Outdoor Cats: Science, Ethics, and Politics

In: Society & Animals
William S. Lynn Marsh Institute, Clark University Worster, MA USA
PAN Works Marborough, MA USA

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Francisco J. Santiago-Ávila Project Coyote and The Rewilding Institute Larkspur, CA USA
PAN Works Marborough, MA USA

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The relationship between people, outdoor cats, and wildlife is the subject of fraught debate. Some conservationists claim cats are harbingers of chaos – akin to a zombie apocalypse threatening biodiversity and public health. The empirical evidence and scientific reasoning do not bear this out. Cats may or may not be a problem for biodiversity depending on diverse ecological and social contexts. Indeed, while all animals can be vectors or victims of zoonotic disease, cats are not a significant threat to public health. While most of the debate is focused on dueling claims about the science, that is not the primary source of the dispute. Instead, moral disputes drive the debate, and managing the relationship between people, cats, and wildlife is a wicked problem rooted in differing ethical values and worldviews. While wicked problems have no permanent or technical fix, addressing their ethical aspects is key to unlocking productive policy options.

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