De-clawing = Cruelty to Cats

Today I saw a most distressing image on Facebook: a pathetic, devastated-looking kitten newly returned from de-clawing. It was such a pitiful sight that it’s prompted this heartfelt plea: if you, or anyone you know, is considering this operation for a cat, PLEASE DON’T DO IT!

I can understand the reasons why people want cats de-clawed – they can be horribly, expensively destructive little monsters. Twenty-odd years ago, mine certainly were. I’d just bought my first house, and was repeatedly reduced to tears by the damage they did. They couldn’t resist blown vinyl and textured wallpapers, so the living room, kitchen and bathroom décor rapidly fell victim to their claws – as did the pristine Art Deco moquette three-piece suite I’d just proudly acquired from an auction room.

So when I took them to be neutered, I innocently asked the vet if he could de-claw them while he was about it. He gave me a funny look and replied sniffily, “We don’t do that operation here.” I wondered why not – it’s only like cutting your nails or trimming a horse’s hooves, right? Then I shrugged it off, redecorated with flat wallpaper that offered no interest to their claws, and put up with their loop-work on my suite until I could eventually afford to replace it (by which time, alas, both cats were long gone).

And I only discovered quite recently that de-clawing a cat isn’t like cutting fingernails AT ALL. It’s a radical, invasive procedure more akin to having your fingernails pulled out. When the anaesthetic wears off, your cat will be in pain – for a long time. It may develop infections involving more pain and medical treatment. The function of its paws will be permanently impaired. Okay, so it won’t be able to scratch you or your precious furnishings, or get stuck up trees, and it’ll probably make a pretty useless hunter… but it’ll pay a heavy price for your convenience.

If you’re in any doubt about how cruel de-clawing is, have a dig about on the internet and find out what it involves. The pictures are not pretty. I firmly believe that this operation should be made illegal, and that any vet who carries it out should be prosecuted – as should the owner who caused it to be inflicted – because there are other, far kinder (and cheaper) ways to deal with the scratching problem. Cats may not be as amenable to training as dogs, but they CAN learn – apparently a quick squirt of cold water from a plant-spray is excellent for training kittens not to scratch. You can also provide scratching posts and encourage your cat to use them by incorporating them into play, and put sacrificial scratchy-mats in places they like to use. Deterrent sprays are helpful, too – our present cat, Henry, loathes the smell of Indorex flea-control spray, so putting that on the upholstery is a sure-fire way of keeping him off the soft furnishings. (He also knows full well that scratting the suite is BAD, and as an adult only resorts to it when he’s desperate for attention because he knows he’s absolutely guaranteed to get it then – even if only a yell of “Henry Wowler! Stop that!”).

Or you can accept that all pets do anti-social stuff and learn to live with it. Dogs roll in dead foxes and eat their own poo. Rabbits and small rodents gnaw stuff. Birds crap everywhere. Cats claw stuff. It’s just the nature of the beast. So we live with Henry’s scratch-zones in the bathroom and office and on the landing carpet, the fur that coats the whole house and the small creatures (or fragments thereof) with which we’re regularly presented. We may not exactly like it, but what the heck – we like the cat, and we like the fact that he’s happily doing his cat-thing.

So please, please, let your cat keep its claws… or if you really can’t stand the thought of letting a cat BE a cat, maybe you shouldn’t keep one at all.

Cats: for life, not just for Christmas

Christmas is coming – so why not give a cat? They’re cheap to feed (only c. £5 a week), easy to house-train thanks to their poo-burying instincts, and easy to look after since they sleep for 18 out of 24 hours – besides, just imagine the children’s little faces when a cute, bright-eyed kitten bursts out of its box on Christmas morning!

Actually, as any responsible cat-lover knows, this is an extremely bad idea. Christmas, with all its upheaval, social excitement and dangerously chewable decorations, isn’t the best time to introduce a new animal to a household; plus kittens are not toys to be cast aside when their batteries run flat (which they won’t) or the new PlayStation game is unwrapped. They are sentient beings with rights and needs which extend far beyond the festive season – a fact which many people, sadly, still fail to grasp, judging from the influx of unwanted ‘Christmas presents’ into the animal shelters every New Year.

This doesn’t mean that children and cats can’t go together very successfully (although crawling infants and toddlers may make for an unhappy mix, with few cats likely to enjoy their clumsily enthusiastic attentions). Pet ownership teaches a lot about care, companionship and responsibility, and my own beloved cats were among the chief joys of my childhood. But the key word is responsibility, and it’s why you should NEVER give a child a kitten (or any living creature) unless you’re 100% certain that the adults in the household are fully prepared to welcome it, and to embrace its care if and when the novelty wears off – because this involves a lot more than buying a food-bowl and a weekly pack of Felix. A litter-tray, poop-scoop and poo-bags are fundamental requirements, along with plentiful supplies of cat-litter – an additional ongoing expense if the cat will live permanently indoors – because kittens produce copious pee and amazingly large stinky poos, necessitating at least a daily clean-out if the house isn’t to reek; and in my experience, fresh litter provokes an ‘Ooh, goody!’ response and an immediate, gleeful evacuation demanding yet another session with the poop-scoop.

Then there are the vet bills, at the very least for inoculations (with annual boosters) and neutering, to safeguard the cat’s health and prevent further additions to the unwanted feline population – so an insurance policy is a wise precaution against the hefty expenses often incurred for dealing with accidents or illness. If the cat goes outdoors it will pick up fleas and require disinfesting (as may the house!), as well as regular worming if it hunts and eats rodents or birds. So, based on our healthy, ‘free-range’ hunting tom with pet insurance and a daily dose of special dental biscuits to keep his teeth clean, this all adds up to annual maintenance costs of c. £250 on top of c. £300 for food and mineral water (he won’t drink fluoridated tap water) – an average of more than £10 a week to keep Henry Wowler in fine fettle. This might be modest compared to the cost of keeping a large dog, but it may still be a significant burden on a cash-strapped family’s budget – a vital factor to consider before adding a cat to a household. And of course it doesn’t take into account things like a pet-carrier (essential for vet visits, and can double up as a cat-bedroom), or optional extras like toys and scratching posts. (It may not be worth shelling out on an expensive bed, since cats are notorious for preferring to sleep in the box it came in!).

Last but not least is the care. Sure, adult cats spend most of their lives looking out of the window, out and about doing cat-stuff, or curled up asleep – but they may expect to spend a substantial portion of this sleeping time on a person, and demand the right to do so with highly vocal persistence. Cat-children are another matter. Like any young creature, kittens are tiny concentrations of energy, as demanding of attention as a human infant but capable of damaging mischief a baby could never achieve – climbing up wallpaper and curtains, pooing in plant-pots (when they aren’t chewing the leaves), shredding furniture and carpets, knocking ornaments off high shelves – the list is endless. Our 12-week-old Wowler required five to six hours of play every morning before he would finally collapse, (and woe betide me – and the house – if I tried to deny him), plus another couple of hours in the evening. Admittedly it was great fun, albeit more so for Henry than for us – the attraction of trailing a string round the floor, rolling balls and jiggling catnip mousies does pall after a while. Then, unless you acquire one of those sad hairless breeds, there’s the matter of fur. Long-hairs need regular grooming to stop their coats getting matted, and even short-hairs benefit from periodic fine-tooth combing to check for fleas and reduce the amount of sheddings which will otherwise blanket the house, especially in summer. Cat under-fur is so fine that it floats on the air and gets into places pussy never goes, as I discovered on taking a dress never worn in Wowler’s presence from the wardrobe. Yes, it’s true that ‘everything in a house with a cat IS a cat’ – so sharing an abode with a feline may add considerably to the burden of housework, unless the residents are content to wear, eat and sleep in their pet as well as look after it.

So the real message is, ‘DON’T give a cat for Christmas’. Instead, give cat-related gifts from welfare charities like the Cats Protection League or RSPCA. Or, if you’re absolutely certain that someone truly wants a feline companion and is willing and able to care for it properly, wait until early 2015 – because then the rescue centres will be overflowing with misguided ‘Christmas presents’ desperately needing new homes.

Animals Matter: Of Mice and Men (and Cats)

For all that I love cats, I must admit they have some less than lovable habits. For instance, in common (I suspect) with most cat owners, since acquiring our feline lodger Henry Wowler, we also acquired a Mouse Problem. (Yes, I know. Cats are supposed to get rid of mice – hah!).

‘He’s got big ears,’ said the vet, when I took him for his first inoculations. ‘I bet he’ll make a good mouser.’ Alas for us, and the local wildlife, he was right. The Wow ‘made his bones’, so to speak, on earthworms – which, right from the start, he proudly brought in through his cat-flap (a mixed blessing if ever there was one) to play with. His delight at his first major kill knew no bounds – even though we knew it was only a puff of breast-feathers from a blackbird exploded by a sparrow-hawk. But inevitably, the mice (or parts thereof) began to appear in the kitchen (where he’s confined overnight to keep the gore off our soft furnishings)… as, inevitably, I had to resign myself to mopping up after his nocturnal hunting expeditions.

On the one hand, I can’t help admiring his skill, diligence and perfect physical adaptation for killing small creatures: his huge, sound-funnel ears, keen nose and big brilliant eyes that miss nothing; his lightning reflexes; his incredible patience (reminiscent of an Inuit seal-hunter crouching for hours over an ice-hole); and of course his paws and mouth full of deadly weapons. On the other hand, disposing of his victims is a pain in the bum.

House rule is, if it comes in alive, he loses it – assuming we get to it before he does. (Unfortunately, if it comes in dead he often loses it as well, usually by batting it under the fridge beyond claw reach where it lies, undiscovered, until the growing stench or suspicious swarms of flies alert us to its presence). This has led to many a ludicrous Tom-and-Jerry-style chase as Wowler and I (creature-catching glass in hand) fight for possession… and a couple of occasions when Jerry has given both of us the slip and holed up in the cavity under the electric fire in the living room hearth.

The first time this happened, we had no humane traps; so I pushed in a paper tissue for Mousie to make a bed, two jam-jar lids of water and birdseed, and barricaded it into a luxurious prison behind walls of video cases and books. Then for £4.50 we bought a twin-pack of The Big Cheese, a simple plastic rocking trap, ready-baited, with a lid that snaps shut when triggered by the weight of the mouse inside. At least, that’s the theory – and indeed, we did catch it a day or two later and (much to Henry’s chagrin) returned it to the wild.

However, the second mouse was much more cunning. Evading the two Big Cheeses set for it either side of the fridge where it had taken up refuge, it waited until Wow and I had cleared off then found its way to the living room and took up residence in Mouse Motel (as I realised when Henry mounted a permanent guard on the hearth-rug). Twice, this Mousie managed to steal the peanut butter with which I’d re-baited the Big Cheese without tripping the trap… clearly, sterner measures were called for. So I bought a Procter Brothers Ltd. Pest-Stop Multicatch trap – at £4.50 for a single unbaited trap, it’s more expensive than the Big Cheese but a far more robust affair; a grey box that can hold up to four mice, with an internal metal ‘bridge’ that flips up behind to stop them getting back out the way they came in. Advantages are that it doesn’t need to sit on a perfectly flat surface – and it can’t be accidentally tripped by a nosy cat. (Disadvantage is, unlike the Big Cheese, you can’t see at a glance whether it’s tripped… and if you forget to check it regularly, it soon stops being humane!).

Anyhow, yes! As soon as Mousie had munched the room-service portion of seeds provided, (well, I felt sorry for it), it succumbed to the lure of peanut butter and chocolate biscuit in the trap and this time we had it. A fine, big handsome mouse – well, I suppose it would be after several days of nothing to do but kip in the warm and pog out on seed and peanut butter – and we felt very guilty about evicting it into a freezing cold night to burrow into a heap of leaves in the woods. Am now confidently expecting it to start hanging round in our garden at night, hoping the Wow will catch it and bring it back in for another stay in Mouse Motel – bit like an habituated convict who doesn’t want to leave prison.

Meanwhile if you, like us, have an issue with uninvited ‘mouse-guests’ but can’t bear to kill them or leave them to the un-tender mercies of your cat, I can recommend the Pest-Stop Multicatch – it works, and it doesn’t hurt a bit.

Animal Matters: RSPCA Shock Appeals

Many years ago, I witnessed an act of animal cruelty: stuck in stationary traffic on the M62, the despicable moron in front of me ejected a dog from his car onto the carriageway to fend for itself or get splattered. Not only cruel but criminally stupid – it could have caused a horrific accident – so I memorised his registration and rang the police the moment I got to work, hoping he’d be prosecuted and his poor dog safely caught and re-homed.

Last week, fast-forwarding through the adverts in a recorded movie, I saw something infinitely crueller – only for a split-second, but it’s still acid-etched in my mind’s eye. It was an RSPCA advert, showing (among pitiful scraggy abandoned cats and similar upsetting images) another dog – or rather a dog skeleton covered in skin. I didn’t know it was possible for an animal to be so emaciated and still live. I guess it had been shut away somewhere and left to starve, but it was such a ghastly sight I couldn’t bear to rewind and watch the ad properly to find out.

To the astonishment of my husband (who hadn’t noticed it himself) I burst into howling tears: of distress at the thought of such long and agonised suffering, and of absolute fury at whoever had inflicted it. I don’t understand how a person (unless seriously mentally ill) could do such a thing to an animal they had presumably known and shared their life with. I can’t imagine any state of desperation or degradation capable of making me abandon a fellow sentient being to such a fate – I’d rather cut my own arm off. Animals aren’t objects to be owned, abused or discarded as we please; they’re thinking, feeling beings to be cared for and respected. So I’d like to see the evil bastard responsible locked up without food (just for a few days, to give them a tiny taste of their own medicine).

And I have the utmost respect for the RSPCA. Not only do their officers love animals (as I do), they have the strength to deal with these dreadful, harrowing cases (as I don’t. I’d end up killing myself – or killing a perpetrator).

But I hate these adverts. It’s bad enough knowing this stuff goes on; I find seeing it unbearable (yes, I know I’m pathetic). I hate these appalling images, hate stumbling across them unawares while I’m watching TV, reading the paper or surfing the internet; and husband hates them because he resents having his wife reduced to a blubbering heap of hysterics.

Are these shock appeals good or bad? I know why the RSPCA does it… it’s the reality of their work, the reason they need us to support them. And yes, they can be highly effective – I promptly sent off a donation, and now I’m writing this to ask you to do the same. But how many people do they alienate? How many people would refuse to donate because they’re angered by having such images thrust into their faces? I invite your comments…

Meanwhile whatever you think of shock tactics, please, please, please give. The RSPCA needs another £5 million to care for animals mistreated or abandoned in the economic downturn. Volunteer labour, if you can stomach it; money, if you can’t; and if you can’t afford money, please badger someone richer to donate. Buy goods from their shop. Keep your eyes and ears open while you’re out and about – for dogs incessantly barking or howling, cats scratching or mewing, the stench of excrement or decay from empty or boarded-up buildings – and report it; you may save helpless creatures from a world of hurt. And do remember to make provision for your own anipals, lest (God forbid) you should be wiped out in a road accident or other unforeseen calamity.

Yes… please help to make sure no other animal suffers like the poor dog I saw on that advert – and please pass it on!