Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It's a cruel, cruel world. Do something.

I am frequently overwhelmed with rage at hearing about yet another incident of hideous animal cruelty in Chicago. It's mind-blowing. You may have seen these recent gems in the news:.
Our beloved Scarlett was tied up, mauled
by dogs, and left to starve in an abandoned
house. She found safety because someone
picked up the phone and did something.

As my blood pressure goes through the roof, I remember these are just the idiots who get caught.  If we only knew the true extent of suffering endured by Chicago's dogs and cats we would be horrified--all the dogs chained to radiators in dark basements, the family cats tortured by unsupervised children, dogs slowly dying of heartworm, parvovirus, or distemper because their ignorant owners never bothered to provide them routine vet care--even though free and low-cost care is available. My own neighbor once tied his unspayed female cat to a dumpster in the alley overnight hoping that she would get pregnant (and was apparently not very worried that she would be eaten by other animals, tortured by kids, or infected with communicable diseases.) I have been personally involved in the rescue of dogs with kicked-in jaws, split-open skulls, and festering, untreated wounds--all within blocks of my home. Seriously. It makes me want to give up on the human species.

But since I don't rule the world, I've come up with some small tactics we decent folks can use to help stop animal abuse and neglect. Here you go:
  • If you suspect someone is involved in dogfighting, make a call. The HSUS continues to offer a $5,000 reward for anyone who leads police to dogfighters. Call 911. Then call your local precinct to follow up. Did they check? What did they find? For more info on recognizing dog fighting go to: http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/dogfighting/tips/dogfighting_action.html
  • Don't be afraid to gently educate people about responsible animal ownership. Most people really will listen to you if you are respectful and can offer them real solutions--like a ride to the vet or a referral to free training classes for their dog.
  • Spend a few bucks. Have you ever seen a man walking a pit bull on barbed wire? A shred of rope? Some tow chain? I have. Go buy this dog a collar and leash. It really is possible that the dog's owner doesn't have access to proper equipment. Someone's dog too skinny? Ask the owner if they could use a little more dog food, and buy her a bag or two. Don't judge. Just fix it.
  • Got a neighbor who probably shouldn't have a pet who now has a pet? Appoint yourself that dog or cat's godparent. Ask if you can puppysit from time to time. Offer advice or referrals to low cost vet care/free spay and neuter services. Let your neighbor know that you care about their pet and will be there for it if for any reason they need to get rid of it.
  • IF YOU WITNESS ANIMAL ABUSE OR NEGLECT, DO SOMETHING! There's no excuse. Poverty, ignorance, "culture," neighborhood--these are, of course, important factors in why we behave the way we do, but none of these factors makes it ok to abuse or neglect an animal. NEVER TALK YOURSELF OUT OF HELPING AN ANIMAL IN NEED.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Doing right by alley cats

The gorgeous male pictured here was a well-loved
member of a Hyde Park Cats colony. With TNR
he lived to the ripe old age (for an alley cat) of 5.

If you live on the South Side of Chicago, you have seen them. The mussed up, skinny, skittish kitties slinking across the street or under your porch. They are quiet. They don't come when you call them. They don't seem to care much about you at all. That's because they are feral cats who lost their domestic tendencies after being born into an unsocialized family of street cats.

Until very recently, such cats either stayed on the streets procreating until their short, unpleasant lives came to a sad end--frozen to death, hit by a car, victims of distemper or infected wounds. The average life span of a feral cat was as little as two years. Those ferals who were trapped and brought to shelters faced almost certain death in a city like Chicago that euthanizes thousands of unwanted cats each year.  Not good options.

But enter Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)--a common sense, harm reduction based model for helping street kitties. With the help of local groups of volunteers, feral kitties are humanely trapped and transported to a low cost clinic where they are tested for disease, vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and given a microchip that identifies which colony they come from. When they have recovered from their surgery, the kitties are returned to their colony where they are monitored and fed by a volunteer colony manager. These lucky street kitties live out their lives free of terrible diseases--like rabies and distemper--and get fed regularly. Their colony managers provide them with tiny winter shelters, and keep an eye out for injuries that may need veterinary attention. It's the best possible outcome for these foresaken kitties--a life of feral freedom without creating new generations of street cats.

It's a beautiful thing, but more people need to know about TNR. Check out this great video by some Medill students that highlights the TNR work of Treehouse and Hyde Park Catshttp://bit.ly/wZ8DgL

Here's a list of things to know/do about feral cats:
  • If you find a feral cat (who really wants nothing to do with people) DO NOT dump him at a shelter or pound. They will most likely euthanize him right after you walk out the door. Contact Treehouse or another humane agency and find out how you can help TNR your little buddy.
  • Be supportive of neighbors who TNR. They are NOT crazy cat ladies helping cats to breed and take over your neighborhood. In fact, they are doing just the opposite.
  • Donate cash, catfood, and other supplies to your neighborhood TNR group. They often pay for this work out of their own pockets, but they are truly doing a service for your whole community. Help!
  • Know a landlord? Teach him or her about TNR so they understand that TNR is safe and good for the community.