Dog Feeding

In Iceland, Cats Face Curfews and Bans Aimed toward Curbing Their Murderous Methods

This piece was initially revealed in Hakai Journal and seems right here with permission.

Within the early months of the coronavirus lockdowns, my spouse shared with me a day by day dose of cat movies. By shared, after all, I imply she flipped the display screen of her telephone and thrust it at me throughout the desk: “Look!” And for the subsequent 10 minutes, we’d scroll—cat taking a bubble tub, cat robbing a fishmonger, cat enjoying the piano to an viewers of two cats and a canine. One afternoon, as I got here within the door, coated in snow, she greeted me with “Cat Lawyer”—a video of a Texas lawyer caught on kitten filter throughout a courtroom case on Zoom. The snow melted off my hat, all around the cell display screen, however we stored watching.

“Cat Lawyer” went viral in February 2021, a 12 months into the pandemic, once we had tried for a number of months to get an precise cat to dwell with us in northern Iceland. Animal shelters had been empty, with tons of of disenchanted folks craving for the consolation and pleasure of a feline buddy. Icelandic cat breeders didn’t reply their telephones, and the native veterinary authority cracked down on unlawful kitten sellers for the primary time. Cats had been having the perfect 12 months for the reason that invention of the web—it appeared. As we speak, as Icelanders embrace freedom once more, Icelandic cats are combating for theirs.

In April, Akureyri—the most important municipality within the nation’s north, with a inhabitants of 19,000 folks and a few 2,000 to three,000 cats—determined to ban their feline residents from night time roaming outdoors. Neighboring Húsavík banned cats a number of years in the past from going outdoor day and night time. Different Icelandic cities are contemplating bans as the problem of free-roaming cats more and more makes its method from on-line boards to native politics, with the arguments usually falling into two classes. Some folks—the “no animals in my yard” or NAIMBY-ists—proclaim free-roaming cats are nuisances that must be confined like every other pet. Others suppose past the anthropocentric: Cats kill birds and disrupt ecosystems.

Home cats are hardly ever a part of an ecosystem, and regardless of hundreds of years of domestication, cats nonetheless desire their meals at 38 °C—the lukewarm temperature of recent blood. They’re way more much like their ancestors, African wildcats, than canine are to wolves. Their ear flaps, with 32 muscular tissues to rotate, are terribly fast at selecting up high-pitched seems like a mouse’s squeak. Their eyes are huge on a petite head and modify to obtainable mild just like the aperture of a digital camera. Whiskers give them a three-dimensional sense, their sheathed claws guarantee silence, they usually can bounce vertically, as much as 5 instances their very own peak with out effort.

Introduce this elegant murderer to locations the place migratory birds have tailored to a land freed from pure predators and the harm might be irreversible, with some alarming examples worldwide. The Worldwide Union for Conservation of Nature Invasive Species Specialist Group lists cats as one of many 100 worst invasive species on this planet. Their paw prints are all around the scene. Quite a few research have implicated cats within the world extinction of at the very least 63 species—40 birds, 21 mammals, two reptiles—and contributed to the endangered standing of one other 587 species. And nowhere do cats, notably unowned cats, trigger extra harm than on islands: free-roaming cat islanders are linked to at the very least 14 % of worldwide fowl, mammal, and reptile extinctions. In Iceland, a rustic with just one native terrestrial predator, cats have contributed to the dramatic decline of seabirds and have preyed on offshore fowl colonies.

Maybe pandemic fatigue addled my mind, however solely the positives—decrease stress ranges, for one—related to pet possession resonated with our household. By means of a collection of fortunate breaks, we lastly discovered a tabby cat we named Ronja, after the forest-dwelling Astrid Lindgren character. She is lovely however, frankly, a menace to all issues residing, and my ankles: Every time my toes dangle away from bed or couch or a chair, Ronja takes it as an invite to assault. Loss of life first got here on the within. Our houseplants died. Window flies she swallowed complete. As soon as the snow melted, I opened the window. And out she went.

Ronja, the creator’s cat, has the character of a serial killer. Egill Bjarnason

In a world the place we divide ourselves into cat folks or canine folks, Iceland has historically been the land of cat folks. Town of Reykjavík banned canine for a lot of the final century, till 1984, primarily based on the concept that they had been cattle. Town’s bourgeoisie cats nap on geothermal-heated sidewalks and befriend world-famous company—in 2011, the New Yorker revealed Haruki Murakami’s quick story “City of Cats,” in all probability impressed by his go to to the Reykjavik Worldwide Literary Pageant, the place he famous the energetic cat scene. However the felines’ chef-d’œuvre is inducing people into an annual show honoring the ability of cats: every December, town vegetation a huge metallic cat statue downtown at Lækjartorg Sq. reverse the prime minister’s workplace to rejoice the folkloric Xmas Cat, a monster-sized creature who—within the spirit of Christmas!—torments kids and eats them alive, particularly these not carrying new garments for the festivities.

This cat companionship is as outdated because the nation itself. The Norse who mastered crusing from northern Europe to this middle-of-nowhere island some 1,150 years in the past probably had cats aboard their ships. The primary cat to place its paws on the stony seaside—let’s name him Henry the Viking Cat—had locations to raid. Iceland is, in primary geological phrases, a volcanic hotspot turned fowl colony turned nation. When cats arrived, together with livestock, the one different terrestrial mammal was the Arctic fox, which had traveled through sea ice from Greenland, Russia, or North America sooner or later earlier than written information.

Christmas celebrations in the Icelandic city of Reykjavík include a giant cat that’s mean to kids.Christmas celebrations within the Icelandic metropolis of Reykjavík embody an enormous cat that’s imply to children. Arctic Photos/Alamy Inventory Photograph

Few wild animals consciously go for a home life. On the daybreak of agriculture, the cat agreed to kill just a few rodents in trade for leftovers and—assuming historic cats had been as somnolent as trendy cats—locations to nap for 12 to 18 hours of the day. Sure, cats performed social companions to needy people in historic instances—killing a cat was punishable by loss of life in historic Egypt—however their position was farm work. And this excellent association lasted, roughly talking, for 10,000 years.

Now we would like them to cease.

Surveys counsel Icelanders’ assist for cat curfews is highest in areas with personal properties and personal gardens. Their reasoning is predominantly idiosyncratic, likening roaming cats to visits from rowdy city drunks. To paraphrase some on-line feedback about cat visitations: “cat urine sprayed the patio,” “challenged one other cat to a 3:00 a.m. duel and killed the yellow daffodils,” “final week he got here into the home, and the pharmacy is out of pet-allergy medication.” Cat supporters reply alongside the traces of, “Get a life and attempt to tolerate the surface world; cats are a delight and have roamed Iceland so long as we now have.”

The ecological impression seems secondary to public coverage, evident when Húsavík, made well-known by the Netflix comedy Eurovision Tune Contest: The Story of Hearth Saga, grew to become one of many first European cities to impose a complete cat curfew. Again in 2008, the talk started when a neighborhood feral—domesticated and unowned—inhabitants grew to become troublesome, maybe as a result of their inhabitants hit a tipping level. Cats get pregnant as early as 4 months outdated, with one to 6 kittens per litter. A single feminine can get pregnant thrice a 12 months, and have over 150 descendants inside two years. The rising band of unowned cats in Húsavík started to hang around subsequent to a fish farm by the sting of city, snacking on land-grown char. On the identical time—a contented accident for the cats—a geothermal drilling mission’s runoff water created a everlasting wetland for coastal birds to nest in. Spring got here, nesting started. Hassle began.

Town of Húsavík in northern Iceland, recognized for its starring position within the film <em>Eurovision Tune Contest: The Story of Hearth Saga</em>, banned cats from outdoors in 2008.” width=”auto” data-kind=”article-image” id=”article-image-89624″ src=””/>Town of Húsavík in northern Iceland, recognized for its starring position within the film Eurovision Tune Contest: The Story of Hearth Saga, banned cats from outdoors in 2008. <span class=Della Huff/Alamy Inventory Photograph

Research in the USA counsel feral cats trigger some 70 % of fowl mortality, which is blamed on cats basically. The obvious answer to those Húsavík bandits would have been to cull unowned cats and, additional, ban all felines in rural elements of the municipality with the most important nesting websites. That might have upset farmers. As an alternative, native folks, who appeared to largely oppose cats as nuisance animals, used the chance to impose a cat curfew solely inside city limits.

Menja von Schmalensee, an knowledgeable on invasive species on the West Iceland Nature Analysis Centre, says the continued cat wars are sometimes primarily based on idiosyncratic preferences, not science. “There are locations the place feral cats ought to completely be banned outdoors, if not cats solely,” she says. “In different areas, such bans are overly drastic. My fear is that every group will comply with the loudest group no matter details.”

All around the nation that very same story echoes—notably from cliffs the place birds nest.

In 2007, Yann Kolbeinsson, armed with a laptop computer and a digital camera mounted on a bendable rod, performed an annual summer season survey of Manx shearwaters on Heimaey, in Iceland’s Westman Islands archipelago. The seabirds are floor nesters on capes and cliffs and spend daytime hours at sea. Kolbeinsson would search for indicators of a nest and push the digital camera down a tunnel till it stopped at a burrow.

As he peeked inside, through the black-and-white dwell stream of his digital camera, Kolbeinsson would write down temporary observations, one after one other. Most days, entries went like this: empty, egg, empty, fowl, egg, egg, egg, fowl, empty, empty. Sooner or later, he recorded one thing solely new: cat eyes.

4 kittens stared straight into the digital camera. A little bit feral household was residing in a raided house simply over one kilometer from the island’s settlement of 4,300 folks. This was not good.

Seabirds, such as Manx shearwaters, nest on capes and cliffs in Iceland’s Westman Islands archipelago.Seabirds, equivalent to Manx shearwaters, nest on capes and cliffs in Iceland’s Westman Islands archipelago. Michal Hykel/Shutterstock

On these 15 dome-shaped islands that make up the Westman Islands, the Manx shearwater created its largest colony in Iceland. A 1990 examine indicated a inhabitants of 6,000 breeding pairs, which now seems to be on the decline, although current analysis is murky. Seabird populations within the area are taking place, however researchers contemplate the altering ocean meals net probably the most vexing downside. Nonetheless, in lots of locations, feral cats are exacerbating the decline by attacking and consuming chicks.

Birds nest on offshore colonies exactly to keep away from land predators and take precautions to keep away from larger birds. The storm petrel, as an illustration, stays out at sea throughout daylight to keep away from assault; cats have night time imaginative and prescient and are energetic at night time, particularly unowned cats. Kolbeinsson factors out that eradicating cats just isn’t at all times a easy answer since it might probably in flip make rats and mice—which might assault eggs and chicks—extra prevalent.

After which there may be toxoplasmosis, a illness brought on by a parasite few have heard of however many have already got of their our bodies. Whereas nearly all of human transmissions end result from consuming uncooked meat, cats may also unfold toxoplasmosis. Cats that hunt wild prey (that means indoor cats are harmless) are the one animals able to transmitting the Toxoplasma gondii parasite by their feces. Wholesome folks hardly ever have signs, however the parasite can hurt human fetuses if a mom is contaminated throughout or proper earlier than being pregnant. (Recommendation for cat house owners: clear out the litter field day by day. The T. gondii parasite doesn’t turn into infectious till one to 5 days after it’s shed.) About 10 % of Icelanders have the parasite primarily based on a 2005 examine, as do some 40 million People, in response to the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention.

The Toxoplasma gondii parasite’s robust oocysts—eggs—easily travel in fresh water and the open ocean.The Toxoplasma gondii parasite’s strong oocysts—eggs—simply journey in recent water and the open ocean. TGPhoto/Alamy Inventory Photograph

Wild and home cats are the one definitive hosts for transmission from the terrestrial surroundings to the marine surroundings; with out them the organism can’t full its life cycle. The parasite’s strong oocysts—eggs—simply journey in recent water and the open ocean. Toxoplasmosis infections have killed endangered Hawaiian monk seals and California sea otters. The parasite impacts birds, too, inflicting anorexia, diarrhea, respiratory misery, and presumably loss of life. A examine of 10 species of seabirds within the western Indian Ocean discovered that 17 % of them carried antibodies in opposition to toxoplasmosis. The ʻalalā, Hawai‘i’s native crow—which survives in captivity however is extinct within the wild—additionally carries antibodies in opposition to the parasite. It’s doable toxoplasmosis arrived in Hawai‘i with Europeans and their home cats.

Illness apart, it was feral cats’ murderous natures that impressed native exterminator Asmundur Pálsson to behave following Kolbeinsson’s discovery. Pálsson started capturing feral cats and laying traps by the foot of the fowl colonies, “all to guard our Manx shearwaters,” he says.

Pálsson killed about 40 animals the primary 12 months however finally gave up: some folks on the town stored sabotaging his effort by placing rocks within the traps. Two years earlier, Pálsson, armed with a .22-caliber rifle, had worn out invasive bunnies—the European coney, native to France, Spain, and Portugal—however when it got here to cats, animal welfare appeared to outweigh ecological impression.

Domesticated cats never lost the Domesticated cats by no means misplaced the “elegant murderer” traits of their wild ancestors. Losonsky/Shutterstock

As an alternative, a bunch of volunteers on the island arrange a shelter for feral and stray cats, practising a method often called trap-neuter-release. However cats are solitary hunters that roam massive territories: it takes effort and time to deliver a single animal right into a shelter, and it’s virtually not possible to maintain up with inhabitants development. Plus, as soon as launched again into the wild—now neutered and nicely nourished—the cat is identical predator, and all feral cats hunt.

Solitary habits additionally make cats laborious to rely and clarify why world cat inhabitants estimates vary someplace between 500 and 700 million, and why estimating the ecological harm of cats has an enormous margin of error. Cats kill between 1.3 and 4 billion birds yearly in the USA alone (excluding Hawai‘i and Alaska). The numbers are primarily based on meta-research pulling big-picture information from beforehand revealed articles estimating the variety of free-roaming cats and their urge for food for birds, equivalent to by utilizing abdomen and scat evaluation. A Canadian examine, making use of the same formulation, estimates that cats kill between two and 7 % of birds in southern Canada, the place most residents dwell. The primary-ever examine estimating the issue in China, revealed in 2021, blames cats for the annual loss of life of two.9 billion reptiles, 4 billion birds, and 6.7 billion mammals, on common, along with a staggering variety of invertebrates, frogs, and fishes.

These findings implicate cats as the only best supply of anthropogenic mortality for birds—a much bigger menace than window and constructing collisions. Even worse than automobiles and poisoning? The cuddly, cuddly cat.

Why are cats so cuddly to people? They rub in opposition to our legs, lick our noses, and knead our stomachs. It’s as if we’re one other cat to them—and by one idea, that’s what we’re. Cat conduct researcher John Bradshaw claims that cats see people as larger cats. Primarily based on how smaller cats rub on larger cats when residing collectively, they in all probability see us as barely superior kitties however slightly clumsy, by cat requirements. Bradshaw, in his ebook Cat Sense, rejects the notion that cats deliver their prey inside as a present. Cats, slightly, have the tendency to deliver prey to a spot the place they really feel protected, however as soon as the feeding begins, they bear in mind—ah, wild meat tastes worse than the chicken-based cat meals within the subsequent room.

Cats kill way more birds than most individuals think about, and their house owners seem usually to carry the denialism of a father or mother, unable to simply accept their cat as murderous. In a single 2013 examine, researchers within the American Southeast affixed “kitty cam” physique cameras to cats to observe their looking: they returned solely 23 % of prey to the home. As a cat proprietor, I had assumed the six or seven birds Ronja introduced inside her first summer season was all she had caught. Every time, I used to be shocked, but it surely took a wounded whimbrel, a shorebird, combating for its life on the lounge flooring for me to simply accept the issue. Ronja has the character of a serial killer. About one-third of pet cats, thoughts you, are just like the cartoon character Garfield. For the Garfields, looking just isn’t definitely worth the effort, or just for the uncommon event. Some breeds are extra harmful than others. However for many cats, both they’ve bought a killer character or not: Amongst owned cats, solely round 20 % are thought of tremendous hunters, so good at their craft {that a} single bell round their neck will do little to kill their ambition.

Domestic cats kill between 1.3 and four billion birds annually in the United States alone (excluding Hawai‘i and Alaska).Home cats kill between 1.3 and 4 billion birds yearly in the USA alone (excluding Hawai‘i and Alaska). Rodger Tamblyn/Alamy Inventory Photograph

On the pet retailer, the shopkeeper informed me a single bell merely confirmed effort on the proprietor’s half; at finest a bell the dimensions of a marble reduces the cat’s effectiveness by half, however a number of research counsel subsequent to no impact. Bigger bells work higher however in addition they make noise if the cat is wandering like a Swiss cow round the home at night time, inflicting stress to the hyper-hearing cat. The shopkeeper informed me to strive a ruffled collar along with a bell. The colourful material collar, resembling that of a clown, is the antithesis of camouflage and makes the cat, at the very least within the springtime, 19 instances much less efficient than an unencumbered cat. Within the fall, nevertheless, the ruffled collars make the cat solely 3.4 instances much less efficient. And the collars generally fall off. An alternative choice worn across the neck is an extended, colourful plastic bib. This contraption is a “pounce protector,” stopping cats from decreasing their heads to the bottom. The keto weight loss program is one other doable answer. A managed 2021 examine of 355 cats in England discovered that cats on a grain-free, high-meat-protein weight loss program hunted about 40 % fewer birds than these consuming the low-end dry meals.

However none of these methods stop cats from attacking fowl nests. Buddies advised leashing Ronja within the yard. The American Veterinary Medical Affiliation endorses a coverage that encourages cat house owners to restrict outside life to outside enclosures, equivalent to cat patios—so-called catios—or to being on an attended leash, efficient if coaching begins when a cat is younger. Icelandic veterinary colleagues have spoken out in opposition to cat curfews. “Though some cats, who have no idea anything, settle for being indoor cats, there are others who don’t deal with it and confinement can result in stress and aggressive conduct,” the Icelandic Veterinary Affiliation wrote in a press release final 12 months. The affiliation does, nevertheless, assist nighttime curfews, particularly within the spring when birds nest, since that’s when cats are best as hunters. (Analysis suggests the nocturnal conduct applies extra strongly to unowned cats.)

In Húsavík, where pet cats are banned from being outside, a one-year-old named Freddie Mercury enjoys his cat patio—a catio.In Húsavík, the place pet cats are banned from being outdoors, a one-year-old named Freddie Mercury enjoys his cat patio—a catio. Egill Bjarnason

We determined to maintain Ronja inside utterly through the nesting season and stopped tolerating her admirable escapes. I purchased plenty of scrumptious fish jerky for treats and informed her that, in reality, some indoor cats dwell virtually 4 instances as lengthy. She placed on extreme weight to show us incorrect.

We now have at all times beloved and loathed cats. The Japanese maneki-neko—the beckoning cat, with one paw raised and “waving”—symbolizes luck; a run-of-the-kitty-mill black cat signifies in poor health fortune. Catholic monks burned cats alive through the European witch-hunt period; Islam admires them for cleanliness. Surveys counsel that in elements of Iceland about 50 % of residents need cats banned from outdoors. The controversy itself is new. Folks accepted roaming neighborhood cats, by no means questioning the knowledge, till others started questioning the, pardon the pun, catus quo.

An perspective shift is occurring. “The cat curfew has modified the way in which folks consider cats,” says cat proprietor Röðull Reyr, who has lived in Húsavík most of his life. “When a young person sees a cat outdoors immediately, they seem provoked, as in the event that they’ve noticed an undesirable visitor of their neighborhood.”

In Australia, two municipalities in Melbourne launched cat curfews: Monash in 2021 and Knox in 2022. Earlier, in 2015, the nation launched into a mission to cull two million feral cats. From mid-2015 to mid-2018, Australia killed 844,000 feral cats with poison and traps. In Europe, two Dutch legislation professors, writing in an environmental legislation journal, argued that permitting free-roaming cats violates the Nature Directives, the oldest European Union laws on the surroundings. Citing research of cats’ impression on birds, the authors conclude that cat house owners should handle their free-roaming cats and “stray and feral cats … should be eliminated or managed after they pose a menace to protected species.”

The Japanese <em>maneki-neko</em>—the beckoning cat, with one paw raised and “waving”—symbolizes luck.” width=”auto” data-kind=”article-image” id=”article-image-89701″ src=””/>The Japanese maneki-neko—the beckoning cat, with one paw raised and “waving”—symbolizes luck. John Gillespie, CC BY-SA 2.0/Flickr</p><p class=Final November, the city of Akureyri voted to ban outside cats solely as of 2025. Outraged cat supporters all around the nation threatened to boycott the city’s well-known dairy merchandise in protest. A neighborhood artist rallied assist for the Cat Occasion forward of native elections scheduled this previous Could. So, 4 weeks earlier than election day, the ruling majority softened the overall ban to a nighttime curfew, and the talk retains going, outlined by idiosyncratic fervor.

Environmental safety businesses in Iceland have, up to now, averted the talk publicly, maybe explaining why the problem stays underexplored. The estimated variety of cats roaming the nation stays a query mark. In Akureyri, in accordance with native legal guidelines, pet house owners have registered solely 200 cats, a fraction of the overall inhabitants. Stronger information helps perceive probably the most elementary questions: By banning cats outdoors, will the inhabitants of birds in Iceland enhance? Specialists are not sure of the reply, since most cats roam inside cities and most birds nest outdoors them. Will Icelanders take pleasure in extra birds of their yard with out cats? Fairly presumably, and that’s when the query comes right down to our values: a 2021 paper in Ecological Economics primarily based on financial information from 26,000 Europeans discovered neighborhood birds make folks as comfortable as cash. A ten % enhance in fowl species within the surroundings raised life satisfaction about 1.53 instances greater than the same proportional rise in earnings. However, we launch the soothing “cuddle chemical”—oxytocin—when petting a cat, the identical enjoyment we get from social bonding with our personal variety. Cat possession can also be a confirmed methodology for serving to the rising variety of lonely folks to really feel related.

Ronja was the third phrase my one-year-old son realized to talk after mama and dudda (baby-Icelandic for pacifier). When the cat disappeared in the future in December, the household was devastated: there had been a foul snowstorm, and I had closed the window earlier than going to mattress, assuming the cat was asleep in the lounge. The subsequent morning, there have been paw prints within the snow, moving into circles under the shut window. After two days Ronja-less, I started leaving work early to stroll round city, following cat steps by the snow, like a cartoon detective, into personal gardens and parks. Twice, I requested owners with an open basement window to go downstairs and verify for her. I alerted all group Fb teams and recruited kids to assist me. I started assuming she was useless, and was already engaged on my grief.

I really like birds, so possibly Ronja’s loss would go away me freed from guilt. However I additionally love Ronja, and I used to be ecstatic six nights after she went lacking, round 2:00 a.m., when she leaped by an open window and strolled into our bed room. She allowed us to greet her with awkward enthusiasm earlier than shifting to her nook of the mattress. So now, like many cat house owners, I exist in a state of cognitive dissonance relating to my cat and my surroundings. However I do preserve her inside at night time.

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