Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Abdicating Responsibility

This terrible news report ended up on my screen yesterday:


Essentially, a homeowner called animal control to complain about a family of cats living in her woodpile.  She told the humane officer that the feral cats were causing a flea problem in her house and that she wanted them removed for the health of her family.  She then reports that the humane officer told her the shelters were full and the cats would go to "kitty heaven". And then he shot the five, 8-10 week old kittens with the woman standing nearby and her children watching from inside.

The children were screaming and crying, the mother cat ran away and was not killed.

Police said that the woman understood that the cats would be euthanized, but said she didn't expect it to happen in her yard.

The Police confirm that the humane officer's actions were appropriate and he will not be disciplined.

As you might imagine, many people are very upset.  Animal lovers are horrified that this would have happened, that these kittens would have been shot with a gun.  Others are horrified that it would happen in the presence of the children.  And still others believe it was the right thing to do.  I've seen comments on the news story threatening the 'humane' officer, but not nearly so many calling out this woman for her role in what happened.

So here are my thoughts:

This woman called animal control to 'take care of' a problem.  She admits freely that she knew the cats would be euthanized (aka, 'killed').  But then, when EXACTLY WHAT SHE KNEW WOULD HAPPEN happens in a way that she didn't like, she is no longer happy.

By talking to the press about how horrible this is and how terrible it was that her children had to see this she is abdicating responsibility for her role in the deaths of these animals.

She has also made it clear that death was her expected outcome and she was okay with that.  She was okay with having someone else solve the problem for her, but then she is unhappy with how that problem is solved.

She feels guilty, but if the officer had taken the cats away and euthanized them somewhere else, that she didn't have to watch it it would have been okay.  If she could have told her children some story about them going to kitty heaven that made it sound like a good thing, if she could have had this happen out of sight and out of mind it still would have been okay that these animals were killed.

And what was her role?  She is entirely responsible.  She called animal control, she called with the intent of having someone else take care of the problem.  She knew the cats would be killed when she called, but she took the easy road.  She didn't contact a rescue group when the kittens were first born or try to socialize them and TNR (Trap Neuter Return) the mom cat so that she wouldn't have any more babies.  She didn't try to TNR the whole family when it got too late.  She also has some bull story about cats in her woodpile getting fleas into her house.  Really?  No other outdoor animals have fleas and live in your woodpile.  Right.

Mind you, I think that shooting animals and calling it 'euthanazia' is wrong.  But we must keep in mind that in this particular county that is legal and acceptable.  The 'humane' officer in this situation did nothing wrong.  I suspect that this guy isn't a very nice guy.  I don't know him but I can tell I wouldn't like him, I can't imagine having a job that required such of me and being okay with it, but again, this is his job and the way in which he carried out HER request followed local guidelines for the extermination of these unwanted animals.  He is simply the messenger.  And we are the crowds that are posting his home address and threatening him and 'killing the messenger'.

I wonder why more people aren't focused on the woman who sent the message?

It disturbs me that she is being portrayed in the news as a victim.  She is not a victim, she's a person who wanted these animals gone, killed if necessary.  She is the person who asked that this be done.

And when the mom cat who got away comes back this fall with a new litter of kittens, what will she do?  Will she call animal control again?  Will this time she demand that they cats and take these cats away before they kill them and solve her problem?  Will someone explain to her that without TNR her problem will never be solved?  Will she ever realize that the blind eye she turns and her unwillingness to accept any sort of responsibility is the bigger part of the problem?

And I wonder if her young children will remember this.  I hope it will make them better stewards of their environment, which yes, does include feral cats.  Perhaps this is the first step to them learning you can't just turn a blind eye, that you have to take responsibility. Responsibility that starts with spaying and neutering the cats and dogs in your care.  I hope, but I doubt it.

If we all made sure our pets were spayed and neutered there would be fewer unwanted pets and fewer killed in shelters.  If we made sure the stray cats in our yard were spayed and neutered there wouldn't be unwanted kittens and we could benefit from some natural pest control and those cats would keep away the wandering ferals.

Volunteering with a rescue I know how people don't take responsibility.  I am now deaf to the strangers that threaten me at adoption events because I tell them I can't take the cats they found and can't keep because they already have two dogs and two cats.  I can't hear them when they tell me that it's MY FAULT that those cats will die, because it's MY FAULT that they have now been forced to take them to the shelter because I wouldn't help.  I just don't hear it anymore, because I know that it's not my fault, it's theirs.

And I will break my back to help the people that help me help them.  The ones that start some vet care, that can bring some kittens inside to a bathroom or dog crate until they can find someone or some rescue group to help out.  The ones that are out there in the rain setting traps to get feral cats spayed and neutered so there will be fewer of these unwanted kittens that plague us all at this time of year.

In 2010 the county I live in, Wake County, NC had the lowest euthanasia rate of any county statewide at a whopping 49%.  But still, that means that almost half of the animals that were surrendered to our local animal shelter died.

But when I think about the 49% that died - the 8,200 dogs and 15,600 cats (more than 7,000 of those feral) euthanized from January 2008 to June 2011, I don't blame the animal control officers that were doing their jobs.  I blame the people that didn't spay and neuter their pets and then looked to someone else (often people like me, volunteers with full time regular jobs) to solve the problem.  I blame the people that want an instant fix, the people that have yelled at me and then said to onlookers that it's my fault they now have to take these cats to the shelter where there's a 49% chance that they will be killed.

Those are the people that need to shoulder this blame.  Not the people our cities and counties have been hired and trained to take care of these 'problems' that most people want a quick fix for.  And if that quick fix comes with a high price, like the death of those unwanted animals, they will pay that price as long as they don't have to bear witness to that death.

So I implore you.  Let's give credit where credit is due.  It's not the messenger.  It's this woman who sent the message (and the hundreds of thousands like her).  These lives were in her hands and she's the one that threw them away.