Swish of a pen


Humans can be some of the most brutish creatures on earth. We talk about animals such as apes as though they are simple, violent, and worthless, yet sometimes we fail to look in a mirror. Humans are dominators. We are at the top of not only the food chain, but also every controllable facet of earthly life. In some cases, this is because of our size – when compared to insects, for example – but in all other cases, it’s because of our intelligence. We may not want to come face-to-face with a bear or a coyote, but our species has the brainpower to design and manufacture guns, and those can win every battle between humans and animals. 

A line in a New York Post article says it all: “Humans have survived hundreds of thousands of years thanks to our advanced intelligence — and our steadfast capacity for cruelty.” The same article points to research that suggests that 28% of all deaths of land vertebrate species on Earth result from human activity – and this is considering direct causes only! In other words, it does not include the effects of things such as urban sprawl on the destruction of animal habitats. 

What made this all come to mind was a recent CBC article detailing an argument by Councillor Doreen O’Sullivan that by-laws should be updated in North Grenville to better control the population of domestic cats that roam away from their yards. She is suggesting that cats need to be subject to the same rules as dogs, meaning that they can be captured by animal control and their owners can be fined when they “go number two” on the neighbour’s lawn. 

This subject has definitely gained the attention of North Grenville residents. You’ll find, in this issue of the Times, a letter from a resident supporting Councillor O’Sullivan’s viewpoint. There are ample opinions both for and against the Councillor’s position – this variety of thought is one of the many things that makes North Grenville diverse and special. One resident sent me some information that pokes some holes in Councillor O’Sullivan’s view. This resident brings up valid points. Are we going to start tagging cats the same way we tag dogs? Good luck getting most cats to wear collars! And how do we expect by-law officers to catch these skittish and often antisocial animals? 

I have questions of my own, stemming from a childhood experience. One day when I was about 13 or 14, we started hearing a creepy low hissing sound coming from underneath our front porch. We couldn’t see anything, but we could hear it. It went on for several nights until the culprit finally became comfortable enough to show his face – it was a black stray cat. He was very skinny and scruffy, and his voice no longer worked, perhaps due to a fight with another cat. He was still very chatty, but his meows sounded more like an empty rushing hiss as opposed to any noise produced by vocal cords. 

The stray cat reminded my dad of a cat he had in childhood, named “Puff”. This all happened during an emotional time as my paternal grandfather had passed away a few months earlier, and so we wanted to care for this cat who we also named “Puff”. Although Puff would frequently come inside to eat some food, get warm, or experience a bit of human affection, he generally hated indoors. He would scratch at the doors desperately to get out, so we let him. He never asked to be “taken in” after all. He was an independent cat, and we were just the family that would give him some food and shelter when he asked for it. We don’t know where he came from or what kind of life he had led. We were just a stop along the way. Questions that come from this experience are: at what point does a cat belong to someone? At what point does an act of kindness turn into a fine for possessing an unregistered pet? How many stray cats vs domestic cats are pooping in gardens? And finally, what makes humans so eager to control every aspect of animal life with the swish of a pen?

I can already picture the letters pouring in, telling me that anyone who feeds stray cats is part of the problem. “Well of course that cat pooped in my garden… the neighbour was feeding it!” I will never be the type of person who is able to lay my head on the pillow at night and sleep knowing that an animal is dying one of the slowest and most agonizing deaths possible. Starvation is utter cruelty. You don’t want poop in your garden, I don’t want animals suffering. Priorities, priorities…

When cats happen to wander into someone’s yard and beg for some of that “humanity” we humans are always bragging about, we have choices. The first choice is probably the easiest and most non-human. We can demand that someone capture and cage the animal for no crime besides doing its business – business that most humans also do every day. The second choice is to be proactive – and human. Ever hear of Critter Ritter? Scram Cats? The Cat Scat Mat? These are garden cat repellant products. We buy the best fertilizers and the best seeds and the best gardening implements and the most kink-free garden hoses, all in the name of making beautiful gardens. But when it comes to cats, instead of taking responsibility and sprinkling a little “Cat Be Gone” (patent pending), we want to show our teeth and assert our dominance over animals as usual. 

Should there be a cat by-law? It depends on how well thought-out, reasonable, and human it is. Caging animals that poop is no less inhumane than the “bad zoos” that make headlines. Stop dominating animals with the swish of a pen. Sincerely… a dog lover. 


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