Yes, that’s right, for the birds!! In a new video for PETA, Jonathan Franzen—speaking from what I can only assume is his own kitchen (pardon, could that be a new manuscript next to the stove? BE CAREFUL)—pops up yet again to discuss the “number one direct threat” to American birds: outdoor cats.
Apparently, not only do cats left to roam outdoors kill lots of birds (“like, three or four birds a day”), but they themselves are often victims of outdoor perils like raccoons, creating a veritable lose-lose situation. But hey, Franzen’s novels are actually helping solve the problem. “Almost always when I speak to a person who has read my books,” he says, “if the person mentions they have a cat, they immediately say ‘and I keep the cat indoors.’ They add, ‘I didn’t used to.'” Behold the power of books!
The helpful text in question is, of course, Freedom (recall the cover if you please), and Franzen plopped this message in there in purpose. “The one small part of the book that had an actual activist motive was the very end, where we’re introduced to a predatory housecat that’s running outside and killing songbirds by the scores,” he told The Guardian in 2010.
When it occurred to me that I could end the book with the main character Walter’s problems with this cat, I realized that I could also perform an educational service. Most people aren’t aware of the degree to which free-roaming outdoor cats are a problem in this country. At least a million birds a day are killed by them, so we’re talking about a minimum of 365 million birds in America alone in the course of a year—perhaps as many as a billion. So there was an educational impulse there.
“It’s not like I hate cats,” Franzen says in the PETA video. But take it from Walter, an avid birder (like Franzen) and probable cat-killer on the subject:
Walter had never liked cats. They’d seemed to him the sociopaths of the pet world, a species domesticated as an evil necessary for the control of rodents and subsequently fetishized the way unhappy countries fetishize their militaries, saluting the uniforms of killers as cat owners stroke their animals’ lovely fur and forgive their claws and fangs. He’d never seen anything in a cat’s face but simpering incuriosity and self-interest; you only had to tease one with a mouse-toy to see where it’s true heart lay…cats were all about using people.
Which is not to say he’s wrong! I really couldn’t say. I, after all, am a dog person.
Watch the video for yourself, but be warned there are some semi-gruesome images of dead animals alongside Franzen’s kitchen—thanks PETA: