James Gill: Cats versus bears: a quick comparison

There are moves afoot to stop killing stray cats and to start killing black bears.

The head of one campaign is called Slaughter, but it is not the one that favors potting Louisiana’s official state mammal. These are confusing times.

Christel Slaughter is president of the Companion Animal Alliance, which operates the parish’s shelter in East Baton Rouge. The shelter it offers is necessarily short-term, for that is where unwanted animals are put down by the thousands every year. Nationwide the number runs into the millions.

The CAA, which took over the shelter a couple of years ago in hopes of making this a “no-kill” city, is now backing an ordinance that would provide for stray cats to be rounded up, neutered and put back on the streets.

Meanwhile, the black bear has more going for it than a seal of approval from a state Legislature. The bear received that dubious honor in 1992, the same year it was placed on the federal threatened species list. Its numbers have recovered significantly since then, and state Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham figures the time might be approaching for a bear hunting season.

But it cannot yet be said that Louisiana has an oversupply of bears, whereas many urban neighborhoods are overrun by abandoned cats. If we have to protect one species, logic says it should not be the ruthless predator that kills songbirds and mosquito-eating lizards. Bears may be somewhat lacking in manners if humans settle near their habitat, but they do not roam city streets, fouling yards, leaving paw prints on cars and disturbing our slumber with their shrieks.

It may be that the nocturnal caterwauling will be somewhat reduced once the CAA has curbed the amorous propensities of what they have dubbed “community cats.” Curmudgeonly members of the community will no doubt still not welcome them back with open arms.

Still, it would take more than a curmudgeon not to be appalled by the grisly reality of animal shelters. No-kill policies may have reduced the death rate in some places, but this is a problem caused by human stupidity, and there is no cure for that. So long as unneutered pets are on the loose, the strays will be with us. Cats can produce four to six kittens several times a year.

Maybe in the long run the CAA plan will cut the numbers, but it can hardly be more effective in that regard than the current system. “A city that cares for its animals is a prosperous city,” according to Councilwoman Tara Wicker, sponsor of the ordinance providing for the release of rounded-up felines. If that means a city needs a lot of money to cope with the surfeit of animals, she is no doubt correct, whether we kill them or not. But putting them back on the same streets where they were aggravating the community in the first place will do more for cat felicity than municipal prosperity. If there is an animal that requires no human help to survive, it must be the cat.

The same cannot quite be said for the Louisiana black bear. The population, once down to 80 to 120 statewide, now numbers 516 to 566 in the Tensas and Atchafalaya River basins alone.

Naturally, with that many bears around, sportsmen are eager to shoot them, and Barham has said he is “working hard to get tags to get a hunting season,” because “we have a very healthy population that has long-term viability.”

Hunting will only enhance that viability, according to the sporting types, because it will give them an incentive to conserve bear habitat. This is probably true, as ducks will attest. There would not be so many of them to blast out of the sky if Ducks Unlimited hadn’t invested considerable sums to create favorable breeding conditions. Thus, if the feds do take bears off the threatened list, our duty will be to shoot them for their own good.

If you bag one and take a selfie by the carcass, you can show it around to general approbation. But do not try this with a stray cat. You’ll wind up in court on a cruelty rap.

James Gill’s email address is jgill@theadvocate.com.