The author of this essay is Sylvia Ann.
Though public campaigns mold public perception, some people are so immune to the precept that they should care for their animals, they’re beyond reach. The best of the lot are dense to the point of solidity, the worst saboteurs who resent any honorable course of action and progress towards a worthy goal, cynics who pride themselves on the ease with which they foist off their dogs and cats on others.
Which isn’t to say that every neglector of animals is irredeemably bad. Irresponsible – yes. But according to Maslow’s ‘pyramid,’ we have to be sure of a meal and a roof before we can focus on anything beyond our own survival. Easy as it is to denigrate these people, doing so is pointless. Our approval or disapproval of others depending on whether they mirror ourselves serves no purpose.
In common with the rest of humanity, some may suffer from substance addiction, psychological conflicts, inertia or confusion brought on by failing health or old age, and feel overwhelmed by what they perceive as beyond their reach and beyond their control. Many, moreover, are happy-go-luckies who, for all their likable ways, have no feeling for animals. Never had and never will. Or is this assumption erroneous?
‘There are three types of lies: lies, d**n lies, and statistics.’ [Mark Twain]
While strudel dough and statistical research top the pliability chart, more than a few schools of thought dismiss free will as a lucrative fiction trumped up by ‘self-help’ pop psychology gurus. These studies purport to demonstrate that people don’t change. The best we can muster is to become a caricature of our younger selves as we shuffle off the stage. In the depths of their dotage, the youthful reserved turn into malodorous misfits who sit by themselves, gnashing their dentures and hatching schemes of retribution. The extroverts of yesteryear are terrified of solitude, and have panic attacks if their caregivers step out the door to hose down their diapers. The bargain hunters of long ago become ‘insanely frugal.’ [Simone de Beauvoir] What we are, aren’t – and never will be – is graven on our biochemical stone tablets.
If all the above is speculation, one thing’s for certain. Cats will multiply like gnats if their negligent keepers are ever required to have them neutered, or pay a whopping fine. They’ll never shell out a red penny on either one of these unenforceable options. Where honey is needful, this decree is a stick with a sponge soaked in vinegar.
Rather than delving into their pockets to punish them for their non-compliance, why not establish a program that offers them a supplemental income? Could people as dead to obloquy as they are to community spirit be reached through an invitation to join local groups that traded ideas on ways to solve a few of the problems we all encounter in caring for our pets? Their front-row inclusion in such a program would let them earn a nominal sum for their volunteer work in achieving TNR goals.
Above all, a fast-track TNR program would focus on them – not on other people who wish they’d mend their ways. Nor would they be forced to buck and wing it to someone else’s beat. Instead of installing a ‘take charge’ type while they slumped in their chairs, plotting revenge, they’d be asked for their thoughts on how to implement the program.
To get the ball rolling, the city would pass the ‘neuter or pay a fine’ decree, but waive the cost for program volunteers.
Bulletins and news announcements would post the time and place of friendly neighborhood forums (with coffee and doughnuts) that traded ideas on ways to save money in caring for cats, how to reduce the cat population, what to do with unwanted kittens, how to eradicate fleas, etc.
An informative film would present diseases cats improperly cared for can transmit to humans, especially women of childbearing age, children, elders, and persons with a suppressed immunity:
- TAPEWORM Contracted if a child ingests flea. The worm can grow to 50 feet in length and live for two decades in the intestine. May also migrate to other organs, causing a variety of illnesses.
- ROUNDWORM Damages liver, lungs, brain, heart and eyes. Eggs survive for years. Cat Parasites.
- HOOKWORM Present in contaminated soil. A visually alarming, fiery rash often absorbed through soles of bare feet.
- RINGWORM A contagious fungus that inflames skin for up to 16 weeks. Difficult to eradicate, as spores cling for months to furniture, rugs, bedding, curtains, etc. ‘We all got ringworm from some kittens and had to rub Pond’s Extract on our arms and legs night and morning…’ [E.B. White]
- SALMONELLOSIS Causes diarrhea, nausea, fever, abdominal cramps. Usually lasts four days to a week, but can develop into chronic, disabling arthritis. Caused by contact with cat feces, especially from cats that eat raw meat.
- BARTONELLOSIS ‘Cat scratch and bite disease.’ Causes swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, muscular and joint pain, loss of appetite. Disease can last several months, and may be fatal to persons with a compromised immune system.
- TOXOPLASMOSIS Flu-like symptoms, lesions, acute illness in human infants – also linked to schizophrenia and other psychoses. Persists in soil for many months.
- CAT DANDER ALLERGY Causes flu- and asthma- like symptoms.
- RABIES A series of vaccinations within a few days of exposure ward off the disease, but after a period of incubation untreated rabies is fatal. Terminal symptoms are hydrophobia, psychosis, encephalitis and paralysis of autonomic reflexes, causing death by suffocation.
This documentary film would include Godzilla magnifications of the bugs, worms and fungi, the illnesses they cause, their symptoms, treatment and prognoses.
Afterwards, the program host might invite comments on the formation of ‘Neighborhood Watch’ groups to find and trap unneutered cats. Again, instead of imposing a structure on the participants, they would be encouraged to organize such groups.
In 1974 Edgar Berman, a surgeon who taught at Johns Hopkins, worked with Thomas Dooley in Laos and Schweitzer in Lambaréné, wrote The Solid Gold Stethoscope, a horrendous, hilarious exposé lampooning the doctor-patient contract (‘God and Clod’), cosmetic surgeons (‘From Hags to B**ches’), and chemo-oncologists (‘The Deadly Game: Hot Cross Bones’), that must have had most of this country’s M. Deities aching to hurtle him bodily into the sulfur pits of hell. Among other staggering putdowns, he wrote that Schweitzer transformed an assistant ‘fresh from the jungle’ into a skilled surgeon.
Unless the castrato is a gorilla, vets say neutering is the easiest of all operations, a cinch compared to the intricate misery of spaying a female. Assuming they know what they’re talking about, is it benighted to postulate intelligent laymen could learn the procedure by observation and hands-on instruction? Could volunteers be trained in weeks – even in days? Could they learn how to handle a cat without being bitten and clawed, understand where and how to inject the right amount of anesthetic (it would have to be liquid: gas and surgical monitors are expensive and complex), how to immobilize a cat, sterilize everything, make a shallow incision, recognize anatomical features, tie whatever needs to be tied, sever and detach?
The TNR program would bring in far more volunteers than there are vets floating around. Nationwide low-cost neutering clinics are staffed by professionals willing to partially donate their skills to a good cause, though people can bring in only one or two cats at a time – not fifty cats, day after day. But this is how many would need to be neutered – this many and more – in a program that kept pace with the birthrate. Though doing their best, these low-cost clinics – many of which are hours away – dribble along year after year, when a team of competent volunteers could produce a steady flow.
Where would the program find its volunteers? Ideally, they’d be students of veterinary medicine. A second choice might be medical or nursing students. A third might be students in other health sciences. A fourth might be the program volunteers, who would be screened for IQ and stability, health, vision, manual coordination, freedom from addictions and other psychological problems. Finally, they’d have to understand that they had agreed to donate their time, with only minimal compensation for each cat they caught and neutered.
Without naming names, it’s fun to imagine how this proposal might trigger a certain organization’s whoops of rage as they leaped into combat and hit the ground running, their six-guns blazing – though more, perhaps, from pomposity than monetary lust: they know there’s no money in neutering stray cats.
When the shortage of medical doctors is such that P.A.s and N.P.s often replace them in run-of-the-mill office calls, veterinarians who finish their training sooner than physicians could hardly justify their refusal to train qualified volunteers. It’s also unfair to spoof and demonize veterinarians, when most would likely welcome less delay in solving the problem of homeless cats and kittens.
As suggested above, the program would pay a small sum to volunteers who trapped and neutered cats. Beyond that expense, funds would be needed from taxes or donors for hundreds of cages, gas for cruising the neighborhoods and picking up strays, medical supplies, an autoclave or two, and a well-lit workspace with room enough for newly trapped and post-op cats.
But why pay volunteers?
Well, everyone’s heard the 1920’s ballad:
He: (Swooping and bobbing around her in a hip-swiveling zoot suit with trousers up to the armpits):
‘I can’t give you anything but l-u-u-u-u-u-v, b-a-a-a-a-y-bee,
That’s the only thing I got plenty u-u-u-u-v, b-a-a-a-a-y-bee…’
She: (With a faraway look) ‘How nice for me.’
With or without the exception of students, some of the people in this program may be living on a shoestring. The rate of truancy is so high in the U.S., there are programs proposed – or up and running – that pay youngsters to stay in school. Law enforcement sponsored events pay hoods to turn in their gang-banger semi’s. Elderly folk with shopping carts shamble along the roadsides, picking up cans they sell for two cents apiece. Tradesmen are standing on street corners, yelling at passing motorists for carpentry work, jack-of-all trades work, yard work – anything to support their families.
‘Warm wishes’ and prayers, ‘high fives’ and back-pattings are chaff to the poor. Solvent caregivers do not condemn their animals to scavenging and beggary. Starving cats in middle- and high-income neighborhoods are dumped there by the cash-strapped. Negligent caregivers live on the edge, and nothing but money will catch their eye, lure them in and keep them around.
Based on what the budget allowed, TNR volunteers might receive two dollars or less – a supplement to their regular earnings, or unemployment/welfare/disability checks – for every vagabond tomcat they caught and desexed.
And yes. The devil is in the details. Social class is irrelevant here. Craftiness thrives at every level, and sooner or later progress would slow to a crawl as kittens outnumbered older cats. Given ‘the natural villany of man’ [Twain, as usual], some of the volunteers might start breeding cats in their basement to guarantee themselves a small but steady income. A reduction in pay for a dubious disproportion between the cats and kittens should curb this ploy.
* * *
From specifics to generalities — are some acts so immoral that legislation should make them unlawful?
1) Euthanasia, except for irreparable injury, terminal illness or painful senescence.
Logicians could fabricate beautifully reasoned arguments why euthanasia is immoral. Here are seven Plain Janes.
- Because life is a rarity in a seemingly lifeless cosmos (though it can spring – given a zap – from stardust and nose-twitching chemicals). Lewis Mumford wrote that only in size and longevity are we pygmified by the universe, for our sentience dwarfs galaxies stretching away to the dimmest, most distant reaches of space, all devoid – so far as we know – of living awareness, and all dependent on us to describe their wordless grandeur.
- Because we condemned these cats to hardship, we have an obligation to mitigate their suffering.
- Because these cats are ‘slighted and enduring.’ [Thomas Hardy]
- Because ‘nobody came, for nobody does.’ [Hardy again, though a paraphrase of ‘…nobody did come, because nobody does.’]
- Because these cats stand on our porches ignoring the meals we offer them until they’ve stroked our legs with their heads and gazed at us with humble expectancy, asking that we acknowledge their existence with something more than food. While nothing beyond a carnal itch propels some of us into greased lightning gluttony, cats with a heart refuse to eat until they’ve communed with us.
- Because millions of ferals survive in large cities – Rome, Paris, London, New York – where there are dumpsters, and people who sometimes feed them. Yet their lives may be easier on a farm, where they shelter in barns and have access to milk, table scraps and offal from butchered livestock.
- Because cats control rodents, though hardly with any greater success than ladybug larvae eat aphids. Waterfront warehouses, silos, granaries and fields before harvest swarm with rats that eat and befoul millions of dollars in fruit, sugar cane, rice and other grains. Though cats didn’t prevent the plagues throughout written history – part of the reason being they were nearly wiped out by the superstitious who saw them as demonic – they still have value in keeping down rat infestation on farms, less often by catching and killing grown rats – the barn owl is a deadlier foe – than by scaring them off and killing a few offspring. (Speaking of owls – and you’ll need trees for this to work – if you stand on a balcony and hoot in a soft and winning way, they’ll flutter down out of the dark two and three at a time, cumbrous and frilly as ladies’ hats in days of yore, ‘woo-woo’ you back with tremulous emotion, and come within inches of landing on your head.)
As a footnote to the food supply, the tragedy is that herbivores and omnivores are every bit as soulful as the carnivores who eat them. Anyone knows this who’s had a pet rat nibble his earlobe, a pig in a girly-girl sunbonnet, a devoted cow or a potty-trained cuddlesome cluckaroo—.all of them family. The locale for Sartre’s play,***No Exit, is hell. But hell is here and now. We live in a closed system from which only vegans have an escape hatch, though not even they, according to Jagadis Bose, the world-renowned botanist.
2) The return of TNRs to their point of origin.
- Why are these cats returned to the same neighborhood where they’re ignored as implacably as they were before they were trapped and neutered? It’s true they’re back in familiar surroundings. There’s no hope for them there, though: no food or protection, nothing awaits them but a replay of hunger and cold, kicks and swats, the chance of being captured again – and a snuff-job at the pound. The circularity of their ordeal is callous and inane. If people who claim to support TNR – the ones who raise the most vociferous hue and cry over euthanasia – mean what they say, they’d see that these neutered cats be released to their own neighborhoods – they’d have to confine them for a few days – where they’d be given permanent food and shelter. Either that, or they’d drive to the cats’ old neighborhoods daily and put out food, as Martha Kane and Richard do. MICHAEL, COULD YOU INSERT HER WEBSITE HERE? Just as the poor need money – not pity – these emaciated cats need years of care.
3) The shunting off onto caregivers the decades-long onus of feeding strays. (Which doesn’t conflict with the foregoing.)
- Unless the cats eat economy kibbles, they’re expensive to feed. A small cat eats $45.00 (₤29.00) a month in canned food, and a medium cat $50.00 (₤32.00). Males the size of raccoons cost up to $65.00 (₤42.00). These hulks eat three cans of Friskies in summer, and close to four in winter, which doesn’t include scraps of organic beef and chicken, with a splash of organic milk and cream to moisten their whiskers.
Granted While most labels recommend an ounce of canned food per pound of cat, this ratio is scant for outdoor cats that need extra calories to warm them in cold climates. Whether or not they’re reliable, lab tests have shown that underfed animals live beyond their life expectancy. Maybe so. But unless we champion a double standard – abundant variety for ourselves and pinchbeck monotony for our best friends – it’s unthinkable to starve a hungry dog and cat.
So far from being a four-legged blimp, swashbuckling males who eat up to 22 ounces of Friskies per day in winter (624g) are solidly muscled, with just enough fat to pad their spinal vertebrae. Unless dozens of cats are being fed – as they are by mission of mercy groups, which may understandably have to feed them more kibbles than meat – caregivers can spend at least $350.00 (₤227.00) a month on five or six cats, depending on size, a sum that excludes ear mite, worming and flea medications, medical care for injuries, neutering, euthanasia if the cats are incurably ill with FeLV and other fatal diseases, dental work and vaccinations.
In her well-written website, a caregiver states that cats can cost up to $4,000 during their lifetime. Her cats must die young.
A TNR program that churned out even more cats than before could multiply beyond reckoning the costs for caregivers who lack the indispensable ‘Hah! What’s in it for me?’ rule of thumb. Even now, the expense is surreal. If there is a partial subsidy for feeding ferals in the UK, they’re far more humane than we are in the U.S.
As for ‘shunting,’ however – none occurs. Nothing and no one compels caregivers to lift a finger. Which is hard to refute, though our culture aspires to uphold certain standards of decency, one of them being our vaunted respect for the value of life, including our pledge to care not only for people unable to care for themselves, but for our special friends.
The lack of compulsion is hard to refute for multiple reasons, one of them being our having unleashed the most stupendous, bolt-from-the-blue, pyrotechnical terrorist acts ever conceived of before or since, the memory of which makes people of conscience, even today, want to go sit in Floyd Schmoe’s peace park.
It would be hard to cobble together a refutation in view of the criminal greed and deceit that robbed many of us of our life savings. It would be hard in view of our country’s outrageous consumption of dwindling resources and cavalier staving in of the few still afloat.
Because of our past, present and probable future, it would be hard to present ourselves as standard bearers of ethical conduct. Yet many of us, as individuals, are kindness incarnate in our actions and ideals. Martha and Richard had no money for Christmas gifts. They spent it on their cats. ‘But we have peace in our hearts!’ she says.
If donations or taxes could fund a program with get-up-and-go, where would they come from when nearly ten percent of our population is jobless? People have lost their homes to foreclosure, their health insurance, their hopes for the near and distant future. Their bubbles did what bubbles do, and schemes and scams have defrauded thousands of us.
Despite the implosion, the media never let us down. They offer us an unfailingly colorful account of world events.
The daily news describes people, things and animals plunged so far into the trough, they’re scraping bottom. Every day we hear and read about hurricane victims huddled under tarps, of war everywhere, of child conscription, nuclear build-up, ‘dirty bombs,’ suicide bombers all over the place, lurking cyber-attack, child brothels, famine, epidemics, depleted resources, acidification of the seas, menopausal climates, glacial slush, the record-breaking extinction of wildlife, industrial pollution of wells, lakes, rivers and coastlines, drought, floods and dried-up aquifers, shrinking Social Security funds, our lackluster educational standards, the boarding up of social services, unaffordable health care for both the uninsured and insured, crime in the cities, a growing addiction to sugar, fat, computer games and everything else that zonks us into stupefaction, rat-hole prisons, wheezing asthma and emphysema from lungs blackened with soot and carbon monoxide fumes.
‘So it goes.’ [Vonnegut]
But heck. That’s mostly Monday through Friday. On weekends we get to read about the beautiful surfers. Sunday supplement magazines regale us with tours of eight-figure mansions, getaways to spas and resorts, galleries and gift shops, lavender farms, four-star restaurants with artisan cheeses, artisan breads, artisan wines (the buzzword ***du jour that’s edging out ‘signature’), concerts with tickets selling for what would feed a family for days, hypertrophied sporting events, designer apparel, high-tech gadgetry, cars costing as much as a house, luxury cruises. If none of our mostly manmade mess – full-blown or looming – has dampened the hedonists in their pursuit of the good life, cats are so far out of the loop they’re microscopic.
While they’re seldom considered newsworthy, neither is it unknown and unheard of that no-kill shelters, groups and individuals are doing their best to translate into action those values our culture supposedly reveres. These caregivers are strained to the limit, and almost alone in their struggle to reach what the privileged could help them attain: the solution to problems that need not remain chronically insoluble.
Is a TNR program that does what needs doing a pipe-dream?
Almost certainly so. There is no funding, nor prospect of funding. The public knows that a market collapse means financial hara-kiri. But caregivers gutting their funds on cats? The notion is absurd, a pallid abstraction to people with their minds on a romp – or wondering how to survive another day.
A pared-down program might stand a chance if it jettisoned the ‘Neighborhood Watch’ group (volunteers driving through neighborhoods looking for strays), but still neutered cats and offered marginal caregivers – even those who had more or less abandoned their cats – free neutering. It would need to be free for the program to work: not ‘low-cost’ neutering now and then for a couple of cats, but scot-free neutering every day of the week, and for multitudes of cats. And the program would stand a stronger chance if the these peoplets were paid a dollar for each cat they brought in. They might respond to such an offer for several reasons, one of them being that freebies remind us of when we were children and didn’t have to pay for things.
Those who love and care for their pets can have many of them under their roof and still enjoy an immaculate household. At the opposite end of the spectrum are people who either don’t know, or have an interest in learning, how to take care of their animals. Yet even they might respond to the program if flea-bites on their legs and bodies, their risk of disease, their shredded screen doors, their house and yard teeming with cats, the reek of urine indoors and out, the sight and sound of yowling, fighting and breeding throngs of cats and more cats were repellent to them.
For all the tireless, exhausted devotion of animal rights activists, they’re baling with a teaspoon. Yet the day is coming when TNR and wholesale euthanasia will be as obsolete as the oil lanterns and buggies predating Edison and Ford.
A student vet in the late ‘90s was testing an oral contraceptive ostensibly free of side effects. Unfortunately, there’s no mention of her work in ACCD’s update describing the ongoing search, here and abroad, for a species specific, contraceptive bait for homeless cats. But when it’s developed – and it ***will be developed, as surely as declawing, TNR and euthanasia of healthy dogs and cats will end – the world’s caregivers will shout hallelujah.