New Zealand’s recent announcement of a plan to eradicate all invasive predators, including feral cats, sparked an immediate response—and not in defense of the stoat, up there with cats among the top 100 on the Global Invasive Species list. “Cat murdering New Zealand[ers] are for the birds,” one commenter vented on The Washington Post’s website. “Removing cats from an area is a futile effort—one that cannot succeed,” another warned. When Australia announced a plan in 2015 to cull 2 million feral cats, the singer Morrissey declared them “2 million smaller versions of Cecil the lion.” The actress Brigitte Bardot called the cull “animal genocide.” Needless to say, no celebrity outrage or online indignation has greeted New Zealand’s or Australia’s expensive and long-standing rat-eradication programs.
What makes an animal a pet—a creature to which our emotions attach, sometimes in logic-warping ways—is surprisingly difficult to pin down. Cats are a particularly puzzling case. Domesticated some 9,500 years ago, they still don’t strike humans as completely tame. They live with us, but even indoor cats aren’t entirely dependent on us, certainly not in the emotional way dogs are. They do many things that seem to defy rational explanation, which is no small source of their allure: the blanket-attack ritual, the full-body keyboard plop, the blank-wall stare, and perhaps most dramatic, the post-poop freak-out. One of my cats performs a ninja leap about three feet up one side of the door frame, then slides down, firefighter-style, to the floor.