See, a new study has found that cats are killing billions (with a "b") of birds and small mammals every year, endangering several populations to the point of possible extinction. This has prompted some people, perhaps most notably New Zealand's Gareth Moran, to call for stray cats to be euthanized and all pet cats to be neutered or spayed and kept indoors, even to the point--in Moran's case--of the eradication of their own population.
Now I have two (solely indoor, and spayed, for what it's worth) cats, and that argument sent shivers down my spine.
|I tried to get photographic proof of their existence in one nice picture, |
but they're cats, so they refused to cooperate.
But when I read Waters' article, I realized it was more complicated than it at first seemed:
The problem is that trap-neuter-release programs don’t work (3). Cat fertility is so high–a single female can have 3 litters of 4-6 kittens each year–that just a small percentage of the population needs to be reproductive to make up for the natural death rate. (Even if most of the kittens born end up dying before reproducing.) Additionally, trap-neuter-release isn’t even cost-effective compared to euthanasia, even if all the cat feeding, capturing and neutering is performed by volunteers (4).
And, meanwhile, all those neutered cats are still doing what they do best: catching and eating small animals.She concludes that cats should be controlled through "humane killing, just like many other invasive species." The argument is one of conflicting ethical frameworks. On the one hand, there are advocates for feral cats who believe that their humane treatment is supreme in this debate. On the other hand, there are advocates for biodiversity that say the lives of the native bird and mammal populations should be more important.
I'm not taking a side in this debate (and I'm not euthanizing my cats), but it did make me think of another complicated article I read recently.
It's about quinoa.
Quinoa has become something of a fad grain in the United States, and it is particularly popular among the "foodie" crowd. This Guardian article points out that many vegans tout the benefits of quinoa as a good source of protein without the ethical problems of food from animal sources. (I think the article relies a little too heavily on the assumption that it's mostly vegans increasing the demand for quinoa (when really, it's vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores alike), but the ethical question remains). Because quinoa is suddenly much more in demand than it used to be, the cost of it has increased so much that people in Peru and Bolivia, where it is grown, can often no longer afford it. That means that a staple of their diets has been priced out of their accessibility. There are two competing ethical frameworks in this debate. On one hand, there are ethical concerns for the treatment of animals, and on the other hand is the ethical concern for the people who depend on quinoa as a native food source.
That article in turn reminded me of yet another fascinating article that illustrates these problems. In this article, Jackson Landers makes the argument that eating deer is more ethical than eating soy:
A wild deer requires no killing until the moment of harvest to produce some 40 pounds of meat, even from a smallish animal. The deer lives free of cages, electric prods, hormones or antibiotics. No other animals are trapped, poisoned or shot to bring it to maturity. The blood footprint of the venison burger may be less than that of a tub of popcorn.He argues that because traditionally harvested soy requires the killing of many animals through pesticides and pest control measures like hunting, the deer meat is actually the result of less animal suffering than the vegetarian option.
Again, this is a question of frameworks. Which position do you privilege? How do you make your decision?
The thing that strikes me about these three debates is that I think many of us can recognize the value of the arguments on either side. Even if I ultimately think that trapping and neutering feral cats is the choice I prefer because I am privileging the viewpoint of the cats, I can't rightly say that I don't see the point of the people who argue for biodiversity. Even if I decide that eating quinoa isn't worth the cost to Peruvians, I can't say that I don't understand the concerns of vegans who are trying to eat in a way that reduces cruelty to animals.
So what happens when two groups have equally thought-out, justified ethical frameworks that cannot co-exist? What happens when those two frameworks intersect in your own life? How do you make ethical decisions when you can see the benefits of both? Can you think of any other examples where this kind of conflict arises?
Photo: Emily Barney