Tuesday, June 24, 2008

On The Responsibility of Being Human

For whatever reason, the Almighty chose to confer upon me a strong affinity for animals.  Most women degenerate to gibberish-spewing, chin-chucking mush heads in the presence of a baby.   I’ve always been more inclined to grin and coo at a puppy or kitten than at an infant of my own species.  The older I get, the more all-encompassing my tenderness towards non-human souls becomes.  Any spider crossing my threshold will more likely receive the catch-and-release treatment than the bottom-of-the-shoe treatment.   Fruit flies in my wine glass will have their drunken butts gently removed from the pool and deposited upon a safe surface to sober up and live to fly another day.

When we were kids, our house looked like a pet shop.  Cat, dog, birds, fish, turtles, hamsters, mice…nothing terribly exotic, but we always had plenty around. As an adult, I’ve never had enough time to maintain a proper home much less a home zoo, so my focus has turned to cats.  Loving, independent spirits, they fare perfectly well on their own for several hours a day, then welcome us back into the pride when we drag ourselves through the front door after a ten or fifteen-hour day.  My cats are my family, my children.  It bothers me not one iota if people think of me as a “crazy cat lady.”  That’s exactly what I am.

I realize that not everyone feels the deep bond I feel for furry friends.  But what I cannot understand, and cannot abide, is human beings who choose to acquire companion animals, but neither understand nor accept the grave responsibility that is laid on their shoulders with that choice.   Pets are perpetual children.  They will always need food, shelter, protection and affection.  Unlike human children, they will never grow up to the point where they will not need their “parents” to provide these things.  In the past few weeks, I’ve encountered the sad stories of two innocent animals who have suffered from the criminal neglect of the humans entrusted with their lives.


I don’t believe in letting pets—dogs OR cats—roam the neighborhood unrestrained.  My philosophy has always been that if my neighbors want a cat, they will get their own.  And if they DON’T want a cat, it’s my responsibility to make sure they don’t have to deal with mine.  Still, every home we’ve lived in has come equipped with neighbor cats whom I have welcomed, petted, and tried to gently steer away from my bird feeders.  In Eugene, there was Qat (I didn’t know her real name, so I gave her one…); in Tigard, there were Coco, Buster and Fester; in Springfield, there were Eleanor and Phoebe.  The café had Mila.

When Mila was still not much more than a kitten, her “owners” brought home a new baby (a human one) put the cat outside, and never let her back in.  They continued to feed her, but she was no longer welcome inside her own home.   They providednothing else for her besides a tag on her collar with her name and their telephone number on it.  Oh, they were very huffy about being her owners, and became righteously indignant when a tenant of our building offered to give Mila a proper home if they were no longer willing or able to do so.  They thought it was perfectly okay to call her “theirs,” but leave her outside to fend for herself.  After all, she was just a cat.

So she became the neighborhood cat.  She would do her rounds every day—grab a bite of turkey here and a mouthful of kibbles there.  Be invited in for a snooze on a reception-room chair or in a sunspot on a soft carpet.  She especially liked to sneak into the café at the feet of an unsuspecting customer, jump up on my fancy hemp chairs and work out her claws.  Once finished with that business, she would either invite herself to share a patron’s meal, curl up and fall asleep on the leather sofa, or try to sneak into the kitchen to discover the source of all the great foody smells.  I had a soft spot for her.  I shoveled my share of scraps into a dish outside the back door, and I turned a blind eye to the gray fuzzball curled up on the couch…until a customer ratted her out to the Health Department.

The landlord disapproved.  He fussed that there was only one end for a cat that hung around in parking lots, and it was going to happen sooner or later.  I told him I thought she had an adequate amount of street smarts to stay alive…all the while knowing in my heart that her days were numbered.  Which was why I kept on feeding her, and letting her sneak in for a nap on the sofa until the Health Department put a stop to that indulgence.  I felt like, if she was going to have a short life, I was going to try to make it as pleasant as I could. 

Why didn’t I just…take her home?  I’ve never had any qualms about adopting cats that I thought were being endangered by neglectful owners.   And I’m sure if she just disappeared, her “family” would not have cared overmuch.  But I already have six cats of my own.  And the capacity of my colony seems to have topped out at that number.  Every time I bring a new cat home, one of the old ones dies.  We adopted Maude, and Marbie died not long after.  We brought home the boys (Alvin and Theo), and lost Beaker and then Sprite within less than a year of each other.  The matriarch of my current clan is eighteen-year-old Bebe.  As bad as I felt for Mila, I just couldn’t risk losing my Bebe.  I felt that if Mila could stick around until Bebe was gone—how long could it be?—it was meant for me to take her home.

But apparently it was not—meant to be.  Back in January, Mila was sitting on the front stoop of the café on a Sunday morning when she was attacked by three dogs being walked unleashed by yet another criminally irresponsible pet owner.  Punctured, mangled and mauled, she was duly bundled up and taken away by her neglectful owners.  We thought we’d never see her again.  But a couple of months later, when her little gray head showed up outside the café door, I nearly burst into tears.  She was several pounds lighter, slower, stiffer, and not altogether okay.  But she was alive.  I felt a certain responsibility for the attack—she wouldn’t have been outside my café that Sunday morning if I had never fed her or let her come in.  So this time around, I refused to feed her or let her sneak in for a snooze.  I did everything I could to discourage her from hanging around.  But the rest of the neighborhood welcomed her with open arms, and she became the Neighborhood Kitty once again. 

She particularly liked to hang around the parking lot, where she would sleep on or under the warmest, most recently arrived vehicle.  People laughed when they would go out to start their cars, even go so far as to put them in gear and start moving, and she would remain stubbornly curled up on the hood or the roof.  But it wasn’t funny, not really.  And last week (mercifully for me, I was away for the weekend) one of the other tenants backed out of her parking space, right over the dozing Mila.

We don’t know for sure what’s become of her; we think she is probably dead.  Two of our tenants hustled her to the vet’s office right across the street; but they made the mistake of calling the number on the tag around her neck.  Though the lady who ran over her, and the other tenant, repeatedly offered to pay the bill, Mila’s self-righteously neglectful owner refused all treatment and offers of help, packed her up and took her home—what is wrong with this person?  The vet, shocked and dismayed by his behavior, called Animal Control and reported the incident as animal abuse. 

We heard that Animal Control confiscated Mila and took her to another vet for x-rays and treatment…possibly euthanasia.  At least she won’t have to suffer for who knows how long on the whim of a criminally irresponsible owner;  who didn’t want her but wasn’t going to let anybody else have her, by god.  Is there an appropriate punishment for this? 

I don’t care what the law books might say.   Pets are not property. You don’t OWN another soul.  You adopt an animal.  You cherish it.  You provide love, food and shelter for it.  For as long as you are fortunate enough to share your life with it.  If you can’t do that, please, please, please do not inflict your sorry self upon the innocent, trusting, dependent soul of an animal.

This has turned out to be a very long post.  Tomorrow, I’ll write about William of Orange…  

Cross posted at Women On...     


  1. I am so sorry about Mila and I sure understand. My kitties are being very naughty right now but I still love them and clean up after them etc. etc. I do not understand people who dump pets when there are so many good places to turn to- Why they bother in the first place is beyond me also. I have a "mountain" homeless cat I feed- cannot get close to but I will not turn it away with all the coyotes around here. So far she has been living somewhere (under the house?) close for over a year- through the winter and snow- shows up twice a day for chow. Dannelle

  2. Good for the vet. I suspect that when this "person" shows up at the bridge every critter there will help Mila lead her the long way round to the afterlife. Assuming they don't lead her into a patch of poison oak and leave her there. Serve her right, too.


  3. I forgot to mention over at Women On that I do sincerely hope that your animal control has real powers that will allow the agent to, at the least, fine the SOBs.

  4. and yet you couldn't understand why I would bestow a kindness award on you.

    You should look in the mirror that the rest of us see you through.

    You are one in a million Lisa....

  5. I certainly agree with you about all creatures, but had not rescued any fruit flies.  Mila must be quite a dear cat to have had the whole neighborhood love her and feed her.