An open letter to Gareth Morgan

No, Mr Morgan, I will continue to be a responsible pet owner.

Mr Morgan, stop lying and misleading people about us. It does you, nor your message, any favours

Dear Gareth,

I’d like to take you to task about your misuse of statistics and research in your Cats To Go campaign this week. You used to strike me as a fairly smart guy. You’ve been a successful businessman, insightful economist, forward thinking investor and a generous philanthropist. However since you launched Cats To Go this week it seems that all you’ve done is demonstrate the truth in the old saying that “there’s lies, damned lies and statistics”.

Your image design is highly misleading Mr Morgan. You could argue you're purposefully lying.

Your image design is highly misleading Mr Morgan. You could argue you’re purposefully lying.

I’ll focus on your infographic because you’ve been pushing this easy to share, social media friendly format reasonably heavily. Early in the piece you link cats to the extinction of New Zealand bird species. On the surface this is true. Cats have been deemed responsible for wiping out 9 of 41 native bird species that have gone extinct here. Yet the design of your image for this statistic is clearly trying to imply that cats are solely responsible for exterminating 40% of our native bird species. This is completely misleading. Cats are primarily responsible for only 18% of those 41 species. This figure is easy to calculate using both the figures you provide as that in the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

So no, 40% of bird species did not go extinct just because of cats.

This figure does't tell the full story Gareth. More "damned lies" is it?

This figure does’t tell the full story Gareth. More “damned lies” is it?

Another claim, that “your cat” can roam up to 69 hectares is equally as dubious. This study out of Illinois indicates that only feral cats are anywhere likely to roam that type of territory. That study also pointed out that the mean range for a domestic cat was only 2 hectares. A New Zealand study you also reference for a different “fact” of yours put that figure at 2.6 hectares in Dunedin, a far cry from the area you’re claiming. Yet another misleading use of statistics, Mr Morgan.

Chances are most cats are nowhere near responsible for killing 65 animals per year.

Chances are most cats are nowhere near responsible for killing 65 animals per year.

Then there’s the small matter of claiming that “your cat is responsible for killing 65 critters per yer”. This is again highly misleading. Chances are few cats ever reach anywhere near this figure. To use the very scientist you reference against you, Dr Yolanda van Heezik’s own study says that about a third of cats do not hunt, half hunt infrequently and only 20% were frequent hunters.

This is pure speculation, not supported by any scientific fact and quite likely contradicted by the MacKenzie Basin anecdote.

This is pure speculation, not supported by any scientific fact and quite likely contradicted by the MacKenzie Basin anecdote.

You then go on to speculate what New Zealand would be like without cats with this emotive piece. Unfortunately, Mr Morgan, you’re letting your imagination run wild while pretending to present it as fact. As Landcare Research scientist John Innes points out, “When cats, ferrets and hedgehogs were targeted in Mackenzie Basin braided rivers, possums and Norway rats then ate the black-fronted terns.” While this is only an anecdote, he also says, “In New Zealand native forests, ship rats are the major prey, and this little-seen predator eats many more birds than cats do.  The Gareth Morgan website refers to kaka, kokako, weka, mohua, teke and robins as endangered, perhaps implying that cat control might help them, but cats are not significant predators of any of these species, except  possibly weka.”

All of that makes your claim that “bird life would return to the cities” dubious at best, especially given that without cats in urban areas, rodent populations would logically increase. True, you claim we can set traps for them – but that only takes care of rodents inside people’s houses, not those who would be otherwise caught over the 2 hectares that most domestic cats seem to roam. Or do you propose massive 1080 drops, as I can’t see how mass trapping could be anymore economically affordable than domestic pet ownership?

We should also observe that, going back to Dr van Heezik’s study, cats predominately prey on things other than native birds. I’ve already covered off cats eating other predator species, but they also help target the competition to native birds – imported and exotic birds such as pigeons, sparrows and blackbirds. Competition also has negative impacts on native species that cats do help mitigate to some extent.

You have also previously claimed that a cat, even with food in front of it, will kill a small animal placed next to it and then return to eating its meal. Thankfully a man who actually takes time to read research took a look at your claim, and pointed out how you have again blatantly lied to your audience. Bob Kerridge, Chief Executive of the SPCA points out that in the study you reference “the 1975 study quoted, as referenced on the website, shows that of 44 subjects, 26 did not attack prey (more than 50 per cent), and many who did kill presented defensive postures.” This means that most of the cats weren’t being “killing machines”. Certainly some were, but others were defending their food – a perfectly rational behaviour for an animal that we see often in the wild as they ultimate know they’re not guaranteed their next meal.

What does this all mean for you Mr Morgan? It means your credibility has to be called into question. Your selective, misleading and, in my opinion, outright deceptive use of statistics undermines your entire argument. While I have no objection to encouraging positive pet ownership behaviours such as spaying/neutering, bells on collars, microchipping and keeping cats indoors at sunrise and sunset, laying assault to a cultural institution of Western society with half-truths, scare tactics and lies backed by your considerable wealth isn’t going to get your message across.

Of course, if you were actually interested in using facts and science to encourage meaningful debate on the topic, you wouldn’t have cats saying “I love to kill” in your infographic or a Photoshopped image of a Scottish Fold kitten done up as a devil. But you’re clearly not interested in that at all. You’re only interested in pursuing your personal vision regardless of what the science actually says or regardless of what the potential negative impact could be to native species.

I challenge you, Mr Morgan, now that I’ve demonstrated your “lies, damned lies and statistics”, to take down your misleading  Cats To Go website, apologise to the New Zealanders you’ve offended, alienated and lied to, then go and put your money into funding genuine research into the impact of predation on our native species and encouraging responsible pet ownership in a way that’s not sensationalist or misleading.

Yours sincerely,

Gwynn Compton

About these ads

15 responses to “An open letter to Gareth Morgan

  1. Hi Gwynn

    Nice try.

    “extinction of bird species”
    As you say yourself, none of the statistics are wrong. That statistic about extinctions is intended to point out that we have a problem. We have many extinct and endangered species in our country. You think the infographic is misleading, that is your interpretation. Nowhere have we said that cats are responsible for ALL New Zealand’s extinctions and endangered species. The point is we have a problem.

    “Another claim, that “your cat” can roam up to 69 hectares is equally as dubious”
    The 69 hectare figure comes from a New Zealand study, not an Illinois one: Metsers et al 2010. The figure is for the rural domestic cats that they studied, not feral cats as you wrongly claim.

    65 critters per year
    45% brought home ‘less than the average’ of one item of prey per month. What does ‘infrequent’ mean? Do you have an acceptable level of killing per cat? That is your interpretation, not science. The point is that the majority of cats kill, and the average cat brings home 13 pieces of prey per year according to several studies. Recent US studies show that cats only bring home one in five things they kill. 13 x 5 = 65. Seems like a reasonable figure to me.

    NZ without cats
    You now want to use a comment on the impact of removing feral cats to counter our claim on domestic cats? Isn’t that what you falsely accused us of doing above? Consistency please. Of course we can’t remove cats without controlling rats. That is obvious. But we have other ways of doing that. We need to control or eradicate all non-native predators if we are to achieve our vision of a Pest Free New Zealand.

    “cats predominately prey on things other than native birds”
    Ummm, actually the study you quote puts birds as the number one prey, just under half were native. Besides, levels of prey does not equate with population damage – you need to think about relative breeding capacity of birds and rats. Rats and mice breed fast, native birds don’t. The van Heezik study you used to talk about birds vs rodents also found that cats alone are enough to cause local extinctions of native birds in our cities. That was the point of the study. Rats may bother native birds during breeding, but thanks to cats they don’t even get that far in cities. There is also evidence that it may be the availability of food, rather than predation by cats, that caps the population of rats.

    “You have also previously claimed that a cat, even with food in front of it, will kill a small animal placed next to it and then return to eating its meal”
    The studies are clear that well-fed cats still kill. That is the key point here. They may not kill as much as hungry cats, but they do still kill. Witness the ‘kitty cam’ study where domestic cats left half their prey to rot. http://theoatmeal.com/comics/cats_actually_kill

    “What does this all mean for you Mr Morgan? It means your credibility has to be called into question. Your selective, misleading and, in my opinion, outright deceptive use of statistics undermines your entire argument. While I have no objection to encouraging positive pet ownership behaviours such as spaying/neutering, bells on collars, microchipping and keeping cats indoors at sunrise and sunset, laying assault to a cultural institution of Western society with half-truths, scare tactics and lies backed by your considerable wealth isn’t going to get your message across.”

    I would say Gwynn that if Gareth is guilty of misrepresentation then so are you. But why the vitriol? It seems that you agree with Gareth on responsible cat ownership. So what if Gareth is asking you to make this cat your last? You don’t want to? So don’t! He’s not going to sneak into your house and steal your precious cat away from you. He’s not even arguing to take away your right to choose to have a cat. He has said that if you can’t bear to part with your cat then be a responsible pet owner. It seems to me you are chasing your tail over nothing.

    Cheers,

    Geoff

  2. Thanks for commenting Geoff.

    That 40% picture is more than simply my interpretation. As is evidenced by the picture itself, it is clearly intended to incriminate cats as being responsible for that 40%. Why else would it have the quote “I wonder where they all went?” and an arrow pointing at a cat’s stomach with a bird in it. How else is the viewer meant to interpret that image except hold cat’s responsible for that 40% figure when the statistics don’t support that assertion at all.

    Appreciate the correction on the territory roamed, but once again it does raise issues of Gareth not telling the full story there either doesn’t it? Dr van Heezik’s own study indicated much smaller ranges in urban Dunedin, ranging at a mean of 2.6 hectares from the top of my head. Given that the majority of cats in New Zealand will live in urban areas, Gareth is cherry picking statistics here to scaremonger, not to reliably inform the reader at all.

    As for the number of cats hunting, that was me quoting from Dr van Heezik’s study. I didn’t offer any interpretation of what was acceptable or not. I was merely pointing out that Gareth’s figure was an exaggeration towards the high end. I’d also seen the study indicating cats don’t bring home most of their kills, but given that most urban cats display little or no interest in hunting, claiming “Your cat is responsible for killing 65 critters per year” is misleading at best, outright lying at worse. Using study’s that Gareth quoted, I demonstrated that most cats aren’t likely to be hunting anywhere near this much. Had Gareth worded the graphic differently, e.g. “You cat could potentially kill 65 critters a year”, that would be somewhat more reasonable, even if not entirely representative of the actual science.

    As for “New Zealand without cats”, you’ll find that I was very open about the science on this issue having not been done, so in fact I was very consistent with the standards I expected of Gareth. I openly said that the MacKenzie Basin example was an anecdote and in my conclusion I urged Gareth to put money into research on this issue as it may well prove vital to him proving his case.

    The study I quoted shows that native birds made up 6% of the cat’s prey. The other birds were non-natives and, as I pointed out, are competitors to our native birds. You’re absolutely right that there will be an influencing factor of the number/type of prey animals available and the frequency of which they show up in as being preyed on by cats and that in areas like Wellington where Zealandia is providing a safe haven for native wildlife, this statistic may well be different. But until then anything else is pure speculation as we could argue till the cows come home about how likely a cat is to catch each species of native bird if/when they are plentiful.

    My point about the “cat plus food plus small animal” study was not so much that cats kill (we know that from kitty cam as you point out), rather that Gareth’s prior use of that study was misleading as to what the study actually demonstrated – which was that most of the cats didn’t attack the small animal placed next to them and that many who did kill the animal did so as an action to protect their food. Gareth made it sound like cats were heartless killers when most of them weren’t (which feeds into Dr van Heezik’s study showing that most cats either didn’t or infrequently hunted). Certainly there are cats that are prolific hunters, yet they are very much in the minority of cats – a fact which is unsurprisingly missing from any of Gareth’s commentary.

    Suffice to say yes, my open letter was a nice try and a successful one to, despite your attempts to demonstrate otherwise – which I’ve thoroughly rebutted above. Have I been misleading? Absolutely not. I’ve been very open about the limits of the studies of anecdotes and, unlike Gareth, I’ve actually spelled out what each of the studies said. The only area I erred was in the range of the cats by unknowingly using a different study to Gareth’s, however in this rebuttal I have been able to identify another limitation in Gareth’s use of this statistic – that it referred to rural cats, not urban ones.

    Why the vitriol you ask? Calling out Gareth on being deceptive and misleading in his quoting of the studies isn’t vitriol because the sheer scale of Gareth’s attempt to tell a very selective story means you can’t interpret it as anything else.

    If you want vitriol I suggest you look at Gareth’s own postings and images. A kitten Photoshopped into a devil, having a cat say “I love to kill” in his infographic, saying today that the RSPCA received the “Crazy Cat Lady” award or calling those who disagreed with his campaign as “Feral, self-centered and balmy” in an interview with a US news website. That is vitriol for you and further evidences that Gareth simply isn’t interested in discussing the actual science or facts of the issue.

    As to why I care about this issue. A few reasons. First, I believe pet ownership is a fundamental part of my cultural identity. It can be exercised responsibly and for the most part is. Secondly, Gareth is advocating people set traps for cats they find on their property. This strikes me as a recipe for animal abuse. While I’d like to give Gareth the benefit of the doubt that he simply hasn’t elaborated on a plan that actually involves having professionals come round a set humane, live capture traps, his language so far doesn’t seem to indicate that. Have a read, he’s actually selling a slightly different story overseas than what he sold here: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/01/the-end-of-cats-an-interview-with-the-new-zealand-economist-calling-to-eliminate-all-kitties/272474/

    Finally, I really don’t like it when people purposefully set out to antagonise the very audience they’re trying to engage. I especially don’t like it when they’re selectively quoting studies to make their case, failing to present the full story to their audience. Then again, this isn’t really surprising as in this case, had Gareth done that, he may have realised his case isn’t as strong as he first made out.

    And as for whether this would impact on my right to own a pet? Eventually it would, that is Gareth’s end game, a New Zealand free of introduced non-commercial mammals. No more cats, no more dogs, no more guinea pigs, rats or mice – even as pets. And that matters to people, animal companionship means a lot to a huge number of people and has done throughout human history. It’s been shown to have medical benefits, improves people’s way of life and is even used to help teach children empathy. Maybe that gap might one day be filled by New Zealand wildlife, maybe not, that would be pure speculation.

    Again, thanks for commenting Geoff.

  3. If people aren’t going to be allowed to own pets, then it’s a matter of choosing which evil we prefer: either they become feral and kill birds, or they are phased out of existence. I don’t particularly like either option.

  4. Pingback: Gareth Morgan speaks: Says he’s engaging about facts | Gwynn Compton·

  5. Hi Gwynn
    I’m not going to rehash the first point. There is what we have said, and there is your interpretation of an infographic that is designed to be simple, fun and engaging. The point is that New Zealand’s native wildlife is in a parlous state, and cats have made a sizeable contribution to that. That is indisputable. In fact, there is more evidence on the impact of cats coming out tomorrow. Tell you what mate, I will post it for you.
    Your second point is irrelevant. Why are you distinguishing between city and rural cats? Nowhere in our campaign is this distinction. Your cat can wander up to 69 hectares, this is an indisputable fact. If we used the average figure as you suggest it would be worded differently. True, cats generally don’t wander that far in the cities. What the evidence actually shows is that is because of other cats (territoriality and fights), not because urban cats are in any way different. Ironic that the best form of protection we have from cats at the moment is owning a bigger cat, or a dog.
    I think using an average killing figure is quite reasonable to describe population effects. If we used your wording “You [sic] cat could potentially kill 65 critters a year” then the fact would be wrong. Van Heezik’s study suggests the most prodigious hunters bring home up to 60 pieces of prey per year. Using the five to one multiplier this would equate to 300 kills per year. Actually Gwynne, I concede. You have helped me come up with an even better statistic! “Your cat could potentially kill 300 critters a year!” Thanks mate, you’re a genius.
    On your 6% point you are quoting a random webpage which seems to hold little weight, I suggest you look at the final published paper: van Heezik, Y. et al Do domestic cats impose an unsustainable harvest on urban bird populations? Biological Conservation 143 (2010) 121–130. The study not only shows that native birds can be a big part of cats diet (if they are around), but that cats kill enough birds to create local extinctions in urban areas. That is the key point here. Cats kill whatever is around and if that includes native birds then they wipe them out.
    As for the cat plus food plus small animal study, I honestly don’t know where Bob Kerridge gets his information from, but it is wrong and you really should have checked it yourself instead of blindly believing him: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091677376921660. I think our summary more closely reflects the reality of that study than Bob’s.
    Now to the rats and mice. I can match you anecdote for anecdote if you like. On Stewart Island they have been doing rat control, and the trappers have noticed that now 80% of feral cat faeces contains bird feathers. Hmmmm… Again, the main point is that we need to manage all predators, including cats. Victoria University have been doing some awesome work commenting on the issues raised this campaign, which talks about this issue better than I can, I suggest you check it out: http://sciblogs.co.nz/politecol/?tag=cat
    I see nothing in the Atlantic article that differs from the messages we have been getting across here.
    As for antagonising people – most people that have taken the time to actually understand the issues don’t seem antagonised. In fact the debate seems to have become increasingly mature. Those who believe the SPCA sound bites and newspaper headlines are, which really is their problem.
    The fact is that this campaign has incredibly successful in raising the issue of cats in the public discourse. More successful than previous attempts. Wellington Regional Council, North and South magazine, environmental campaigners, and even the Herald have all tried to raise the issue in the past and it has sunk without trace. Whether you like the approach or not, it has achieved more than
    Gareth has no intention to take away anyone’s right to own a pet. If they are neutered and kept on your property then effectively New Zealand can be predator free. Again, you are misrepresenting what he is saying, which is ironic given your claims about our tactics.
    Anyway mate to be honest the conversation is moving on, so if you have further concerns I guess we will just have to agree to disagree. Frankly there doesn’t seem to be any points you are raising that are substantive enough to impact our case. But it is your blog, so no doubt you will want to have the last word.

  6. Thanks once again for taking the time to respond Geoff. As for my point about the infographic – I fully understand they’re meant to be fun, simple and engaging, I’ve been professionally involved in the design and sourcing of statistics for them previously – which is why they should also paint an accurate representation of the data behind them – not a cherry picked selection or use misleading language. As I previously said, my interpretation is based solely on the material used in the infographic both the wording and images which – using the 40% of bird life being extinct as an example – is clearly meant to lump the blame on cats. As per my other points, this is but one example when the actual science behind the image is far more complex that the infographic would lead us to believe.

    Is my point about range size irrelevant? Absolutely not as while you’re technically correct in saying a cat can have a 69 hectare territory, it is once again not the full story – as you illustrated by how cats limit each other’s territories in urban settings. And that’s been my issue throughout this – that the Cats To Go campaign is not providing people with all the information. Instead it has consistently chosen the highest figures from each data category without any context around them.

    As for the 6% figure from “a random webpage”, I also sourced it from Forest and Bird’s own website http://www.forestandbird.org.nz/files/file/CatFactsheet.pdf which appears to reference Dr van Heezik’s study. While I’d like to have the spare cash to spend on buying research publications, I’m simply not in a financial position to do this so I’m making do with what I can. While it might not be perfect, both of these sources seem to indicate that native birds were not a major prey source. Interestingly, that territorial area that urban cats hunt in is also pointed out to be predominantly garden areas in Dr van Heezik’s study which raises its own issue – how frequently are native birds going to be visiting urban areas that are overrun with non-native plants more suited to competitor species than our natives? I’ll freely admit I don’t have an answer on that but it does raise an interesting question about how the predatation behaviour of urban cats will change depending on whether natives are able to better penetrate dense urban areas for food sources which may or may not be there.

    You mention you could come up with an even better statistic – and if you’d worded it like that “Your critter could potentially…” then I would have far less of an issue with it as at the very least you have prefaced it with a qualifier that you can’t apply it to all cats – the Dr van Heezik study mentions a third of cats in the survey never hunted while 21% were bringing back more than one item per month.

    It’s also interesting to note that overseas studies tend to support the indication that small mammals are actually the preferred source of prey, an executive summary from a CSIRO paper on the topic: http://www.publish.csiro.au/?paper=WR96020 While Australia is somewhat of a different kettle of fish, it does I am glad you mentioned the link to http://sciblogs.co.nz/politecol/?p=466 because it contains links to papers that generally support this view too. Indeed, one such http://www.publish.csiro.au/paper/WR04057.htm points out that even when rat numbers were low, feral cats did not switch to birds. Certainly that study was conducted back in 2004/05, so specifics may have changed due to pest control on the island, but without solid numbers available we are locked in a battle of anecdotes. Though I will note that while you triumph SciBlog as supporting you, that’s not entirely there conclusion. Rather they note that Meso-Predator release will occur under certain conditions. Of course they suggest that it’s not likely to happen in urban and agricultural areas due to our trapping and poisoning. Though I question how many urban households set rodent traps in their gardens where urban cats have been shown to predate, or what our appetite for increased use of poisoning is given the current arguments over the use of poisons such as 1080.

    So again, the actual science behind the issue is far more complex than the Cats To Go campaign is leading us to believe.

    As for Bob Kerridges’ comments, you’re right, he was off the mark as was I for going off his reference. As for “blindly believing him”, perhaps you’d like to read the first part of that summary: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091677376921660 “After being deprived of food for 48 hours”. That’s right, the six cats (which gives a huge margin of statistical error by the way) were starved prior to the experiment. What did they expect was going to happen? Presented with the opportunity to hunt for more food after being without food for two days, even better when it’s a small mammal – your preferred prey – it makes sense that a cat left to go hungry would choose to maximise its food sources.

    The last line of the summary is telling “Hunger may be seen as a potentiator of a predatory tendency which takes precedence over food consumption. In view of the relative difficulty of feline prey capture in the wild for maintaining adequate food supply, the precedence of preying over eating may have the functional value of increasing food input by multiple kills if the opportunity arises.”

    So far from being “killing machines”, hunger is what drove these six cats to do what they did. Again, the full story is more complicated than either Bob or Gareth would have us believe.

    As for the commentary in The Atlantic, Gareth’s referring to the “cat lobby” as “feral, self-centered and balmy” as well as “As you can see this denial verges on explicit stupidity” is very different from his local commentary, as well as being outright offensive – especially given the study from Dr van Heezik indicates that cats largely don’t prey on native birds. While his core messages are the same, his demeaning of cat owners is something entirely new and adds nothing to the debate – especially when there are valid questions about the data he’s using.

    With regards to antagonising people, I’ve already covered that the issue is around the language and images used. Certainly you’ve encouraged a debate, but given polls indicate only minority support for your position (this based off your own website listing 38% from the Campbell Live poll, and I note a previous poll you had which last time I checked had the result being even worse has since been replaced with a far more ambiguous one), then you’re not getting genuine engagement.

    And there’s a simple reason for this – by opting for an emotional and provocative stance to get attention you’ve instantly put the very people you want to convince in a mindset that isn’t conductive to rational thought. You’ve made cat owners defensive of pets they consider family members and as such, they’ll defend their pets as if they were one of their family.

    Yet behavioural change has moved on from the shock and shout tactics of yesteryear. You only have to look at climate change activists for how they’re looking to positively engage people to change their behaviours rather than attacking them as part of the problem. They present the full range of scientific evidence rather than simply cherry picking the results that suit them and they present it in a way that moves away from the non-emotive and into the “what’s in it for me” rationalisation that actually makes it real for people.

    Cat owners should be part of the solution, but by demonising them and their pets you aren’t creating an environment that is conductive for them being part of this. Meaningful change is only achieved where people can see a clear benefit for them in changing their behaviour. Right now your pictures of kittens altered to be demons and “I love to kill” speech bubbles is hardly going to engage cat owners in this process.

    I haven’t misrepresented what Gareth has been saying. Remember the name of his campaign is “Cats To Go”, the infographic states “What if there were no cats”, your website says “Before you fly into a rage, have a read of some of the facts below and get educated on why cats need to go,” and you have a section “What NZ looks like without cats”. If that’s not suggesting, let alone advocating a completely cat free New Zealand (remember you also allude to making New Zealand predator free, and have an issue with the 100% Pure tag being just a marketing ploy, so is your “predator free” tag the same?) then I don’t know what is.

    You can try and dress it up with “Gareth hasn’t said you can’t own cats”, but when your name and most of your material contains ample references to a New Zealand without introduced predators then you’re saying one thing and printing another.

    Then there’s the small issue of Gareth’s editorial in the Herald where he says, “We should be ahead of the Aussies on this. I think that people should deploy cage live-traps to capture cats that stray into their back yard, box them and leave them on the doorstep of the local authority.”

    Seriously, live capture cats and leave them on the doorstep of the local authority? Animal welfare warning bells should have been going off in someone’s head before he wrote that. Aside from the vast majority of people being unqualified to operate live capture traps or handle cats that have been trapped, advocating simply dumping them on the local authority’s doorstep? Gareth is lashing out at his critics claiming they haven’t considered his points or that they’re being dim-witted, all the while delivering lines like this?

    Considering all the above, how are we not to be concerned about the Cats To Go campaign? The use of facts and statistics have been cherry picked and don’t tell the full story, the messages of the campaign don’t always match up and you’re needlessly antagonistic to the very group you want to engage in positive change.

    You say none of the points I’m raising are substantive enough to impact your cause, but you’re mistaken because I’m not the only one making them. Others are publicly calling into question the aims, method or thinking behind your campaign, including in the very articles Gareth and you have been calling out as being in support.

    Has the conversation moved on? Absolutely. Except it’s moved on from the shock and outrage over your initial antagonistic messaging to picking apart the campaign’s use of statistics, the science it’s based on and the way it has been conducted by Gareth Morgan.

    As for me “having the last word”, that doesn’t make any of my critiques of your campaign or its use of data any less valid. In many ways social media and its vast reach is the great leveller between people like me who disagree with how the campaign has been conducted and people like Gareth who can throw his money behind things like this. I can’t possibly hope to match your ability to produce infographics or get press releases picked up by media outlets. But we can be active participants in the conversation.

    And that should be what you were after to begin with. A conversation based on the full set of facts. Not shouting from the rooftops using only a select few statistics to paint the worse case scenario you could think of. Talking with cat owners as reasonable people, using reasonable facts and reasonable language to engage them in how they can be better owners. All you achieve by sensationalising the issue is driving your key audience away from your messages. The messages of support you’re getting are from those who were already on your side, not those you need to convince – the huge number of households who own cats.

    • Much appreciated Geoff. As per other headline facts, the study does begin to look somewhat different once you get past the attention grabbing stuff. For instance from the Smithsonian magazine http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/science/2013/01/feral-cats-kill-billions-of-small-critters-each-year/ “Around 33 percent of the birds killed are non-native species (read: unwelcome). Even more startlingly, between 6.9 to 20.7 billion small mammals succumb to the predators. In urban areas, most of the mammals were pesky rats and mice, though rabbit, squirrel, shrew and vole carcasses turned up in rural and suburban locations. Just under 70 percent of those deaths, the authors calculate, occur at the paws of unowned cats, a number about three times the amount domesticated kitties slay.”

      So the issue isn’t so much with domestic cats who, it would appear, are predominantly preying on non-native birds and largely mice and rats, but rather with feral populations which most people agree is a problem. Which is where we get to the point around how you engage people with these cats. Simply choosing the most nasty looking numbers and running with them isn’t telling the full story – a fact which many of the media outlets reporting this story are guilty of. Whereas presenting people with the full range of facts (and separating out feral cats is a way of demonstrating what happens if people aren’t being responsible pet owners) and positive actions so that they can take to be part of the solution is going to gain you more traction and more buy-in from the very people you’re seeking to influence.

      I’ll post up an example later today of an idea I worked up this morning on a much more positive and engaging way to encourage responsible pet ownership than simply trying to demonise all cats.

      Thanks again for sharing this, I do appreciate your ongoing participation.

    • Also, I should quickly note – my name doesn’t have an ‘e’ on the end of it. Though given it’s a Welsh name, I’m well used to having it spelled in a variety of interesting ways.

  7. Pingback: Snip, Clip, Chip – An alternative to Cats To Go? | Gwynn Compton·

  8. Pingback: Failure to engage: PR lessons from Cats To Go | Gwynn Compton·

  9. Pingback: So you want to reference science… | Gwynn Compton·

  10. Pingback: This is why Gareth Morgan’s Cats To Go was simplistic and short-sighted | Gwynn Compton·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s