A woman asked me at work the other day, “how many of these animals here actually had owners at some point?” My reply, “pretty much all of them”, was met with a puzzled look. I explained to her how owner surrender works, how stray dogs are brought in with collars and microchips and no one comes looking. I described how sometimes multiple trips to the home and numerous phone calls need to be made to the owners, asking them to come in and relinquish or reclaim their animal, as it sits day after day in a kennel, in limbo. I told her that the only animals here that we could say with any confidence had a high probability of never having a human guardian were the feral cats.
Even that was a stretch; I knew that but didn’t go into detail with her about it, because it would take too long and I could tell her interest in the can of worms she popped open had started to wain. Feral cats. Now that’s a discussion, usually heated, among animal lovers. Actually, maybe not so much. It’s unfortunate, and they hate when you point it out, but many die hard furbaby fanatics actually harbor a dislike for cats; if you push the right buttons they’ll spill it. Their devotion to all things fuzzy and four legged screeches to an audible halt when the conversation turns to the animal that doesn’t come when called, doesn’t tolerate abuse, doesn’t ride shotgun to the beach and help you pick up chicks. If you have the time, take a gander at any thread on social media about a dog that has been euthanized due to mauling a cat, and be prepared to be astounded. Kristen Lindsey, who proudly advertised randomly killing a loose cat with a bow and arrow in 2015, is still struggling to keep her veterinarian’s license, because she’s an “animal lover”. It can be disheartening to see cats regularly considered less than, second fiddle, sad substitutes for man’s original best friend.
But when I think about it, why would people who aren’t that fond of cats to begin with be spirited to respect and consider them fragile sentient beings? Why would they, when the ones who claim to love and adore cats so much are many times the same who casually (and in my experience sometimes aggressively) deny any responsibility in their well being or safety?
Every spring, shelters fill up with sick and feral baby cats. Many shelters see kittens come in year round, but spring and early summer is the boom so to speak. Feral queens have litters where they aren’t wanted, mothers succumb to predators, cars, or worse fates, leaving abandoned litters for citizens to gather up and deliver to open intake facilities. We deal with emaciation, dehydration, coccidia, giardia, fleas, tapeworms, upper respiratory, calicivirus, ringworm. Fosters fill up with bottle babies and frightened furballs that hiss and spit better than they can walk, in the hope that in 6-8 weeks each one can get to the adoption floor and out the front door.
Every day, lost and found records fill up with cats as well. It is common practice, even in cities where it is against the law, for cat lovers to allow their animals to randomly leave their property and do whatever they want wherever they want. To most, it’s almost like they consider it their right, for their cats to roam. The phone call comes in, a devastated owner declaring “he’s never been gone this long”. They’ve grown accustomed to the cat disappearing for a day or two, until one day at dinner, someone asks if anyone has seen the cat, and they realize it’s been gone for 4 days. no wait, 5? Darn, was it Monday or Tuesday? And completely unequipped to be wandering, no less. Collar and tags? No. Microchipped? No. Vaccinated? No. But the kids are devastated. We’re offering a $100 reward. He’s our baby, he means everything to us.
So we’ll write our kids name on the bottom of his X-men thermos to make sure IT gets home safe, but the cat, he’s on his own. Does anyone even use a thermos anymore?
Feral colonies, TNR, privately owned outdoor cats. Most people are on one side or the other. Many municipal facilities are stuck in the middle, between enforcing their ordinances in regards to “cats at large”, trying to control the population not only of multiplying strays but also their caretakers, and striving to euthanize as little animals as possible. Many ferals are actively (and illegally) being cared for by members of the public in the form of leaving overflowing paper plates of cheap dry kibble and bowls of water on their porches. This in turn keeps the feral population nourished and hydrated, essentially thriving, and that, coupled with a lack of enforcement for responsibility, leads to an even greater feral population. On one side of the argument, these nuisance cats should be eradicated, no domestic animal should be permitted to run at large (and that’s an entirely different argument, as to the status of these cats being wild or domestic. To my knowledge, the domestic shorthair orange tabby is not an indigenous species, so I personally consider them domestics. Just my opinion). People say these unowned animals should be picked up by animal control and disposed of. On the other side of the argument, feral colonies should be managed. These people say catch the cats, alter and vaccinate them and release them back to the area to live in harmony with the locals. Whether all the locals are on board or not is irrelevant to some, especially the cat lovers; according to them, this cat’s right to live and urinate on your porch is more important than your right to leave your workboots on your front step and expect to be able to wear them to work the next day without smelling like a walking litterbox. You could discuss for days the pros and cons of each side. But what many don’t discuss is the huge double standard here.
This is not an argument you will hear in regards to stray dogs. Thousands of rescues, both vigilante and legitimate, exists across this country with the sole purpose of getting stray dogs off the streets and into homes. The idea of dogs living on the streets scrounging for food, infested with parasites, faces scarred from fighting, in the eyes of the public that is unacceptable; an atrocity that cannot be allowed to continue. Picture a cat walking down the street in the same condition… digging through garbage for food, head scarred from fighting, missing patches of hair…this garners a different reaction entirely. Someone may toss some food at it out of pity, then close their door, not only turning a blind eye to this cat’s struggle, but encouraging it to continue for generations to come. Hell, some might even throw a rock at it instead. Or worse, especially if it was their workboots. For some, resentment flows freely towards a defenseless animal. I’ve heard the voicemails, the threats, and seen the aftermath.
It’s like at some point, we just gave up on cats, and said “Nah, just leave em, they’ll be fine”. When did it become okay to encourage once domesticated animals to become wild? When did America throw in the towel on responsible cat ownership? Do you realize that there are people already suggesting that we start doing this with dogs? Just fix them and let them go. And that there are other people actually listening to these people and nodding their heads??
And then, like this isn’t hard enough, at the way far end of the spectrum, we have the cat owners, the self proclaimed cat lovers, who regularly, purposefully, put their cats out into the streets unprotected to wander off and do what they want for days at a time. This single act, by definition, is the essence of irresponsibility. Sometimes an animal’s biggest fan ends up being the biggest disappointment.
Regardless of species, a safe environment for the citizens and their pets starts with responsibility. I’d like to thank all the officers and fosters that step up and take home snotty bottle babies. I’d like to thank the volunteers and officers who stick their hands in those cages regardless of what’s being thrown back out at them to pick up that terrified kitten and hold it until it purrs. I’d like to thank the concerned citizen who catches the kittens and also traps the mom so we can spay her and start socializing her for adoption. I’d like to thank the neighbor who picks up that friendly tomcat and takes him in for a snip and tip on his own dime, even if you put him back out, it makes a difference.
And I’d like to thank each and every cat owner who understands. Keep ’em alive, keep ’em inside.