Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center

The "Poacher Approach": An Ethical-Hunting Argument for Keeping Cats Indoors
by Diane Winn & Marc Payne, Avian Haven, Freedom, ME
Reprinted from ReMaine Wild Newsletter, Winter 2007-2008.

The difficulty of persuading some cat-owners to keep their pets indoors is familiar to all rehabilitators who regularly admit victims of cat predation. Organizations such as the American Bird Conservancy and the Humane Society of the United States publish pamphlets and other materials advising people of the dangers – both to wildlife and their pets – of allowing cats outside. We regularly hand such publications to folks bringing us cat-caught birds; however, judging from the number of "repeat offenders" we see in our practice, it is evident that not everyone is persuaded by arguments like those presented in ABC's Cats Indoors! campaign.

Some months ago, Marc had a discussion about this issue with a group of people who were both avid hunters and in favor of letting cats outdoors. The impact of cat predation on songbird and other wildlife populations seemed unimportant to these individuals; they defended a cat's right to hunt with the same fervent zeal they probably would use to advocate their own rights as hunters. But when Marc characterized cats' hunting practices as "poaching," the tenor of the discussion changed abruptly. And as the poaching theme developed in further conversation, these proud-to-be-ethical hunters finally acknowledged that cats should not be allowed outside, after all.

This incident inspired us to write the text for a different kind of keep-cats-indoors campaign. Our message portrays a hunting cat as an "unwitting game thief" and is explicit about its potential victims (e.g., mothers with dependent young, wounded animals that are left to starve). However, it places responsibility on the owner ("Your cat may not understand ethical hunting, but you do."), rather than blaming the pet. Two different visual themes were developed to accompany the text. One uses human hunter images to highlight the poaching keynote; it was created by graphic designer (and Avian Haven volunteer) Kim Mullen. The other motif was created by Susan Giglia on behalf of ReMaine Wild. It uses the same text, but the lead image is a cat with a bird in its paws, and it has a "softer look" than that of the hunter version. Both can be seen and downloaded below.

Scalped Robin
Scalped Robin
Photo by Marc Payne

Anyone who would like to use the "poacher approach" is welcome to do so. One or both of these designs could be printed as a mini-poster and distributed to people bringing in cat victims, posted in admission areas, etc. Different appeals will be more effective for different types of cat-owners, so one further idea is to have several kinds of materials available (including the ABC Cats Indoors! and HSUS Safe Cats pamphlets), deciding which one to present as a conversation develops with the particular individual whose cat injured the animal at hand. Sadly, however, some people will resist any attempt at persuasion – the person who brought us this scalped robin nestling, for example, refused to even take, much less read, the Cats Indoors! pamphlet we held out to her.


Wanted Poster
716KB PDF
Cat Poster
234KB PDF
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