Sunday, October 30, 2011

On violence toward cats by professionals

I am mulling over the issue of biologists who actively lobby against trap/neuter/return, and how to draw attention to the difference between those who are honestly concerned about natural bird populations, and those who have ego and power issues. I decided to relate a situation where a non-biologist reacted violently against kittens in his care simply because he didn't agree with an aspect of TNR.

An area veterinarian was contracted by a shelter, to provide pre-adoption, pediatric, and feral spay/neuter. He is an excellent surgeon, quite an egotist, and he was very proud of his ability to crank out up to 35-39 spay/neuters a day.

However, at the time, he did not agree with ear-tipping to mark a feral cat as altered. Many people react negatively when first introduced to the idea of cutting 1/4 inch off the tip of a cat's ear. That's no surprise, since a cat's ears are one of the things that we humans find most beautiful about a cat. The movement of ears is one of the ways cats communicate with us.

Ear-tipping marks a free-roaming cat as neutered. It tells neighbors that someone else in the area cares about the local cats, saves female cats from a second or even third surgery if they are re-caught, and is a vital aspect of live cat population management.

This particular vet, at the time, didn't like the idea of being told he "had" to eartip cats. And as a professional who felt "he was right," he reacted in a violent manner. When I walked in to pick up three tamed kittens, one of whom had already been adopted, I heard him say from the surgery (which was on he other side of french doors) "If they want ear tips, I'll give them ear tips!" At the time, I didn't get what he was being to adamant about.

When I peered into the crate with my three kittens, I was shocked to see they had been tipped, and quite bloodily. As tamed kittens, they did not need tips, and tipping was not marked on their crates--just spay/neuter.

Tips can look bad immediately afterward but heal quite nicely, so even though I was angry than my kittens had been unnecessarily tipped, I figured it was an understandable mistake in a high-volume clinic. I said nothing as I left with my kittens.

Then I got home and took the kittens out of the crates, I discovered that, instead of just making a flat surgical slice off the tip with a scalpel, he had folded the kittens' ears in half and cut the top third off with sissors!

I was physically shocked. Not only had my kittens been mangled, with their ears damaged beyond repair, this had been done by a veterinarian who was supposed to be the ultimate protector of cats. Don't they take a vow to "first, do no harm?"

Yet I was to have a worse awakening. When I called my own vet (not my current vet), expecting them to understand that the appearance of these kittens was going to hinder them getting homes, they refused to re-tip the ears to make them flat and less mangled-looking. I was given no explanation. Nothing like "we feel you should report this veterinarian to the Board" or "he should face up to his act." Just "No, we won't see these kittens." I realized they probably were offended that I had taken my kittens to an economy veterinarian instead of them and they felt I was getting what I had paid for and deserved. At the time, I felt that my kittens' welfare was being held hostage by angry selfish business people. When I hung up the phone, I was at a total loss.

There really is no way to explain how deeply this affected me. I had to explain to sweet Houdini's adopter why he had this hideous bite out of his ear. I am not a person who breaks down in tears at the drop of hat, but I literally became speechless while trying to explain. I am always preaching to my adopters that their veterinarian is the one person they should trust, and here I was in a situation having to explain that their bouncy, sweet kitten was going to wear this badge of violence for the rest of his life. I'm amazed they agreed to take him, and I respect them so much for it. Houdini had great huge bat ears, there was a tag of flesh sticking straight up on each side of the ear with a big dip in the middle.

I have since told this story to adopters who use this vet. I will not adopt a cat to anyone who uses him. I have been contacted about other acts of violence by him since that time. I don't put his name online, but I do share it freely in person when needed to prevent someone I care about from using his services.

If a veterinarian takes his anger out on animals he is supposed to respect, just because "non professionals" are telling him he must do a specific technique if he wishes to have their contract, I am not surprised if some wildlife management professionals--who have no such mission to protect domestic animals--react violently when told by "non wildlife professionals" that there is another way to manage cats besides killing them.

In my experience, biologists who approach science objectively will consider TNR to be a tool that can work in certain situations. Biologists have utilized sterilization before, in species from insects to deer. The primary objection by objective biologists is that cost, both in dollars and time, makes sterilization of larger animals impractical. They don't object that "sterilization doesn't work." Obviously, in a perfect scenario, sterilization works. Few situations are perfect, however. You can talk to these biologists at the same table without getting into a food fight, because their concerns are valid.

Yet there are always people who seems to define themselves by "being right." These folks exist on both sides of the animal welfare fringe. They can be animal advocates, veterinarians, or biologists.

Sadly, the animals are ones who suffer for this egotism.

Here is Sylvester's ear, ten years later. Despite being gorgeous, he was passed over by adopters until my sister Linda took him in and gave him a wonderful home. When her friends ask what happened to his ear, she also is put in the position of having to explain that a veterinarian did it, while at the same time defending ear-tipping as a marking method. Wizard, another half-an-ear, was adopted by -- wait for it!-- a biologist. He was years old before he was adopted.

Acts like this are violence, pure and simple. People who promote blasting away at cats, and boast about the numbers they have killed, are violent people. A veterinarian who rebelliously chops off ears of cats in a manner contrary to standard surgical technique is a violent person. If a person feels vindication when they perpetuate an act of destruction, rather than at least minor regret that violence was necessary, he or she is a violent person. They are not a person forced to use violence due to the nature of their mission, as they may profess.

Professional people of this sort may do a great deal of good. Their moments of violence may be a very small aspect of their overall actions. When viewed through a utilitarian filter, their violence may seems to be acceptable compared to the good they do.

That does not, however, make egotist violence acceptable. Professionals who tout their acceptance of egotist violence in public forums like blog comments and academic meetings are especially suspect.

Resource (PDF, large file): Relation of threatened egotism to violence and aggression.


  1. thanks for this post, Susan! I know how you must have felt.
    I had a veterinarian who ruptured a feral kitten's bladder during her spay and didn't inform me (she would have died if I'd released her as planned) - then tried to blame me for it.
    The techs at a local feral clinic were chopping off half the cats' ears to (somehow) discourage people from bringing in their pets. The standard eartip is a centimeter, or 3/8 inch. This was corrected when the clinic director took notice.
    Then there are vets who take an invisible eartip, or make a notch so that it won't be obvious that the cat is ear-tipped. Unclear on the concept - eartips must be visible to be of use.
    I think most vet offices re-invent the wheel when it comes to treating ferals. Some vet tech is tasked with coming up with a way to tank a feral cat in a trap, for anesthesia.
    They're so conservative as a breed, they're still not spaying and neutering before 6 months, despite the overpopulation that has caused - but anything goes, for ferals.

  2. This makes me want to vomit. I am in tears and shocked that someone who is supposed to love, protect, and care for animals FOR A LIVING would do this. This person should be held accountable, in my opinion by whatever means necessary (through the courts/professional boards etc., of course.) I think too many innocent lives are at stake. Who knows what else he has done. I think you might should contact whoever you need to in order to get his license/business privileges revoked (not sure how it works with vets.) This is unspeakable and needs to be addressed. It's unfortunate that people are sooooooooo egotistical they would rather hurt an innocent, to make a point than than just do a tip off for identification purposes. It's obvious he doesn't care about the animals, only his pride. Sick!!!!

  3. :_(
    remind me to ask you who this vet is the next time i see you. he is around here? so awful.

  4. That's awful. I was first introduced to the concept of ear-tipping when I volunteered with a local no-kill shelter while I was in college--sometimes we'd take ferals that seemed like they might be tameable, socialize them, and find them homes. I never did like the idea, but I understand the necessity of it. We go so if we knew we were taking a particular cat in rather than releasing it our vet would "forget" to do the eartip he was supposed to do to hopefully help the cat be more adoptable. On the other hand, I remember a couple of cats who found their people because a conversation was started with the question "what happened to his/her ear?"


  5. That vet should be stopped. Who knows what other harm he is doing to animals. It makes me feel sick.

  6. I am appalled. We ear tip here but it's quite a standard notch.

    You're absolutely right, this is egoist violence and I am hard-pressed to understand how these professionals take out their anger on the very beings they're professing to care for.