Among the pigeons: why our cats belong indoors

Author John L. Read, book review by Dave Rose

This fascinating book offers a telling insight into the conundrum raised by conflicting appraisals of the enigma of the domestic cat. How can a cuddly, purring household pet be transformed into a sleek, feline killing machine once it steps outside the threshold and makes the outdoors its domain?

As ecologist and author John L. Read tells us, alas this is the nature of the beast. The statistics relating to the damage that rampant cats can inflict on Australian native species are staggering. In this country cats threaten various species of mammals, with many extinct due to just that interference, birds and reptiles. It is estimated 377 million birds and 650 million retiles perish each year at the hands of rogue moggies. Outdoor cats can also spread diseases ‑ including toxoplasmosis. As well as Australia, Read travels and observes extensively as the cat poser is a global happening.

But Read’s book doesn’t advocate starting a war on cats ‑ despite the Australian government launching an ambitious culling program. The mantra of the book is that “the challenge should not be how to eliminate them but how to manage our feline friends.” He and his wife and colleague Katherine Moseby are devout animal lovers and see the solution to the crisis being based on the simple notion of turning cats into indoor creatures. This would shift the onus onto owners and Read firmly believes this is the way ahead.

The couple have worked in feral cat management for 25 years and live on South Australia’s largest privately owned nature reserve on the Eyre Peninsula.

Read picks his way around all aspects of the feral cat phenomenon, citing quotes and observations from other noted sources, including renowned broadcaster and natural historian David Attenborough and English primatologist and anthropologist Dame Jane Goodall. Each chapter is prefaced by an incisive quote on the approaching subject matter. One amusingly cutting remark introduces the ‘Stealth and Subterfuge’ section when Edward Paley is credited as saying: “The last thing I would accuse a cat of is innocence.” Such a wry aside highlights what cat owners are up against.

New York Times columnist Richard Conniff is another writer who is referenced and a firm advocate of the policy of indoor cats. He described the trend as “beginning to make outdoor cats as socially unacceptable as smoking cigarettes in the office or leaving dog droppings on a sidewalk.”

The book concludes with a hefty section of acknowledgements and suggestions for further reading, based on the contents of each chapter, ahead of a detailed index.

All in all, the book is a remarkable perception of where the future could lie in the handling of a burgeoning cat population. It covers a broad spectrum and is well worth consideration. As Read puts it eloquently in his sign-off sentence: “The era of the indoor lapcat is rapidly approaching and I, for one, am ready to embrace it.”

Among the Pigeons is published by Wakefield Press and retails for $34.95. Visit johnlread.com

1. Among the Pigeons: Why our cats belong indoors looks at the conservation issues involved with cats.
2. Author and ecologist John L. Read takes a pragmatic approach to environmental and animal welfare issues.
3. John L. Read setting up a Felixer cat trap, which he developed to specifically target only feral cats and foxes.