Monday, September 24, 2012

Centerpointe needs more outdoor cats

About a year ago, I told the story of seeing a Cooper's hawk kill a rat in one of my neighbor's back yards, in broad daylight. 

Prior to that, I had described the significant concentration of red tailed hawks on the hunt for small game around the retention ponds and undeveloped areas south of us. 

And then just three days ago, I reported on the Great Horned owls, one of which hooted his brains out in our signature massive pine tree at the corner of West Walker and Centerpointe Drive.  Rodents are the primary prey for owls. 

I also talked about people leaving dog food out because that can attract pests, including coyotes, which I have also seen in Centerpointe.  Coyotes eat dog food if they can find it, but they also more typically eat smaller mammal prey such as rodents. 

And I complained about the trades leaving food scraps everywhere as they were building the 75 houses in Centerpointe Section 9.  I complained to our builders Meritage and Brighton about their tradespeoples' inadequate hygiene several times. 

Sigh.  I naively hoped that, once that Section 9 build-out was complete, we would see a reduction in those scrap food sources and a corresponding reduction in RODENTS.

Unfortunately, I see no evidence that a rodent reduction has taken place.  The reason why we have Red Tailed hawks and Cooper's hawks and Great Horned owls in close proximity is that we have food sources in close proximity, specifically rodents.  You wanna understand the behavior of people?  Follow the money.  Wanna understand the behavior of wild animals?  Follow the food.  I don't know whether those food sources are man-made (including dog food and bird seed left outdoors) or natural - probably both.  We have retention ponds and fields surrounding us, and those probably support the natural rodent population which is then augmented by the behavior of people. 

I can't tell you how many Centerpointe residents I've talked to who have struggled with mice in their own homes.  I like to joke that Section 9 houses were built with mice already in them.  There were so many mice here that they moved into the new houses before construction was even complete. 

We finally solved our latest mouse mystery just the other day.  We knew that we had them in our garage (again) but, for the life of us, we could not locate where they were nesting. 

My husband finally cracked the case, and this is what he found:
My husband has an antique car that he is restoring as a hobby.  This is the back seat pulled out of the car and turned upside down.  That large clot of paper towels, shredded seat upholstery, paper, plastic, and miscellaneous material you see wedged under the seat support bar (photo right) is the mouse nest.
Here, he's picking it apart to see if any live mice are still in it.  Notice that he's wearing a surgical glove.  I'll get to that in a minute. 

He's pointing toward the little hole in the center of the nest where the mice went in. 

Notice the sheer volume of material used in the construction of this nest.  Mice can tear apart you house during the construction of their nests.  This one even included pieces of a paper coffee cup and shredded plastic bags.
Back seat with mouse nest now removed.
This kind of thing is just so frustrating.  We had gone to considerable lengths to exclude mice from the garage, but they can squeeze through any opening that is as small as a dime (including under your garage door, especially if they chew the rubber seal at the bottom).  It's virtually impossible to exclude a concentrated source of mice from a home because of this incredible ability they have to penetrate just about anything. 

In my almost half-century of living, I have never seen mice as bad as I've seen them in Centerpointe.  When I was in graduate school, I was the proverbial starving student, and I lived in an impoverished inner-city area.  There was dirt, crime, lawlessness, you name it - but in my three years of life there, I never saw a single rodent.  Here's a big part of the reason why:
There were few rodents because it was the type of economically depressed area where people routinely ignored municipal animal ordinances and let their pet cats range freely outdoors.  And there were a lot of cats because fewer people spayed and neutered. 

This is what cats do.  This is why we domesticated cats a few thousand years ago: for rodent control.  They were exquisitely designed and bred for this essential function.
Photo from Wikipedia.
League City has an ordinance against allowing any animal to run at large, but I'd encourage you to contemplate the rationale behind that ordinance.
First, look at the definition of "animal".  It has an intentional emphasis on rabies.
The ordinance contains a secondary emphasis on the elimination of uncontrolled feces. 
Nobody enjoys finding cat poop on their front lawns and in fact, it's unhealthy. 

But so are un-checked rodent populations unhealthy.  Houston recently made national news because of a Hantavirus incident; you can read about that here and here and here.  Thirty people exposed to a virus that has a fatality rate of about 40%!  Granted, that was an extreme case - but the point is, that virus is transmitted by exposure to rodent droppings.   And if you get it, your odds of dying a horrible death are about even. 

The pathogen exposure potential is the reason why my husband was wearing surgical gloves in the photos above.  And now that we've finally identified our latest locus of mouse activity, we have to go through the painstaking and time-consuming process of cleaning and bleaching the entire garage.  This is a huge, huge hassle

It's not just potential pathogen exposures that derive from mice.  They also carry fleas into your house, and chew through wood and electrical wiring.  And if you happen to be parking a car in your garage, they can chew through seat upholstery.  There's no end to the damage they are capable of doing.

Given the choice between finding a few cat poops on my lawn and having an overabundance of mice in the neighborhood, I'd choose the cat poops hands down.  Life usually reduces to a series of lesser-of-evils choices like this.  We think we can simply write ordinances and outlaw certain behaviors and create this antiseptic, utopian society in the process, but it never works like that.  There are always unintended consequences.  The unintended consequence of a cat control policy is an out-of-control rodent policy. 

From what I can see, our current robust collection of resident owls and hawks is not sufficient to get these rodents under control.  We can also trap and poison and exterminate to our heart's content (we've tried that stuff previously, too), but there's another crucial tool that we would benefit from having in our countermeasures kit(ten): domestic cats who are allowed to go outside and actually kill these vermin as they were bred to do.

Hantavirus is rare, but so is the rabies that municipal ordinances were written with the intention of preventing.  Nobody would argue that we should do anything to increase rabies potential, such as allowing the feral cat population to increase.  But if a homeowner has a neutered or spayed cat and that cat is up-to-date on its rabies shots, is it a detriment or an asset to the rest of us if that cat is allowed to roam outside?  I would argue that it's more of an asset than a detriment.  A rodent control asset. 

And I would hope that such animals would not be an enforcement priority for Animal Control.  Surely those folks have more urgent tasks than messing with some resident's Tinkerbell sitting serenely in their front yard...?

I jog a two mile loop around Centerpointe, and I see only four cats at large here on a consistent basis.  All four of those cats are of the "Fluffy" variety - they are well-cared-for family pets with collars and shot tags and with their spaying/neutering having been done. 

But four cats is apparently not sufficient to help with rodent control in a subdivision that encompasses 405 homes.  If you happen to become one of those residents who allows your cat outdoors but then encounters resistance from neighbors, please email me and maybe I can have a discussion with your neighbors, just to ensure they have all the facts on this issue, because they might not be aware of this other side of the issue.  Maybe I could bring your neighbor up into their own attic and/or their own garage and show them the physical evidence of their own rodent activity because, dollars to donuts, that evidence would be there if I went looking for it. 

1 comment:

  1. At first I thought you were looking for more stray cats to help keep the native hawks and coyotes well nourished. I can only hope!
    But even for the 'lesser purpose' of just controlling the mouse population in your section, I'll still say: come on over to the Walnut Pointe area and grab as many loose cats as you can handle. There is a ridiculous number of feral cats around, being openly cared for by some of the residents, as well as a number of so-called pet cats that are kicked outdoors 24/7, that are fair game as well.


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