Pets–at least former pets–made the front page of the Arizona Republic this morning. The Gilbert Riparian Preserve, a 110 acre haven for resident and migratory birds near Guadelupe and Greenfield Roads, has long been a refuge for abandoned and unwanted domestic cats. While at one time small, the population of cats in the preserve has grown to an estimated 40, a growth spurt that is being blamed in part on economic hard times and pet owners who simply don’t know what else to do.Dr. Burns and I have taken the dogs for walks at the Riparian Preserve for several years, and we have always marveled at the variety of wildlife we’ve seen there: snakes, lizards, coyotes, rabbits, and, of course, countless birds. We also see domestic cats on most trips. As both veterinarians and conservationists, we can appreciate both sides of the arguments for and against permitting the existence of these colonies of cats, which are frequently subsidized and informally tended to by neighborhood animal lovers. We can also appreciate the pros and cons of outdoor life for cats in general—particularly in our dangerous urban environment.Regardless of how this cat colony (and I refrain from using the term “feral” here because the photo illustrating the AZCentral.com article demonstrates that many members of the Riparian Preserve cat population are clearly not feral) is managed, cats are predators and do catch and kill a variety of animals regardless of if they have enough cat food to eat. This simple truth is regrettably illustrated a couple times each year when one of our own cats catches a lizard or house finch during supervised time in our own backyard.This fact raises a contentious issue between conservationists and animal welfare advocates. While I won’t use this space to enter the argument for or against Trap-Neuter-Release and other options for cat colony management, you can read more about both sides of the issue at webistes like Wikipedia, the American Bird Conservancy’s Cats Indoors Campaign, AZCats Altered Tails, and Alley Cat Allies.What I would like to point out, however, is that you can help. Think carefully before you bring a new pet into your home. Spay or neuter your own cats to prevent unwanted litters; put pressure on friends and family to do the same. Adopt a cat from a local shelter. Keep your cat indoors to reduce roaming, limit his ability to hunt wildlife, and protect him from cars, dogs, and the other risks of unsupervised life in the suburbs. Support groups like AZCats by donating your time or other resources. And, if you must give up your pets, do so responsibly by re-homing them yourself, contacting a rescue group, or relinquishing them to a reputable shelter. The birds–and your community–will thank you.