Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Cats as Game: A Slippery Slope?

I hear now that Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle has vowed to veto any cat hunting legislation if it passes. "I don't think Wisconsin should become known as a state where we shoot cats," Doyle told reporters, including the Associated Press, on April 13th.

That said, the debate in Wisconsin has inspired pundits in other states and has exposed the fact that laws on the books in Minnesota and South Dakota currently allow feral cat hunting. Clearly, this is an idea that has a lot of proponents, both in Wisconsin and throughout the United States.

Here in New York State, Debbie Swarz, a columnist for the Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin, supports the idea of hunting feral cats. She writes:

"While trapping and spaying feral cats is a noble endeavor, the fact is they multiply so quickly that I don't see it as a solution to the problem unless the state is willing to spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours trying to solve this problem. I would rather see that money go to endangered species."

I can't help but think that the minute you classify an animal as game, you hurt its status and reputation as a pet. Once you open the door to killing cats, you make it socially acceptable to kill the neighbor's cat.

Just look what happened in Wisconsin last week, where four cats were found shot to death and dumped along the roadside . At least one of the cats was an indoor cat named Junior who just happened to get out of the house. His body was identified by a neighbor who recognized him from pictures on "lost cat" posters that Junior's family had posted. Do you think the cat shooters felt they had the green light to shoot whatever cats they saw roaming around?

Humans make a lot of distinctions between different kinds of animals. Here in America, most people think of cows and chickens as food. Not many people have them as pets. It's true that some people keep pot bellied pigs as pets, but the overwhelming perception is that pigs are a food animal. You won't be finding pig feed or chicken feed on the shelf at Petco. There aren't nearly as many options available for those who keep these exotic pets. Everyone thinks that racoons are cute, but I don't think they're a popular pet.

If cat hunting becomes commonplace, how long will it take for cats to take on the same reputation as deer or racoons or rats? How long until it becomes uncool to adopt cats because they're just wild animals? As I write this, there are 77.6 million owned cats in the United States as compared to 65 million owned dogs. But when I visit the pet store, it's dogville. There are maybe two aisles devoted to cat products while there are five or six aisles devoted to dogs. Turning cats into game can't help the cause.

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