Sara Van Fleet (JSIS), “For the Birds: A Gardener’s Journey into Domestic Cat Territory”
- January 25, 3:00–5:00, Savery 408
Abstract: Over the past decade, I have worked on my three-acre Vashon Island property to establish it as a vibrant wildlife sanctuary. The property is now home to 74 species of birds, 5 species of reptiles and amphibians, 9 species of dragonflies, and a host of other wild creatures. The property is now also part of the King County Rural Stewardship program and each year I lead wildlife gardening presentations and tours as part of the Audubon’s Enjoyment of Birds lecture series. My work with Audubon as well as with the Vashon Island Pet Protectors involves educating the public about the impact that free-roaming cats have on birds and wildlife and the importance of keeping domestic cats indoors. A recent editorial in the Vashon paper highlighting the natural beauty of the island mentioned a local resident who was astounded to learn that Vashon is home to a rare native flying squirrel. The resident learned about the flying squirrel after her cat killed it and dragged it inside. Her seeming indifference to this sad and unnecessary act by her cat prompted me to write a letter to the editor. My letter subsequently generated a flurry of responses over a three-week period, many in support, but some questioning the validity of my position. This incident has forced me to think about how I can be a better advocate for birds and wildlife (and cats too—as there’s overwhelming evidence that they generally live much longer and healthier lives inside). Why does it appear that many people, even when faced with significant evidence to the contrary, believe that cats belong outside and that birds and wildlife are somehow expendable—or at the very least, are collateral damage in our right to allow our pets to free range? How can we get our fellow humans to extend their love and concern for companion animals to include a wider range of animals?
Sara Van Fleet, Ph.D., is a cultural anthropologist, wildlife gardener and Audubon instructor. Her writing and presentations on wildlife gardening have appeared in Fine Gardening Magazine as well as King County TV’s Yard Talk.