Dear EarthTalk: Please help settle the debate about whether or not my cats
should stay in or go out. My neighborhood is relatively safe for cats, vis--vis
car traffic, and I think it is more natural for them to be outside and not
always inside. They do kill wildlife, including birds, but arent they just
taking the place of natural predators that once did the same? -- Bill Thomson,
Most environmental advocates believe that keeping cats indoors is better for
both the health of the felines themselves and for their prey. Scientists
estimate that the typical free-roaming housecat kills some 100 small animals
each year. This means that the 90 million domestic housecats living in the U.S.
alone are killing hundreds of millions if not billions of birds, small mammals,
reptiles and amphibians every year. And while housecats on the prowl may serve
to replace the natural predators long ago extirpated by humans, their popularity
as pets puts their population density far ahead of those that came before them.
Cat predation is an added stress to wildlife populations already struggling
to survive habitat loss, pollution, pesticides and other human impacts, says
the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), which in 1997 launched its controversial
Cats Indoors! campaign to educate animal lovers about the benefits of keeping
Tabby inside. ABC also points out that free-roaming cats are exposed to injury,
disease, parasites and collisions with cars, and can get lost, stolen or
poisoned. Cats can also transmit diseases and parasites such as rabies,
cat-scratch fever and toxoplasmosis to other cats, wildlife or people. To help
drive its point home, ABC produces a wide range of educational materials
(including a brochure, Keeping Cats Indoors Isnt Just For The Birds) and
public service announcements in the service of their ongoing campaign.
Nonetheless, many cat lovers believe that it is inhumane to confine felines
indoors, since they have evolved as hunters and thrive on the natural
stimulation only available outside. To help soften the blow and wean your cat
off of the outdoors slowly, ABC suggests gradually curtailing your cats
out-of-doors time over the course of a few months until it is eventually not let
out at all. In doing so, you will need to provide your cat with a lot of
attention and play indoors. New scratching posts and toys are a good bet as they
may entertain cats that ordinarily occupy themselves chasing birds and rodents.
ABC suggests hiding various toys around the house so cats can sniff them and not
miss so much the thrill of the hunt outdoors.
One last bit of important advice: Many fear that confining their cats indoors
will lead to more shredded upholstery. But de-clawing your cat should never be
an option. According to Veterinarian Dr. Christianne Schelling, cats claws are
a vital part of their anatomy. De-clawing is not simply fingernail trimming but
the removal of the last joint in a cats toes. It is a painful procedure and
can lead to serious physical, emotional and behavioral complications.
Alternatives to de-clawing include providing scratching posts in various
locations around the home, and trimming your cats nails occasionally. This
involves trimming only the clear tip of the nail (never the pink or dark fleshy
parts, which are skin) and should be done only upon first consulting with a
veterinarian. Another option is a product called Soft Paws, lightweight vinyl
caps that you apply over your cats own claws. They have rounded edges, so your
cat's scratching doesnt damage your home and furnishings.
CONTACTS: Cats Indoors!
www.abcbirds.org/cats/; Declawing Cats: More Than Just a Manicure,
www.hsus.org/ace/11780; Soft Paws,
Dear EarthTalk: The hospital I work at doesnt recycle at all, not even
plastic bottles and cans or food service trays. I was wondering how to get the
facility to start up some kind of recycling system? -- Adrianna Schultz, via
Getting a large institution or corporation on board with recycling is no easy
job, especially when you are starting from scratch. A good place to begin is to
get permission from higher-ups to solicit bids from waste haulers and recyclers
interested in new business. Such service providers can provide you with both the
supplies needed to gather recyclables as well as regular weekly or daily
pick-ups, depending on needs.
If convincing your employer to look into recycling in the first place is a
stumbling block, there are many resources available to help turn that tide. The
Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC), a state agency dedicated to
helping Ocean State businesses manage solid waste in environmentally sound ways,
publishes In the Workplace, a print and online pamphlet that outlines the
steps for setting up a workplace recycling and reduction program. According to
RIRRC, wannabe workplace recyclers need to start by securing organizational
support and commitment and educating fellow employees about the importance of
recycling. The pamphlet also includes useful tips about reducing waste
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protections Recycling Works
program offers a similar set of guidelines specifically for recycling at
hospitals and health care institutions. Additionally, New York States
Department of Environmental Conservation publishes a free guide showing health
care facilities how to evaluate their performance in preventing waste and
pollution and identify opportunities for recycling and for cutting back resource
Another good resource for information on hospital recycling is the website of
the nonprofit Waste Reduction Resource Center, which offers case studies
detailing how several small and large health care facilities coast-to-coast have
launched successful and money-saving recycling and waste reduction programs.
Examples include a Vermont hospital with no budget for recycling that set up a
self-sustaining, money-saving system for organics collection and composting, and
a Pennsylvania hospital that now saves $150,000 a year due to the implementation
of its recycling program.
Those looking to reduce waste in hospitals should be sure to consult the
Plan-Do-Check-Act section of the Sustainable Hospitals website. The summary
provides useful tools for getting management approvals and enlisting the support
of employees in both recycling and lowering disposable product consumption. It
also has a section on how to reduce energy usage.
Implementing recycling and waste reduction programs at hospitals makes sense
not only for local ecology and for institutional bottom line, but also for the
examples that can be set for the millions of patients and workers that pass
through the health care system every day.
CONTACTS: Waste Reduction Resource Center, http://wrrc.p2pays.org; RIRRC In
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