Bob Kerridge: Where to now, Gareth Morgan?

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Economist might want to rethink his tactics - and focus on some positive problem-solving around cats.

The SPCA could do with help in its de-sexing cats programme to free up funds for bird rescue. Photo / Natalie Slade
The SPCA could do with help in its de-sexing cats programme to free up funds for bird rescue. Photo / Natalie Slade

Cats have been persecuted for centuries by Popes (the work of the devil), royalty (burned in sacks as a crowning sacrifice), and by the occasional zealots (think London and the great plague). This possibly explains the reason cats find it difficult to totally trust humans ... and who can blame them?

Fortunately in New Zealand cats have not been subjected to such serious oppression. In fact the contrary applies, for they are the country's most popular companion animal. They reside in 806,000 homes, representing 48 per cent of households, with a domestic population of 1.419 million.

More than 80 per cent of those who live with cats consider them to be a member of the family, and a further 10 per cent view them as trusted companions. In essence cats epitomise that strong, loving bond we are privileged to be able to share with all animals.

Until now! Enter Gareth Morgan, a modern-day zealot, and self-proclaimed saviour of the feathered with an absolute loathing of the warm and furry.

The highly tempestuous language used to support his view that all cats must go, although he now denies having said that, illustrates the degree of savagery aimed at cats who he describes as "the only true sadists of the animal world, serial killers who torture without mercy".

Curiously Dr Morgan has elected to vent his fury on the domestic (companion) cat, who does not quite fit his description. This is supported by scientific evidence. Research tells us that fewer than 50 per cent of domestic cats bother to hunt at all, the remainder preferring vermin, invertebrates, the seasonal cicadas and lizards, with birds well down their food chain, with native birds representing less than 1 per cent of their total kill.

Of greater significance, this misguided missile aimed at cat owners, most of them responsible, is so aggressive that it is likely to gain enemies rather than converts, and therefore is most unlikely to achieve whatever it is he thinks he wants.

An even greater danger of this doctrine of cat hatred is the likely emergence of some extremists, some of whom already exist, who will take great delight in abusing and injuring cats because their hatred of them has been even more aroused. In this regard Dr Morgan can be held totally accountable.

Characteristically, those who oppose his views are also subjected to verbal abuse, including (not surprisingly) the SPCA and me personally. Apparently we have no interest in birds, which is strange considering our SPCA BirdWing group of volunteers who care for them in their thousands, or the fact that my planting at home is designed to attract bird life to ensure we welcome the dawn to the bird calls, and the constant daytime trill of the visiting tui. Surrounded by all this bird life our two "serial killers" have presented us with one sparrow and one fledgling thrush over the past three years.

Because of my own animal welfare principles I fully concur with Dr Brian Edwards' contribution to this debate. He "feels sorry when any living creature is killed. I don't make the distinction between a 'good' and 'bad' species in the animal world". That he accused Gareth Morgan of "animal racism" is appropriate.

However, predictably, it earned him an acidic retort.

The fact that stray cats have not been targeted by Dr Morgan comes as a surprise, (maybe that's round two). Sadly our domestic cats are very disposable, and stray cats are the result of these irresponsible people who discard their "entire" cats to fend for themselves. The existence of these strays is not the cats' fault and accordingly we take responsibility for their welfare by de-sexing them, identifying them, and returning them to their colonies where they are fed and cared for.

There is a veritable army of wonderful volunteer cat carers who will rise in revolt, supported by the SPCA, should they become another Morgan target.

Then there is the third category of cat, namely the "feral" (not to be confused with the stray) who live, unseen, in bush-clad areas and who are not dependent on humans for their food. If he is really serious about protecting native birds, this surely is the sector on which Dr Morgan should be focusing, for research indicates that for sheer survival these cats predate more profusely. There is, however, a conundrum here in that if these cats are removed from those remote areas, rodents and other more fearsome predators will gain free rein, and greater bird carnage will occur as a result. This is not a dilemma I need to solve as the feral is a declared "pest", so it's up to the conservationists (and perhaps eccentric economists), or nature itself (which I prefer), to resolve.

So where to from here Dr Morgan? You have announced that stage two of your assault will be launched next month and will, as you put it, "wind up the anti", whatever that means. If so, bring it on, but perhaps you would be wise to rethink your tactics and join us to bring about a positive solution by encouraging responsible cat ownership.

Why not put your money where your busy mouth is and support us by assisting with the funding of desexing and micro-chipping of every domestic cat in the country. That will make a positive difference, and will free up SPCA funding to add to our bird rescue activities !

If you don't want to do that, and you continue on your ridiculous resolve to be rid of all cats, I can only repeat what I have already said: "Butt out of our lives, and don't deprive us of the beautiful relationship that a cat can provide, individually, and in our families."

Bob Kerridge is executive director, SPCA Auckland and national president, RNZSPCA.

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