Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why We Worry At 3 AM...About Cats

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, October 16, 2013 by Sara Mattinson.

Three o’clock in the morning is Prime Worry Time.  You wake up – and Bam! the brain starts running on its treadmill of worries.  
I Googled “Why do I wake up at 3 am?” to see if there’s a reason for it. Several sources indicate that the middle of the night wake-up call is from the liver, and it’s about stress. Stress causes the adrenal glands to give off adrenaline, which revs up our system with a burst of energy to deal with whatever stressful situation we are facing. 
Now, the liver regenerates in the middle of the night and to do so, it needs glycogen. The problem is that adrenaline uses up glycogen so if there is a lot of stressful situations in your life, your body may not have enough in the glycogen bank when the liver tries to make a withdrawal at 3 am. Instead, the adrenal glands offer up adrenalin instead – and Bam! the brain fires up the treadmill.
And what is fuelling these worries at three o’clock in the morning? Pretty much the same things that cause us to feel stressed out during the day: money, a job, the kids. 
Or in my case, the cat. 
Why would anyone waste Prime Worry Time on a cat? This worry is about life and death and it’s tapped into a major global concern. While it might seem more productive to worry about money, a job, and the kids, worrying about the cat’s hunting habits is just as serious. 
Particularly if this cat has peed on you. 
Three years ago, we took in a year-old female stray cat when she decided a warm house and an easy food supply were more palatable than another winter in the wild. Since we feed birds from multiple feeders around the house, including one attached to the front deck, we made her an indoor cat, a change that didn’t seem to bother her. 
Everything went well until the following November. The combination of a major renovation to the house and the arrival of a puppy made Fern long for the great outdoors. To get this message through to me, she began to pee on our bed. When I couldn’t figure out why, she peed on me. At three o’clock in the morning. Out the door she went and everything has been stress-free ever since.
Unless you are a bird. 
According to a recent national survey by Environment Canada, it is estimated that more than 95 percent of the 268 million birds killed through human activity are victims of cats, power lines, traffic or houses. 
Here’s how that breaks down: Feral cats are estimated to kill 116 million birds a year while domestic cats kill 80 million. Compare that to the next two items on the list – power lines and houses account for 25 million and 22 million bird deaths respectively – and you get an idea of the massive destruction cats are causing to our bird population. 
And that’s just in Canada. The most recent estimates out of the USA suggest American cats kill between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds a year.
Is it any wonder I wake up at three o’clock in the morning worrying about this? My sweet little tuxedo cat is responsible for the slaughter of at least 40 birds a year. One cat…in a country that is estimated to have eight and a half million domestic cats and upwards of four million feral cats. All because I don’t like being peed on in the middle of the night and there seems little justification for putting a cat down simply because she follows her natural instincts to prey on, and play with, birds and rodents. There has to be a way to enjoy the songbirds without endangering their lives more than power lines and houses already do. 
Luckily, I have discovered a product that may save the birds and my bedding. It’s a colourful ruff-like cloth collar that fits over a breakaway collar – the kind Fern goes out wearing but never comes home with. Apparently, songbirds’ eyes see bright colors as extra bright, making them easily noticed. So Fern can wear the bright collar, the birds can fly to safety and my liver can rejevunate itself with all the glycogen it needs since I won’t be worrying all the time that by feeding the birds, I’m also feeding the cat. 

Fern waiting for supper...

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