With respect to the article, “Kitties and Copperheads” [Commentary, Aug. 8], I was quite dismayed by the attitude that it is acceptable to allow “pet” cats to roam outside, and that the killing of snakes—albeit venomous (but not considered lethal)—is warranted.
Although habitat loss is probably the greatest threat to our native wildlife, free-roaming pet cats and feral cats contribute greatly to the decline. There are an estimated 90 million pet cats and 60 million feral cats in the United States, and free-roaming cats are responsible for the yearly deaths of hundreds of millions of songbirds, as well as countless millions of small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. And while predation is natural, domestic cats are not native to the U.S. and wildlife in this country have not developed defensive mechanisms to deal with such a numerous and cunning predator. A pet owner should also be concerned about the risks that face free-roaming cats, including: deadly diseases such as feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus; parasites such as fleas and ticks; poisoning from toxic substances such lawn treatments, bait used to kill rodents, and auto antifreeze; injuries from other animals such as dogs, coyotes and copperheads; human cruelty; wildlife traps; traffic accidents.
The life expectancy of indoor-only cats is approximately 17 years, compared with an average of around five years for free-roaming cats.
I have enjoyed the companionship of several cats during my life, and I admit to allowing the first of these pet cats to roam outside. However, once I realized the threat that they posed to native wildlife and the risks they themselves faced outdoors, I quickly decided it was time for them to do their roaming inside the house.
Another issue of serious concern is the author’s admission that 10 copperhead snakes had been killed in her yard. Although this snake is indeed venomous, it is not an aggressive animal and its bite is not considered to be lethal; there is no record of human fatalities from copperhead bites in the state of North Carolina. I have spent thousands of hours in Southeastern woods and in Southwestern deserts (in the snakes’ yard, if you will) and have observed scores of venomous snakes, and I have never come close to being bitten by any of them.
This mindset that induces people to eradicate all things considered a threat reminds me of a story on network TV a few years back about a lady from New York who moved to Phoenix and discovered scorpions on her property (in the desert of all places!). She demanded that they be removed. (The scorpions obviously weren’t evicted—after all, they have survived the effects of nuclear weapons testing—so she has probably since moved to a safer location such as Miami, only to face the perils of mosquitoes, hurricanes and lightning.)
Why is it that people cannot share the property where they have decided to live with the wildlife that has always existed on that property, especially if that wildlife doesn’t present a real threat to them? Is this a matter of ignorance or arrogance?
As the dominant intellectual presence on this planet, shouldn’t it be our responsibility to respect and protect all the creatures that we share this world with, including songbirds, small mammals and even venomous snakes? Our obligation as a resident of this earth should be to coexist with nature, not to conquer it.
— Jeffrey Q. Smith
Retired (mostly) wildlife biologist