Despite what some people seem to think, I'm a huge fan of the feline. In fact, I have more cats than dogs sharing my homeand there are scads of people who share my appreciation for these interesting, entertaining and intelligent beings with personalities as distinctive as dogs. But they are also often misunderstood and underappreciated.
In recently explaining to some newbies to the animal shelter world that we consistently receive more homeless cats than dogs (of the almost 5,000 animals received annually, 60 percent are cats), I realized I was describing not simply a careless and cavalier cat attitude but in some instances, outright discrimination.
While it's long been obvious that our state law is severely antiquated in providing adequate protection for animals at all, the dog is at least given a little consideration. However, the law is virtually silent on felines ,and I'm afraid this discrimination is just mirroring our society.
With no law to discourage owners from just opening their doors and letting their cats out to roam the neighborhood, the results are seen daily being carried in our door! I live in the midst of 20 acres in large part because I want my animals to have access to the outdoors without fear. As such, my cats venture in and out at will. And while there are inherent risks in the country, cars and annoyed neighbors are not their top threat. In fact, the overzealous mocking bird who stalks my cats tirelessly is currently on the top of our neighborhood watch list. But, I digress. When I was a city dweller, my fear of cars and neighbors who might not share my cat fancy, kept my cats at bay. Yet based on the volume of incoming stray cats and complaint calls, my concerns are not shared by the masses.
The number of pregnant cats and those arriving with kittens in tow, indicates that concern for pregnancy and litters is not widespread either. Spring brings litter after unwanted litter and in my 10 years at the shelter, not once has anyone ever come looking for their lost litter of kittens. Never! In fact, cats are rarely reclaimed by owners at all. Such reclaims aren't abnormal, they're a miracle.
In the same vein, a cat donning a collar is highly unusual. A cat with an ID tag is unheard of. Why is that?
In addition to unwanted litters, the sheer number of orphaned kittens is astounding. This spring I've personally fostered eight kittens that were found motherless and yet too young to survive alone. Each arrived separately in the hands of a different person who cared enough to try and help them. Three arrived with similar stories of a mother who had been hit by a car. Fortunate for them, I could take them to foster. Young motherless kittens will likely not survive in the shelter environment for multiple reasons. They require feeding every few hours and they are just too susceptible to illness. Hence, they must go to fosters who have time and will get up in the night to keep their tummies full. Lucky for them and me, I was fostering a nursing momma cat who took on each orphan as her own. Winkie, so named for her persistent wink as she's missing an eye, does not discriminate.
I so appreciate those who help stray animals by bringing them to our shelter out of concern rather than disdain. It's common when someone brings us the stray dog they've found they do so because they're afraid the dog may be hit by a car or they want to help the dog find their way back home. Conversely, it's not unusual that some people bringing cats will do so because they are annoyed by the cat in their yard or contend they are "being destructive." This seems a little telling of a distinct difference in attitude.
Maybe it's because the cat's general attitude of self-reliance and independence, seemingly frees some people of their sense of responsibility. Or the law or lack thereof that allows cats to roam more freely than dogs contributes to this outlook. Whatever it is, it's pretty obvious we need to take more seriously our responsibility for all the animals, including the cat. They are no less deserving of our compassion and care simply because they are less demanding of it.
Carrie Roe is president of the Humane Society of Parkersburg.