DEAR DR. FOX: For the past 17 months, I have been a feral cat colony caretaker. All of the cats were part of the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program, and further breeding has ceased. The colony in which I am involved consisted of 10 cats originally; there are now five. Some have disappeared over time, and, sadly, one was found dead recently, with no obvious illness beforehand.
I have two beloved felines at home -- a tortoiseshell and a tuxedo. One was a rescue cat, the other a shelter adoptee. Needless to say, they are loved and respected for the wonderful animals they are.
I am writing to you today with the following questions regarding feral cats, as well as caretakers such as myself:
-- Are you an advocate of feral cat colonies, and, if so, what conditions must be met by the caretaker(s)?
-- Do you believe that euthanasia is a more humane approach for cats that are not receiving annual vet visits, such as feral cats?
-- Do you feel I am wrong in sustaining the lives of these innocent animals that are susceptible to disease and many other hardships?
My colony has ample shelter and fresh food and water provided daily. We clean feeding bowls, etc. We stress hygiene as much as possible in our efforts.
I decided to be a feral cat caretaker because we, as human beings, through neglect and disdain, have forced these innocent animals to fend for themselves through no choice of their own. Many of these cats have unique personalities, no different from my two at home. As a caretaker, I do whatever I can to lessen the hardships of these animals. -- G.L., Washington, D.C.
DEAR G.L.: I wish there were more compassionate and caring people like you helping animals. Unfortunately, the best intentions often go awry. Maintaining a feral cat colony is a full-time responsibility. Cats who are sick or injured and too fearful to be caught do suffer. Even with neutering, there is the ethical question of providing food and shelter to cats only to prolong their suffering until they expire.
My biggest concern, and the reason I oppose TNR programs, is cats killing birds and other wildlife.
As I have discovered, some feral cats can be socialized and make good indoor companions. Perhaps you may find more fulfillment facilitating adoptions at your local shelter (ideally for two or more littermates) and pushing for legislation and public education to deter people from letting their cats roam free.
I applaud your efforts to help these poor animals, and I respect all involved in TNR programs. But the consequences of humane intervention must be considered, for the road to hell is indeed often paved with good intentions. I would rather advocate TNA or TNE -- trap-neuter-adopt or -euthanize the unadoptable -- knowing that given time and patience, many wild, terrified cats can be rehabilitated. I kiss one on his tummy every morning.
DEAR DR. FOX: In one of your columns, you asked about animals showing emotion and shedding real tears.
Many years ago, we adopted a basset hound, Sadie, with her eight puppies. Our family loved her, and my mother knit her a sweater, which we presented to her on a cold Cleveland Christmas. It fit well and we all exclaimed over how beautiful she was, but Sadie hated it. She was obviously humiliated -- she hid behind a big chair and cried real tears. We tried one more time with a slow, private presentation, and we got the same results -- big tears ran down her face.
She cried one more time in her 12 years with us. Our daughter brought home an adorable longhaired guinea pig, and the family gathered and exclaimed over it. Suddenly, we realized that Sadie was watching with large tears running down her face. Her feelings were obviously hurt. She was the nicest, sweetest dog ever. -- J.A., Naples, Fla.
DEAR J.A.: Thank you for confirming that some dogs can be moved to tears. Just as people cry for different reasons, so do some of our canine companions.
In humans, shedding tears has evolved from being lacrimation to protect the eyes and lubricate the cornea to a social signal. A similar process may be under way with dogs after many thousands of years associating with humans. This association, confirmed by recent cognitive behavior research on dogs, is based on their innate capacity to learn the meaning of human gestures such as pointing at an object. Dogs, like other social animals, also probably possess so-called mirror neurons in their brains, enabling them to decode body language signals and underlying emotions on the basis of their own subjective feelings. Many dogs will show distress or concern and affection when a human family member is crying, often licking the tears. It is a relatively small step for a dog to then cry to express emotional distress. This may be a spontaneous rather than deliberate act, but one facilitated nonetheless by human social interactions.
OREGON COURT UPGRADES STATUS OF ANIMALS
The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that abused and neglected animals will be considered sentient victims, not just property, for the purpose of sentencing a perpetrator in a recent case. The person in question was convicted of second-degree animal abuse regarding the mistreatment of dozens of horses, goats and other animals.
Most states allow people and corporations to be victims, but animals are considered property. The judicial system in the U.S. at both state and federal levels has long resisted such humane, enlightened initiatives. This is a sad, if not outmoded, attitude toward fellow creatures whose moral and legal standing in this culture need to be elevated if we are to call ourselves civilized.
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