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To kiss or kill a feral cat

  • 15 February 2013

Last night I was awoken by violent thumps from the ceiling above my bed. It was not Rodents Of Unusual Size that were causing the disturbance. It was a lithe mottled feral cat I sometimes see lurking behind our pumpkins.

Whenever I catch a glimpse of the cat, I have to fight bipolar animal-lover urges. The sentimental kitty-lover in me wants to domesticate the animal: lure it in with milk and sardines, then trap it into a co-dependent relationship where I rub its velvety chin and weep to it about my romantic follies.

My other urge is the environmentally responsible one: to take it to the vet and have it put down humanely.

I don't come to this particular mindset lightly. Until I was 12, the centre of my world was a long-haired tabby called Katie.

She was everything that I was not: elegant, discriminate and, despite her fluffy exterior, tough to the core. She was also slightly brain-damaged, to the effect that she attacked people's ankles without warning. But that's neither here nor there. I am a human being, and so my base inclination is to project my desire onto other species, and to believe that all other species exist to serve me.

Katie probably wasn't the elegant sass-talker I believed she was — it's more likely she was just a cold-blooded killer who was lucky to have her lifestyle subsidised by a small human being dispensing food and hugs.

When she died I was devastated, but I never replaced her. A few years later, I stopped eating meat for ethical and environmental reasons, and for the ensuing decade, I haven't been able to justify the resources and the cruelty of factory farming that goes into nourishing domestic carnivores.

In 2009, a New Zealand study published in New Scientist found that over the course of their lives, medium-sized dogs leave a carbon footprint 2.1 times that of an SUV. Cats leave a footprint the same as a VW Golf.

Cats are also responsible for 33 avian extinctions worldwide, and cause the greatest number of avian deaths every year: one billion birds are killed by cats each year in the US alone (the Gulf of Mexico oil spill killed 'only' 225,000). New Zealand entrepreneur and philanthropist Garath Morgan recently pushed for New Zealanders to pledge to neuter their cats and not replace them when they die in order to replenish native bird populations.

His pledge made international headlines, and