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Cats are not a major threat to the environment

George Fenwick's article on cats as an invasive species ("House cats: The destructive invasive species purring on your lap" Feb. 26) was filled with misinformation. It is easy to blame cats for environmental degradation; it is far more difficult to place the blame where it belongs. While cats kill birds, the threat they pose is in no way equal to the threat posed by human-caused habitat loss, climate change, or pollution. These are the threats to wildlife that we should be worrying about today.

Further, cats do not spread diseases far and wide. Rats, which cats kill, are believed to have been the cause of the plagues in the Middle Ages, and cats arrived in America because sailors brought them along to kill rodents. The diseases cats can transmit, such as toxoplasmosis and cat scratch fever, are widely acknowledged and are the reason that pregnant women are told not to clean litter boxes and that therapy cats must be declawed.

Cats do not generally spread rabies, and rabies shots are required for owners across the country. They are given to shelter cats and at trap-neuter-return clinics. CDC statistics show that wild animals, including raccoons, foxes, and rodents, accounted for 92 percent of the 6,000-plus rabies cases identified in animals in 2010. Domestic pets accounted for the other eight percent, and while cases in cats did increase from 2009, it was by one percent. Among humans, two cases were reported.

Mr. Fenwick is right that cats should not be allowed to roam freely, but he neglects the most important factor in reducing the number of outdoor cats: educating owners on responsible pet ownership. We can't kill our way out of this problem if owners persist in putting cats outside. The author and his cat-hating colleagues should join forces with animal welfare groups to promote educational campaigns and low-cost spraying and neutering.

A little compassion for the cats wouldn't hurt, either.

Emily Chalmers, Baltimore

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