The Value of a Cat


Since feral cat advocates have debunked the anti-cat movement’s claims that feral cats spread rabies, toxoplasmosis, and are responsible for the majority of songbird deaths (most songbird deaths are now attributed by reputable scientists to human encroachment on their environments and pesticides:, calculate the increase over the last 18 years) anti-cat extremists have a new chant: Invasive species! Non-native species!

Our domesticated cats did indeed come from somewhere outside the United States. They came to the U.S. with our ancestors, and cats lived aboard ships or moved with their owners for a very good reason: cats kill vermin. Cats killed rats on ships that infested food stores and bit and sickened the ship’s crew. And cat owners who brought their cats to the New World knew that they would need protection from vermin in their new homes.

Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Chapter 3: The Necessary Cat

They all bent over the soft, blind little kitten in Mary’s hand. It opened its pink mouth in a silent mew.

“It’s too small to take from its mother,” Pa said. “But I had to take it while I had the chance, before somebody else else did. Whiting had the cat sent out to them from the East. She had five kittens, and they sold four of them today for fifty cents apiece.”

“You didn’t pay fifty cents for this kitten, Pa?” Laura asked him, wide-eyed.

“Yes, I did,” said Pa.

Quickly Ma said, “I don’t blame you, Charles. A cat in this house will be well worth it.”

Little Town on the Prairie is set in approximately 1880. In 1876, some men laying track for the first Western railroads made only $2 per day.* Mr. Ingalls took temporary work on the railroad during the winter, so it’s safe to assume that fifty cents, 1/4 of his probable daily wage clearing snow from the train tracks during a brutally cold prairie winter, was a lot of money to spend on a kitten that didn’t even have its eyes open yet and had to be hand-fed. There was no guarantee the kitten would survive. But a cat in the house and cats in the barn were as necessary as a guard dog. What is now an “invasive species” enabled our homesteading and farming ancestors to survive, and it is extremely hypocritical of us to treat outdoor cats today as nuisances to be killed. A study by a decidedly unbiased researcher found that killing feral cats did not decrease the feral cat population:

Why, then, do anti-cat extremists so vehemently insist that killing cats is the best, and indeed only, acceptable way to deal with ferals and strays? This attitude flies in the face of scientific research, yet respected scientific organizations like the Smithsonian lend their support to the anti-cat movement by giving them space in their magazines. Why? Why are presumably well-educated people incapable of looking at their own family history and seeing the value of a cat?

That fifty cents Pa Ingalls paid for a kitten in 1880 is equivalent to approximately $14, 1/4 of a full-time minimum wage worker’s daily pay before taxes in North Carolina. Fifty cents would have paid for a silver filling for a tooth in 1876: *


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