Australiana

Three Guys Explain How and Why They Kill Cats

Cats are possibly the greatest threat to Australian wildlife. We talked to environmentalists taking matters into their own hands.

by Nat Kassel
05 July 2017, 2:21am

This year VICE teamed up with Screen Australia for 'Pitch Australiana', a pitching competition to provide production funding for a documentary to be released across VICE’s digital channels and broadcast on SBS VICELAND.

We’re excited to announce the winner, 'Shooting Cats', by director Inday Ford and producer Dylan Blowen. Their film explores the destructive impact feral cats have on Australian wildlife, and the complicated challenges environmentalists face in dealing with this epidemic.

Before you check out Shooting Cats later this year, revisit our feature on people who kill cats in Australia.

Former environment minister Greg Hunt once called feral cats "tsunamis of violence and death," and claimed they wipe out 4 million native birds, reptiles, and insects every single night. That number sounds a bit like we'd run out of fauna within a week, but there's no doubt cats chew their way through a lot of wildlife. So much so that the Government is currently slated to cull two million cats by 2020.

The plan has received criticism from such animal-loving vegans as Morrissey and Brigitte Bardot, while on the other end of the spectrum a number of overzealous environmentalists can't wait to get started. And enter the men who kill cats.

These are conservationists who, for a number of reasons, all favour direct action over state intervention. They live in different areas around the country, but under the guise of anonymity they agreed to describe their cat-killing habits. And while they're all motivated by protecting native wildlife, their stories and methods of killing are all a bit different. Here they explain themselves in their own words.

Lewis
Labourer and bird watcher

Feral cat with a galah. Image via Wiki Commons

When I was about 10, I went underneath the house and came across my dad drowning a cat. I already knew that he was catching cats in the backyard in cages but that was the first time I saw him putting the cage into a wheelie bin full of water. I asked him what he was doing and he just told me straight up what he did with the cats and the reasoning behind it. He said drowning was supposed to be the most peaceful way. I'd already had a pet bird, a little peach face, which had been killed by the neighbour's cat, so I kind of understood.

I started bird watching when I was about 14. Dad used to get paid by the national parks to conduct conservation studies of migratory birds and I used to tag along with him. It became an addiction to try and identify different species of birds and I got really into compiling monthly lists of all the species I'd seen. Now I'm 29 and I'm still an avid bird watcher.

I was probably 14 when I started knocking cats off here and there. You trap them, plonk the cage in the bin, shut the lid, wait ten minutes, get the cat out, wrap it up in a black garbage bag and then put it in the bin. You shut the lid so you don't have to watch the cat drown or anything—because you're not a sicko—you just drop it into the darkness and wait a bit.

At the first house I lived in, my dad and I probably knocked off ten cats, which were mostly the neighbours' but no one ever said anything. Doing it in a wheelie bin is definitely the cleanest way and it doesn't draw too much attention. You don't want to have the cat screaming, especially if you're not sure what you're doing. You don't want to clean up a mess either, you just want to get the job done and dispose of the body.

It's not that I don't have any emotions towards killing. It's not a nice thing to do at all. I've kept it to myself for ages and only recently told close friends. It's not the kind of reputation you want to have.

It sounds pretty barbaric but the way I see it is that their owners don't care enough about them to keep them indoors at night and the cats just go on killing sprees. People think you're a savage, like serial killers who start off killing animals and then move onto people, but it's not really like that. If the cats are out at night then the owner is not taking responsibility and it needs to be dealt with. For all they know the cat could get hit by a car, and if it did get hit by a car the consequence is the same. That's how I think of it. You're just doing what the pound would do.

Steve
Wildlife carer and bird watcher

Another feral cat with a budgie. Image by Flickr user Brisbane City Council

I killed my first cat when I was about 14. It started with an interest in birds very young and it's been a lifelong passion since. Then as I got older I got more involved in trying to protect birds. I'm 66 now, but even in my teens I could see the impact cats were having on native species.

I spent 25 years plus as a volunteer wildlife carer so I got firsthand knowledge of the impact cats were having on native species. In all that time wildlife caring I never had a single bird or reptile survive a cat bite or scratch. At one point I was personally handling in excess of 100 native animals a month. And unfortunately a lot of wildlife caring basically means putting animals out of their suffering, whether the cause of death be from cat attack, dog attack, or a motor vehicle.

I have no qualms about killing feral cats as humanely as possible but I find it hard differentiate between feral cats and suburban cats. It's not something that I enjoy doing but for every one that I dispatched I just looked at the number of native animals that I was potentially saving. And in a lot of cases I'd prefer to take aggressive action against the owners.

I don't keep count of how many cats I've killed. But I did a big trip around Australia in the 80s and you could guarantee that cats would turn up at your camp. Desert areas had the most surprising amounts of feral cats. One night I shot seven of them without leaving the campfire.

I've always used the gun. I don't recommend that choice for everyone because not many people are good at shooting, whereas I was always a pretty good shot. Baiting is also very hit and miss because there are a lot of native animals, some of which are endangered, that will take baits as well. It's better than nothing but you do get some by-kill.

I know of people who drown cats and I know people who gas cats with the exhaust of a car. It's quicker than letting them suffer. It's an individual thing and there are various ways of doing it. It's just a case of the most humane way of doing it that's at hand in the moment.

I'm for culling and I'm for stronger laws against irresponsible pet ownership. People who cull cats could get charged for cruelty to animals whereas the owners of cats—who are killing numerous native species—are almost immune from the law. I don't own a firearm anymore and I'm not currently killing cats. I don't want confrontation with the cat lobby. I mean, you get it anyway, but I don't want to inflame them.

Terry
Tradesman and duck owner

And another feral cat. This time by Flickr user NottsExMiner

I've only followed through with killing a cat once. It started when I bought two tiny Indian runner ducklings, which were super clumsy and harmless. They lived inside the house with us for two months, until they got big enough to survive on their own. I raised them like they were my kids, and as I watched them blossom and stumble around the back yard I began to notice how many cats were living in my street and how often they were sneaking around my garden.

I built a big six-meter by six-metre pen for the ducks and at night I'd shut them in. But one night when I was putting them into the cage I noticed a cat waiting in there for them. That was when I decided to go online and order a trap. Basically, I didn't know anything about killing cats but I soon found a possum trap for $60, ordered it, and set it up down the side of the house. I heated up a tin of sardines in the microwave, put it in the trap and then set it just outside my window so that I would be first one to hear it.

As night fell I heard the trap spring, followed by this cat hissing and meowing. As I walked outside I noticed some people on the street with torches and I heard them calling for the cat. It had a purple collar and a bell. By that stage I figured it was already too late so I took it around the back, to the canal behind my house. I thought drowning would be the most peaceful way for it to go so I just plonked the whole trap in the canal.

It was a bit freaky. I'd never really drowned an animal before so I wasn't sure how long to leave it in for. In the end I just waited for all the bubbles to stop. When I pulled it out, the cat was gone, completely lifeless. I started digging a hole and buried it.

It was definitely weird knowing that I'd taken the life out of that animal and it was just staring back at me, stiff, with pitiless eyes. There wasn't any pleasure in it. I guess there was an adrenaline rush but that was more the fear of getting caught. Beforehand, there had been an excitement about it, kind of like hunting, where you're laying traps and putting bait out and thinking about the prospect of catching something. But then the finality in actually killing something is a whole different feeling.

My initial plan was to go nuts on all the neighbourhood cats but then there were these flyers going around for the missing cat. The girls that I was living with soon figured out that I'd murdered this cat that was somebody's pet and they put a stop to it. In the end, keeping my relationships was more important than eradicating any more cats in the area.

I'm a pretty normal person. I don't really have much anger or malice in me so there was a bit of mourning for the cat and feeling sorry for it. But it was something that I felt like I needed to do, to protect the ducks. I'd easily do it again if I was put in the same position. I guess I'm the sort of person who's able to murder a murderer when it comes to something that I really care
about.

The ducks eventually started roaming freely around the canal at the back of our house. They'd come back for food every now and then but they just became self sufficient in the end. I let them go and I think they started breeding.

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