As a bird lover and cat lover who’s allergic to cats, Linda Bainbridge has had to make some unusual adjustments in her life.
The dedicated Whidbey Audubon Society member hates what cats do best — kill birds and small mammals — but loves the furry little killers anyway. So she, with help from husband Gordon, takes extra special precautions to protect her beloved birds from her equally beloved cats.
Of the two cats, a male stray who happened upon their property several years is the most enthusiastic killer. Percy will boldly stare down a deer until it runs off and chases after anything smaller.
Once, Gordon Bainbridge watched Perry stalk a rabbit in the herb garden at their home near Honeymoon Lake, assuming the rabbit was too big to be considered serious prey. Wrong.
“Perry caught that rabbit in 10 bounds,” he said in awe.
Another time a low-flying bird made the mistake of passing over Percy. “He jumped up and grabbed that bird like a center fielder,” he said.
Birds and rabbits are much safer now on the Bainbridges’ five acres, but mice are still at risk. “Yesterday he caught two,” Gordon said. “He ate one. I try to limit him.”
Every morning Gordon and Linda walk their two cats, the other being Isabel, attached by harness and leash. Gordon reads books on the long, 45-minute walks, while Linda is more likely to keep a sharp eye on the cat she’s walking.
“I’ve read 17 or 18 books the last year and a half. It’s amazing how many books you can read while walking a cat,” Gordon said. Linda listens with acceptance, although she’d prefer that Gordon keep his eyes squarely on Percy or Isbel rather than in the pages of a book.
Besides letting the cats outdoors only when on a leash, the Bainbridges have done some imaginative remodeling to appease the cats’ desire to be outdoors. In Linda’s office is a carpeted cat staircase; hopping from one level to another, the cat can enter a hole in the wall about two feet below the ceiling.
From there, a catwalk surrounded by wire snakes its way outside the house, above a sidewalk and along a garage until it opens into a pen. The cats walk down a steeply declined plank and are free to roam around a spacious outdoor cage, covered with netting so birds can’t provide temptation.
Linda went to all this effort because she’s read up on cats, both feral and domestic, and how many birds they kill. It’s more than a billion, perhaps 4 billion, in the United States alone, in addition to billions more small mammals, like mice and shrews.
“They’re non-native invasive predators,” is how she coolly describes her beloved pets. “They just kill, and it’s not just to eat. That’s all they try to do, even on a leash.”
She’s working on starting a group she calls “Cats Indoors,” to educate islanders to keep their cats inside. None of the myths about how to protect birds from cats are true, she said. Belled cats kill birds, declawed cats kill birds and well-fed cats kill birds. Protective cat “bibs” don’t work either, as she’s tried them. Additionally, birds that escape the grasp of a cat aren’t necessarily lucky. “A bird is more likely to survive a bullet than an infection from a cat’s teeth or claws,” she said.
When expressing such alarming thoughts, she thinks nothing of reaching out to stroke Isabel and express the wish she were more of a “lap cat,” which she was hoping for when she picked it out at WAIF.
“I love my cats obsessively,” she said. “But my cats are killers.”
Her yard is a veritable picnic spread for cats, and even on a leash they’re dangerous if not watched closely.
“They were able to catch and kill Douglas squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, song sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, a spotted towhee, a robin, a Bewick’s wren, a northern flicker and a golden-crowned kinglet,” she said, adding that all the animals mentioned met their demise when the cats were in their open pen or on a leash with her standing only a few feet away. The pen was made more secure and now she’s ever watchful when walking them, unlike Gordon, who likes books too much to just watch a cat. Still, he keeps Percy and Isabel’s killer instincts in check.
Linda’s simple message is that the only way to own a cat and protect wildlife is to keep the cat indoors and walk it on a leash. And she has proof that she’s a cat lover despite their inborn desire for the thrill of a kill.
“I am very allergic to cats and am in my second year of allergy shots. I obviously love my cats,” she said.