Pitting birds against cats (round three)
As the title suggests, this is the third post I’ve dedicated to the cat vs. bird conundrum. A recent decision in the “Texas Plover vigilante” case and last weekend’s New York Times Magazine article (on the same issue) conspired to ensure my revisitation of the theme.
For those of you not yet in the know, let me summarize the case: One prominent Galveston, TX birder takes premeditated aim at a feral cat stalking an endangered Piping Plover on a deserted stretch of beach. One fatal rifle blast later and the bird was safer by one less predator—free to live another day and perhaps even reproduce.
The cat’s assassination, however, was witnessed. A friend to the cats, who chronically claim this beach for their hunting grounds, saw it all. That’s how this Galveston birder came to be arrested as he fled the scene. But he did not deny his action. He claimed that what he did was not only legal in the eyes of Texas law, but morally correct, to boot.
What followed was a national exposé of the environmental ethicist vs. welfare ethicist dilemma: Who has more of a right to protection in this case? An entire species or an individual cat?
Welfare ethicists tended towards feline protection in this case. These cats are there by virtue of our human hands. It’s not their fault they’re hungry—it’s ours. And it’s not their fault their brains are hard-wired to kill small animals—in fact that’s the feature that attracted us to felines in the first place. No doubt the use of a firearm on this feral also ruffled feathers—it seemed a bit over the top as a way to curb an innocent animal’s basic instincts (even in Texas).
But environmental ethicists were inclined to favor the bird’s plight: After all, it can’t be any more painful to be attacked and dismembered by a predator than to be shot at with a rifle. And this is a whole species we’re talking about—not the rights of one cat who doesn’t belong on the Plover’s beach anyway (by both Texas and natural law). It’s human interference that caused this problem and that’s why human interference is required to solve it.
Acrimonious though the debate between these warring camps may be, it seems to me these differing points of view are not so out of line with one another. They both agree that humans are the problem. They both want to protect the innocent animals from the devastation we’ve visited upon them with our destructive ways. And they both see human intervention as the solution. It’s just the Sophie’s choice over which victimized species to protect more that gets in the way.
And that’s why this issue is downright personal. Are you more a birder-environmentalist, believing that their right to their native habitat deserves special consideration, regardless of how many cats you keep at home? (I know few birders who don’t also adore their cats.) Or are you a die-hard cat supporter, acknowledging that the outcast cats in our midst don’t deserve outright eradication as a result of their God-given, avian-attacking ways?
For all the talk of global impact, here’s a situation that pits one animal person against another on a very local level. From any animal lover’s point of view, that can’t be very good. It undermines the integrity of the social fabric that should link otherwise like-minded individuals.
That's why for me, the worst part of this case is not the perfect storm of controversy its created on this issue. Rather, it’s the implications of its end result that leave me cold. After all, the jury was hopelessly deadlocked.