Cats in the Garden: Helpers or Hazards?

Reader Contribution by Blythe Pelham
article image

My cats have always been more people than cats. I know this because I’ve met plenty of cat cats. I’ve even lived with several that belonged to my sister. She kept pets, I had feline friends. I was reminded of this just yesterday when a visiting friend commented on how friendly my cats were compared to her mother’s who are constantly biting or scratching the hand that feeds them.

I’m not sure how common that catlike behavior is in the general public but I’m guessing that it’s common enough to warrant the age-old argument of cat vs dog. But I believe there are enough folks out there like me to fuel the cat-supportive side of that discussion. Don’t get me wrong, I like dogs too. It’s simply that cats have almost always been and always will be a part of my daily life.

My first feline friend entered during my early youth. The unfortunate demise of this first cat friend at the hands of a budding psychopath (who also took out our basset hound and her 10 puppies) didn’t serve to deter my love of cats though it did delay them coming back into our home for a few years.

Flash forward to my adulthood where I continued to live with assorted cat friends along with come-and-go hummings until I met my husband of three decades. During our initial dating, I learned that he was allergic to cats and he learned that I would always share my home with cats. I’d spent 18 months without them once and would never repeat that again. He’s still allergic and we have far too many feline housemates but at least the numbers are in natural decline.

During the early years of sharing space, my cats were the indoor/outdoor variety. They were free to roam during the day but always came in at night. That changed one horrible night when three loose dogs killed one of my closest cats in our backyard before I could stop them.

Most of my cats have been indoors ever since—the exceptions being various strays who cross my path and the pair who currently share my garden space on a daily basis (seen in these photos). TobiCatz (the gray sweetie depicted) wandered out of my forsythia and right into my lap as I was digging potatoes a few years ago. He was a stray kitten that I hadn’t previously seen or heard but whom had undoubtedly been watching me for some time. I have no other explanation for an otherwise feral cat doing such a thing.

We already had a houseful of felines at the time and certainly didn’t need another. I tried to get my best friend to adopt him but she wasn’t ready for another—having recently lost one and with other life upheaval going on. Long story short, he joined our crew indoors but upon reaching tomcat status began spraying throughout the house—especially my husband’s favorite chairs. He first transitioned back outdoors staying in the garage at night. I was sad that he had to be alone but then Byrneesse (the tuxedo kitten in these photos) joined us after having been abandoned across the street.

When the deep cold of the winter set in, I moved them into our basement at night and set them each up in their own kitty condos (aka dog carriers). They also stayed in during rough weather—be it snow, cold or thunderstorms. The current iteration has them outdoors for varying amounts during the day, indoors in one of the bedrooms for part of the day and evening, then back in their condos for sleeping.

Many people insist that cats be kept indoors due to a declining bird population. I can’t argue that there are many cats who make their mark depleting that population. However, I would argue that it’s more likely stray colonies and cats that belong to people like my sister or friend’s mom—those people who accept that cats will be cats—than cats like mine who honestly believe themselves to be people. I see my cats more like humming toddlers, and treat them as such.

I have seen Byrneesse with one dead bird in 4 years and I rescued another from her jaws to have it fly to freedom. She knows exactly how I feel about this behavior. I feed my cats very well and always work to redirect their unacceptable hobbies—killing birds definitely falls in this category. Frankly, the insects in my garden are far more at risk than my feathered friends—at least from my cats.

I also work to keep the birds in our garden happy by supplying plenty of nesting opportunities along with supplies as well as making sure they have an abundance of food and water sources. Our Carolina Wrens often help me by letting me know exactly where Byrnie is in the garden.

Whether or not my cats actually help with my gardening is another matter completely. They may slow me down at times but they also keep me company and often have me smiling—truly, who could ask for more?

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online atHumings and Being Blythe, and read all of herMOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


With the help of the Mother Earth News Collector Series: Organic Gardening, 3rd Edition special issue, every season can be gardening season! Within these 160 pages, you’ll discover techniques and methods for growing, DIY plans for your gardens, vegetable advice for a variety of vegetables, and more. Whether you’re a beginner gardener wondering how to keep weeds out of your garden or an expert wanting to experiment with crop rotation, this issue has all the resources to help you in your next planting season. Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or by calling 800-234-3368.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.