The politics of cats

Cats have become political. No wannabe prime minister who would dare suggest they did not like cats, though Rishi Sunak has yet to declare. Budding politicians no longer kiss babies but they do stroke cats. Even Sir Ed Davey kneels subserviently in the presence of cats.

There are people who believe that cats should be locked up to preserve wildlife. Indeed, the majority of American cats are not allowed outdoors, a move encouraged by the American Bird Conservatory and others. The EU has dismissed restrictions on the right of felines to roam, though one German town has implemented a summer ban.

Wildlife is under pressure. Although the RSPB says there is no scientific evidence that cats are responsible for the decline bird populations in the UK, it is perhaps only a matter of time before politicians are lobbied to keep all cats indoors.

Readers of this article will quickly learn I am a cat lover. I was once owned by seven cats, though now I have only one master, Biggles the Cat. We are the best of friends but his nocturnal habits can be disturbing. A year ago, I was taking part in the What the Cat Dragged In survey run by Hannah Lockwood at the University of Derby. In just six months, Biggles the Cat brought in 95 beasts: 85 mice, six rabbits and two shrews, along with five birds, three blackbirds and two pigeons. At least 51 of these were alive when dragged through the cat flap. I caught and released just one bird and one mouse, and whether they lived there is no way of knowing.

The good news is that Biggles the Cat is slowing his rate of slaughter. He seems to be more interested in fighting other cats for territory and as I write this, he lies stretched out on the easy chair. He’s been thoroughly duffed up in a fight and it looks like he lost.

The hunting habits of cats may not seem a political matter but any future prime minister would be foolish to ignore Larry, the chief mouser at No. 10 Downing Street. He has a sharp tongue on his Twitter feed (cats get humans to write for them) and he has witnessed the removal vans for three prime ministers already. And according to one report, he has a similar mouse score rate to Biggles the Cat.

But there are more serious issues. Cats cause significant havoc to wildlife and in some locations, they have led to extinction and near extinction of species. This has created a lot of concern about the impact of cats on nature, with many surveys including those by Derby and Reading universities. Researchers have found cats contributed to the decline and extinction more than 400 species. A lot of this destruction is on islands, where cats and other predators have been eradicated to prevent the further decline and to allow reintroduction.

Walldorf in Germany is one of the last homes of the ground-nesting crested lark, down to just three breeding pairs locally. The town authorities have ordered residents to lock their cats indoors for three summers or face a hefty fine.

This lockdown has not been without controversy. Writing in the Mirror, Polly Hudson called it a “shameful assault on basic feline rights”. She laid into American ecologist Peter P. Marra, who believes no cats should be allowed outside anywhere. Two-thirds of American cat owners keep their pets indoors. In the UK, almost the same proportion of cats are allowed to roam outdoors according to the latest PDSA paw report. A quarter of UK adults own a cat, more than 11 million felines in all. They catch up to 100 million prey items over spring and summer, of which 27 million are birds. These figures would horrify Peter P. Marra who has argued that all cats everywhere should be locked up. He is joined by Arie Trouwborst and Han Somsen from Tilburg University, who say the Nature Directives require EU member states to ensure that “letting cats roam free outdoors is forbidden and effectively prevented.” But the EU says it is “a strong defender of free movement rights – including of cats” and no ban is proposed.

So far, there is little sign of the roaming of cats becoming a political issue in the UK. But where America goes, we too often follow.

The politics of our day are dominated by the leadership contest. Liz Truss has declared herself a cat lover. Rishi Sunak hasn’t said anything about cats that I can find. Perhaps cat roaming is something the candidates might address in their final statements in the leadership contest. It might at least make the contest a little more interesting.

Mind you, if Larry the Cat had been on the ballot paper, I reckon he would have been a clear winner and our next prime minister.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk. He is Thursday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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8 Comments

  • I gather that Grant Shapps is proposing that they must wear number plates when outside..

  • Nick Collins 18th Aug '22 - 10:04am

    A vet once suggested to me that liberals and democrats are likely to prefer cats while while dictators and bullies (e.g Hitler) are likely to favour dogs because, as he put it, “You can’t order cats about”.

    As a lover of both species, I do not believe that “ordering them about” is an effective way of training or bonding with dogs: a combination of affection and kindness is much more likely to be successful.

  • George Thomas 18th Aug '22 - 10:42am

    “the majority of American cats are not allowed outdoors”

    My initial reaction is that this is incredibly cruel but America’s obsession with cars and guns, coupled with much larger houses on average, perhaps not. Urban areas in the UK are becoming less and less cat friendly with high fences and fast cars so in a way we are slowly following USA again.

    I am very impressed by Biggles the Cat and his haul. I would say that my cat caught, an estimate, of 5 mice in 15 years.

    To (badly) quote from Milton Jones, “some people really don’t like cats and some people really do, The Pope for example – I heard he’s cat-oholic.”

  • Full disclosure: I love cats. Tess has been gone now for many years but she was such a friend. I’ve never felt quite able to replace her.
    But the point I want to make is that there’s another serious way that pets can be political and that is the issue of rented/social housing. There is a clause in the standard rent lease that says you can’t have pets. I think this is anachronistic, dates back to harsher, stricter times and just feels wrong in 2022. Of course landlords don’t want their property wrecked by a bad dog or cat, but that is actually covered in the general clause of the tenant being liable for any damage. There’s no reason at all why a well-trained pet shouldn’t be allowed.
    And it’s not trivial: pets are really important parts of many families, especially for kids, and they help single/elderly people fight loneliness. In these days of mindfulness and ‘quality of life’ being a measurement of growth, the LibDems should call to scrap that clause. (We may already have this policy – I haven’t checked. But if we don’t we should!) It’s good, liberal thinking. And it would be a vote-winner too! We could call it the Paws Clause. 8=0] Policy cttee folks please note.

  • We have had a number of cats – the current occupant is seven year old Fudge. She thinks she is a great hunter but she is not. Birds in the garden would laugh at her if they could. She has never caught anything bigger than a moth and doubt she ever will. As my wife’s tea towel says “dogs have owners” “cats have staff”. By the way I think Larry would make a better Prime Minister than the current incumbent or the two trying to succeed him – love his comments on twitter.

  • Tony Vickers 19th Aug '22 - 10:34am

    Only yesterday our Council’s Principal Planning Officer told me that some councils have refused housing applications simply because surveys showed that the neighbourhood housed endangered hazel dormice. Cats are known to be serious predators of small mammals in particular.
    In my Ward, we have just had a 1000-home housing development approved on appeal which is adjacent to 7 ancient woodlands. We opposed it largely because of the harm cats would cause to wildlife but there were no surveys of particular endangered species.
    New Zealand is so worried about the loss of its native wildlife to cats that is is seriously considering a total ban on cats.
    I love cats and was given on when aged 9 in 1953 but then we didn’t have such a good understanding of the problems they can cause. I’m afraid that I wouldn’t have a cat now or give one to my grandchildren. I want future generations to be able to enjoy the wildlife that is now critically endangered in most of the world. All tomcats should be neutered and breeding tightly controlled.

  • Nonconformistradical 19th Aug '22 - 11:14am

    If domestic cats hunt mainly at night – do they? – then perhaps a compromise would be for owners of domestic cats to keep them indoors at night?

    Do we need to focus on dealing with feral cats?

    I’ve seen online that the government was planning (documents dated 2021) to make microchipping of cats mandatory but I’m not sure whether that is in force yet and I’m not holding my breath. At least it would help to distinguish domestic cats from feral ones.

    “New Zealand is so worried about the loss of its native wildlife to cats that is is seriously considering a total ban on cats.”
    I wonder how this would be implemented successfully. I recall something about it being done on some small isolated island somewhere but how do you deal with all the feral cats in a reasonable sized country?

    “All tomcats should be neutered and breeding tightly controlled.”
    Implementing neutering them all might be a big problem. I’d agree about controlling breeding.

    It seems to me cats do have an essential role on farms as rat-catchers – protecting stored crops.

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