Portrait of a Cat Activist, Part II

In my last blog entry, I wrote about how friend and poet, William Reichard, and his partner, Jim, came to live with 7 cats. But the real story is how they began working with Feline Rescue, Inc., in St. Paul to make a genuine difference.

The population of stray cats exploded in Bill’s neighborhood when the economy took a downturn and foreclosure signs started popping up everywhere. Cats are the most popular pet in the United States, but they are also a large portion of the 2.7 million healthy, adoptableInfographics-111011 pets euthanized in shelters each year. They are far less likely than dogs to be adopted or reclaimed by their owners. In fact, the Humane Society lists “Euthanasia—often of healthy, unwanted cats [as] the #1 cause of death” for cats. That number is rising, even as the number of dogs euthanized each year declines.

When it comes to honoring our 10,000-year relationship with cats, it’s clear, we’re not holding up our end of the bargain.

Bill gets frustrated. “People hold on to this weird myth that domesticated cats are more wild than dogs, so you can just throw your unwanted cat outside and it will be fine. You would never do that to a dog! Cats who have been raised in a home don’t know how to hunt or where to find water.” Basically, owners who abandon their cats are dooming them to a long, slow, and painful death, and impacting the entire neighborhood.

This only tells part of the story. Some estimate that the feral cat population in the United States is equal to or well beyond the number of cats living in households. Assuming ideal conditions, one pair of breeding cats can lead to 400,000 kittens being born over the course of seven years. Overpopulation is a genuine problem, and one that falls through the cracks of most legal systems.

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The good news is that there are solutions—some of them easy.First, have your pets spayed or neutered, and encourage every pet owner you know to do the same. Second, adopt your next pet from a shelter. According to the Humane Society Fact Sheet quoted above, only 30% of pets in loving homes have been adopted from shelters—we should all be aggressively encouraging the practice of shelter adoption for new pet owners.

Finally, support the great work being done by Feline Rescue, Inc., of St. Paul and other organizations across the country. Feline Rescue is dedicated to a no-kill approach. Their mission is “to provide safe shelter, veterinary care, and socialization for stray, abandoned, or abused cats until good permanent homes can be found for them”. They also believe all tamed cats should be kept indoors.

Along wih the help of many volunteers, like Bill, Feline Rescue uses the Trap-Neuter-Release approach popularized twenty-five years ago by a grassroots group out of the Adams-Morgan neighborhood in Washington, D.C. call the Alley Cat Allies who had success bringing their own feral cat population down to zero and convincing communities across the country to join their efforts.

TNR not only reduces the rate of breeding, but leaves the existing cat colony in place, keeping new colonies of cats from moving in. While costly and labor intensive, a recent study released by the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) found that spaying or neutering only 35% of the cat population caused a significant decrease in population.

Lukas

Lukas–ready for a new home!

In addition to Bill’s story, Feline rescue has many success stories, and many adoptable pets they can put you in touch with–like Lukas.

Give them a call, write them a note of encouragement (feel free to include a check!), or find the TNR program closest to you. Any society that has an entire TV channel devoted to cat videos needs to step up and care for their pets.

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A Dangerous Life

I begin with an apology to the neighbor who called several times to complain about Lady driving her dogs crazy. She called last week because Lady had climbed into her car, so I walked down to introduce myself, a bag of squirt guns in hand to discourage Lady when needed. Turns out the neighbor was sane and mosty concerned about Lady’s safety.

We bonded, unexpectedly, over watching our adult children’s pets for the summer as two quart-sized Yorkies came yapping to the door (yes, they do go crazy), but I left20150411_153018-1 feeling unsettled. She made a strong case for keeping Lady indoors–one I am familiar with, which is why we tried so hard to keep her inside. This picture, which I’ve shared before, was taken the day we gave up and let her go outside.

Over the years, Vets and Humane Society workers have helped us memorize the dangers, quoting the lifespan of outdoor cats as 4-5 years. Outside, cats become part of a food chain that includes other cats, dogs, birds of prey and, sadly, humans who mean them harm. There are diseases, parasites, and the straightforward dangers like eating the wrong thing, or sudden storms–like the one Lady was caught in the other day, raindrops fat and heavy as hail.

There are other arguments for keeping cats indoors, but I’ll leave the debate about whether cats are a serious threat to the environment or a scapegoat diverting our attention from the rampant destruction of habitats alone, except to note that “Felis Catus” is officially listed as an invasive species.

So why do I find myself wondering if we should have allowed our family cat, Sly, outdoors during his time with us?

The answer is simple and unscientific: Joy.

Whether she is leaping from our deck into nearby trees or sleeping under a canopy of ferns, Lady throws herself into the outside with an abandon I long for–delighted with the world, never doubting it was made just for her. 20150627_112702It makes me feel guilty for every moment spent inside. It makes me long for the days I used to climb up the maple in front of our house and read for hours, or bike miles in one day, going “no hands,” the wind streaming across my face.

I had no knowlege of disease or parasites on those bike rides–or car accidents that could take the life of someone you love in less time than it took to breath their name. I hadn’t learned about how life could change on a sunny Tuesday over lunch, or while biking a riverfront trail with your brother. I could not imagine that other humans would ever mean to do me harm. I had no fear of birds of prey.

All of this protectiveness of our lives, our children, our pets.

I find myself grateful the decision has been made for me–that Lady refused to play nicely indoors and insisted she be allowed outside.

I find myself hoping she can teach me how to climb again.

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Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

We live in a quiet neighborhood. Most days, we could hear groups of children playing blocks away, if groups of children still did that kind of thing.

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People in my neighborhood worry about their yards and walk around the lake. We swap ladders and occasional garden tomatoes…but in general, we keep to ourselves.

Along comes Lady–as likely to chase a limping chipmunk past your feet as she is to flop on her back and wriggle until you pet her belly.

Luckily, our closest neighbors are cat owners and have been losing battles to bunnies and chipmunks for years. They greet Lady by name and watch out for her when dogs or toms are around. Our neighbors further out aren’t so sure.

Lady’s range is about one block in every direction. We know this because of the calls. We’ve received calls from people who had her in their arms, and calls from people who tied her up, and one alarming voicemail from two elderly women with Lady caterwauling in the background–She scratched my friend. (Everything has turned out okay.)

I’m surprised by how much control people think I have over this Queen of the Suburban Jungle. It’s not like I google a daily route and tell her which animals are fair game before 20150704_102507 (2)sliding the screen door open. It reminds me of school conferences and dreaded phone calls home–the pressure to make sure our children were perfect, and the judgement when they proved to be inevitably, humanly, beautifully flawed. The nature/nurture debate has been squarely settled over coffees and in classrooms across the country. It’s always the parent’s fault.

At first, my apologies for Lady embraced her entire history: We tried to keep her indoors, but she was raised as an outdoor cat…. Then I tried explaining why outdoor cats don’t stay in their yards. Clearly, I’m expected to answer for all of Lady’s sins. No one gives me credit for her cute wriggles-for-rubs routine.

The bird lovers are the angriest. Their yards are filled with feeders and oranges and special plants pressed up against picture windows. After an anonymous but vague I-love-animals-but threat was left on our machine, we added a bell to her collar.

One call was from a woman so concerned about Lady’s safety that we had to come pick her up. Her real goal was to scold us in person. In addition to harassing the birds, Lady was making her dogs bark. We’re not fond of bait and switch tactics in our house, so forgive us for smiling, now, every time those dogs launch into their chorus.

The other day, just after 6 am, a young man drove Lady home in his pick-up. He introduced himself as Jake and said Lady had been on Pine Street. I was still in my pajamas. I know Jake from Pine Street didn’t notice or care that I broke the code and sold out parents everywhere, but I still feel guilty about my short, that-explains-everything answer:

“Yeah. She’s my son’s cat.”

Just for fun…

Mending Wall, by Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”