In Defense of an Alleged Serial Killer

Recently, much has been said about the ethics of keeping cats as pets. Take this piece that appeared in last week's Guardian. Cats are not only decried for their hunting of small wild animals, they're literally referred to as "serial killers." Another article that appeared in the New York Times was titled, "Cats Are a Bird's No. 1 Enemy."

While it's true that cats do hunt and kill millions of animals (the New York Times piece estimates that cats kill around 500 million birds a year) much of this is a human-made problem. Keeping cats indoors and spaying and neutering are great ways to curtail cat population and wildlife hunting. It's also important to keep in mind that cats are obligate carnivores. What this means is that cats must eat animal flesh in order to survive. In contrast, humans have no dietary requirement for meat and can thrive on a vegetarian diet.

This stands starkly against the fact that in the U.S. alone, we humans kill almost 9 billion land animals a year -- almost 8 billion are birds -- and a whopping 50 billion aquatic animals for food -- food that we don't even need.

With billions of animals being slaughtered year after year for our appetites, it's clear that our demonization of cats as "serial killers" and "enemy number one" is not only misplaced, it's dreadfully hypocritical. And let's not forget that while cats hunt in the wild where animals live freely, humans breed animals on factory farms where they are deprived of almost everything that is natural to them. Many live in cages so small they can't even turn around, some never see sunlight, and all will meet the same ghastly end.

Perhaps it makes us feel better to slam cats for killing birds. They become a scapegoat and assuage our guilt for killing not just millions, but billions more animals. I think it's high time for us to look at the real serial killer: the one staring right back at us in the mirror.