AND THE DUMPING OF ANIMALS
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There are those who find, buy or adopt one cat or dog and stop there. After all, the biggest hurdle for many of us is making the decision to take a non-human animal into our houses in the first place. It's often a decision much more carefully considered than that of bearing a child, and there is no stigma attached to people who could otherwise have a pet and choose not to. We have five animals in our house; people who would never have the nerve to say, to someone who has five children, 'what, are you insane?' will give us that look. You know the one. The one that says 'I'll bet your house smells great. How much feces builds up on your floors? I'm sure your furniture looks like a powder puff. What are you, collectors?'
Most people who have fewer than a half-dozen animals aren't collectors. They fall into another category entirely -- one that's more benign -- they(we) are suckers. Constitutionally incapable of turning their backs on an animal whose contract was broken by its original 'owner' -- you know what I'm talking about. "Let's just let little Fluffy have one litter of kittens before we have her neutered, because my great-great grandmother always said female cats have to have one litter before they're spayed or they won't ever be happy." Or: "Let's let Fluffy have kittens so little Ashleigh and Montannah will know the wonders of birth."
By allowing your pet to have a litter of kittens or puppies, you make a contract with the cat, with the litter of kittens or puppies (and with the overall karma of the world, or with God if you believe in God) that you will take care of anything that comes out the nether end of the animal. You wouldn't dream of cleaning out your cat's litter box and dumping the shit into people's laps at a restaurant, or throwing the bag out on some stranger's porch ... and yet two of our cats came to us precisely that way. They were dumped, as four to six month old kittens, probably by irresponsible jerks who either believed that archaic BS about female cats 'needing' to have a litter before they're spayed or the other not-so-archaic BS about their children learning anything at all by watching a four-legged animal grunt out a litter. Either that, or they just took in an animal they couldn't afford to care for, didn't have it neutered, and didn't give a good goddamn what happened to its get.
Let's not mince words, shall we? What your children learn from this experience, parents, is how to be an irresponsible turd, just like you, if your solution, once the kittens are there, is to dump them on strangers. At least have the common courtesy to the animals, if you can't resist the urge to allow your pets to produce 'kitties' or 'puppies' you're going to refuse to care for, to take the kittens or puppies to an animal shelter where they can be euthanized safely. Let me tell you a few things about dumping animals.
A dumped cat is most likely to die an ugly death in one of several ways. Here are a few of the ways:
If they are picked up by Animal Control, your kitten(s) or puppy(ies) will likely wind up in the back room at a public animal shelter. They will be kept for three, four days or a week, depending on the shelter's charter, then -- if they are not adopted -- they will be euthanized. At this point in history, most shelters euthanize by lethal injection. I put this possibility at the top because this is, in reality, the least nasty, ugly death for a dumped kitten -- dying with a needle in its teeny little leg at a clean, public animal shelter, after having been fed at least one meal in a warm, safe building. Not only do you put the kitten through a short, scary life that ends with a needle, your carelessness forces people to have to do this to animals; you generate an industry that hates, every day, the fact that it has to stick needles in cute, fluffy little kittens or puppies because nobody wants them and there are far, far too many of them ever to find homes.
The kitten is not picked up by Animal Control and continues to live on the street. The kitten knows jack shit about anything other than sucking milk from its mother or eating out of a bowl with other kittens. It doesn't know how to procure food. If you took it away from its mother before two or three months, it will not know how to hunt or forage, either. Neither will it know how not to be hit by a car, savaged by a stray mature cat or dog, or a dog trained to be vicious (or just genetically imprinted over generations to kill small, vulnerable, squeaky beasts, of which a kitten is one). The only thing the animal knows is how to run away, how to hide itself and how to cry. Odds are better than middling the kitten will drink tainted water, lick antifreeze up from a driveway, eat rotten food from a dumpster or compost heap, or otherwise consume something that will make it ill. If it contracts giardia or one of the other intestinal parasites from drinking tainted water, it will die of malnutrition and dehydration because nothing else it eats or drinks will nourish it -- the "bug" in its system will be taking everything away, and the cat will die pooping water. With nobody to care for it, odds are the kitten will die of poisoning or parasites -- and this is if it doesn't contract ...
Non-parasitic diseases. The most pressing and scariest disease kittens get, especially in the 'wild,' is Feline Infectious Peritonitis. FIP has no cure, there is no test for it, and the vaccines are unreliable at best. Current wisdom about FIP is that the disease probably starts with FECV (feline enteric coronavirus), an intestinal tract infection, that mutates in some cats. (Many cats have been exposed to the original viral agent that causes some to die from FIP, but not all of them develop FIP and die; this is the reason an in-vitro mutation of an existing virus is suspected.) The cat dies because its innards become filled with fluid so that it can't expand its lungs anymore; this disease also causes immune system complications, so the kitten may not die from the fluid -- some other complication of the disease may carry it off long before it drowns in its own body fluids.
There are two versions of FIP -- "wet" and "dry." The wet version kills the cat fairly quickly; the dry version can drag on for as long as several months. Usually, older cats whose immune systems are compromised by age, illness or the other diseases strays can get from each other -- like Feline Leukemia Virus -- develop the "dry" version. It can take a long time to die from it, especially if the cat is otherwise healthy and well-fed when the disease kicks in. The cat shows many symptoms, but none of them are really clearly FIP -- it mimics so many other conditions. Only after the cat is dead, and a biopsy is made of the abdominal tissues and fluids, can a veterinarian make a clear call as to whether it was killed by this disease or another.
Cats who are not cared for -- which is to say who get no inoculations or other treatment before they are dumped on the street -- can also contract Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV, or "cat AIDS"), which destroys the immune system, leaving them susceptible to what are called "opportunistic" infections -- usually, proliferations of otherwise benign or even "friendly" organisms to the point they cause illness or death;
Panleukopenia (distemper), a nasty disease that used to be called "cat flu," and that used to wipe out entire neighborhoods of kittens, before there were inoculations for it (my mother describes it as "running from both ends");
Feline Viral Rhinitis ("feline herpes"), which is miserable for the cat but not deadly -- it simply has a head cold (green mucus in the nose, conjunctivitis in the eyes so severe that often corneal ulcers result, etc.) forever, or until it's euthanized because even though it's "not that sick," the poor cat is miserable and nothing really helps. Often, cats stop eating or have to be force-fed because the smell of food is important to the cat and it will not always eat if it cannot smell food. You know what it's like when you have a head cold.
If disease doesn't kill your little discard, there's always:
Pavement, rubber or engine fan poisoning. That busy little strip mall with the restaurant that seems like such a wise place to dump your cat so it can eat out of the dumpster is likely to be the place where the cat's head is crushed under somebody's tire. Cats also, when it is cold outside, like to huddle in the wheel wells and engine compartments of available vehicles for warmth. When the car is started again, you either get kitty pizza or kitty confetti. Worse, in a way, if the cat isn't killed immediately -- if not, it has to drag itself off to die alone of its internal injuries somewhere, or worse even than that, live crippled in an unfriendly environment.
Mutilation at the hands of somebody who hates cats, or a careless kid, or ... who knows?
Your kitten could be found by someone who is a borderline sucker -- someone who cares, but who doesn't want to keep the kitten or puppy as a household pet -- who will care for the animal and run a "free to good home" ad in the paper. What you don't know, though (or, likely, care) is that giving away an animal this way, requiring nothing in return, is likely not to produce the best home for it. Your little discard could wind up with someone who tortures and abuses animals; with someone who collects animals (more on this later); with someone who tests medicines or chemicals on animals. Or, quite simply, someone who is no more responsible than you -- someone who will bail out on the animal the first time it shits on the floor, hisses at the kids, or gets pregnant.
Your animal could fall into the hands of what the animal care and psychological communities call an animal "hoarder" or "collector." You doubtless have seen news reports on these people: they're the ones who live in houses on which every flat surface and piece of furniture is covered in cat and/or dog shit and piss, with their houses and porches covered in empty animal food boxes, trash, newspapers, discarded food and food containers.
The "profile" of the animal collector is a middle-aged or older woman (though men also do this, more of them are women), widowed, divorced or never married, who has trouble relating to other humans and finds animals more accepting; less judgmental.
Collecting is thought to be a sort of complex obsessive/compulsive personality disorder. Often, collectors start out as caring, rational pet owners -- but somewhere, something inside their heads goes dramatically awry.
Animals in a collector's "care" generally live a miserable life; usually, they are confined within a house with anywhere from ten or fifteen to a hundred other animals.
Because there are so many, the collector feeds a cheap, shelf-brand animal food -- this wouldn't be a problem, since most of these foods are nutritionally whole enough and can maintain an animal in an acceptable state of health, but the cheaper the food the more shit it produces. So, you have a house full of animals producing mountains of feces and rivers of urine, with which the collector could not even begin to keep up.
Not only that, but having four cats in my house, I know how hard it is to give each one the individual attention it requires to continue to be properly socialized even to the humans it shares its house with -- there is no way on the face of this earth anybody with fifteen cats can give each cat individual attention and socialization. Often, the animals -- especially cats -- living in a collector's house are, effectively, feral -- unsocialized, hostile and frightened of humans.
Collectors seldom get regular veterinary care for their "charges" because even if they could afford it, they fear that taking the animal to the vet will eventually reveal to the vet how they are living, and that they have a large (and, usually, illegal) number of animals living in their houses. They fear that the animals will be taken away from them, and either given to the "wrong" person/people or euthanized.
Seldom are the animals spayed or neutered, so they can, potentially, produce numerous litters of inbred, genetically deformed kittens or puppies.
If one cat or dog enters the household with a communicable disease, many or all of the other animals in the household will contract it; with no veterinary care, many of them will die. This is why raids on collectors' houses often turn up dead animals stuffed in closets, refrigerators or freezers, or animals so sick they have to be euthanized immediately -- because if the collector took the sick animal to the vet, s/he would have to know that all the animals in the house likely were ill, and should be treated (a massive enough undertaking if you had half a dozen animals; imagine giving a pill to each of fifty cats two or three times a day!) or euthanized.
In the collector's brain, however, nobody else can care for the animals as well as s/he can; and they would all have died horribly, otherwise.
Sadly, many collectors have to be legally prevented from owning animals in the future, and must be checked on repeatedly -- the recidivism rate, for animal collectors who are caught and whose animals are removed for rehoming or euthanasia, is astonishing. Most of them go directly back to packing their houses full of uncared-for animals, in other words, unless the police, the animal care community, their doctors/psychologists and/or their families keep a close eye on them. They have no idea that they are torturing and abusing the animals, and that likely euthanization would be better than living the way a collector forces them to live. They cannot be convinced that this is true, so they have to be forced not to take in animals at all.
Of course, it would be short-sighted and probably inaccurate to say that every single dumped animal lives a horrible life or dies a horrible death. Here is one statistic to keep in mind, though: most humane societies estimate that two-thirds of cats that end up in a shelter that euthanizes will be euthanized. Only a third are rehomed. This is pure speculation on my part, but I would have to suspect that most of those rehomed are young kittens -- older kittens and mature cats probably die at a much higher rate. I don't know the statistics on dogs, but let's assume they're comparable, if not exactly the same. I would have more respect for you, the dumper, if you had the guts to just take two out of every three animals you dump and smash their skulls with a rock or smother them with a pillow while they're sleeping. Fix them a tunafish and propylene glycol cocktail. Kill them with your own hands, because that's what ultimately happens to most of them if you dump them, but somebody else has to take responsibility (and bear the daily guilt) for killing them. Just have the guts to do it yourself, if you can't take time to find someone who wants them or keep them yourself. Or just spay/neuter your pets and don't cause this problem.
All that being said, there are a few possibilities that don't suck for your little potential post-natal kitty or puppy abortions. They might be lucky enough to wind up in a low-kill or no-kill shelter, either in the shelter itself or the fostering system. Here is what happens to them:
When you dump that box full of kittens (or that older cat, or that puppy or litter of puppies, or that dog) at a low-kill or no-kill shelter, they are taken into the building and placed in a holding cage. Most low- and no-kill shelters are full to bursting on any given day of the year because of people like you, but an effort will be made to find a home for your discards. If, after a period of time (usually a few days or a week) no space is found within the system for the animal, either in the building itself or the off-site fostering program, it often is turned over to a public shelter (this depends on the charter of the no-/low-kill shelter, of course; some don't do this, but many do). See above for that outcome. If there is room for the kitten or puppy (or mature cat or dog) at the shelter, it is checked by a veterinarian, tested for diseases, inoculated against diseases and, if old enough, spayed or neutered. The animal enters either the shelter proper or the fostering system. In this system, regardless, the animal is provided with a roof over its head, sufficient food, a clean litter box or cage, walkies (if a dog), and at the very least the cursory attention of volunteers and kennel employees (or in-home fosters) to make sure it is socialized well enough for human companionship. It will be placed on display, and people will come and visit. If the animal is not adopted, often it will live at the shelter or in the system indefinitely. While this is better than living on the street, and better (from the animal's point of view, doubtless) than euthanasia, it's still lonely. It's confining. It's sad.
The other possibility, of course, is that a sucker like me will come along. Your little (or not so little) unwanted ball of fluff will find someone like me at a city park, or a patio at a restaurant, or on someone's front porch. The animal will sense that if it is sufficiently sociable, it will get food. It will suck up like a big clown until the sucker picks it up. From that moment on, it will have a home, because the sucker can't stand the thought of that poor little animal, whose unspoken contract was broken through no fault of its own, having to suffer on the street or die with a needle in its leg because somebody without either sufficient brains or heart wound up with responsibility for it and dumped it.
Where do I get off lecturing you? Here's my history:
The first cat I took into my care was when my first husband was in the Air Force. One of his fellow students at the old Chanute technical school, in Illinois, had brought a cat with him from home. The cat was a vicious, confrontational, muscular SOB who had been teased into a hellion. He would not stay in the apartment, regardless of the weather -- he would rake your legs if you didn't get to the door to let him out fast enough. We got him his shots and fed him, patched him up when he got into fights, but that was about all we really did for or got from him. He had not been neutered, and was not neutered while we had him; when we moved away from Chanute, too, we took him to an SPCA (i.e., low-kill) shelter nearby that charged a fee. As little as we could afford it, we paid because we wanted him to have the best shot at being taken in. He was a healthy, feisty, beautiful gray tabby, and probably did find a home. He was also probably considerably less mean and confrontational once he was neutered.
The second was a "free to good home" kitten first
hubby and I took in while stationed at Holloman Air Force Base in southern New Mexico.
Norman Bates came to us, at about two months old, covered in fleas, with his
whiskers lopped off (probably by the young children of the Airman who gave him to us) and
his ears full of dirt. We took him to the base veterinarian and had him checked and
inoculated immediately, but we didn't neuter him for a couple of years. Call us
stupid -- we just didn't know. He was never allowed to roam; he has always been a
house cat, so he never made any unwanted kittens for anybody, but in retrospect, we should
have had him neutered at an earlier age. Bates is still around as of November of
2002, though he's now eighteen years old and not in the greatest health; my first husband
is a hell of an animal caretaker. Bates was the first animal I ever felt I had an
unspoken contract with; he stayed with my ex because my ex had a better environment for
Update: Mr. Bates passed on just after the first of the year, 2003.
Fast forward to my second marriage. My second husband and I talked for months about adopting a cat from the kill shelter in our county. We didn't want to buy a cat, we wanted a shelter cat that might be euthanized if someone didn't adopt it, or at least one that would make room for another cat to get a few days more. While I wanted a Tom, because Bates had been such a wonderful companion, all the young cats the shelter had when we checked were two females. We adopted the short-haired remainder of a three-kitten litter; the Tom had already gone, as had the kittens' mother. Another couple had started the paperwork for Tink's long-haired sister when we left with her. This was near the first of the year; there were few kittens there. I wanted Tony to have the experience of raising a kitten from an early age, since he'd never really lived with cats, or we would have adopted a mature cat. I think everybody should raise one kitten, if they can, but to adopt only kittens, and to write off all adult cats, seems selfish to me. Tink was neutered at about four months.
We didn't discuss or intend to adopt another cat. Tink was fine for us -- though already, by the time Doodle showed up, Tink was very independent and wasn't very affectionate. Cats develop their own personalities, and Tink's was 'Ice Queen.' She's beautiful, and fun to watch, and we made a contract with her. She's ours. Doodle had been living under my mother's back yard shed for about a week when we found her. Mom said she'd been running away and hiding, Mom couldn't even tell us what she looked like, only that there was this 'darned cat' living under her shed, and she was about to the point of calling Animal Control because it wouldn't leave the birds alone at the feeder. Doodle trotted up on the porch, big as you please, and rolled over on her back on Tony's shoes. She obviously had great 'sucker radar,' because we took her home and she's been here ever since. Doodle, while not a lap cat, is very interactive and loves to be petted; she "talks" to us, and likes to take me, especially, on "tours" of the house, stopping at each window. And yes, Doodle was neutered. She was probably nine months old by the time it happened, but we found her in late November and she still hadn't gone into heat yet by the following February, when she was neutered, so she likely never had any kittens and certainly had none after we took her in.
We were absolutely not getting any more cats after Doodle, because ... well, we just didn't really think there was the need for a third. But, after I'd watched this big, lumpy orange tabby male whom either the kennelers or his foster had named 'Flame' sit, lonely, in a cage for three months at the shelter where I volunteer, we took him home, too. His name is now Gord. He was found on the street as a full-grown cat, fostered through the shelter where Tony and I volunteer, by the woman who'd found him. Gord would, of course, have been kept at the shelter until he was adopted, or until they'd given up and stuck him in the 'cat room,' with other cats who don't show well in a cage or who, for one reason or another, just aren't chosen. Gord came to us neutered by the shelter. He's Mr. Personality, and a complete lap fungus. He appears to believe if his anus is not in contact with (or at least in close proximity to) a human for at least ten minutes a day, he will slip gravity and fly off into the atmosphere, perhaps to be hit by a meteor or space shuttle. (Gord is also thought, by another of our cats, to be a huge, orange pinata full of candy.)
And this was the status quo for two years. Tony and I discussed, off and on over the course of that two years, adopting a dog out of the shelter system. He volunteers at the shelter too, he walks dogs one night a week; we decided if any dog came in that seemed promising, we'd look into it. Well, a few did, but we didn't get on them right away and they were adopted by fosters or people at the shelter before we could get a crack at them. Knowing that AcmePet's web site sponsored a program called 'Petfinder,' because the shelter where we volunteer uses it, we decided to run searches on regional shelters and see what we came up with. We did this for several weeks while we researched breeds of dogs to see which ones seemed to have the most problem with cats. Having three of cats, we knew this had to be the primary consideration -- a dog that was known to get along poorly with cats (i.e., a breed that was genetically programmed to hunt vermin or chase rabbits; a breed that was used as a guard dog; any dog individually that was reported to have problems with smaller or other animals) wasn't going to last long in our house. Still having no particular breed in mind, we noted that people seemed to have good luck with Shelties and Pomeranians sharing houses with cats. Though we didn't concentrate on those breeds, any time I found a Sheltie or Spitz/Pom mix I pulled it up and read the profile.
For weeks, we found nothing that appealed to us; then, in one weekend, we found two or three dogs within a fifty mile radius -- a Sheltie that, unfortunately, nobody could say much about its behavior with cats, and two Spitz/Pom mixes that had been fostered with cats and seemed to have no enduring problems. One was a small, black dog named Molly; the other, a ginger-colored 'big Pom' called Leo. I sent e-mail to both the contacts on the Petfinder ads. Molly wasn't quite available -- a family from another state was seriously considering her, if they could arrange transportation. Leo was available, was good with the foster's cats and hey, would we like to come to PetsMart over the weekend and meet him? We filled out and faxed back the application.
The night before, we were hesitantly optimistic -- we knew we were in for a couple of months' adjustment to adding another pet, and it being a dog, rearranging our life to accommodate him. But we intended to go and at least look at Leo, whether we adopted him that day or not. We went out to a restaurant that had a patio, to have a couple of drinks, play online trivia and relax. We'd been sitting on the patio for about an hour when Tony glanced over toward the parking lot and said, "I think there's a cat over there." Famous last words, of course. Naturally, there was a cat over there -- a kitten, apparently no more than six months old, skinny as a rail but otherwise remarkably healthy. This meant she was a) dumped; b) by someone who kept her in the house for six months; c) possibly pregnant; d) likely not inoculated; e) possibly full of parasites. Well, it turned out not -- she was perfectly healthy, if skinny and small; outgoing and sweet enough tempered (though she seldom sits in your lap, at this point). I ran ads everywhere -- the local paper, put her on the 'found' list at the shelter, ran ads on several Internet-based 'lost and found' bulletin boards. Of course, nobody reported her lost. Of course she didn't go into the fostering program at the shelter, though that was the original deal when we brought her home with us. Of course after six weeks, we had her "fixed." Of course we now have a contract with Squeek.
And yes, we also adopted Leo -- who is now Max (and who, like Gord, came to us from the shelter neutered). The only cat Max has a problem with is Tink, who decided early on to have a continuing problem with him, just on principle -- she was perfectly calm about taking Squeek into the herd. Gord likes Max fine, and will even share a bowl with some vanilla ice cream dregs with him -- at least for a few seconds, until Gord's big head gets crowded out by Max's even bigger one. Squeek thinks Max is a toy, and Max seems to have come to the same conclusion about Squeek, though we do occasionally have to remind him she's a fellow pet in the house, not prey. He's never hurt her, but he does get a little rough with her on occasion. Gord does, too, but Squeek treats Gord like she thinks he's a pinata at a kids' party -- if she twists his head off, or pounds on him persistently enough, he will break open and candy will fall out.
We only holler about them wrestling around if we think someone's getting hurt. We are very careful not to let Max get the idea it's okay to roughhouse too much with the cats -- chasing them back and forth is okay, but putting his teeth on them is absolutely NOT okay, because we're afraid things might escalate from there. We've only had to call him off Squeek once, and she was being particularly pestiferous that night.
So, anyway, what business do I have lecturing you about dumping animals? I'm somebody who's taken in five -- count 'em, FIVE -- people's discards. Not to mention the fact that I put in a few hours a week helping care for HUNDREDS of people's discards at an animal shelter. I'm someone who wouldn't think, now, of having an animal in my house that wasn't neutered. I'm someone who picks up the dog's shit when he goes in your yard, and who doesn't let her cats shit in your yard because my cats never go out the door unattended. I'm a pragmatic person with a conscience, who cares for the animals in her house, all of whom were dumped.
Who the hell are you to dump your animals on me? Because I know there's five of you out there who did exactly that. You dumped your animals, either in a parking lot, on a farm, or at an animal shelter. You broke your contract with these five healthy, reasonably well-behaved, trusting animals because you probably have little to no sense of responsibility for the things you cause, and likely little to no respect for any living thing that isn't you. I pity your children, if this is the attitude you take toward animals. You appear to assume the world will take care of your unwanted animals; at best, your children will turn out the same way. At worst, you take the same attitude toward them.