Magazine article The New Yorker

Cat's Robo-Cradle

Magazine article The New Yorker

Cat's Robo-Cradle

Article excerpt

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, there is a warehouse filled with discontinued merchandise, which has been nicknamed the Museum of Failed Products. Inside, one can learn about the line of TV dinners launched by a well-known toothpaste company, with packaging that unwisely echoed the design of the toothpaste. Other candidates for the permanent collection include the Christ Child doll (parents, it seemed, could not quite picture Baby Jesus sharing a dolly tea party with a sock monkey) and the pet-of-the-month scheme that astonished child subscribers with a regular supply of dead rodents and reptiles, sent to them through the mail.

To keep myself humble, I here recall the fact that, back in my market-research days, in 1963, I was skeptical about Pop-Tarts--those breakfast confections made of two layers of flour product glued together like clamshells, with a blob of jam in the clam position. When our testers put them in the toaster, the things exploded, spewing boiling jam over the inside of the toaster. This defect was later rectified, with well-known results.

Rome wasn't built in a day, nor were Pop-Tarts. It was decades after the invention of the sewing machine that it became commercially viable. So the inevitability of the device I am about to propose may not seem immediately obvious, though there is no doubt in my mind about the need for it.

My proposal is called the Robo-Coyote. It would address the fact that billions of migratory birds are killed in North America every year by cats, both feral and owner-operated. When you add to that the mega-millions killed by urban high-rises whose proprietors foolishly keep the lights on all night, it's a wonder there's a bird left in the skies. And, since birds are a main predator of forest insects, their dwindling is already affecting the health of our forests. As climates change and winters warm, the situation will worsen: insects will move northward in hordes, munching as they go. What's more, the cats--millions of them--are gobbling up small rodents that are the staple fare of owls, falcons, and hawks, which may cause a further decline in those bird numbers.

What to do? No point in proposing a cat cull: the same people who love birds also love cats--I am among their number--and the animal-rights folks would be aroused in their irate thousands. …

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