Sunday, October 30, 2011

Gifts...the third!

My niece Eliza and her little girl Zianna sent the cats a whole box-load of presents. The kittens will get first dibs and then I'll take it out to the cats in the facility, box and all, because you KNOW the box is the most fun of all.

Thank you! It really lifted my spirits to see your names on the box. I miss you all!

Gifts...the second

My sister Kathy and mother Louise have lately pulled out their sewing machines on behalf of the cats. This week my mom sent little ruffle collars to "holiday up" their profiles.

She sent them with ties, however the kittens were fascinated by the bows. I discovered that the ruffles slipped right over a standard collar.

Here is Noodles, renamed Bounder, enjoying the late autumn weather in his collar:

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.

Gifts...the first

When I came home from Kentucky, there was a gift from Donna and Tim, who care for the cats in my absence. It is a cat tray, and it made me laugh out loud. It now has a place of honor in the great room, which is my shrine to things that please me. Some day I'll have to do an online tour of that room.

They found it at the Finger Lakes ReUse Center, which is a blast to poke around in.

Tackling the web site

Since 2003 I've had a web site called The American Cat Project. I started building it with the help of my then-neighbor Alden. It is all in html, and updating it hurts my brain, but it is certainly not outside of my ability.

The site is wordy and out-of-date. I get quite a bit of positive feedback on it, primarily because it is a "both sides of the issue" site and you don't find many of those. It's a pretty poor communications tool, though.

It was thrown together with the idea that I would get the content in there, and then whittle it down. However, I switched jobs, and there it sits. Alden has moved away.

I managed to update the landing page last night, and while I was in there I noticed they now have a page builder in the system, which I could use to replace my html based pages. Their templates don't really inspire me, but the site would be much easier to manage if I didn't have to work with html

I have been spurred to update it and include data from our colonies, because I continue to note that anti-feral wildlife organizations like The Wildlife Society and the American Bird Conservancy state there are no confirmed colonies that have been managed to zero via TNR. I would like to get the basic pages cleaned up, throw out some of the outdated pages, and add a page with data from each colony we've cleaned up. This is a good time, since I need to touch base with caretakers before winter anyway, to find out how many cats they have, and whether they need help with shelters.

I am continually impressed with the The Neighborhood Cats pages. I need to remember to check in there at least once a month to see what they have added.

Feral cat news 10/29-10/30

Feral cats fed rat poison.
Rash of animal-poisonings.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

High-end cat products

If you have money to spare, you might be charmed by these (especially the PeiPod!):

Easter-egg like kitty pod
Cardboard kitty pod playhouse scratchers Mary donated two of these two us a few years ago and they lasted a really long time!
Giant Croc bed
Hepper Pods

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mariah heads home

Mariah and Smidge were adopted last week. The visit was supposed to be just for Mariah, but the adopter brought her mom, and Smidge lobbied pretty hard, and ended up going home with mom. They stopped first at mom's house (after a stop at Petsmart for supplies), but Mariah appeared to want to stay with Smidge, so now mom has two kittens.

I hope it works out. Two kittens can be a handful!

Mariah thought the soft-sided crate she went home in was pretty neat. The book is the photo album from the "kitten shower" her intended home had thrown for the kitten they adopted this spring (Mariah had been intended as his playmate).

Both women were great to visit with, and I'll be following up to make sure things are going OK.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Twizzler, now Raja, checks in

I must post Twizzler, now Raja, before I fall asleep and forget to do so. You should see the Himalayan who is her buddy in her new home. Talk about a gorgeous fuzzball...

When wildlife professionals and birders are rabid about cats

I absolutely understand why someone who loves or respects bird life would be considered about outdoor cats.

What I don't understand is how biologists, who otherwise conduct research on animal population management, dismiss trap/neuter/return out-of-hand...without having conducted any research on it themselves. Most actual research involving spay/neuter of feral cats has been conducted by small animal veterinarians with a clinic background. You would think population management biologists would jump all over this fairly low-cost, "easy-to-conduct locally" research option.

With the increased press due to National Feral Cat Day, it noted otherwise highly intelligent people--usually who have a research background -- release venom about shooting cats with high-powered rifles, etc. These same people would admonish citizens who blasted away at other animals in violation of the law. In most areas, it is illegal to kill a cat that could be someone's property, or any cat at all.

(Note: I do not consider these "shoot, shovel, and shut up" comments to be typical of professional biologists, but the fact that the posters consider themselves professionals is somewhat alarming).

Some wildlife professionals will also suggest, as a solution to cat overpopulation, taking the cat to a shelter. There seems to be little understanding that in many areas, there are no open-admission shelters, and that in many municipalities, no public funding is provided at all for cat control. In my area, shelters that accept cats are doing so out of their own pockets and with donor dollars---donors who expect those dollars to go primarily toward saving the lives of pets.

I am as of yet unfamiliar with any research conducted by a government or university biologist (versus a layperson or veterinarian) involving the sterilization of a particular population of cats actually conducted by that biologist.

In all of the colonies I have been involved with, populations have steadily dropped to near zero, as long as there is a committed caretaker. Situations where kittens have shown up again have been due to a lapse in caretaker commitment. In other words, as long as all or a majority of cats are altered, and a caretaker reports quickly on the appearance of new cats, TNR works on a site-by-site basis.

There also seems to be confusion between an actual colony TNR program, and just offering spay/neuter to the public, including feral cats. If a shelter has spay/neuter options and makes them available to people who have feral cats, this is not a "TNR project." This is a public spay/neuter project.

TNR involves addressing a specific population of cats. If you look at a specific population, fix all or as many cats as you can at that site, remove kittens and friendly cats, and feed and provide shelter for the cats, you can track the success or failure at that site.

But if you provide spay/neuter for a large geographic area and some of those cats "happen to be feral" and your reports of, or intake of, feral cats does not drop, this is not due to the failure of TNR.

Let me offer an example. If a person has a problem with raccoons, and they call a nuisance wildlife control company, and that company excludes or removes six raccoons from the property and repairs the damage and removes attractants, that landowners problem has absolutely been solved---but there has been no real impact on the overall population of raccoons in that county. That wildlife control company could run around doing a bang-up job resolving raccoon problems, reducing disease risk, and making landowners very happy, and never risk wiping out the overall raccoon population.

To have an impact on an overall geographic population, there would need to be a concerted large-scale effort to remove or sterilize animals. Deer hunting seasons would be an example of this. Hunting actually has an impact on populations because thousands of hunters take to the woods during breeding season.

TNR is successful at resolving site-by-site problems. It also is successful at lowering individual shelter intake, if that shelter replaces acceptance of feral cats for euthanasia with spay/neuter of feral cats to be returned to the landowner.

However it will take a number of very large-scale spay/neuter programs in an area, over time, to impact the entire overall population of cats.

So it is understandable that TNR is a "success" --- it permanently resolves a local feral cat problem at a trailer park, college campus, or person's back porch --- at the same time the county, overall, is still seeing a lot of cats.

Wildlife biologists point to this as the "failure" of TNR and a reason to ban or discourage it. These same biologists would never suggest banning private nuisance wildlife control just because the activities of wildlife control trappers does not impact overall nuisance species populations. That idea would be idiotic.

(By the way, raccoons are also a main predator of songbird nests).

A wildlife biologist might respond to this criticism by saying that they encourage nuisance wildlife control operators to kill nuisance raccoons rather than relocate them (Relocation can spread disease, disrupt the new population, and stress or kill the relocated raccoon). They would say they are suggesting the same things for cats: Put them down.

However nuisance wildlife control operators usually have legal options to kill raccoons themselves. Citizens usually cannot kill cats of unknown origin themselves because they could be someone's property. And municipalities may not fund shelters adequately or at all.

In addition, nuisance wildlife control businesses are paid to resolve wildlife conflicts. Because the public perceives cat control as a municipal responsibility (even when the municipality won't fund cat control) they are reluctant to pay for it. And it is illegal, in most cases, for a private citizen or business to offer killing of cats as a service. Some cats could be lost or free-roaming pets.

Locally, I've received calls from people with stray cats who have been turned away by shelters in both Tompkins and Tioga counties because those shelters are simply out of room. The Tioga shelter receives no funding at all for cats from their county and towns.

A local shelter may also be a private, no-kill humane society. If it is against the humane societies mission to accept cats to be killed just because society doesn't want to deal with them, there is no reason for that private humane society (or private rescue for that matter) to deplete their resources attempting to resolve a massive problem that the municipality does not feel is important enough to fund.

There are additional inconsistencies in the attitudes of biologists or birding professionals' attitudes to toward cats that I'll address in future posts.

Recent news posts about feral cats

Feral Cats Live the High Life
Animal Control And SAAFhouse Aim To Slow Feral Cat Crisis
County considers feral cat program
Body found by feral cat trappers (Um, yikes!)
And of course, lots of National Feral Cat Day coverage!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Good morning from The Owl House

photo by Valarie Kranz

And happy National Feral Cat Day. In honor of this special day, launched in 2001 by Alley Cat Allies, I am saying goodbye to Wildrun, and hello to The Owl House.

Wildrun was a wildlife control and cat chasing venture started by a 28 year-old young woman with a truck, a boyfriend, a catchpole, who got a real sense of joy being out in the small wild lands that edged our suburban world. I caught things. Woodchucks, raccoons, skunks, now and then a beaver and...cats. My life was running around, catching things.

The Owl House is a house on a quiet road in something close to the middle of nowhere, surrounded by older neighbors of German and Finnish origin, and younger neighbors who just wanted to walk out their door and see the sky, hear the creeks, and appreciate other folks who loved such things. And instead of me having to go get the cats, the cats more often come to me.

Right now, as I type, one young black cat is curled up on my left. Another is on my lap, keeping my hands warm as I work. Their tux brother is having a wash on the carpet. Yesterday, Mariah and Smidge (pictured) went to their new homes.

Here we are.

At one time I had a grand plan. It was called The American Cat Project, and you can still find it living on the web, full of broken links and old information. You'll see it slowly get cleaned up over the next few months. It will become smaller, tighter, and will address issues. It will no longer be a grand plan, but it says something most sites don't say. Sometimes things live, and sometimes things die. Life is not black and white.

I also have a new home page for The Owl House at at It's very small now, because last year I got the basic plan to see how I liked the system. This year I will expand to unlimited pages, and I plan to provide information on how local people can handle their own cat issues when we cannot help.

I have some long range plans, but until the economy shakes itself out, I'll just keep those on pen and paper rather than the internet.

I hope the point of the change will become clearer over the next few months, for the major launch in January of 2012.

I know some of you are somewhat attached to Wildrun, having been on board for years and years. I have to say, I'm having a hard time giving it up. Sometimes things have to pass on for other things to live.

Have a wonderful, glorious fall day, on this National Feral Cat Day!