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Every time I post an article about saving community cats, somebody will post a comment about how important they are to kill rats. Those kinds of comments make me cringe.

Indeed, we rightfully recoil when bird advocates call for the round up and killing of cats, judging cats less worthy than birds. We also rightfully recoil when “conservationists” call for the round up and killing of cats, judging them less worthy than so-called “native species.” It is precisely this type of thinking — that there is a hierarchy of who is entitled to compassion in the animal kingdom — that is at the core of all human-induced animal suffering and exploitation.

We need a kinder vision for animal protection. We need one grounded in the core value that rejects species discrimination, embraces respect for biological differences, and commits to achieving ends only through non-violent means. Above all else, it would be guided by the principle that respect for sentient life is paramount, irrespective of species, and irrespective of any traits a particular species may have evolved that do not suit arbitrary or culturally inherited human prejudices.

And while it is the presence of cats that keeps rats away more than predation, and claims that cats are deciminating bird and other species are exaggerated and the belief that cats are major predator of birds is scientifically without basis, it is true that in obedience to instincts, a cat might kill a bird, a bird might likewise kill another bird, and animals kill other animals in the wild. If it were up to many of us, every creature on the planet would be an herbivore. It isn’t up to us, however, and such is the nature of life on this planet. What is up to each of us is whether we place ourselves as the ultimate arbiters of which species should be allowed to exist and which should be annihilated, a course of action that history proves increases harm, reaffirms a human-centric worldview that has been the cause of so much animal suffering, and moves us further away from, not closer to, the goal of creating a truly humane society.

Rather than choose which animals should be allowed to go on living and which should be killed, rather than celebrate killing when it involves animals we do not like, let us set ourselves on a path where all ethical inconsistencies relating to our inherited traditions are recognized and addressed, and to the extent that saving one animal today involves the killing of another, let us respond with circumspection, rather than cavalierness and focus our attention on finding a solution to that problem through human ingenuity rather than human violence.

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