study from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service, cats “kill a median of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year.”

All this carnage supposedly makes “the domestic cat…one of the single greatest human-linked threats to wildlife in the nation.”

Gene Lyons

Gene Lyons is a political columnist and author. Lyons writes a column for the Arkansas Times that is nationally syndicated by United Media. He was previously a general editor at Newsweek as wells an associate editor at Texas Monthly where he won a National Magazine Award in 1980. He contributes to Salon.com and has written for such magazines as Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Entertainment Weekly, Washington Monthly, The Nation, Esquire, and Slate.

A graduate of Rutgers University with a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia, Lyons taught at the Universities of Massachusetts, Arkansas and Texas before becoming a full-time writer in 1976. A native of New Jersey, Lyons has lived in Arkansas with his wife Diane since 1972. The Lyons live on a cattle farm near Houston, Ark., with a half-dozen dogs, several cats, three horses, and a growing herd of Fleckvieh Simmental cows.

Lyons has written several books including The Higher Illiteracy (University of Arkansas, 1988), Widow's Web (Simon & Schuster, 1993), Fools for Scandal (Franklin Square, 1996) as well as The Hunting Of The President: The 10 Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, which he co-authored with National Memo Editor-in-Chief Joe Conason.

  • 1


  1. sigrid28 February 13, 2013

    In France, when you come upon a quiet village where no one is on the street and all the shutters are closed, you say, “Il n’est pas a chat” [There’s not even a cat.] Likewise, our lives would be empty without our pets. They make us more humane than we would be without them, even those that are predators.

    Dogs teach us about devotion and loyalty when we have the good sense to act like them, and about vulnerability and humility when we understand how much we need them. No creature on earth can teach you more about what it means to know you deserve to be loved than a dog. In an age when more seek to be pleased than to please, our dogs give us the incentive to be more giving through their boundless joy at pleasing us. We would do well to envy also their happy-g0-lucky self-content as they roam about on their own: they love our approval but they do not need it all the time.

    Without sharing a household with a cat, how would we learn the rewards of living in peace with those who could care less about what we think or do? They make us practice unconditional love, when we let it be OK to love a hostile dependent, who does not love us back–or doesn’t seem to–yet knows exactly when you will sit in your favorite armchair, or can turn up in your lap as if by magic. If we let ourselves identify with our cat, we might begin to question our own obsessions, by watching him chase a Q-tip around the house for half an hour, convinced it is a very bad mouse. By letting us into their world–filled as it is with daring do and dastardly trade-offs–our pets do somehow make our world better, without even meaning to.

  2. lacycatpaw February 13, 2013

    Thank you for such a beautifully written tribute to our feline babies. They are as different from each other as humans, and can’t all be categorized as aloof and non-caring about their humans. Most cats that hunt eat their prey…man is the only animal that kills for no reason. I would like to read what the New York Times writes if all the cats in New York leave and the sewer rats take over the city.

  3. Mick Boyce February 13, 2013

    mr. lyons, that sounds like a terrific cat. one of the reasons i like cats is because they are excellent predators. i wish i keep one now to control the mice at my house.

  4. Thomas February 13, 2013

    How many ? Common ! What did these bird counters do ? Pick a number out of a hat ? When I
    lived in Alabama we owned many cats but only one at a time and it was only the one I named Don Rickles that killed one bird , the others did not ever care about birds one way or another ! We owned parakeets and the cats never hardly noticed them ! As for chaceing our chickens, a boy scout project, no living thing would dare cahse one of my hens because I also owned to giant roosters and brother nothing alive dared chace a hen !
    The U.S. has these giant wind mills on these wind mill farms or what ever they are called and they kill about 149 eagle each year . These blades can go around at about 200 mph and the poor egles can’t see them and they can chop an eagale into ! So to me something should be done about this instead of comeing up with crazy numbers to cause trouble for cats !

  5. stcroixcarp February 13, 2013

    I read that NYT article too. I was very irritated by it. Where did the data come from? I for one am thankful for the stray cat who moved into my home a year ago. I have lived in the country for 10 years. Every fall hoards of voles, field mice and chipmunks have invaded my machine shed, garage and even my house. These critters poop everywhere and chew on everything including electrical wiring. I observed my killer cat hunt down and kill at least three rodents each day all summer and fall. He has destroyed the mole population that has been eating my root crops, and the rabbit population no longer destroys my sugar maple saplings. My guy is too busy with rodents to bother the birds much. He is more efficient than traps, and certainly more environmentally friendly than the poisons I previously used.

  6. Charlie Davenport February 13, 2013

    The cat family is the most efficient group of land predators. They are deadly–Claws, incisors (stabbing teeth) stealth, speed–they have it all.

    1. Margie Oliveira March 20, 2013

      But has more deadly qualities than any other species. The cars we drive kill more animals than other animals that kill other animals.

  7. HistoRet February 16, 2013

    Mr. Lyons, generally a reasonable man, missed the mark this time. First off ~ I am an old man who has loved and admired and served as staff for cats who ran my house for about 70 years. I love cats. I also know that our house cats did not originate on this continent. They are as alien to North America as bunny rabbits to Australia. If you don’t know about the disaster that became, look it up. I don’t want to take anyone’s cats away and do not think we need to banish or confiscate these weapons of bird destruction. But you are foolish to ignore the research that has been done to document the destruction they cause among desireable native species. The very fact that you label people who study and value our native avifauna as “bird nuts” diminishes you and devalues your opinions on the matter. Most reasonable people seem to have come to a consensus that gun owners should behave responsibly so as to safeguard the rights of others. Why can’t cat owners? No one expects every cat owner to be a PERFECT steward of the native species. Try as I might, I have occasionally found feathers on the faces of the cats in my care. It is not simply a joke. I’ve had aged household pets killed by neighbors’ dogs whose owners thought it was funny. Do you think it’s funny that your cats kill songbirds? Do you care? Do you prefer to remain ignorant and irresponsible?


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.