Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Abandoned cats, feral cats and bad owners

Maggie the cat sleeping on a fleece blanket
All cats deserve warm fleece bits to sleep on. Just ask Maggie.
My workday got off to a bang when I stumbled across this local news article (Update 20160324: This link is no longer active.). The gist of the story is that a neighborhood is beset by a group of cats who have no home to call their own. The neighbors are fed up, and the authorities have little power to help, and there are few resources with which to help these cats.

There's a lot to be upset about here.

Firstly, there seems (to me) to be a lot of confusion about where these cats came from. The report suggests that the cats once lived with a homeowner who has moved away, but the report also refers to these cats as "feral."

As we all know, feral cats cannot be approached by humans and they have never lived with humans. If these cats are truly feral, they never lived inside to begin with. And the homeowner is never identified, and isn't given a chance to explain what really happened. Were these cats left behind years ago? Were there only two then, and now there are hundreds? It's really unclear.

Secondly, the local humane society allegedly told the reporter that they cannot trap the cats on private property, but it would have been easier for them to help if the homeowners had abandoned the cats inside the home. Then they could break in and rescue them.

I'm unclear about the laws, and maybe this is true, but I think that representative should think hard about what this suggestion really means. Cats are not loud creatures, as a rule. Cats confined to a house with no food and no water (abandoned, in other words) might simply die in large numbers before anyone even knew they were in the home. Is this really what the representative wants? The problem would be hidden, but it would result in death. A better statement would have involved the legalities of abandoning pets, whether inside the home or out. Even providing no comment at all would have been better.

And finally, there is no real solution for these pets. The neighbors are just overwhelmed with the number of cats running loose in the community, and they don't know what they should do with the cats if they trap them, as they're told to do. I fear that these cats will be condemned to death in large numbers, simply because they are sick and there are too many of them. The idea makes me physically ill.

I tried to think of solutions, but honestly, mine are really basic and someone who would read this column would already be following my advice. But, for my own peace of mind, I deliver it anyway.
  1. Spay or neuter your cats. These animals are prolific breeders, and one cat can quickly become many, many cats. See this post for more information. 
  2. Don't abandon your pets. If you're moving, take them with you. 
It's pretty simple, really.

If you live in the Portland area and you have room, and a willingness, to help deal with this problem in Hazel Dell, scroll to the bottom of the news story I linked at the top of this post. There is a woman attempting to trap and rehome these cats, and I'm sure she could use your help.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Dog cryosurgery: A gross, but effective, procedure

Liam posing with his cryosurgery spot
There's not a way to take a picture of this without making Liam
look really sad and pathetic, unfortunately.
On Monday, as I detailed in this blog entry, Liam had a little bump under his ear worked on. Since the bump didn't seem to be attached to deeper structures, his veterinarian felt that a major biopsy of the bump wasn't really warranted, so we choose to freeze the spot off with cryosurgery. I'll never know what the bump was, on the down side, but he was only under anesthesia for a short period of time, and he was able to avoid a deep, disfiguring cut.

Cryosurgery is often done with a little pen-like device that looks like this. The procedure essentially freezes the flesh, and when it's over, no stitches are required. The skin blisters, and the scorched spot eventually scabs up and falls off.

I've been pleasantly surprised by some aspects of this surgery.

For example, Liam seems to have no pain at all, and he hasn't been scratching or digging at this spot at all. That's been a great thing to see. But, it does seem to be taking a long time for this thing to fall off. The veterinarian warned me that it might take up to 10 days for the scab to fall off, but I had really hoped it would come off sooner. It's rough and it stands out from his head, and I am fearful he'll catch it on something and rip it off before the blood vessels beneath it have a chance to shrink back.

Liam the pug had cryosurgery
This photo makes the bump a bit easier to see.
I should also note that most websites about cryosurgery say that the procedure can be done without anesthesia. I wonder about that.

Liam had anesthesia for his procedure mainly because he is a wiggly worm, and this spot is close to his eyes. A little slip could have been tragic. But in addition, humans report that having a wart frozen off in a doctor's office is incredibly painful. It seems like animals might also find cryosurgery at least a little uncomfortable, and I would think most animals would like some sort of pain control to get through it. If my veterinarian hadn't suggested pain control, I think I would have brought it up.

I'm hoping this spot will be gone by Wednesday, but I'll pop up pictures either way.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Speaking up against animal abuse: Reasons to be hopeful

Liam posing nicely with an article in the New York Times
Liam is very tolerant about assuming weird poses like this.
It's hard to come up with images for some of these posts!

I read a very interesting article by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times last night (yes, it takes me a few days to get through the Sunday paper). In this article, she suggests that Americans have taken a relativistic approach to morality. Instead of stepping in right away when we see something terrible in progress, we tend to take the long view, believing that others are inherently good and that our help isn't really needed.

She cites the Sandusky case as an example of this phenomenon. A man walks in on a crime and does nothing, thinking he can't really be seeing what he is seeing. As a result, the abuse (allegedly, we must say, as he hasn't been convicted yet) continues for decades and many, many lives are shattered as a result. One man could have stopped it, and he didn't.

The article was interesting for me because I'd just read a similar story on the Oregon Humane Society website. Here, a veterinarian was off duty and visiting her boyfriend when she discovered what looked like animal abuse. This veterinarian didn't hesitate. She filed a complaint, and as a result, the cat's owner was sentenced to animal abuse. She could have said nothing, protecting her relationship with her boyfriend from any awkwardness, but instead, she acted. Who knows how many cats this veterinarian saved with her courage?

I'm not prepared to say that there isn't a moral crisis in this country. After all, a veterinarian takes a vow to prevent animals, so a veterinarian who sees a wounded animal is likely quite motivated to step in and do something. Perhaps her actions aren't a sign of great moral courage, but are instead signs of someone doing her job properly. In addition, there are many examples of people who do nothing in the face of both animal and child abuse.

However, stories of courageous people who are willing to stick their necks out on behalf of the helpless, no matter why they choose to do so, should give us hope. Perhaps they will inspire us to make our own leaps and speak up when we see something. Maybe, just maybe, we can prove Maureen Dowd wrong one day with our actions. I think she'd be happy if we did.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Do cats miss us when we're gone?

Eamon the cat looking out the window
Eamon looks more angry than mournful in this photo, I admit.
Last week, I was out of town for a total of eight days. While I ensured that my cats had a diligent and talented team of sitters while I was gone, I thought I'd certainly come home to a houseful of mewling, desperate cats who just couldn't wait to see me.

Boy, was I wrong.

Instead, my cats have been acting as though they have no idea who I am. They run from my outstretched hands and they steer clear of rooms I happen to be sitting in.

What happened?

Cat haters are quick to pounce (pardon the pun) on stories like this, claiming that cats are far too aloof to make proper house pets. Since cats don't demonstrate their affection right away, these cat haters claim, they don't really like us in the first place and would prefer that we stayed away for longer periods of time.

While statements like this might make for good punchlines, I'm not certain that's what is really going on here.

I think cats are fairly sensitive creatures that are quick to adapt to new situations. These cats probably learned to live with the idea that I wasn't coming back and that they had the home to themselves for the vast majority of the day. That doesn't mean that the cats don't like me, per say, but it does mean that these cats chose to live in the moment. Instead of mourning my absence, they got on with their lives. This is what animals do.

When I returned home again, the cats had to adjust their behaviors once more. Instead of having free reign, they had to put up with my rules and regulations. They had to move out of my chairs. They had to listen to the radio all day long. It's a lot to adjust to, and it's no wonder they needed a little time to make that leap. I probably would, too.

So in the interim, I'm giving them extra doses of homegrown catnip and hoping they'll come back around and learn to live with me once more. Since they don't have much choice in the matter, I suppose they'll make the switch eventually.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Pug skin lumps and bumps

Liam the pug recovering in his dog bed
Liam recovering after his big day
For the past month, I've been obsessively worrying over a small bump I found right behind Liam's left ear. As I detailed in this post, I lost my first dog to cancer that started with the tiniest of bumps, and I didn't know if I could handle losing little Liam to the same disease. I also didn't want to be one of those freakish owners who takes her dog to the vet for each and every teeny, tiny problem. So I opted to watch the spot closely, and come in if a month passed and it hadn't gone away.

The month flew by, and the spot didn't grow bigger or smaller. It stayed attached only to the outer layer of the skin, sort of like a skin tag, and it didn't seem to cause Liam any pain at all. It didn't go away, either, even though I kept hoping that it would.

So this morning, we went in for our appointment. I was dreading this, as Liam is a rambunctious, happy pug that tends to draw squeals of delight from everyone he meets. Each squeal makes him even more excited, which causes more squealing, which causes more excitement in an endless cycle of increasing frenzy until I am desperately holding on to a wriggling, screaming dog that is unable to breathe. Much as I ask the staff to refrain from exciting the dog, they can't seem to help themselves. I had no idea what would happen if he ended up with something serious and had to come in for repeat visits. I didn't know if his heart could take it.

After a brief exam and a minimal amount of shrieking, the veterinarian came up with a surgical plan and I left him there for a few hours to try to work at home. It seemed awfully quiet here without him snoring at my feet, but I did my best. As soon as the staff called and told me he was ready to come home, I sped over to the office to pick him up. I had visions of him shrieking in his cage, surrounded by adoring staff, so I nearly ran the 10-plus blocks to the office.

Turns out, I needn't have worried. Poor Liam was pretty drugged up from the ordeal. He was so drugged up that I had to carry him back to the house. While 23 pounds might not seem very heavy, 23 pounds of dead weight held in your arms in the sunshine for 10 or more blocks is quite a workout. I don't recommend it for the faint of heart.

Now he is sleeping comfortably. The veterinarian tells me I should have nothing to worry about with this bump, but worry I will. Those of us who get it, and who have been down this path before, always worry.

Monday, June 4, 2012

3 ways to help cats (without bringing one home!)

Eamon and Lucy are in a cat cuddle
Eamon and Lucy in a cat mind meld.
When springtime rolls around and the web is full of desperate pleas for cat homes, I get depressed. I know so many people either don't like cats, or they simply feel indifferent to the plight of the average homeless cat that they see scrounging for food each and every day. I feel tempted to overcompensate and take on more cats, helping as many as I can to help make up for those people who won't help any cats at all.

But we all know where this sort of thinking leads.

Instead, I look for ways to help cats, both in my community and around the world. By funding just a few projects, or making just a few statements, I hope I am helping to improve the lives of cats without becoming a cat hoarder myself.

Here are just three suggestions of things you could do to help cats right now:
  1. Attend a cat fundraiser. If you live in the Portland area, consider coming to the House of Dreams Silent Auction this Saturday. If you live outside of the area, contact your local Humane Society and ask about upcoming events you can attend. You'll meet other animal lovers and help to donate money to animals in need. 
  2. Talk to your neighbors. If your neighbors ask you, each year, to take a kitten from the momma's newest litter, consider opening the door to a conversation about the importance of neutering. It's a tricky subject, I know, but cats can be prolific producers, and in just a few years, your poor neighbor could have hundreds of cats. Start talking about neutering early and often. Leaving a few flyers from low-cost spay programs never hurt, either. 
  3. Donate your money. If you come into a little extra cash, consider donating to a large rescue organization such as Best Friends Animal Society. Large groups like this can sometimes spread the word about humane animal care taking in a way that smaller organizations might never have the time or the funds to do. By adding to an already established campaign, you're making your donation go a little farther to do even more.
If, of course, you do have room in your home for another kitten, I encourage you to take one. Cats are social creatures, and many of them really love to have regular snuggle buddies. I think the picture in this blog makes that point pretty well. A little kitten might be just the thing your older cat needs.

But if your home is full, don't turn a blind eye to the cats in your neighborhood. They still need you, and clearly, there's a lot you can do to help!