For this Blog the Change for Animals event, it has gotten personal. I may have come around about this new city of mine, however, there is one area in which we will never agree: politics. More specifically, the politics around animal welfare. With rodeos being the favoured summertime entertainment and the oil sands being the province’s blood stream, it is inevitable that Alberta and I are going to clash in several intrinsic ways. No matter what the propaganda says, this is a government that puts money and economy over everything else. Forget planning for our environmental future, forget the experiences of our animals, it is all about creating jobs and putting more cash in the pockets of overpaid executives.
Sorry, I guess that wasn’t an objective statement. It is hard for me to remain neutral about an issue that has jammed itself in my cranium ever since the proposal was introduced. There is nothing about the Northern Gateway Pipeline I can support.
For starters, the threat of a gigantic disaster will always loom. The oil industry has not done much to ease my concerns in this regard. North America has seen too many spills and leaks and destructive accidents in the last decade for me to believe this pipeline is environmentally safe. On a second, more important note, have you seen the area in which the pipeline will traverse?
Frightening. How many animal habitats will be forever disrupted? How many endangered species will find their lives threatened? Creatures like the Spirit Bear and the Woodland Caribou are threatened. The invasion of construction crews will only serve to decrease their dwindling numbers.
Is it worth it? Sure, and it will make the transportation of oil much more efficient and it will create employment for a limited time. But what are the repercussions?
Town of Kitimat, BC, sounded by unique temperate rainforests
The town of Kitimat, British Columbia held a plebiscite this weekend to determine whether or not there is local support. Considering the pipeline will be intruding on these 8,335 human lives the most, it was only fair. Of course, the vote wasn’t binding and was more of an opinion poll than anything else. The company leading the proposal were not at all daunted by the negative result. As MP Nathan Cullen said, the backers of the pipeline believe the outcome of the vote shows the ignorance of the community members.
“This is deeply offensive to people,” said Cullen, in an article published by the Vancouver Sun. “Like they’re saying, ‘We’ve heard you and we’re going to ignore you.’”
This worries me. The rigorosity of this company to push their proposal through, no matter what the irreparable costs, no matter what the people want, frightens me. As in so many other initiatives, I feel helpless to prevent something that I know will have lasting impacts on us all.
Why should you care? This is in Canada, after all. It is a decision that will be made by the Canadian federal government. But I know you care about animals. You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t. You also can’t forget that the same people backing the Northern Gateway Pipeline are pushing for the more extensive Keystone XL, which will have even larger ramifications.
What can you do? Add your name to the petition, pledge to stand with the Yinka Dene Alliance of First Nations who has joined with other First Nations to create a connected wall of opposition to the Northern Gateway Pipeline. Share your opinion, let the Government of Canada know that this matters to you, as a member of the world community.
We may not be able to stop it, but we can’t let this destruction happen without having our say.
There are a lot of worthwhile causes out there. When it comes to saving animals, there is no shortage of groups standing up for what they think is right. It is a commendable thing to witness. I firmly believe we are on a positive track. There is a lot of work to be done, yes, but there has been so much solid change enacted by people like you and I that I refuse to be pessimistic. There will come a time when puppy mills are a hideous part of North America’s history. Maybe even in our lifetimes. We just need to keep putting on the pressure and keep telling our stories.
I’ve seen the proof of this for myself. My natural cynicism was challenged and defeated. All it took was the campaign of a single cat: the late Tuxedo Stan.
Stan’s story was age-old. He was one of four kittens born to an abandoned mother in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She was rescued while in the later stage of her pregnancy and gave birth three weeks later. It is a situation all too common in my former city where they estimate the population of cats may be close to 100,000. In a region of just over 300,000 humans, this is a wee bit off the charts. Stan and his brothers were lucky. If his mother hadn’t been found, her kittens likely would not have survived.
Still, aside from the tragic aspects, there was nothing to set him apart from the countless other kittens who find their way to rescue organizations in cities across the continent. He was just one little cat who managed to find a decent home. Something that happens all the time, even if not as often as it should. So why was he so famous? Why did he garner the attention of Ellen DeGeneres or the New York Times? Was it just because he was so stinkin’ pretty?
Not quite. You see, Stan’s human family was special. They knew his good looks could only go so far. However, they also knew that with a few well-written slogans, they could turn him into a cover model for change.
I admit, I thought the concept of putting a cat on the mayoral ballot was ludicrous. I first encountered Stan and his crew while attending a fundraising auction for a popular cat rescue organization in town. They showed up at the pub with their wild t-shirts and their naive beliefs and I rolled my eyes. Wing-nuts, I muttered to my PH. Do they really think their silly campaign is going to make a difference? Everyone is just going to think they are crazy cat people. Regardless, as the evening progressed, I watched something pretty stunning happen. As someone who has worked for a few charities and who has attended a lot of auctions, I have never before seen so much money dropped so willingly for a cause. I am talking gift certificates going for more than twice their value! Dorky little donated crafts ensnaring more cash than I spent on weekly groceries! It was astounding. And almost all of it came from Stan’s corner of the room. They walked the walk and then some.
Over the next few months, the enthusiasm and publicity only grew. Stan’s people were clever. They knew just how to play the crowd. Utilizing social media, they told simple stories of Stan’s campaign trail that were humourous and touching. They knew when to be serious and when to tug the heart-strings. Like any politician, Stan even had his share of scandal when an erroneous story leaked about his supposed love children. Hugh Chisholm, Stan’s human, who also happens to be a veterinarian, played it just right.
Alas, it was not to be. Stan never actually made it to the ballot, despite his best efforts. But that doesn’t mean their hard work failed. Quite the opposite. Even if the feline never had a chance at winning the race, he did achieve his goal of raising awareness of the plight of cats. He also did something even better.
Because of the celebrity of one distinguished cat, something unprecedented happened. In May 2013, the Halifax regional council voted to give $40,000 to the Nova Scotia SPCA in support of a discounted spay and neuter program. Yes, you read that right. $40,000 to help curb HRM’s massive cat overpopulation problem all because of a beautiful cat and his passionate humans.
I am now a believer. The story of Tuxedo Stan, and his brother Earl Grey, will remain in my mind forever. Sadly, Stan passed away last year. In my mind, he left a legacy that will continue on long past his too-short lifetime. He proved to me that it doesn’t matter how difficult the issue or how stubborn the audience. I will never doubt the power of a good story ever again.
As bloggers you have the ability to write your own tales and change lives the way Stan’s followers did. Sure, a $40,000 goal may seem a bit lofty at first but if they could do it, I don’t think it is silly to say we all have the ability. We just need the passion; we just need to believe it is possible enough to try.
It’s not easy. So much of this feels futile. I know everyone reading this already cares, already knows how crucial these issues are. We keep talking and it seems like we never reach the people who most need to hear. It is insane to think of how many people still don’t know where pet store puppies are sourced, or who don’t even consider the problems of featuring whales in a parade float. This isn’t because they are bad people. They have just never been presented with a different view in a compelling way. Stan was able to reach these people. He was able to capture the attention of non-cat-loving Haligonians. Not because he was unique, but because his story was told in a positive and interesting way. Most people, when given the chance, will change their actions. Unfortunately, the battle-scarred combatants on the front lines of animal welfare often just don’t have the energy any more.
This is where you come in. As a writer, as someone who knows how to use social media to market your blog, you can tell these stories. You have the ability to encourage people to question and to make new choices. Your creative and inspiring words can motivate others to take action. As I’ve always said, when it comes to the Internet you never know who is paying attention. Stories have a sneaky way of reaching people who weren’t even seeking the information. It might start small. Stan’s people worked for long hours behind the scenes before they landed on such a winning idea. Years later, looking at all they have achieved and realizing how many lives one pretty cat saved, I can’t help but come away with this one thought: never doubt the power of a well told story.
Reading all the varied opinions on spay and neuter surgeries has been enlightening. When I was a kid, it seemed like it was just what you did. If you had a dog or cat, you made sure he or she couldn’t have babies. It was a no-brainer. When I entered the world of animal welfare as an adult, at first it baffled me how many people didn’t automatically alter their pets. Unless one plans on breeding, I didn’t understand why she would take the risk. Now I realize it is a lot more complicated than that.
There are many good reasons people have for not spaying or neutering their pets. I trust that everyone reading this today knows all about the costs and benefits. I’m not going to ramble on about it again. You all are responsible and have made your decisions in the best interests of your family. It’s part of why we get on so well.
The struggle begins when trying to reach those who don’t read the literature – people who genuinely don’t know the costs and benefits of spaying and neutering. These are the people who might need the information shared by organizations across the continent in promotion of the big event.
By this point, you all know how I feel about cats. More specifically, you know how I feel about the massively massive overpopulation of cats and how these beautiful animals are often ignored, abandoned, and then euthanized. It is impossible for me to think of spay and neuter programs without immediately thinking of the feline plight. In my opinion the latter cannot be improved without the former. These neglected animals are the reason World Spay Day exists.
The large cat overpopulation problem has been building for decades. There is no one individual or group to blame. Most people who bring home pets have the best of intentions. No one adopts a cat unless one enjoys being around animals. People might be misinformed but they are not purposefully negligent. Yet, no matter how kind the thought, priorities change. Life happens. Vet care is expensive. Things get busy. Appointments are pushed off. Indoor cats escape. Things get busier. Pets get forgotten.
I understand. There is a lot to think about every day. That’s why spaying and neutering is so vital. It’s kind of like insurance. I don’t want to think about how many litters of kittens my cat could have sired by now if he wasn’t altered. Between Calgary and Halifax, he might have had quite a crew of offspring. And we’d never even know it. Getting him snipped prevents me from having to worry about his fatherly duties. I’d hate to think of more cats killed due to my own ignorance.
Cats like this guy:
And this guy:
And even these guys:
They are the lucky ones. None of the above cats will ever have to face euthanasia because they are unwanted. I wish I believed they were the majority. Cats deserve better. All companion animals deserve better.
World Spay Day isn’t about debating whether or not it’s healthier to keep a dog intact for two years, or five years, or forever. It’s about saving lives. The animals aided in these promotions aren’t the ones owned by knowledgeable humans making informed choices. They are the ones who may otherwise face abandonment or death.
It’s a cause I am pretty sure we can all get behind.
Sunday was a bittersweet day for us, or maybe just for me. It was the day our spunky little foster kitten went to the shelter to find his forever home. The house doesn’t feel quieter without him around, but it does feel a bit empty. Aside from a few photos here and there, I haven’t discussed the little bugger much here. Knowing the date for Blog the Change was approaching I saved all my big foster-related stories for today in hopes I could convince someone else to give it a try.
I can’t say whether or not my fostering experience was at all typical as it was my first time. It’s something I wanted to do for a long time but I was afraid of being a failure. Not a “foster failure”, in the normal sense – I wasn’t worried I’d be tempted to keep the kitten. I was more afraid that I would screw the animal up or that something would go wrong and the animal would get hurt and it would be all my fault. The last thing the world needs is one more person with good intentions getting in over her head. However, I read so many positive accounts and I know what a difference providing an extra space for homeless cats makes, that I decided to just go for it. With all the resources at my disposal I figured if the worst thing happened, I would have lots of help. And if it turned out to be awful, I never had to do it again.
The whole process was simpler than I expected. I didn’t have to sign away my life and apparently, they don’t require foster parents to have a degree in veterinary medicine! My mind was blown. The kitten we took in was healthy and had little trouble adapting to our home. It wasn’t long before caring for him became just another part of our daily routine. The organization we fostered for provided us with all the food and litter, as well as a bed and cage for him to hang out in when unsupervised. All we had to do was feed him, give him fresh water, play with him, and watch him grow. Even I can get that right.
My concerns for how my own pets would handle the addition were also set at ease. Our nutjob of a dog was a lot better with him than I ever expected. Over-excited, yes, but she kept her prey drive in check and was more interested in sniffing his butt than treating him like a toy. After a few days of clicking-and-treating her for good calm behaviour, Shiva learned how to handle his presence. Our cat was another matter. He didn’t appreciate the young feline in his territory and only grew to dislike him more the longer he stuck around. However, there was an easy solution to that problem: we kept them separated. The kitten and his set up remained in a spare room behind a closed door. This way all interactions between the animals were strictly supervised. If things looked like they might derail, the kitten could beat an easy retreat.
Unfortunately, as much as I’d love to say fostering was all sunshine and rainbows, there was a moment early on in which I wondered if I was cut out for the task.
At this point the kitten had been with us for almost seven days and was about five weeks old. I had gone out that morning to purchase a new toy for him, something we could play with together. All excited, I opened the door to the kitten’s room, singing out to him: “Kiiittttennnn, look what I haaave!”
I waved the feathered toy over the top of the cage and moved to open the door. He was laying by his food bowl and didn’t stir, not even when the cage door clanged against the bars.
I reached my hand inside and stroked his head with a finger. He still didn’t move. I picked him up and noticed the towel beneath him was wet. He lifted his head when I cradled him in my arms but his eyes remained closed. I put him down on the carpet and he remained still.
I started to freak out.
Several frantic text messages and multiple phone calls later, we drove him as quickly as we could back to the rescue. My contact had suggested we try giving him some corn syrup in case he had just run himself into a coma. But after slathering it all over his mouth there was little change. He had turned from a fuzzball of hyperactivity into a withdrawn and lethargic baby. He wasn’t interested in any of his toys and seemed to have trouble moving. It was as if he had been drugged. Fortunately, we didn’t have to go far to get help. The woman in charge of the rescue reassured me there was nothing I could have done and took him back into her care.
A few more days passed and the wee lad had made a full recovery. No one knew what had caused his sudden downturn but all seemed well again. He was a singleton, his siblings having already not made it. When kittens are that young and have no known medical history, it’s a guessing game. I was asked if I wanted to take him back for the remainder of his foster care.
I was unsure. The biggest reason I didn’t want to foster was because I was scared something bad would happen. What if I took him back and he became ill again? What if I was at work or in bed at the time? What if I found him and it was too late? All of those questions and more crossed my mind. In the end, I decided to bring him home again. I had made a commitment and would see it through. I felt I owed him that.
Luckily, the worst never happened. As far as I could tell he remained in perfect health the rest of his stay with us. That doesn’t mean he was easy, of course! He is a kitten, after all. Crazy one minute, then sweet and snuggly the next. When I opened the door to his room, I never knew which I was going to get. And I still have the scars to prove it!
Now that he is gone, off to a new life, I do miss him a little. No doubt he is cute enough to get himself adopted right away. I just hope the mischief make behaves himself well enough to stay there. I feel fortunate that I got to be a part of his beginning. Fostering is definitely one of the more rewarding things I have done in the last year. It was fun having a new animal around and I got a kick out of watching him learn. Every day brought something new into his world. Hanging out with him gave me a new appreciation for the little things.
Who knew beer boxes made such good forts?
So have I convinced you yet? I hope I’ve at least inspired you to consider it. In my opinion, whatever stress is involved is well-worth the benefit you get from helping a little fluffy animal get his first start in life. And this is coming from me, a professional worrier. If I can do it, anyone can.
Speaking of making a difference… There is a very easy way you can change the lives of animals right this minute. For every tweet and blog post featuring the #BTC4A hashtag – short for Be the Change for Animals – from October 22-27, Petco will donate $1 for rescue pets at BarkWorld. This means if we all get together there is a chance we could raise up to $5,0o0 for local, no-kill rescues and shelters across the country!
That’s right. $5,000. For a couple tweets. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.
The majority of animal welfare organizations receive little to no government funding. They rely entirely upon public donations and volunteers to offer their much-needed services. While most managers are pretty savvy at finding discounts and finagling deals, everything costs money. From spay and neuter surgeries to a bottle of bleach to clean the dog kennels, their needs often outweigh their capacity. As the demand for shelters and rescues doesn’t seem to be fading, no amount of support is too small.
I am sure you can imagine that $5,000 would be a decent bonus to any organization working to save lives in a tough economy. For example:
$5,000 = 882 bottles of bleach, 58 spay/neuter surgeries, 104 large bags of regular quality dog food, 833 bottles of laundry detergent, and 294 bags of cat litter.*
Here’s how you can help get this money into the hands of those who need it:
- Now through Saturday, October 27th at 11 AM (EST) tweet the following :
“Rescue pets receive $1 from @Petco at @BarkWorldExpo for each #BTC4A tweet from Oct 22-27! Learn more: http://ht.ly/eEls7“
- Blog about what rescue means to you, now through Saturday, October 27th at 11 AM (EST). Add #BTC4A to your post title. Add your post link (not just your domain) to the blog hop list below to be counted. (Bonus! Each time your post is tweeted, you’ll earn more money for rescue pets!)
- If you are attending BarkWorld, nominate your favorite no-kill rescue or shelter at the Petco booth through Friday, October 26th!
Valuable resources for animals in your community are just a few clicks away. Join in and spread the word! There is no reason we can’t reach the goal if we all get our blog on. Let’s do this!
*Prices based on average costs found on various websites.
**All photos in this post are of dogs currently available for adoption at the Nova Scotia SPCA.
Adopt a Shelter Cat Month may be long over but I am sure there are still plenty of people out there interested in adopting a rescued feline for their own. If you are one of these people you may want to re-think your plans. Sure, cats make wicked pets. It’s a privilege to share your life with one. However, there are several caveats to cat ownership that may change your mind:
- As Pamela from Something Wagging This Way Comes learned, cat people are way cooler than dog people. Say goodbye to those hoodies and jogging pants. Cat people move in high style. If your fashion budget isn’t prepared for the sheer sartorial splendour a cat will bring you, then it’s best to back out before it’s too late.
- Cat videos are the most commonly searched item on Youtube. If you don’t have a camera with which to capture all your cat’s moments of magnificence, there is no point in having a feline pet at all.
- Cats make dogs look downright foolish. Shiva is around 40 pounds of muscle. Our cat is 11 pounds of fluff. He frequently sends her fleeing with a lift of his paw. From the first day she entered our home he made it very clear she would be subservient to him. If you aren’t ready to see your rugged shepherd turn into a cowering puppy, you may not want to get a cat.
- When you have a cat, you are no longer in charge of your household. Everyone knows that dogs have owners and cats have staff. Even the loyal Kenzo learned to obey the cat first and his people second. Forget about keeping them off the furniture or attempting to retain ownership of any high space in your home. Windowsills, mantels, chairs, beds, shelves, the top of the refrigerator, these all belong to the cat now. You are just going to have to find another place to put those picture frames.
- Speaking of photos, any you take in the home are all going to include your cat. They practically invented the concept of photobombing. You may think you are snapping a shot of Aunt Margaret standing by the window but if you give it a closer look, you’ll probably spot your kitty hovering somewhere.
- You may have heard that cats are very clean animals. This is definitely true. Unfortunately, this obsession with neatness and grooming causes some not-s0-tidy consequences. There is nothing like the sound of a cat puking up a hairball at three o’clock in the morning. Especially when you know the cat is somewhere between you and the light switch. And your feet are bare.
- Your dog probably greets you at the door with a wagging tail and a lolling tongue. Your cat will greet you too but more likely with a sneer and an accusatory meow. If you have low self-esteem, a cat may not be for you.
- If you are a man, a cat will get you far too much attention from the opposite sex. Any doubters can just ask my PH. Heterosexual females should check out I Have Cat’s Man Cat Monday and I bet they’ll have to agree. What male wants countless women hanging around his front door or begging for his phone number? What a hassle.
- Finally, cats are beautiful creatures with individual personalities and many gifts to share. They deserve just as much love and affection as a dog and if you don’t think you can provide this, then it’s probably best you steer clear. There are enough neglectful cat owners out there, the world doesn’t need another cat abandoned on the street because a human wasn’t prepared for the responsibility of a pet.
So what do you think? Have I changed your mind? If you are brave enough to take the risk and willing to lose your heart to a feline friend, - snobbish ways, puke, and all – the right one is just a few clicks away.
As I thought on what I wanted to say today about dog rescue, I became a little discouraged. My experience is so limited. I’m no John Gagnon, driving from city to city, pulling dogs from high-kill pounds. I’ve only adopted a single dog from my local no-kill shelter. What do I know about saving lives?
In so many ways adoption was the easier choice for me. For one, it was a heck of a lot cheaper. Not only did I not have to pay upwards of a thousand dollars for a purebred puppy, but Shiva came to us spayed and will all her initial vaccinations. We even received a free first vet check-up. With all we would have spent that first month on a puppy, the nominal adoption fee seemed positively cheap!
I’ve shared this chart before but I think it is a great example of how much you can actually save by going to a shelter, even when compared with the free pets one can find online.
Secondly, adopting an older dog with a normal-sized bladder meant I didn’t have to wake up five times throughout the night to take Shiva outside. Shelter dogs are often already house trained, which was a huge selling point for me. We didn’t have to waste time with pee pads or cleaning up accidents, we could just get right to enjoying our lives together mess-free.
Of course, that’s not to say that you can’t find adorable puppies at a shelter or rescue, if that is what want. You are just far braver than I!
The third reason adoption seemed like the easier choice was that I knew there was a chance the dog we chose would already have some manners. Many dogs are surrendered to shelters and rescues because their owners can no longer care for them. These dogs are already used to living in a home and know some pretty handy skills. Also, depending on the shelter or foster home, many dogs receive foundational training while waiting for their forever home. For example, check out this video of a dog at my local shelter.
Though I wasn’t this lucky with Shiva, I can’t help but think how awesome it would be to have a dog who already understands the concept of recall. You can skip all the boring stuff and just get right to the fun!
For all of the above reasons, it really don’t feel like I did anything that special or sacrificial by adopting my dog instead of purchasing her from a breeder. At the time it seemed like the practical thing to do for a woman of modest income who works full-time. And yet…
When I see the statistics for the number of dogs killed in shelters and pounds every day, I have to wonder. Shiva may not have been in danger of euthanasia but hundreds of thousands of other dogs are. While I may not have technically saved her life, I do have the power to save other dogs, just by sharing her story. Perhaps she can serve as a sort of adoption ambassador, helping convince others to adopt some of the dogs who are in serious danger.
As hard as it is to believe, there was a time when Shiva didn’t snooze on the couch with her blanket and pillow pet, when she had to scrounge the streets for garbage and hide from potential dangers outdoors. You wouldn’t know it to look at her now but life wasn’t always so cushy for our silly dog. The way she was able to rebound from her early difficulties is an inspiration. Her time as a stray is long forgotten. She is just a regular dog now, no different than any other.
That’s just it, I think. Dogs are dogs, it doesn’t matter if they cost thousands of dollars or if they were rescued from the side of the road. You are just as likely to find a pretty awesome companion either way.
Besides all poop, even the expensive show dog kind, is disgusting when you pick it up. May as well save a few bucks, right?
What do you know? I guess I had something to say after all.
Coming up on July 23rd is an important event that is close to all our hearts. Chances are if you are reading this you have already adopted from, volunteered at, fostered for, or donated to a local animal shelter. Pet bloggers and pet lovers are amazing people. I’ve benefited myself many times over from your generosity. You don’t just talk about change, you actually get out there and chip away at the mountain with every tool you can find. Sometimes it feels overwhelming but pebble by pebble, you are making a difference in the lives of countless animals.
Eight days from now BTC4animals.com is teaming up with Blog Catalog, Dog Rescue Success, and activists like you to showcase the vital cause of dog rescue in a huge international online event. It may be the biggest blog the change yet. We all know about the thousands of dogs whose lives are at stake every day. It’s time everyone else did too.
If even one dog is adopted from a shelter instead of purchased from a pet store, all of our efforts will be worthwhile. We have witnessed the changes that can come from the smallest actions. You never know what will touch someone or who is listening to your story. It could be a friend; it could be someone who has never commented; it could be someone on the other side of the planet. We may not see the results directly, but by blogging about the causes about which we are most passionate, we can – and have – saved lives.
Never doubt the power of the written word. Every time I start to question my ability to reach others I think about Fenrus.
Fenrus was a senior dog surrendered to a local shelter in Nova Scotia. For my very first Blog the Change for Animals event in October of 2010, I shared his photo. If you scroll down to the bottom of that post you’ll see a comment made by a kind woman named Sandra. After seeing his picture and reading his story, this same woman ended up becoming Fenrus’ new family.
If my little website – which back then I don’t think more than ten people read – could help a dog find a new home, what could all of us do if we worked together?
Don’t miss the chance to do something pretty brilliant. On July 23 unite with other bloggers and animal lovers and help save the lives of dogs in need. Let’s see how many new homes we can find for the dogs we love so much.
Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten the kitties. As much as I hate to relegate cats to the backseat once more, I do have something pretty big planned for them. All those videos and stories I have been collecting will be put to very good use so keep them coming! While the July 23 event focuses on dogs there are going to be many more opportunities for cat love. I will see to it!
In human society animals have very little worth as sentient beings. Sure, we value them as a food source and we don’t hesitate to use them as tools when they can make themselves useful. However, on their own, as living creatures that exist and have needs, we care for them very little. I am sure everyone reading this knows this fact as well as I do. And we are all guilty of it in various forms. For instance, I am probably not going to rush to the aid of a magpie but I would probably help a fellow human, even if doing so put myself in danger. I’m not saying this is right or wrong, it’s just the way things are.
Obviously some animals have more public worth than others. It’s all relative. While I may be indifferent toward magpies, others may see them as beautiful creatures for whom it is worth risking one’s life. North American society in general values different animals than does Asian. Dogs and horses are probably near the top of this list. And it’s understandable. Humans have a long history of working and living with those two species. Furthermore, dogs and horses have become incredibly useful in our evolution. They are tools who have a very large return on investment.
Dogs aid humans in countless ways. There are police dogs, military dogs, disability assistance dogs, and therapy dogs. We put them in shows to raise our personal status. They are our companions and family members. We put pressure on governments to protect their welfare. We license them and write by-laws to keep them off the streets. We train them and play with them and judge others for not training and playing with them enough.
What baffles me is that there is another species who has been domesticated and has evolved in a similar way to dogs but has almost no value in our modern society. Like dogs, we raise them in our homes, buy them toys, and post pictures of them on the Internet. Yet the public at large grants them minor worth. These animals are abandoned every day in terrifying numbers, left to fend for themselves without even any by-laws in place to pull them off the streets.
Of course, as per the title of this post, I am talking about cats.
According to The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies out of over 84,000 cats admitted to shelters in 2008, over 45,000 were killed. 45,000. It’s a frightening number. Those are just the cats lucky enough to make it to a shelter. How many cats were killed on the streets? There is no way to know. There is no record.
For whatever reason, cats have a negative connotation. They are associated with “crazy cat ladies” and hoarders. They are bird-killers like Sylvester in Looney Tunes. They ruin gardens and harrass our dogs. They are a public nuisance on the level of raccoons and Canada geese. Even as pets we dislike them. Cats hiss and scratch and destroy our things. They are too independent. Cats do what they want and can’t be trained. They aren’t affectionate and loyal like dogs. They don’t greet us at the door when we come home.
Of course, if we treated our dogs with the same negligence we do our cats, they’d probably react much the same way. Cats are far more tolerant of us than we deserve.
The title of this post is misleading. Cats are definitely not dogs in any physical way. As I’ve discovered, they don’t think in the same way either. My point is that cats can and should have just as much value as dogs. Both as pets and as useful helpers. Perhaps there will never be cats in the military, but I don’t see why they can’t help children learn to read like dogs do in multiple literacy programs. I am sure cats can provide assistance to people with disabilities and give comfort to hospital patients, just like dogs.
I’m making it a mission of mine to help change public perception of what I think are loving and useful creatures. Even my own fumbled attempts at bonding with my cat have blown me away. I like to think I can prove that not only are cats trainable – even older, grumpy ones like mine – they are just as intelligent, just as affectionate, and just as much fun as dogs.
There is one caveat. I am just one person. If I am going to show the world just how awesome cats are, I am going to need your help.
For this Blog the Change for Animals I am asking for submissions of photographs, stories, videos, drawings, letters, haikus, or whatever other creative mediums you can come up with that showcase the importance and value of the cat. I am hoping to collect as many as possible to share in July’s Blog the Change Event. If I get enough, I’ll share them in multiple posts. I’d love to make the celebration of the cat a regular feature. After all cats have endured, I think they deserve it. Don’t you?
If you love cats and have something positive to share, please respond in the comments or email email@example.com. Let’s show the world how worthy these beautiful animals are!
For the past couple days, I’ve been going back and forth about participating in today’s Blog the Change event. Not because I don’t care, please don’t accuse me of that. But I am tired. And angry. And feeling at a loss. There are so many wrongs in so many areas and I don’t feel like this platform is truly getting the message across. There doesn’t seem to be anything I can say that others haven’t already said much better.
Educating the public has never been one of my aims. It takes work and research and eight-letter words. I write a blog about my dog and my wee corner of the world. Whatever academic aspirations I had are now long behind me. Position papers and political debates are memories of the past. These days, I am lucky if I catch the evening news. I used to pride myself on being able to name all the prominent world leaders. Today, I might be able to come up with five.
Yesterday morning I took a long walk with Shiva. It was early for a Saturday and there weren’t many others around. I decided to risk it and wandered over to the less than savoury part of my neighbourhood. Right away we spotted a man heading in our direction, an energetic Am Staff by his side.
Cautious, but happy for a training opportunity, I continued forward. Typically, I will slow down when I see an approaching dog. I like to give the other person a chance to cross the street or duck out of the way. It also gives me a chance to observe from a distance. I could tell the dog was young; he was pulling on the leash but the person seemed unconcerned. As they moved closer I stepped to the side and had Shiva sit beside me, expecting the man and dog duo to pass. When they stopped as well, I took one look at the Am Staff’s large, goofy head and gave Shiva permission to say hello.
As the dogs went through the usual sniff-and-play-bow-and-sniff routine, the man and I chatted. Mostly about his dog.
Gunner, I learned, was his name. He was thirteen months old. He had been adopted from a local pit bull rescue as a puppy. The man was quick to boast about Gunner’s impressive roster of tricks. The pride in his voice was also reflected in his eyes. He was clearly head over heels in love with his dog.
After demonstrating Gunner’s waving skills, the man said goodbye and they went on their way. I watched them leave, unable to stop smiling.
If only all Am Staffs had owners like him, I thought. If only all those in favour of BSL could meet Gunner.
This evening, as I think about animal welfare and about being the change I want to see, I can’t get Gunner’s gorgeous brown face out of my head. It may be small, but the man I met by the side of the road is performing a radical act. He probably doesn’t realize it but by loving and working with his dog, he is taking steps to change the world for all other dogs like him.
I’ve been told by many much more brilliant than I, that it’s impossible to control anyone else’s actions. All I can do is change how I behave and hope that it inspires others to follow. Until now, it never seemed like enough. But perhaps I was wrong.
As the human of a crazy rescue dog who may or may not be an Am Staff, I like to think I have done something to make a difference. Things could have turned out a lot differently for Shiva if I hadn’t been as stubborn, or if I had decided to wait another week before adopting a dog. Shiva’s story is largely a success. I hope by helping her become a (relatively) well-mannered (almost) canine good neigbour, we have changed some minds of our own.
I guess I will never know.
For this blog the change, I would like to encourage you all to keep adoring and keep working with your dogs. Keep showing off all your amazing skills. Keep walking your dogs and playing at the dog park and posting your videos on Youtube. It may not seem like a lot, but you never know who’s heart you may touch or who’s mind you may change.
We can’t all run for political office or open our own shelter, but by training our dogs in positive ways, I think we can reach others. You never know who is watching.