Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cat in a box

A guy has this cat. He doesn't particularly care much about this cat but he likes having it around because it makes him feel good about himself. He likes the feeling of power he has over the animal. He keeps it in a 2 ft x 2 ft x 2 ft metal cage. He's kept it in the cage for over two years now, ever since the day the guy brought it in from the alleyway where it had been living previously. Once or twice a day, when the litter box needs cleaning or the food or water need refilling, the guy takes the cat out and puts a leash on it and ties the leash to a table leg so the cat doesn't get away. The guy hates having to chase after the cat. Sometimes the guy might stroke the cat for a few minutes but sometimes the cat doesn't like this and tries to scratch him. The guy doesn't know how long he will keep the cat in the cage for. He figures maybe for another two years. After that he'll see. Maybe once he's tired of the cat, he'll get a dog but of course he'll need a bigger cage.

Now how about we make some adjustments to this situation:

Guy Number Two has this cat, in fact he's got several cats, hundreds. He cares deeply about these animals and caring deeply about these animals makes him feel good about himself, that he's doing something to help keep these animals alive. He keeps each cat in a 2 ft x 2 ft x 2 ft metal cage. Some of them have lived in their cages for over two years. Most of them have come from alleyways or backyards or parks or have been dumped at the guy's front door by their owners. Once or twice a day, people, nice people, come around and spend a few minutes with each and every cat. They'd like to spend more time with the cats but there are so many and each one deserves some attention and there's just not enough time. Some of the cats, the feral ones or the ones with behavioural problems don't necessarily like all the attention and scratch the people petting them. The guy worries about these particular cats because they may never find homes. He may have to keep them in their cages for a very long time, maybe for many more years. He won't euthanize them. He will let them die in their cages before he does that.

Let me turn this around some more:

Guy Number Three has some hard and fast rules about how long a cat can live in a cage. For the sake of argument, let's say it's one year. Any cat that's still in a cage unadopted at one year plus a day gets put down. Now this guy isn't completely cold-hearted. He tries to find the cat a home. In fact, during the month leading up to the deadline, the guy tries really really hard to find the cat a home, sending out e-mail blasts, calling up all his rescue friends, asking family members for the hundredth time if they have room for just one more cat. But the cat is unsociable. Nobody wants another unsociable cat. So, finally, just as the cat is starting its 52nd week living in its cage, this guy with a heavy heart puts the cat's name up on a whiteboard which informs the staff and volunteers that the cat is going to be euthanized at the end of the week.

Guy Number Two hears about this and is outraged. He calls Guy Number Three a cat killer. He says that Guy Number Three never cared about cats, that he's only interested in killing cats to keep the cages empty so he doesn't have to clean them. Guy Number Two never actually talks to Guy Number Three about any of this, never asks for his side of the story, but Guy Number Two does talk to his small group of friends who all think alike and they've all eagerly decided amongst themselves that this must be the case with Guy Number Three. They hate him.

Guy Number Three hears about what Guy Number Two and his friends are saying about him and gets pissed off. After the cat in the cage is euthanized and other cats are euthanized, he starts getting more officious and withdrawn from the staff and volunteers. He gets defensive. He thinks everyone is out to get him. Guy Number Three starts to worry more about people's perception of him than about how to help the animals in the facility.

In walks Guy Number Four. Guy Number Four has got big plans. He won't tell anyone what those plans are but he promises that once he takes over the place, he'll let people know. He manages to rally a few people together because, really, who else can they choose from at this point? It's all quite impressive at first with the promise of big plans from Guy Number Four. After a while, though, with conditions not really getting too much better at the shelter, some of his supporters start to ask Guy Number Four for a clue as to what his big plans are but Guy Number Four gets insulted by this line of questioning and starts yelling at those people, accusing them of being traitors to the cause.

Guy Number five, meanwhile gets a dog dumped at his doorstep. He scans the dog for an identification microchip and it turns out the dog is from the shelter where the other guys are hanging out. Guy Number Five phones Guy Number Three and says:

"Hey, I got one of your dogs. You need to take him back. I don't want to have to look after another one of your failed adoptions."

But Guy Number Three says, "No way, Jose. You touched it last. It's yours."

And Guy Number Five says, "It doesn't work like that. This dog is your responsibility."

Guy Number Three: "Ain't my responsibility. Guy Number Two adopted him out."

Guy Number Two, hearing his name mentioned, comes running over and starts yelling at Guy Number Three, "I know all your dirty secrets. You're a cat killer! You kill cats in the middle of the night. I hate you!" and he turns and he yells at Guy Number Five, "And I know all your dirty secrets. You're going to kill that dog, you dirty dog killer. I hate you!"

And Guy Number Three says, "I wasn't killing cats. I was saving cats."

And Guy Number Five says, "I don't even want this dog. Here take it back."

And Guy Number Three says, "Yeah? Make me."

And Guy Number Two is yelling and stamping his feet and shaking his fists, "Cat killer dog killer cat killer dog killer cat killer dog killer!"

Guy Number Four is in the wings waiting, confident that his day in power will come.

Now believe it or not, there's actually a Guy Number Six involved in all this but Guy Number Six is scratching his head and not doing much because even though he wants to help, he doesn't know how to help. He doesn't know or really care who is wrong or who is right. He's not really into any of this animal welfare stuff because there are too many kooks mixed up with it but still, he doesn't like it when animals suffer. He looks into the banks of cages lining the hallways. He sees all the cats who have been living in them for weeks, months or years. Some of the cats are purring, some hissing and some are slowly going insane.

And that folks, metaphorically speaking and in no particular order, is sort of what's going on in the background at the Toronto Humane Society.

Meanwhile, the people there who are doing the good work are still doing the good work.

Current adoption notice, March 4, 2010:

Fabio & Bugsy

A112409 & A119717

Hello, my name is Fabio, and this is my best friend, Bugsy. I came to the shelter as a stray in May 2007 (almost 3 years ago!!!) and Bugsy came as a stray in Jan 2008 (2 years ago!). We met at the shelter and have been inseparable ever since! We are a pair of very special boys with very special issues. We are both FIV+/FeLV+. Many cats with these viruses can live healthy lives without symptoms for months or even years, but their immune systems are compromised and usually they will eventually succumb to an FIV/FeLV related illness. Right now, we’re both healthy and on no medications at all. We are looking for a very special Permanent Special Needs home with no other cats, that is accepting of our conditions and willing to open their heart to us for as long as we may have. WE ARE LOVING AND AFFECTIONATE BOYS WHO DESERVE A HAPPY ENDING. If you think you may be able to help us out, or have questions about us, please come and ask about us at the cat desk, or contact the Permanent Placement Program at 416-392-2273 x2354.


Please pass this along to anyone you know who may be able to help!


Wikked Windy said...

Now that story summarized and analogized is how I like to read about the Toronto Humane Society issues. Thanks Fred. Good read, good post as usual.

YesBiscuit! said...

Great explanation! And I think much of it could apply to other shelters/rescues.

Dog Foster Mom said...

I just found your blog and have enjoyed reading many of your old posts. I agree with YesBiscuit! - the story definitely applies to many shelters/rescues. I'd like to link back to this post from my blog if I may (probably in another week or two if that's okay).

Fred said...

Welcome Dog Foster Mom! and link as you wish.

Lynda said...

Fred, that made me so sad. I guess I never thought about life for the cats in the THS like that.

Very well said.


Anonymous said...

That was confused and muddled prose. You have successfully added to the entropy of the universe, and we are all the dumber for it.

Fred said...

Anonymous, confused and muddled was the intention and yes, you (singular) probably are dumber for it if you say so.

Social Mange said...

Anonymous must be from THS.

Great analogous writing, Fred.