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"R" is for Responsibility

Conquering the Disposable Cat Syndrome

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Please adopt me

"Please adopt me." This cat at a "kill shelter" desperately needs a forever home.

Franny Syufy
Kittens are adorable, aren't they? Even the hardest heart will soften at the sight of soft, cuddly balls of fur. But kittens grow up all too soon, and unless their human guardians educate themselves in the proper care and training of their feline companions, they may become cats with unpopular habits, such as soiling antique rugs and scratching your new leather recliner. At times like these, without their protective cloaks of cuteness, cats may be looked on by some people as "disposable goods," and thus the line is drawn between cat owners and cat lovers.

The shelters are full of them, these throwaway cats and dogs, whose only crimes were having the misfortune of being the pets of people who considered them "property" rather than "family members."

This tendency is a product born of a societal attitude ingrained over several generations, from times when pets were valued only for their contribution to the family unit. Dogs were valued as sheep and cattle herders, hunting companions, or to guard the homestead. Cats, on the other hand were regarded as "mousers," and every farm had its barn cats for that purpose, proliferated generation after generation, with the reward for their toils consisting of an occasional saucer of milk, along with as many mice as they could catch. No one thought too much about the death of a barn cat - there were always plenty more to take their place. And die, they did, from disease, predators, or infections from untreated wounds.

Societal Changes

As society changed and more and more people moved away from the farm, many brought a cat or two along for company. The concept of pedigree cats and cat shows in the late 19th century brought with it a new awareness of the cat as a companion, and even "moggies," aka domestic cats, benefitted from this new concept.

Sadly though, because of the continued failure of many irresponsible people to spay and neuter their pet cats, we are burdened with a cat overpopulation problem. Consider the endless loop this creates; where one form of irresponsibility foments another:

  1. Indiscriminate breeding, intentional or not, creates an excess of cats.
  2. An excess of cats makes it easy for a careless cat owner to "trade in" or otherwise dispose of a cat that doesn't "work out." The mindset of pets as property often means that last year's kittens soon lose their luster as quickly as last year's car model or computer, both of the latter which will also fail to perform if not properly maintained.

Although spay/neuter laws have been passed with varying degrees of success in some cities, responsibility simply cannot be legislated; instead, it must be learned.

Since for the most part I'm probably "preaching to the choir," you might be wondering, "okay, what does this have to do with me? How can I teach responsible pet ownership to someone else?" Here are some suggestions, for starters:

By Example:

By Gentle Persuasion:

  • Encourage everyone you know to spay or neuter their pets. Familiarize yourself with all the excuses, and prepare a compelling argument to each excuse.
  • Learn more about declawing and its humane alternatives, and speak out when you hear of someone's intentions to have this procedure done on their cat. Keep in mind that they probably have the kindest intentions but may not have all the facts they need to make an educated decision.
  • Volunteer at your local shelter and talk to potential cat adopters about the serious responsibilities they are taking on.
  • Write letters to the editor.
  • Study, practice what you learn, and study some more.

You may find your new avocation so addictive that you'll soon be able to refer to yourself proudly and accurately as an animal advocate.

Welcome to the club! You'll find the weight of responsibility much lighter when it is shared with others of a like mind, and you're in good company - the best company on this planet, because you care.

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