Category Archives: Do Animals Have Emotions?

Peace in the Pasture

Think about your work for a moment.

Does it not only pay the bills but pro­vide you a sense of iden­tity? Is what you do a big part of who you are?  Are there some things about your job that you don’t like and yet you do them anyway?

peaceable kingdomharoldNow sup­pose that your work is a time hon­ored fam­ily tra­di­tion.  You are fol­low­ing in your par­ents’ foot­steps.  You are prac­tic­ing one of America’s old­est and most entrenched pro­fes­sions.   You are putting food on America’s tables!  But those things that you don’t like feel so ter­ri­bly wrong that you know you have to turn your back on tra­di­tion and make your own way. You must leave the home you’ve known in order to find the home where you belong.

This is the type of per­sonal pas­sage explored in the film Peace­able King­dom:  the jour­ney home.   Ani­mal agri­cul­tur­al­ists get in touch Harold Brown and Maxadjwith the sen­tient crea­tures they are “farm­ing.”  That leads them to get in touch with them­selves – and their own eth­i­cal sen­si­bil­i­ties.  A cow­boy goes vegan. A boy born and bred to raise ani­mals as food instead launches Farm Kind. A cou­ple turns their goat oper­a­tion into a sanc­tu­ary.

These emo­tional, intel­lec­tual, and lifestyle choices do not hap­pen overnight or eas­ily.  They involve deep con­sid­er­a­tion, major upheaval and pro­found change. And in the end, they all feel really, really good.

You can share these expe­ri­ences via Peace­able King­dom, a doc­u­men­tary that reveals what hap­pens on farms and invites us to recon­sider our own choices.  As pro­ducer James LaVeck says, “We’ve seen first­hand how sto­ries focused on jus­tice and com­pas­sion can awaken the pos­i­tive side of human nature…We can choose another way to live.”

pkim_wave_filmmakers

Jenny Stein and James LaVeck

LaVeck and direc­tor Jenny Stein are screen­ing their lat­est film around the world – and see­ing that peo­ple are mak­ing that lifestyle choice even in coun­tries where con­sid­er­a­tion for ani­mals is truly a for­eign con­cept. “…peo­ple of all ages and back­grounds really don’t want to be a part of harm­ing oth­ers, and the more they learn about who ani­mals are and what is Sheep onTruckhap­pen­ing to them, the more will­ing they are to include our fel­low ani­mals in their vision of social justice.”

Think back to abo­li­tion in Amer­ica.  Civil rights. The vote for suffragettewomen. Social jus­tice move­ments all.  Will we some­day look back at what we did to ani­mals and remem­ber the time that jus­tice came to them? LaVeck and Stein believe the answer is yes, for one rea­son or another; per­haps for many reasons.

Says LaVeck, “We’re liv­ing in an era when the growth of the human pop­u­la­tion, expand­ing mate­r­ial con­sump­tion, and the use of our fel­low ani­mals for food are pro­duc­ing dev­as­tat­ing envi­ron­men­tal con­se­quences.  This cri­sis is forc­ing more and more of us to grap­ple with a basic moral ques­tion:  is what I get from the way I live worth the harm it is doing to oth­ers, not just now, but in the gen­er­a­tions to come?  Many peo­ple who seri­ously ask them­selves this ques­tion end up renounc­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion in the harm of oth­ers or wan­ton dam­age to the envi­ron­ment.  What’s great is that mak­ing this change is not that hard, and it’s good for us – it’s good for our phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal health, and for our spir­its.  When we stop tak­ing part in harm­ing oth­ers, we also stop harm­ing our­selves, as we are all con­nected. This is some­thing more of us are Poster with text[15][1][5]under­stand­ing every day.  So this is an excit­ing time to be alive, one in which our efforts have the poten­tial to make a level of dif­fer­ence that is truly amazing.”

Torn about whether to watch Peace­able King­dom? Don’t be. You don’t have to change just because you get informed.  It’s a choice.  But take it from me, a girl who grew up on a hobby farm and whose par­ents passed off my teenaged refusal to eat ani­mals as a pass­ing fad:  if you do make that choice, LaVeck is absolutely right.  It’s so good for us that we want to share it with you. If you haven’t already, how I wish for you to make that jour­ney home.

The film Peace­able King­dom airs on WEDU+ Sun­day, Decem­ber 22nd at 8:00 pm and again on Sun­day, Decem­ber 29th at midnight.

You can pur­chase the DVD here.

Watch my inter­view with Peace­able Kingdom’s direc­tor and pro­ducer on WEDU Thurs­day, Decem­ber 19th, at 8:30 pm.  Addi­tional air­dates and times can be found on wedu.org. The show will be posted on the web­site after air.

Jenny Stein, James LaVeck and Cathy Unruh Upclose with Cathy Unruh WEDU

Jenny Stein, James LaVeck and Cathy Unruh

 

Moo2Meow

I was at a con­fer­ence when a large ani­mal vet­eri­nar­ian told this true story:

The man­agers of a dairy farm were mys­ti­fied when one of their cows would not give milk.

This was an oper­a­tion where the ani­mals were more for­tu­nate than most, in that they got to go out to pas­ture each day, rather than spend­ing their entire cattle-dairy-02lives locked in an enclo­sure.  As in all dairy oper­a­tions, the cows were repeat­edly impreg­nated so that they would give birth and pro­duce milk.  After each birth, the calves were taken away so that the milk meant for them could instead be pumped for human consumption.

A mama cow who had been through the rou­tine of turn­ing in her babies before duti­fully watched as her lat­est new­born was hauled away.  Yet when the lac­tat­ing mother was hooked up to the milk­ing machine, cattle-dairy-04she was dry.  This went on for days, with no appar­ent expla­na­tion.  But then came the moment when the baf­fled oper­a­tors stum­bled upon their answer.  One spot­ted a move­ment in the woods at the edge of the pas­ture and went to inves­ti­gate.  Mama cow had given birth to twins.  Know­ing what their fate would be, she had taken one for sac­ri­fice and hid­den one to save.

This Sophie’s choice inspires the new title for my blog.  Moo2 is in honor of this cow and her two babies whose sto­ries evoked tears in nearly every­one who sat in the con­fer­ence hall and heard it.

The title also means “moo to meow,” in that we talk about all ani­mals here, from farm to fam­ily room; from the ani­mals we think lit­tle of to the ones we greet joy­fully upon our return home.  (That means the title could also be baa/chirp/oink/woof/snort/cock a doo­dle doo…and could quickly get a lit­tle too long. :-) )

I am grate­ful to each of you who share my com­pas­sion for ani­mals and who read and con­sider these words, wher­ever you are on your own per­sonal jour­ney.  It can be dev­as­tat­ing to face the truths of ani­mal suf­fer­ing yet also joy­ous to help alle­vi­ate it. As Farm Sanc­tu­ary pres­i­dent Gene Baur recently wrote, humans pos­sess a fun­da­men­tal capac­ity to feel empa­thy, yet we some­times turn it down when faced with the pain and suf­fer­ing of oth­ers.  “The good news is that we are capa­ble not only of turn­ing our empa­thy down but also of turn­ing it up…Empathy is like a mus­cle that becomes stronger as we use it.”cat and cow

Here’s to a great work­out.  Get to know a cow.  Hug your cat. A big heart does a body good.

Thank you for vis­it­ing and for the e-mails you reg­u­larly send me.  If you are com­fort­able doing so, please reply here, as it con­tributes to com­mu­nity dis­cus­sion. Most of all, thank you for caring.

September 11th: Sit. Stay. Enjoy.

CathywbabiescouchWhen this photo was posted on Tam­ing Me’s Face­book page, I was struck by the feroc­ity of the fol­low­ing com­ment, includ­ing the cap­i­tal­iza­tion of the imper­a­tive:  “DON’T MOVE!  Stay right where you are!”  I thought that Paula Booth, the fol­lower who wrote it, must be a woman who knows the value of being in the moment, espe­cially a moment in which one is cud­dled up with loved ones, and per­haps even more so a moment when those loved ones hap­pen to have four legs.

In this world of con­stant con­nec­tion and a non-stop bar­rage of news, opin­ion and infor­ma­tion, chores by the score and a plen­ti­tude of places to be and peo­ple to see, it can be dif­fi­cult to stop and savor the moment – whether it’s an active moment or one like this, pinned on the sofa by pets. Lately I have found myself count­ing the days until some­thing I’m look­ing for­ward to – and even as I do so, I know that I am detract­ing from the day at hand.  So I thought that this anniver­sary of one of the most griev­ous days in our nation’s recent his­tory might be a good time to remind myself to Sit. Stay. Enjoy. Because who knows how many moments more there will be?

A friend was recently on vaca­tion with her fam­ily in one of her favorite places – a house beside the ocean.  She sat on the beach, chat­tedJuliecropped with her sis­ters, enjoyed din­ner with the entire clan, spent the evening teach­ing her lit­tle niece and nephew to play Chi­nese check­ers and promised that they would play again in the morn­ing.  It was a promise she didn’t mean to break, but the morn­ing she imag­ined didn’t come. She was buried, dressed in her cheer­ful orange cardi­gan, on her 48th birth­day. Julie had danced with can­cer and its con­se­quences for 30 years, and dur­ing those years, between hos­pi­tals, treat­ments and trans­plants, she gath­ered all the joy she could muster from life and spread a bunch of it around to the rest of us.

Focus Magazine photo DottieDot­tie – another friend – was, quite frankly, sup­posed to be dead by now. But she vowed, “I will be the mir­a­cle,” and she is.  Her pas­sion in life is mak­ing homes for kids who don’t have them, kids caught up in a fos­ter care sys­tem that doesn’t always have enough fos­ter par­ents to go around.  She’s still busy rais­ing money and build­ing space to offer what is some­times the most lov­ing envi­ron­ment the kids have ever known.  Oh, and she also spends a fair amount of time send­ing lit­tle love notes out to her friends and rel­a­tives.  Dot­tie knows how to make the briefest moment meaningful. Karyn withmask

And then there’s Karyn.  She got a diag­no­sis last win­ter that would have put some of us under the table. But not Karyn. You’d go to visit her in the hos­pi­tal and she’d give you a gift that she bought for you, in the hos­pi­tal shop. She’d send you jokes via e-mail and text. KaryngreenbowlhatShe’d make funny faces and pose for pic­tures, some­times with her room so packed with vis­i­tors you couldn’t find a place to sit down. Right now she’s plan­ning a girls’ week­end and already has spe­cial bags wait­ing for each guest, stuffed with good­ies. And she’s busy moth­er­ing her six dogs, all of them res­cues; she cre­ated a spe­cial dog park at the shel­ter where she vol­un­teers, for the ones she couldn’t take home.  Her house­hold canines get hot cooked meals twice a day Kerynwithbroodand the entire pack is wel­come in her bed – even if her hus­band has to get out of the way.  (He’s entirely good-natured about it.)

You know, my intent as I started writ­ing this was to talk mostly about the proven health ben­e­fits of pets — lower blood pres­sure and cho­les­terol, health­ier hearts, quicker recov­er­ies, improved spir­its and Lucy Fred and Willie copysocial­iza­tion — and how ani­mal com­pan­ions can pro­long and enrich our moments. But as I remem­bered the lives lost in the Twin Tow­ers and the many souls world­wide suf­fer­ing from con­flicts, poverty, ill­ness and dis­as­ters even as I type this, my fin­gers just seemed to want to talk about the peo­ple who endure, inspire, and con­tinue to bless us even when they’ve passed on, as we all must do. I think I’ve been giv­ing myself a lit­tle ser­mon. Thank you for stick­ing with me.

And please allow me one final men­tion of (another) friend. She recently gave me a book on mind­ful med­i­ta­tions, arranged by month.  September’s open­ing quote is from the Bud­dha:  “Be where you are; oth­er­wise you will miss your life.”  Thank you, Bud­dha.  I’ll try harder. Thank you, my friends, for your gen­er­ous spir­its. Thank you, PAULA BOOTH! I think I’ll go round up the crit­ters so that we can Sit. Stay. Enjoy.LucyCathyeveryday

A Bird’s Eye View

I’ve spent a lot of time at my kitchen sink the past few weeks.
1treekitchenYou’d think I’m a woman who likes to wash dishes – which actu­ally I do, if there aren’t too many.  I appre­ci­ate the instant grat­i­fi­ca­tion of turn­ing a dirty plate clean, the warmth of the water, the tickle of suds on my hands.  But it’s what unfolded just beyond the win­dow by the kitchen sink that cap­tured my atten­tion, a fam­ily real­ity show play­ing right there through the screen: The Robins Raise their Triplets.

2mama nestI was a lit­tle slow tun­ing in.  Mama Robin’s red breast caught my eye one morn­ing as she pecked at their cozy lit­tle home, snug­gled in a fork of a birch tree.  I couldn’t see inside the nest, but once Ms. Robin fin­ished her chores and set­tled in for a good long sit, I under­stood that she’d been rotat­ing her eggs, keep­ing the babies inside from get­ting stuck to the shells, and also help­ing to ensure a uni­form tem­per­a­ture, which she main­tained with her own body heat, ema­nat­ing from a patch on her belly gone bare for just this purpose.

From that moment on, I couldn’t catch enough of the drama: first the sev­eral days’ wait for the hatch, dur­ing which Mama Robin laid faith­fully on the nest dur­ing sun­shine and down­pours, day­light and dark, leav­ing 3earthwormcutonly occa­sion­ally to find some food.  Papa Robin came by to visit, but mostly he bus­ied him­self in the yard, hop­ping around and look­ing proud already, his breast thrust out and head tilted upward as he kept neigh­bor­hood watch.

After sev­eral days of wait­ing, the big moment hap­pened inside the walls of the nest. It was too high up for me to see the break­throughs, but life became so hec­tic for the Par­ents Robin that I knew they had hatch­lings. Now both of them were busily peck­ing at the yard, hunt­ing, gath­er­ing, return­ing to the nest for a quick drop off before 4tulipscuthead­ing out to work again.  A cou­ple of days later, the lit­tle ones began to peep, and then their demands became vis­i­ble as well as vocal.  Three lit­tle carrot-colored throats extended upward over the nest rim, their gap­ing bills like freshly opened tulips undu­lat­ing in the breeze.  Their cry was unmis­tak­able:  “Feed me!  Feed me!” And they were insa­tiable, eye­ing the sky for a par­ent and spring­ing into upward open-mouthed posi­tion 5mamapapacutwhen Mama or Papa (or some­times both together) would swoop down on a nearby branch before deliv­er­ing break­fast – or lunch, or din­ner, or in between meal snacks. Earth­worms appeared to be the edi­ble of 6grasshopperchoice, although the occa­sional hap­less grasshop­per or other bug found itself star­ing down a throat of no return.

7teenagerAfter a meal, the tired young­sters would flop their lit­tle heads on the side of the nest, some­times star­ing straight at me, the down on their heads look­ing like dou­ble Mohawk hair­cuts glis­ten­ing in the sun, their end­lessly 8jostling and competingopen mouths still mak­ing demands. Come to think of it, they must have been teenagers by now!  They grew rest­less, preen­ing and jostling and com­pet­ing with each other for food. And they just plain grew. It had been barely more than 9flashreda week when the first one flashed me a glimpse of bulging red breast. Their abode began to look more cramped than cozy.

And then one morn­ing came the inevitable.  I turned on my cof­fee pot, car­ried the cats’ bowls to the sink, looked out the win­dow and the birch tree seemed sud­denly, heartrend­ingly bar­ren. Ms. and Mr. Robin had become empty nesters.  I’d antic­i­pated this moment, remind­ing myself that suc­cess­ful par­ent­hood is all about rais­ing the young­sters to spread their wings and make their own ways in the world. And I know they grow up fast, but still, I wasn’t quite ready for these kids to be gone. And, as in so many fam­i­lies, 10outerit turned out that one of the kids wasn’t either. I didn’t notice him until after­noon, hud­dled on an out­er­most branch sev­eral feet from the nest, wob­bling a bit, ten­ta­tively flap­ping his wings every once in a while and then wob­bling some more. Frankly, he looked too fat to fly. But he still had an eye out for hand­outs.  A par­ent would wing in every so often and pop a worm into his mouth like a mom shov­ing a casse­role into the oven and then rush­ing on to other chores.  Could it be that part of the chores was check­ing on the other chil­dren?  I’d read that train­ing flights were part of the pro­gram before full inde­pen­dence from the par­ents, so I spent some time out­side, watch­ing Mama and Papa Robin peck­ing for food and then fol­low­ing their routes through the air.  Sure enough:  one fledg­ling had moved into a high rise, a tow­er­ing birch in the side yard.  Another had set­tled in the sub­urbs: a stately, plush fir on the edge of the woods out back.

I decided that I could not devote my days to wan­der­ing from tree to tree to check on progress, so I set­tled for watch­ing the one triplet still out­side the win­dow.  And sadly, I missed the moment of his final dis­ap­pear­ance through my screen. A par­ent had just flown in for a feed­ing, which he’d gob­bled with his usual gusto.  I looked down for barely a few sec­onds and when I looked up, he was gone.

Will there be a sequel?  I don’t know yet.  Robins lay more than one clutch each sum­mer and some­times they reuse their nest.  So I’ll stay tuned.  Mean­time, an inor­di­nate amount of bird­calls has alerted me to a spar­row nest right out­side my bath­room win­dow.  Oh dear.  Maybe I’d bet­ter stock up on bub­ble bath.

Breaking the Chain

Dogs are America’s favorite ani­mal

Or so the sta­tis­tics sug­gest, with 46% of U.S. house­holds includ­ing dogs.  That equates to more than 78 mil­lion canines cohab­i­tat­ing with humans in one way or another. ZachwtoyinchairUnfor­tu­nately, not all of them are pam­pered pooches wan­der­ing PetS­mart with their human com­pan­ions in search of toys and treats and rest­ing their heads on plump pil­lows in cozy beds at night. Some of them aren’t even see­ing the inside of a house, let alone a store to sat­isfy their dog­gie desires. Too many of them – and in this case, one is too many — are spend­ing their lives at the end of a rope or chain.

The Humane Soci­ety of the United States puts the num­ber of “tied-up” dogs at more than 200,000, although this is a hard num­ber to pre­cisely tetheredcal­cu­late. But I’m guess­ing you know about it and have seen it: the dog pulling and strain­ing against the restraint around his neck, which is tied to a tree or fence, or maybe a post stuck in the ground just for this pur­pose.  Some­times the dog is bark­ing wildly; other times, he or she sim­ply lies there in depressed defeat, know­ing there is no escape.  Except:  there can be escape.  And any­one who knows of a dog endur­ing this kind of exis­tence can help be the escape.

Move­ments against teth­er­ing are tak­ing hold across the coun­try, spurred on by increased aware­ness of the cru­elty to dogs and dan­ger to humansimages by restrain­ing dogs in this way. Dogs are pack ani­mals, descended from wolves.  They crave com­pan­ion­ship and inter­ac­tion.  Dogs are smart, emo­tion­ally astute crea­tures. They yearn for stim­u­la­tion and affec­tion.  Tie them up and aban­don them and they can go berserk from depri­va­tion.  Imag­ine the human in soli­tary con­fine­ment year after year, see­ing no one except the keeper who drops off food and water and, tor­ture on top of tor­ture, the occa­sional unfet­tered crea­ture walk­ing by who doesn’t stop to set them free, or even to say hello. Do any of us doubt that this can pro­voke a descent into mad­ness? Phys­i­cally hor­ri­ble things can hap­pen on the end of a tether also.  Dogs can be tied up so long that their col­lars become embed­ded in their necks.  They can develop all sorts of dis­eases, sores, and mange from neglect and the inabil­ity to maneu­ver to scratch or groom them­selves.  They can become entan­gled in their teth­ers or even stran­gle themselves.

Let me be clear:  dogs who have endured and sur­vived the worst of cir­cum­stances can be res­cued, reha­bil­i­tated, and restored to the lov­ing, giv­ing crea­tures they were born to be.  (The Michael Vick dogs are a case study.) Teth­ered dogs are lib­er­ated, taken to shel­ters and adopted out daily across this coun­try.  But the dog on the end of the chain can also be haz­ardous to humans, dri­ven by stress, des­per­a­tion or even train­ing — some dogs are teth­ered for the express pur­pose of pro­tect­ing prop­erty; they are expected to be dan­ger­ous. The Amer­i­can Humane Asso­ci­a­tion says teth­ered dogs are almost three times as likely to bite, and cites their sense of vul­ner­a­bil­ity as one rea­son why.

Hence the anti-tethering move­ment, for our mutual ben­e­fit.  18 states now have laws on the books address­ing teth­er­ing.  The laws tend to set con­di­tions for teth­er­ing, rather than pro­hibit it.  For exam­ple, there are restric­tions on how long a dog may be teth­ered, or spec­i­fi­ca­tions as to how long the tether must be.  One state sim­ply man­dates that there be “ade­quate space” for a teth­ered “com­pan­ion ani­mal.”  Excuse me, but an ani­mal that is teth­ered out­side and away from you is not a com­pan­ion.  Try this on your spouse or kids for even an hour and you’ll see what I mean. (Just mak­ing a point here:  do not take that sen­tence lit­er­ally, please.)

Many teth­er­ing restric­tions hap­pen on the local level, with ordi­nances. You can find out whether your com­mu­nity or county lim­its or bans teth­er­ing here. In my county, the cam­paign against teth­er­ing pro­claims Tethered Dog 2“Break the Chain – It’s the Law.”  If you want to become part of the chain of cit­i­zens work­ing to untether dogs who don’t yet ben­e­fit from gov­ern­ment pro­tec­tion, take action. Con­tact your local rep­re­sen­ta­tives.  Change hap­pens when enough of us demand it long enough.

And if by chance you get up close and per­sonal to a teth­ered dog that you don’t know, don’t try to pet or free it your­self. Call a reli­able, humane ani­mal wel­fare orga­ni­za­tion for assis­tance. Chances are you’ll be help­ing that dog to a far bet­ter life, maybe even one indoors with dot­ing humans, which is where America’s favorite ani­mal belongs.

Just a Whisker Away

Can you feel it, just a whisker away?

The promise of breezes lift­ing the cur­tains, naps in the after­noon sun, play­times spent wrestling, climb­ing a tree, bat­ting a ball around? Ah, sum­mer. kitty hammockMemo­r­ial week­end approaches, the unof­fi­cial start of the exalted sea­son – and of another, less well known. It’s the height of kit­ten sea­son. Thou­sands of kit­tens born and nur­tured in the spring are now mature enough to find homes.

Can you imag­ine it? Kit­tens inhal­ing the fresh air through the win­dow, nestling in the sun’s rays, play­ing with the zest of a young­ster dis­cov­er­ing new games each day? Might your home have room for more love and an extra dash of joy? As the French writer Jean Cocteau said, “I love cats because I enjoy my home, and lit­tle by lit­tle, they become its vis­i­ble soul.” If you’ve never lived with a cat or kit­ten, this may mys­tify you. Many peo­ple still think of cats as elu­sive, inde­pen­dent crea­tures who turn up their noses at even their clos­est humans except for when it suits them – like meal time. But as Cocteau knew, cats can gladly offer their lively spir­its and ready adopt-a-shelter-cat-monthaffec­tion if we are open to them – and lit­tle by lit­tle, we come to real­ize that home is where the cat is. But far too many cats are left won­der­ing where the home is.

An esti­mated four mil­lion cats wind up in shel­ters across our coun­try each year. They extend their paws through their cages at the work­ers and vis­i­tors pass­ing by: notice me! Notice me! They rub against the wires and purr: pet me! Pet me! They live as fully as pos­si­ble within their con­fines: Catincage1play with the toys, lap up the food and water, use the lit­ter box, snug­gle with their cage mates. I hope they don’t know what lies around the cor­ner or down the hall if they can­not entice an adopter: the euthana­sia room. 70 per­cent of shel­ter cats are car­ried there.

So June is Adopt a Cat Month, also known as Adopt a Shel­ter Cat month, because this is when shel­ters are most crowded with kit­tens and when you catincagehandsbwhave a mar­velous oppor­tu­nity to add to your fam­ily and save a life or more. I always rec­om­mend at least two cats, for mul­ti­ple rea­sons. They will be hap­pier when no humans are at home, because they have each other. You will be more enter­tained, watch­ing the cats play together. And you’ll get more attention!

The extra care and expense of an addi­tional cat are min­i­mal. Although this is con­sid­ered sac­ri­lege in some cor­ners, I find that one lit­ter box can do nicely, if it’s cleaned often. (My three cats have a choice of two lit­ter boxes, one indoors and one on the catio. They stead­fastly ignore the catio box and hap­pily share the indoor one.) More food is required, but cats are not gar­gan­tuan con­sumers. You’ll also need to pro­vide enter­tain­ment, which doesn’t have to mean Fred in a boxexpen­sive toys. Cats are happy to chase the prover­bial yarn, and they love boxes, tis­sue and wrap­ping paper, and any num­ber of nat­ural play­things already in your home. Among those play­things should be sur­faces they are allowed to scratch: wood, car­pet, card­board. These can all be pur­chased or you can make your own cat scratch­ers cheaply and eas­ily. And you’ll want to write an annual vet­eri­nary visit into your bud­get – but that comes later. Shel­ter ani­mals are spayed, neutered, vac­ci­nated, and often microchipped before they are released. At most shel­ters, adop­tion fees are kept as min­i­mal as possible.

And it’s not just kit­tens who are on bor­rowed time at shel­ters, wait­ing for homes. There are cats of all ages avail­able, from high-energy ado­les­cents to stately elders look­ing for a warm hearth and snug­gly lap. Not sure who is right for you? Ask your shelter’s staff. They’ll help you find the match to suit your time, tem­pera­ment, and environment.

May 22 Blog Pic Cathy copy2So go ahead: spice up your sum­mer if you can. Adopt a Cat. Then, when the too-brief sea­son slips away and the chill creeps in, you’ll have your friends to keep you warm.

 

 

 

KINDNESS WEARS MANY FACES

The stu­dents hurry toward us as soon as they spot Lucy.  “Did they catch the man who wanted to poi­son all the cats?”  “Did Lucy ever find her mother?”

Their ques­tions spring from con­cern over events in the novel that Lucy Mir­a­cle – the cat – nar­rates.  Cathy Unruh at Academy Prep Center TampaThe events are fic­tional, but these stu­dents have rea­son to believe.  They are liv­ing an extra­or­di­nary story them­selves. They are from low-income, fre­quently frac­tured fam­i­lies in an area where fewer than half the adults hold a high school diploma.  They qual­ify for free or reduced price school meals to ensure they are fed.

But these stu­dents’ bod­ies, minds and souls are being fed through the kind­ness of peo­ple many of them will never meet.  They attend Acad­emy Prep Cen­ter of Tampa, on schol­ar­ships fully funded by dona­tions at no cost to the kids or their fam­i­lies. In an area of the city where sim­ple atten­dance is not expected of many school-age kids, let alone grad­u­a­tion, these mid­dle school stu­dents are at the Acad­emy six days a week, for up to eleven hours a day – and after eighth grade, they are going on to pres­ti­gious high schools and col­leges, men­tored all along the way.  They have no trou­ble relat­ing to Lucy’s mir­a­cle story – and some of the verses they write about it reflect that:

Cathy Unruh Lucy Miracle Academy Prep Center Tampa“Hur­ray!  I’m saved by an angel from above.  My crys­talled eyes shine with joy­ful tears.  I’m glad to know I can trust some­one I love.  I felt like life was worth los­ing, but now, it’s reversed.  Now, I’m so happy it hurts.”

“Curi­ous About Every­thing
Agree­ing About What to Do
Tough And Hard Minded”

“Can I have a cat
Cats are really cool they rock
Now we all want cats.”

Earthly angels may not be too far­fetched a term for some other peo­ple who think cats rock – and IMG_5295prove it with their actions. They give up their nights, their week­ends, time with fam­ily and friends to advo­cate for spay­ing and neu­ter­ing pets, trap­ping and neu­ter­ing free-roaming cats, and adopt­ing out every­one they can.Colony Cats and Dogs Ohio

Colony Cats (& dogs) of Colum­bus, Ohio, runs a bustling cat adop­tion cen­ter where the occa­sional dog also comes through to find a home – like the strong, hand­some deaf one who was there the day I vis­ited.  I’m told that his owner was about to put him to sleep – and then Colony Cats stepped in.  It’s an all-volunteer orga­ni­za­tion, 150 peo­ple strong.  Some come by reg­u­larly to scoop lit­ter boxes and clean. Some spend time giv­ing the cats atten­tion and affec­tion.  Some facil­i­tate the adop­tions.  Some fos­ter ani­mals wait­ing for homes.  Some staff the bou­tique at which sales of upscale sec­ond­hand goods help keep the money com­ing in.  Some orga­nize and run the events that do the same.

As for the cats them­selves – aban­doned, stranded, strangers to each other until they are housedIMG_5290 together at the adop­tion cen­ter – they share food, bowls, lit­ter boxes and sleep­ing spaces ungrudg­ingly. They offer affec­tion to each other and to vis­it­ing humans.

Kind­ness wears many faces:  the aban­doned ani­mal still will­ing to trust and love; the vol­un­teer will­ing to get dirty and tired to bet­ter Academy Prep Center Tampa Lucy Miracle Cathy Unruhthe lives of other species; the bene­fac­tors will­ing to fund edu­ca­tions of kids who oth­er­wise might not be in school; the stu­dents who care about a cat they’ve only read about; the cat who’s will­ing to indulge their atten­tions – even if it’s slightly uncomfortable.

Colony Cats and Dogs volunteer

 

Extend­ing our­selves in kind­ness can be uncom­fort­able – but if we’re will­ing to make the reach, we can also dis­cover that it feels pretty darn cozy.