When the Wild Things Aren’t

Seth Victor

Here’s the situation. You have several domestic cats in a neighborhood from different houses. For one reason or another, a couple of these cats leave their homes and wander the neighborhood and breed, becoming more or less feral. This goes on for several generations. Does there come a point when these cats are no longer domestic animals, but should be considered wild?

I pose the question concerning cats because feral felines occupy a middle ground in our society’s ever complicated definitions when it comes to animals. Cats are cute and cuddly and are one of the primary “pet” animals; though probably just a juicy and tender, it’s faux pas to eat them, and even the dumbest cat is more lauded than the smartest pig. Cats are also noted for their more independent behavior. Ask a “dog person” why he likes his dog better, and you will inevitably hear some mention of loyalty and companionship that he doesn’t see in cats (though the “cat people” will vociferously disagree). But can that make cats more wild, and if so, what does that mean? When are animals wild, and can they cross or re-cross that line?

It’s a question that we have to answer, because so long as humans declare themselves the stewards of all other species, may they thrive or perish by our good graces, the laws that protect them are paramount. Currently in New Delhi, India, the locals are dealing with an aggressive and abundant rhesus monkey population that literally mugs the human inhabitants for their food. There is a question concerning who should regulate the monkeys. City officials have petitioned the India Supreme Court to be relieved from the duty, and wildlife officials have claimed that the monkeys are no longer wild, and thus no their concern. No longer wild? Animals in cities occupy a strange place. Think of pigeons or squirrels. These aren’t domestic animals, at least not usually, but they don’t conjure the romantic terror of the wild like a grizzly bear or shark would. Monkeys and kangaroos are exotic to most Americans, but not so much to Indians and Australians, respectively. That distinction, that element of “other” is part of what makes us fear wild animals, and create this war with them over safety and habitat. Domestic animals, they’ve already surrendered.

The point is that the law, as ever, is arbitrary. We have (ahem) wildly different standards for controlling wolves versus dogs, the latter protected from most harms, the former butchered for existing. While we may be comfortable in distinguishing species, as human populations continue to encroach on animal habitats, we will continue to be confronted with overlapping territories. When this happens, the only thing keeping some animals safe will be their ability to be domestic enough. After four or five generations, that wandering cat population will be  just as dangerous to smaller animals, and may well attack humans that come too close. Yet I bet my bottom dollar they will receive better protection than the deer who are trying to find their way in the subdivision that was once their home. Say it with me now: All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

2 Responses

  1. […] raise this point again, as I have before, because for all of the progress we are slowly making on behalf of domestic animals, there are so […]

  2. […] raise this point again, as I have before, because for all of the progress we are slowly making on behalf of domestic animals, there are so […]

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