Tag Archives: Free Roaming Cats

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!

Food for Thought

The Fourth of July.

imagesThe star spangled holiday is upon us, the zenith of summer for many Americans, a long leisurely day of outdoor play and picnics, family and friends. Even those who use the holiday to catch up on yard work or home improvements may find themselves drawn at dusk to the nearest fireworks display, where the rockets’ red glare does not signal bombardment upon our homeland, but instead joins a glorious profusion of colors to peacefully burst in the air and sprinkle downward like stardust, reminding us of our country’s foundations and freedoms.

This year, many will reflect upon the expansion of freedom in America, decided last week by the Supreme Court. Some rejoice. Others regret. Still others resolve to fight. But all must surely recognize the inevitable onward march toward parity, slow as the footsteps sometimes are. On the 4th of July, we commemorate the year 1776, when the United States patriotic-pups-pictures0proclaimed its independence and the founding fathers declared that “all men are created equal.” Well, not so much. It took 89 long years tarnished by bloodshed and teardrops before every slave in the republic was declared free – but still not equal. Half a decade later, slaves were allowed to vote, courtesy of the 15th Amendment, which mandated that “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” could no longer stand as barriers to the ballot box. But hold on: they were still talking men here. A full half century later, women long considered chattel (including the non-black ones and the ones presumably loved by the husbands who were writing the laws) finally won the right to vote. To this day, the Equal Rights Amendment, first considered by Congress back in 1923, has not been ratified. But the campaign continues.

Heartbreaking and hard to believe as it is, the reality that human beings could be deemed property – even saleable goods without thoughts or feelings worthy of contemplation or consideration – gives me hope. It gives me hope when I think of the sentient beings still suffering similarly today, the thinking, feeling, living creatures treated as property – saleable mommy and baby goatgoods not worthy of contemplation or consideration as we throw another chunk of one of them on the grill in celebration of the 4th. It gives me hope because history tells us that thoughtlessness can be teased into consciousness, compassion and change – and sometimes, it takes time.

So let me reassure you right here and now, my carnivore friends, that I love you even though. I trust in time and I hold out hope: that someday the infants ripped from their mothers so that we might eat or dispose of norman_1their bodies while we ingest the milk meant for them, that someday the sensitive, intelligent creatures forced to endure all manner of physical torture without anesthesia or any other means to ease their pain, that someday the beings driven to insanity by their forced confinement and inability to so much as turn around or lie down, that someday our fellow animals who endure dismal lives ended by dreadful deaths will rise up in our mass consciousness and that compassion will win the day for their descendants.

And don’t worry. We won’t go hungry or feel deprived. Alternatives to animal flesh abound. Want a burger, a “beef” tip, a slab of “chicken” or hot dog to throw on the vegetable-grill-lgbarbecue? All of these and more are in the grocer’s freezer. New delicacies are created regularly, in addition to the variety of fruits, grains, and vegetables already gracing the earth. A vegan diet can be diverse, delicious, and is considered by many health professionals to be the best for the human body. Oh, and did I mention that by not eating animals we help to save the planet also?

But let me save that for another day so that we can all get back to celebrating. Perhaps you will, however, take just a second to consider whether you’d toss Fido or Fluffy on the grill – and if not them, then why their cousins? If the time is now for you to contemplate these questions, click here for a great starting point. We enjoy the freedom to choose. May we choose wisely, compassionately, and well.

Happy 4th of July!flag-fireworks

 

Summer Road Trips with the Family

Wagon…HO!

I remember the excitement and anticipation as my three brothers and I scrambled into the station wagon, Dad behind the wheel and Mom handling the maps, luggage rack on the roof. I would look back at the horses, cows, cats, dogs, rabbits, sheep – whichever creatures happened to be inhabiting our hobby farm at the moment, some of them standing watch as the car pulled around the driveway and turned onto the rural road, carrying us to exciting new adventures and explorations.

For a week or two, I wouldn’t be petting sheep, conversing with cows, riding my pony, crawling into the straw-bedded doghouse for a snuggle with our collie, carrying cats and rabbits into my playhouse, romping through the pastures, filling the water trough, sidestepping the manure, mucking stalls, or feeling the delicious tickle of a horse’s lips taking treats from my palm.

I was privileged to grow up surrounded by animals, to learn the traits of various species, the personalities of individuals, the many ways in which animals think, feel, and express – and the ways that animals we domesticate depend upon us for their sustenance: physical, psychological, and emotional. I wish that every child could have that privilege, and that every adult who’s missed it could make up for it now. So I have a vacation suggestion: don’t travel away from the animals, as I did: travel to them!

On the southern border of Utah, just above the Arizona line, cerulean skywhere rust red cliffs glimmer against the cerulean sky, and long stretches of open space call to mind settlers and cowboys, their horses kicking up adobe dust, sits an expansive parcel of paradise on earth. Nestled in Angel Canyon is Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, where abused, abandoned and neglected animals who have nowhere else to go find refuge and a level of compassionate care that leaves me searching for properly descriptive words. Best Friends Animal Society“Dedicated” is too shallow. “Heartwarming” is too trite. “Breathtaking” is barely hyperbole. Animals that would be considered hopeless elsewhere – injured, crippled, chronically diseased – and likely destined for euthanasia are instead rehabilitated to their greatest potential and given lifelong care. Or, better yet and in every instance possible, adopted out to forever homes.

Sanctuary sign copyBegun by a group of buddies back in the 1980’s, the 3,700 acre sanctuary’s name is a propos for both the founders and the beneficiaries of Best Friends Animal Society. It started with a few homeless dogs and cats and now, enlarged by another 17,000 acres of leased land, it includes horses, mules, goats, sheep, donkeys, pigs, rabbits, birds, and even injured and orphaned wildlife in need of care so that they can once again roam or fly free. These days, the average animal population is around 1,700 – and you are welcome to visit them, volunteer to work with them, maybe even take one (or two?) home. (Note: you do not have Panthegoatto personally visit the Best Friends sanctuary in order to adopt one of the animals in their care.)

Free tours are offered every day at the sanctuary, and volunteers are asked to sign up ahead of time. Care is taken to match volunteers with appropriate animals according to their interests, ages, and physical abilities. If you have the opportunity to volunteer, do! If you’ve never been truly “in touch” with animals, this can be a life-changing experience. And if you already know and care for animals, you’ll likely find new experiences. Cat on leash copyIt was at Best Friends that I first walked a cat on a leash, fed a potbellied pig, and spent an entire afternoon scooping rabbit poop! You can do something as down, dirty and necessary as picking up poop, as soothing as sitting with a cat in your lap, giving him or her personal attention and petting, or as adventurous as taking a companion animal on an excursion off premises.

cottage view copyStaying on the sanctuary grounds enhances the experience. There are a limited number of cabins and cottages available to visitors. They are comfortable, and the scenery is awesome: the red rock mountains as background to horses playing in the pasture, the sun setting over another day of kindness. sleepoverYou can even enjoy a sleepover with an animal and offer your impressions of his or her personality and temperament to Best Friends staff. That helps when making adoptive matches. When I was there, a potbellied pig ambassador was eligible for sleepovers and was quite the coveted guest! If you’re staying in an RV or other accommodation, no problem. You’re welcome to share your space and affections with eligible candidates there, as well.

I was so besotted with the sanctuary that I passed on the sightseeing during my visit, but you can make this as much of a varied vacation as you want. The nearest town is Kanab, five miles away. Several lodgings – hotels, motels, private residences – are available and many offer pet friendly space with a Best Friends discount. You can visit numerous state and national parks and wilderness areas; go golfing, biking, swimming, kayaking, ATVing; explore the “Old West” areas where movies and TV shows were filmed; enjoy art galleries; attend the local theater…

But first and foremost, I hope you’ll experience the animals and soak up the elevated air of compassion and dignity for all who exist here. Introducing a child to this marvelous assortment of sentient creatures and the humans who care for them may inform that child’s sensibilities for a lifetime. Getting hands on with the animals as an adult could alter your own view – and even expand your household, should you decide to take a new best friend home.adoptionpromo

With wishes that you’ll get to be a part of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary someday – and for safe, happy summer travels,

Cathy

 

 

“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.

WANDERING CUBA

I’ve just returned from Cuba, a trip endorsed by the U.S. government as a people to people educational exchange. The Cuban government (“state,” to Cubans) provided our local guide. We saw what the government wanted us to see. We stayed where the government wanted us to stay. We visited rural areas, mountains, beaches, small towns, the capital.Havana apartment building copy

The first and relentless impression is that Cuba’s clock stopped ticking somewhere circa the late 50’s or in many cases, decades earlier. Technology, modern means of production, and residential comforts as we know them seem truly foreign concepts here. In nearly every locale, the poverty is soul deadening. And that is just in looking at it, not living it.

In the country, the people live in shacks, primarily of wood. Holes gape from their sides, not all of them windows. We visit two farmhouses which by comparison are luxurious. They feature several rooms, glass windows, porches. One is the home of a third generation tobacco farmer and his family. He is matter of fact with an occasional smile. The state allows him to entertain tourists because he is a top producer. He knows that should he slip, the state might take his land. Currently, the state claims 95 percent of his crop and pays him what it wishes. As is common across Cuba, the money is not enough to live on. The other farm is open to us as a model of organic farming and Cat eating cucumberecological sustainability. Its stewards appear happy, energetic, enthused. Learning of my veganism at lunch, the wife requests a “momento ecological,” and returns holding Gato, a cat who enthusiastically crunches cucumber.

In the towns, attached single story buildings line the cobblestone streets like dormitories, housing small apartments. Doors hang open, grabbing breaths of air. We can see the interiors, windowless multi-function rooms that hold what passes for a kitchen, a table, a sitting area, sometimes a bed. Some thoroughfares blossom with modest stand-alone homes, even patches of lawn and flowers. The houses are generally uniform, box after box of the same size and shape.

In the capital, 20 percent of the island’s population crowd together in antiquated high rises, low rises, dilapidated houses. Buildings literally collapse here Havana housing2 copyoccasionally, taking their occupants with them. These are called “derrumbes,” for a giant rumbling followed by rubble and grief. Even landmark structures – museums, government agencies, embassies – are bruised and decaying, although the state is now undertaking a Havana overhaul in an effort to rehabilitate the largest tourist attraction in the country. We are driven through the grandest residential section, large homes from which we are told the wealthiest citizens fled Fidel. It resembles all the rest: the entire country seems to be crumbling, in need of shoring up or at least a coat of paint. Rotting wood and dingy cement glare through splotches of long-faded veneer. Hand-washed laundry on lines is part of the scenery from coast to coast, hanging from the yards of country hovels to the windows of city apartments.

Machines are relics, from the 1950’s American cars miraculously maintained to the Soviet era tobacco farmer’s tractor to the diesel operated water pumps that Radio copycould well date back to World War II to this radio, the property of a potter’s family. The occasional rusting air conditioner graces a window. 15 percent of the people, we are told, have access to the internet. Public phones are a primary means of Public phone copycommunication.

We actually converse with very few Cubans, shepherded through our stops. Our guide, a vivacious woman in her thirties, shares what she says is “her reality,” as she has never left the homeland. She is happy with “the triumph of the revolution,” the repetitively uttered term for the 1959 Castro coup – the state provides health care and education. She claims to be both ignorant of and not curious about where or how the brothers Castro live. She knows only how they travel: in caravans of luxury carsOld car copy with ambulance and police escorts. But she is openly frustrated at the subsistence salaries, the inability to buy or even find a car, the irony of being permitted to travel abroad when she doesn’t have the money to do so.

Food rations doled out by the state do not fill the table. Soap, shampoo, toothpaste and toilet paper are all expensive extras. Remittances – money sent from relatives and friends in America and elsewhere – prop up the official economy and fuel the black market on which Cubans depend. A good job is one that has something you can pilfer to sell on the black market in exchange for food, clothes, toiletries, household needs.

Are people happy, we ask? They’d better be, says a Cuban citizen we meet one morning at breakfast. Because people still disappear, he says. Perhaps they go to prison and then their families hear they died there in an “accident.” They never see the body, he tells us. There is no autopsy report. Nonetheless, his family likes it here. He doesn’t. He’s just visiting. He’s also an American citizen, an ocean borne escapee 21 years ago.

Cathy with street cat copyAnd then there are the animals. Everywhere. Oxen plow the fields, planted and harvested by hand. Goats work as lawnmowers. Cattle graze on the brown grass of dry season. Horses do it all: farm chores, family transportation, cart rides for cash. Roosters, chickens, guinea fowl and turkeys rake yards and fields. Pink piglets frolic on a lawn. A few doors down, a fattened adult lies on a platform being skinned. I try to take comfort in the relative freedom many open air “food animals” are given until they meet their grisly ends. (Guns are tightly controlled here. Few farmers have them. Tools are largely antiques. Your imagination can complete the slaughter scenarios.) Circling vultures are ubiquitous.

bullSaddled Brahman bulls with ropes piercing their noses offer transport and entertain tourists. Cocks are bred for fighting. Horses and donkeys are whipped with ropes and chain link. Many of their beaten backs are bony, underfed. A muscled man, cigarette in hand, simultaneously spurs and reins in his horse, sending it into a tailspin for the amusement of onlookers. Caged birds hang from doorjambs like decorations.

Dog with teats-RecoveredCats and dogs roam both rural and urban areas. Street dogs survive on scraps and handouts, grateful for the occasional ear scratch. CathyScratching dog copyProminent teats and swollen milk sacs attest to hidden puppies. Spaying, neutering, vaccinations – these are rare except for some lucky pets and in Havana, street dogs who are collared and claimed by restaurants as mascots. Cats hunt to survive. Tourist stops and table sides are fertile grounds. A lucky few make their living in open door hotels.Cat in restaurant-Recovered

We leave the plight of the land animals to spot birds in the woods: warblers, hawks, woodpeckers, the bee hummingbird – smallest bird in the world – sap suckers, the Cuban parakeet. Our hiking guide says the parakeet will kill itself if caged; it wants its independence. This is the national bird.

Lunch is an intact pig, his lively brain roasted along with the rest of his body. “It is cruel,” the hiking guide concedes to me in an aside. “But we need it.” My American companions are apparently unfazed. They stop for photos. They eat the freshly shredded corpse with gusto. I slip away and have a little cry. For the pig, for all the animals, for the poverty of the people, for Cuba, for the cruelty which spans our world from dictators to diners.

What does the future hold for Cuba? Who knows? Years more of socialism? A shot at capitalism? Official relations with America? KFCs and factory farms? The right to openly earn one’s own money? The breeze of change is whispering. Small private businesses now dot the landscape, licensed and taxed by the state. Many citizens can now travel abroad. Raul has given his presidency a deadline.

On the day we head home, the wind is whipping – toward the north. I am glad to go with it.

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Writing

“The second sentence holds hands with the first and reaches out to the third.”

And the first, naturally enough, must start with a word. So sit down and write one! Sage advice offered by renowned author Tom Robbins at the WordSmitten Writing Workshop, at which I was honored to sit on the same panel. Another Robbins nugget: “Language is not the frosting, it’s the cake.”

Tom Robbins

Is there anything like a writers’ workshop to inspire writers to plunk down and get some more words on the computer screen – or paper? Robbins, by the way, still writes longhand on a legal pad, with his dog curled up next to him. So whatever works for you! (As I write this, my cat Lucy Miracle is purring on my left thigh. I don’t get writer’s block, I get writer’s cramps from trying to accommodate the various critters who want to cuddle.) But I digress…

WordSmitten Media, like all of us, is scrambling to keep up with the rapidly changing methodology of publishing and delivering content. Kate Sullivan, the dynamo in charge, has a bedrock philosophy that does not shift with the landscape. It is that “we have the one sustainable idea that will endure. The Story. We believe in stories. We believe in the written word. We are WordSmitten.”

I share that philosophy. We will always need content, no matter the format or delivery system. Those of us who create fictional content might take heart from some of the wisdom offered at the workshop by Peter Dekom, an entertainment attorney in Beverly Hills. He posits that the folks who make movies are more drawn to books than they are to scripts these days. “Great novels are voyeurism and who wants to sneak a peek?” Dekom says show the reader something they don’t usually get to see, and who knows: Hollywood just might take notice.

Oh sure, lots of writers say. Not likely, with all the competition out here. Heck, how many of us can even score an agent, let alone an editor, let alone a publishing house…so goes the thinking and the questioning when a bunch of aspiring authors get together. Naturally enough; it is a crowded, competitive field but if the joy of writing is enough to keep you motivated, then you’re already making cake.

One of the writers I most admire uses his considerable language

Jonathan Balcombe and Cathy Unruh

Jonathan Balcombe and Cathy Unruh

skills to show us things we don’t usually get to see – and he’s not making them up. Jonathan Balcombe takes us inside the hearts, minds and worlds of non-human animals in books such as The Exultant Ark and Second Nature. Science lines up alongside vivid observation to show us that all animals experience pleasure and pain and, as Jonathan would say, “have biographies.” In other words, each and every animal has a story. The life of each and every animal means something to that animal.

I was privileged to appear with Balcombe at the Florida Voices for Animals annual Have a Heart dinner and what a joyful evening it was! To watch slides of animals at work and play in their habitats, hear their stories and come to understand their sentience more deeply. To sit with a roomful of people who devote much of their lives to bettering the fates of non-human animals on the planet we share. To enjoy entirely vegan food from soup to salad to heaping plateful of entrees to dessert. (Thank you, Trang Viet Cuisine – it was fabulous!) If only everyone knew how delicious vegan food can be, I think many more of the planet’s animals could live in peace and not die to fill plates.

Here’s to compassion and creativity. Hey, how about a creatively compassionate lifestyle? Now that’s something I could write about ☺.