Category Archives: Be The Way Home

Top 10 Reasons to celebrate National Feral Cat Day

10.  There’s a bit of wild­cat in all of us.catwoman 9.   Mama cats are called Queens.  Nuff said.queen-cat-by-christina-hess 8.   Ear tip­ping is at least as attrac­tive as ear gauging.eartipa
7.   Fer­als eat out­doors – it’s a picnic!Cats on picnic table
6.   Trap­ping is great exercise.cathytnr
5.  TNR is trend­ing.  Big time.trending4.  Help­ing the home­less is a higher calling.wingshalo2
3.  If the cats are cool enough for Rome’s palaz­zos, they’re cool enough for us.RomeCats_main
2.  Paws to appre­ci­ate.  Sim­ple as that.lucylake
1.  Lucy Mir­a­cle and all of her rel­a­tives – of course!Litter of kittens hidden in tree

National Feral Cat Day was founded by Alley Cat Allies in 2001.  Lucy’s book, TAMING ME: Mem­oir of a Clever Island Cat, was released on this day one year ago.Taming Me cover

Note: I appre­ci­ate all of you who e-mail me with your com­ments – but if you are com­fort­able leav­ing a reply here, please do so. It con­tributes to com­mu­nity dis­cus­sion. Thank you!

Fur? Seriously?

I hope you don’t mind receiv­ing this blog post again. We received such a pos­i­tive response that we are re-posting. Thank you for your support!

That ques­tion fired up my brain when an acquain­tance men­tioned an item in her new “lux­ury” prod­uct line – a sleep­ing bag lined with the coat of a sil­ver fox. I stepped away from the con­ver­sa­tion quickly, before my grief and dis­may could move from my mind and escape my mouth. This was the socially accept­able thing to do at the time, but the sor­row of that moment has refused to leave me. Take a look at just one rea­son why. silver+fox+5

This is a sil­ver fox. He’s beau­ti­ful, isn’t he? And smart.  And con­scious, shar­ing many of the sen­sa­tions we humans expe­ri­ence, includ­ing plea­sure, fear and pain.  And yet the sil­ver fox and dozens of other ani­mals graced with what should be their own per­sonal furry pro­tec­tion are made to suf­fer hor­ren­dous fates in order that we might usurp their skins.

The fur trade is a ghastly, grisly busi­ness.  I will not be too graphic here (the links are more explicit), because if you care one iota about ani­mals, the real­ity of it is ter­ri­bly dif­fi­cult to stom­ach.  But – the weather is turn­ing chilly and we’re reach­ing for warm gar­ments, fash­ion con­tin­ues to include fur, and new “lux­ury” lines are being launched that may increase the num­ber of ani­mals cur­rently being skinned in the name of human indul­gence.  I want you to know about it.  I want you to be able to make a con­scious deci­sion on whether you will participate.

And it is a choice:  we do not need fur.  We are not cave­men headed out with our clubs to try and score a pelt in which to sur­vive the win­ter. We have a plethora of styl­ish syn­thetic fab­rics avail­able to keep us warm – I wear them in win­ter tem­per­a­tures that some­times reach 30 below.  Yet an esti­mated 50 mil­lion ani­mals die each year solely for their skins.  These ani­mals include dogs and cats. Some of them – and this is one of the most hor­ri­ble things to think about — are skinned alive.  Most of them are bred, born, and butchered on fur farms.  The hous­ing here is com­monly a stack of bar­ren wire cages. Clausen8 Their cap­tives may be housed indi­vid­u­ally or crammed together. Con­di­tions can be so hor­ren­dous that many of the ani­mals go insane before they meet their ends.  And their ends are bru­tal — humans don’t want to dam­age their “prod­uct.”  So slaugh­ter meth­ods that leave the ani­mals’ pelts intact are used, such as elec­tro­cu­tion via a rod in the anus, and gas cham­bers.  (And remem­ber, these are the more for­tu­nate ones.  They are dead before their skins are sliced off.) Some­times, if it’s not deemed too costly for the even­tual bot­tom line, lethal injec­tion is used.  The ani­mal may be par­a­lyzed but still con­scious when the skin­ning starts.

Furry ani­mals in the wild don’t fare much bet­ter when it comes to the end of their lives. Traps range from the purely ter­ri­fy­ing to the exquis­itely tor­tur­ous.  lynx in trap You’ve prob­a­bly heard sto­ries about ani­mals who will do almost any­thing to escape, includ­ing chew­ing off their own legs.injuredfox And then there is the annual whole­sale slaugh­ter of baby seals in Canada; this is done pretty much cave­man style.

Heard enough? There is faux or fake fur on the mar­ket, for peo­ple who want to make a more eth­i­cal or even a less expen­sive choice.  But beware:  not all the fur is actu­ally fake.  Some­times the label­ing is sim­ply false. There are ways that you can dis­cern the truth before you decide whether to pur­chase. And if you want to steer com­pletely clear of the issue, you can patron­ize fur-free retail­ers.

We humans enjoy many lux­u­ries.  Among them is the abil­ity to make con­sid­ered, con­sci­en­tious deci­sions about what we will and will not indulge in for the sake of fash­ion (and food, and fun, and so forth).  The ulti­mate lux­ury may be liv­ing in a place and time (Here! Now!) where we are free to make the com­pas­sion­ate choice.  I hope you will.  I hope you do.  Because I promise you:  a clear con­science feels a whole lot bet­ter than fur.

“You can judge the moral­ity of a nation by the way the soci­ety treats its ani­mals” –Mahatma Gandhi

Note:  I appre­ci­ate all of you who e-mail me with your com­ments – but if you are com­fort­able leav­ing a reply here, please do so.  It con­tributes to com­mu­nity dis­cus­sion. Thank you!

My Wedding Anniversary…

Warn­ing:

If you are uncom­fort­able learn­ing inti­mate details of a rela­tion­ship, do not read on. If, how­ever, you accept voyeurism as an inalien­able Amer­i­can enjoy­ment, then please: step into my bedroom.

The day begins like nearly every other. Whether our alarm sounds at 5:00 or we sleep in until the sun beck­ons brightly through the win­dow, time for togeth­er­ness is always part of the morn­ing. My hus­band gets up, show­ers, and returns to the bed­room, where the object of his affec­tion lies drift­ing in and out of a lux­u­ri­ous doze, dream­ing in antic­i­pa­tion. As he approaches the bed, smelling of freshly soaped skin, herbal sham­poo, minty tooth­paste, coconut sun­screen — a deli­cious morn­ing mélange — doz­ing morphs into con­scious­ness and a long, lux­u­ri­ous stretch upon the com­forter, still redo­lent with sleep. Antic­i­pa­tion mounts to expec­ta­tion. Expec­ta­tion, built upon the mem­o­ries of so many morn­ings prior to this one, induces an invol­un­tary quiv­er­ing, as though the skin is ris­ing up of its own accord to meet the hands about to descend upon it. And then the caresses begin.

My husband’s pow­er­ful fin­gers set­tle into the back of the head, gen­tly teas­ing the brain into total wake­ful­ness. They travel down the spine, dig­ging deli­ciously into either side of the back until they reach that region that moti­vates the body, mind­lessly giv­ing itself up to sen­sa­tion, to turn over and invite more caresses, offer­ing up its most vul­ner­a­ble areas in com­plete trust, with­out reservation…

It is, I admit, an envi­able way to wel­come the day. I am, I admit, occa­sion­ally envi­ous. Because I am talk­ing, of course, about the dog. Anniver­sary, birth­day, hol­i­day, every day: Wee Willie Winky gets a morn­ing mas­sage before his walk in the park.

It took me years to soften my spouse to the point where he would accept a dog in our house­hold, already pop­u­lated with cats. When I sus­pected that the time was just about right, I called friends at our local shel­ters to let them know what I was look­ing for: a small dog who could travel, wasn’t inclined to be yappy and wouldn’t shed too, too much. The very next day, the call came: an alleged puppy mill run­ner from Alabama had been busted sell­ing six week old dogs out of the back of his pickup truck in the unfor­giv­ing Florida sun. I took this pre­cious, tired Shih Tzu home, cud­dled on my lap.Willie croppeda I walked into my husband’s office and said, “Close your eyes and hold out your hands.” The puppy fit entirely into his palms. Tom looked into his gen­tly Willie 3picblink­ing eyes and instantly named him. That first night, Willie slept for a dozen unin­ter­rupted hours, on his back in his brand new puppy bed with his legs straight up in the air, exhausted.

The love affair between spouse and Shih Tzu took some time to develop. Tom hadn’t lived with a dog before and he was some­what slow to suc­cumb to Willie’s con­sid­er­able charms. But once he opened him­self to the expe­ri­ence and began bond­ing with play time,bathtime snug­gle time, bath time, there was no deny­ing it: my place as most loved mem­ber of his fam­ily was being chal­lenged. And with valid his­tor­i­cal and sci­en­tific reason.

Wolves, from whom dogs descended, are believed to have first turned to humans for food and shel­ter, while humans wel­comed the wolves’ pro­tec­tion, hunt­ing prowess, and even­tu­ally, their warmth, affec­tion, and empa­thy. 24rDogs can “read” their humans in extra­or­di­nary ways: a sim­ple move­ment of the body or even the eyes can speak vol­umes to your canine com­pan­ion about your inten­tions. Your dog very likely can under­stand and even share your emo­tions. Dogs and humans have the same brain struc­ture, includ­ing the amyg­dala, which is linked to emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal states. Dogs and humans also share many of the same hor­mones. Fur­ther­more, a recent study sug­gests that sev­eral sets of genes in humans and dogs evolved along the same time­line, likely as a result of liv­ing together.

There are rea­sons other than sci­en­tific for the pro­found love between man and dog too, of course. I, along with most humans, absolutely refuse to run to the door every time my hus­band comes home (whether he’s been gone five days or five min­utes), wig­gling my fanny like a feather in the wind. I decline to lie on the floor at his feet, gaz­ing up at his face with naked love in my eyes. I will not pant in antic­i­pa­tion of a leisurely walk in the evening.

But I will — and do — work on man­ag­ing my envy. After all, I “gave” Willie as a gift and thus am happy to accept the shar­ing of affec­tions. Besides: I am madly in love with Willie too. Happy anniver­sary, sweetie.

11monthswide

Note: actual spousal inter­ac­tions on our anniver­sary have been omit­ted in def­er­ence to tra­di­tional deco­rum – and so that my mother does not expire pre­ma­turely from mortification.

 

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.

 

 

 

Be the Way Home”

It’s a sim­ple sen­tence, an imper­a­tive – and in the not-so-simple county of Hills­bor­ough, Florida, it’s now the offi­cially sanc­tioned plea to cit­i­zens: be the way home for shel­ter animals.

In a nation that is increas­ingly con­cerned about its aban­doned com­pan­ion ani­mals, where the terms babyboy“no kill” and “save 90” have become part of the ani­mal wel­fare lex­i­con, Hills­bor­ough lags in find­ing homes for the crea­tures who wind up at its county shel­ter. Fewer than 37 per­cent make it out alive. Dogs are the most for­tu­nate: 56.6% had a “live out­come” in fis­cal year 2012, while only 18.9% of cats did. And yet when Be the Way Home was intro­duced as an effort to up the per­cent­ages, a vir­tual cat­fight ensued. Why? The old tired topic of TNR.

I use the phrase “old tired topic” advis­edly – and per­son­ally. I’m tired of argu­ing about and hav­ing to cathytnr advo­cate for Trap Neuter Return. As a long­time prac­ti­tioner of TNR, I’ve watched it work, believe that it’s the best prac­tice for free-roaming com­mu­nity cats and the humans with whom they co-exist, and just want the free­dom for all TNR’ers to get on with the busi­ness of doing it. This free­dom exists in hun­dreds of com­mu­ni­ties across Amer­ica, where lead­er­ship rec­og­nizes that TNR is the most effec­tive, eco­nomic, and humane way of con­trol­ling and man­ag­ing free-roaming cat pop­u­la­tions. But in too many other com­mu­ni­ties, hard-working big-hearted care­givers to com­mu­nity cats are dri­ven under­ground by ordi­nances against and oppo­si­tion to their efforts. One com­mon ordi­nance bans the out­door feed­ing of “pub­lic nui­sance” ani­mals. Oppo­si­tion says the cats are not indige­nous species, claims they are too great a dan­ger to other wildlife through their hunt­ing behav­iors, and a threat to humans pri­mar­ily through car­ry­ing disease.

Hence when the direc­tor of Hills­bor­ough County Ani­mal Ser­vices included a pilot pro­gram to trap, neuter and release up to 2,000 com­mu­nity cats per year in his over­all Be the Way Home plan to increase live out­comes, the claws came out. A small clutch of vet­eri­nar­i­ans were the most vocif­er­ous oppo­nents of releas­ing healthy, neutered, microchipped and vac­ci­nated cats back into the com­mu­nity (but away from “sen­si­tive areas” such as parks, play­grounds, schools and con­ser­va­tion lands), sec­onded by wildlife pro­po­nents. The vets invoked the wel­fare of chil­dren to try and whip up Catcornerfear of crazed cats pur­su­ing the pop­u­lace, while the wildlife advo­cates focused on allegedly besieged birds. Pro-TNR groups includ­ing Ani­mal Coali­tion of Tampa, Cat Cru­saders and the Humane Soci­ety of Tampa Bay ral­lied the local troops on behalf of their suc­cess­ful Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return endeav­ors and to point out that avail­able sci­ence does not sup­port the anti-TNR alle­ga­tions. National groups like the Humane Soci­ety of the United States, Alley Cat Allies and Best Friends Ani­mal Soci­ety stood with us.

As I com­mented dur­ing the dis­cus­sion, com­mu­nity cat advo­cates are not the nat­ural ene­mies of catsroosterswildlife con­ser­va­tion­ists. Most of us are in favor of all ani­mals being allowed to expe­ri­ence their full, nat­ural lives within an ecosys­tem that does include preda­tory behav­ior – includ­ing by birds that eat small mam­mals (such as cats) and even other birds. We argue that the evi­dence does not sup­port claims that cats are the wildly pro­lific killers that TNR oppo­nents make them out to be. We know from expe­ri­ence that TNR with feed­ing reduces feline hunt­ing behav­ior. I will con­cede here how­ever, that — as with almost any issue — you can bandy both the empir­i­cal and anec­do­tal evi­dence about like balls of yarn. The most beau­ti­fully sim­plis­tic, indis­putable state­ment made in the entire exer­cise is this: the cats are already here. Are any of these dire sce­nar­ios (dis­eased cats on the ram­page, birds falling by the flock) occur­ring now? For­tu­nately for the ani­mals of Hills­bor­ough County, the answer (no) and com­mon sense pre­vailed as com­mis­sion­ers over­whelm­ingly approved Be the Way Home – a com­pre­hen­sive plan of which TNR is just one com­po­nent. Now comes the imple­men­ta­tion on behalf of all affected ani­mals. And as in any locale, Ani­mal Ser­vices can’t do it alone.

No mat­ter where you live, you can help the ani­mals in a myr­iad of ways:

–vol­un­teer with a shel­ter or res­cue group
–donate funds, food, or equip­ment needed
–offer your exper­tise in com­mu­ni­ca­tions, mar­ket­ing or tech­nol­ogy to help edu­cate
–adopt or fos­ter ani­mals wait­ing for homes
–be a respon­si­ble pet owner; spay, neuter and pro­mote it to oth­ers
–prac­tice TNR and care­giv­ing to com­mu­nity cats
–par­tic­i­pate in pet expos and adopt-a-thons
–lobby your law­mak­ers to sup­port ani­mal wel­fare leg­is­la­tion
–write let­ters, send e-mails, post on social media on behalf of animals.

Sav­ing the ani­mals starts with us, the grass roots cit­i­zens. It is not the job of gov­ern­ments alone. Rep­utable shel­ter and res­cue groups are lim­ited by the time, space, and money they have to work with. There’s an ever-growing pub­lic aver­sion to mas­sive euthana­sia rates and an expand­ing energy around edu­ca­tion and adop­tion, along with an increas­ing will­ing­ness to help.

Be the Way Home. It’s a sim­ple sen­tence – an imper­a­tive. It deserves the upper case let­ters. Let’s bethewayhomefamilyhope it’s the start of a beau­ti­ful story in Hills­bor­ough County, Florida – and an inspi­ra­tion to com­pas­sion­ate, con­sci­en­tious com­mu­ni­ties everywhere.

To read the “Be the Way Home” plan click on the image.