It is believed that today's cats are descended from the African Wildcat, which was domesticated by the Egyptians 6,000 years ago.  However, it is the Romans who are credited with bringing cats to Britain, having smuggled them out of Egypt aboard their ships, before dispersing them throughout their empire.

Quickly recognised for their skills as rodent exterminators, cats flourished until the 12th Century when, due to the Christian Church's preoccupation with witchcraft, they were denounced as Witches' Familiars.  As a result, hundreds of thousands of cats were slaughtered throughout Europe in the Middle Ages.

This persecution continued unchecked into the 18th Century, and it was not until the Victorian era that they were finally able to shake off this stigma.  Even so, it is only during the last 100 years that the domestic cat has risen to its present elevated position as Britain's favorite pet.

Cat owners should make it their responsibility to reduce the number of creatures killed by their pets by considering the following:



1.     Prevent unwanted kittens.  A responsible cat owner who isn't intending to breed them will try to stop unwanted kittens by having the cat spayed or neutered.  This may well contribute to reducing the chances of pet cats being killed or injured on roads.  Tom cats will wander a very long way and stay away from home for days searching for a female.

2.     Fit an elasticated collar with bells.  A cat can struggle out of an elasticated collar in the rare circumstances of it getting caught on something. The collar should have more than one bell if possible so they jangle and jingle together. Some of the tiny bells on collars are nearly useless as a warning device . One can fit additional bells to the fastener on the collar with thin garden wire or something similarly strong.

3.     Be cat conscious when feeding the birds.  If using a bird table put it in a position that makes it impossible for a cat to jump up on it and also away from overhanging branches.  Sometimes putting a bird table out in the open makes the birds an easier target for sparrow hawks, so if one is plagued by sparrow hawk predation it may be better not to use a bird table at all if there are cats to consider too.  In this case see if one can feed the birds from hanging feeders on the end of wires suspended from branches too weak to support a cat but thick enough to give the birds a chance if a sparrow hawk attacks.

4.     Make your cat as comfortable as possible.  Although cats are highly independent they respond positively to warmth and affection.  According to the Mammal Society cats which are less bored are less likely to do so much killing for pleasure (recreational killing).

5.     Fit a sonic collar.  Agencies have carried out trials on CatAlert sonic collars.  The results showed that in two sample groups the collar reduced predation of birds by two thirds.  Further tests are being conducted.

6.     Keep your cat in when the birds are having their first feed of the day and when they're going to roost.  These seem to be two times when the birds are most vulnerable to cat predation.  Obviously trying to do this in the summer months is difficult because of early sunrise.

7.     Keep it in at night and provide it with a litter tray.

8.     Get a highly visible kitten.  Fat, old and lazy cats would be the favorite choice for the birds but this is hardly practicable.  Many new cats come into homes as kittens, but if one tries to remember how superbly camouflaged a tabby cat can be compared to one with plenty of white on it, a brightly colored cat should result in less birds killed during a lifetime.

9.     Keep it in during the birds' breeding season from April to July.  Adult birds collecting food take risks and young birds just out of the nest are easy prey for cats.

10.     Deter cats from your garden and from around your bird tables by planting Coleus canina.  Plant in pots that can be moved about.  Cuttings root easily so a couple of plants can soon provide your defenses.  Protect from frost in the winter in a heated greenhouse - it smells too unpleasant to bring into the house.



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