Sensational Living®

Winter - Summer 2008
© 2008 by Bret S. Beall


Pets have always played important roles in my life, and I’ve written about pets previously (http://www.god-dess.com/webhintsFeb04.html). I’m a bit overdue with regard to writing more about pets. Here are some miscellaneous thoughts.

The Pet Rescue site

As I write this, I’m debating adopting a third cat. The pros and cons of that decision balance each other, so I merely spend time visiting www.petfinder.com to see what animals near me fit my criteria. While visiting www.petfinder.com one day, I noticed a link to the Animal Rescue Site, http://www.theanimalrescuesite.com, which is an umbrella organization that provides funds for animal shelters across the country. The key is to visit the site, click on the button that tells the corporate sponsors of your visit, and in turn those sponsors will pay The Animal Rescue Site per click through.

Declawing cats, Tail-docking and Ear-Clipping dogs

Declawing cats is a highly polarizing issue. I know. I have polarized many a conversation with my vehement opposition to declawing. I have ended friendships over this issue, and I have had to establish a truce with coworkers that this is one topic that is off-limits during our conversations. As I wrote above, I sometimes visit www.petfinder.com just to view the cats available for adoption. Since I have recently adopted a Ragdoll, I have checked out the Ragdolls available on that site. It was when I clicked on the entry for “Nala Mutilated” that I realized I had to offer a column that included facts about declawing. The author of the text has given me permission to reprint this content:

“Nala is a gorgeous cat who will likely never get a home after being mutilated by her former owners choice. Sadly, her behavior after her mutilating declaw operation was unacceptable to them and she stopped using her litter box regularly. The icons on the side of her listing show that she cannot be housed with other cats, dogs, children. She is very 'soured' on life in general and will also bite out of frustration, thanks to the owners who mutilated her and left her.

“She has a safe and caring foster home and while we realize she will likely never be adopted and will have to live as a foster cat for her remaining years, we will consider applications pending references, home visits and suitability for Nala's needs. While there are often people who feel sorry for Nala and want to 'give it a try,' we will not adopt her out and hope for the best, we will only consider adoption if it fits all of Nala's needs, 100%, as we are dedicated to her best interests.

“We get many calls every week, month, year from people who have mutilated their cats with declawing, not having been fully informed on the consequences and now no longer want them due to some behavioral problem. We see the worst of the worst and have formed our opinion accordingly and in conjunction with the view of most of the major humane organizations in the country and world. Declawing and other mutilating procedures are illegal in Europe, as they should be anywhere an animals best interests are valued. Please stop, read and think hard before giving in to mutilating your pet; for more 'reality' check sites such as : http://community-2.webtv.net/zuzu22/STOPDECLAWCOM/, and , http://network.bestfriends.org/Blogs/PostDetail.aspx?bp=325

“If you are offended by the truth of what happens in declaw operations, do not read further. If you want Nala's full story, read on. If you are considering declawing your furbaby, please read about what Nala suffered for the sake of her owners’ furniture. Maybe you think this will make your cat a more agreeable cat or that you have no viable alternative left. Maybe you have convinced yourself that really the operation is no big deal; sure it's tough, but kitty will be back to her old self in a few days. This was not how Nala's story went.

“Or maybe you are picking out a new kitten and have already resigned yourself to the idea that soon you will have to make that fateful trip with kitty to the vet. Before you make an irreversible decision, let me tell you what happened to Nala. ‘Who is this person?’ you are probably asking yourself. I'm the person who will greet you and your cat when you step in the door on the day of your pet’s surgery. I'm the veterinary technician who assisted in Nala's declaw mutilation. If you really want to know how things truly are back in the OR, I'm the one who's got the skinny. I'll be taking care of Nala before, during, and after her mutilation (or surgery as we like to call it). Let me tell you my story.... this is what happens: I get to work around 8:00 and check on all our patients. I have to get the clinic in working order so we can begin checking in the surgery patients at 8:30. You are the first client here. We fill out the paperwork and you hand me kitty and say "I'll be back tomorrow. Don't worry!" Then you head out the door, get in your car and go wherever it is you are going. I weigh Nala and make her comfortable in her cage.

“Around 2:00 or so, Nala's time has come. She gets some anesthesia and some pain medicine and she's out like a light. I shave between all of her toes and scrub them clean. I have everything ready: the nail clippers, hemostats, glue, tape, bandage. It's show time. I hold up one of Nala's feet and the doc begins: The procedure is sort of a half pull, half cut kinda thing. The nail clippers are doing their best to saw through the joint while the hemostats are ripping it away. Please make no mistake here: this isn't a nail trim. A cat's first joint, just like on your finger, is being ripped out. Nala utters a half growl/meow of pain as the joint tears away, even after all this medicine. The pain must be excruciating; it is certainly a gruesome spectacle to watch. Doc fills the gaping socket where Nala's toe used to be with some special glue and squeezes it together for a few seconds. We move on to the next toe until we're done. Now we bandage and when we're done Nala looks as though she's wearing little mittens...aww.

“I come in the next morning and reach for the doorknob to the recovery room. ‘Crap!’ I think, because the smell hits my brain before I even open the door to see. Blood has a very specific odor, you see, and after a while you have the ability to recognize many things: parvo, cancer, bloody declawed cats that don't seem to like their mittens -- all by their respective smells. Sure enough, Nala got a head start on removing her bandages so I begin my day scrubbing her blood off the walls, the door, the floor, and his cage.

“I clean the blood off Nala's fur the best I can and begin to take off her bandages. I try so hard to be gentle but I know I still hurt. I have to cut down the bandage until I'm right beside Nala's purple swollen toes and she cries. I examine each hole where Nala used to have claws and make sure they are all still sealed. They never are, of course. There is invariably at least one or two that must be re-glued, so I sigh and get my glue. Then I drop some goo into Nala's socket and squeeze her tender and bruised deformed little toes together for several seconds. This hurts. A lot. And I feel like the scum of the earth.

“I clean the last bit of blood from Nala's feet as best I can without hurting too bad and hope that Nala will finish the job herself before you come. You rush in on your lunch hour and I bring out Nala and remind you that Nala's feet are going to be very sore for a while. You already knew that.....bye Nala. Three months later you bring Nala in to update her shots. You ask me why Nala doesn't seem like the cat she used to be anymore. She never wants to play or do much of anything. And she has turned into a biter! You don't understand, you tell me. Why isn't Nala the same? I don't know why.

“But I do know that when I watch my cats (who all have their claws) play, they love to scratch on trees, climb up trees, hunt moths... (you know, cat stuff). And I know that cats who don't have claws would find it very difficult to climb a tree, and scratching is definitely out. Scratching is something domestic cats really enjoy: I know this because my cats used to have contests around the scratching post. They would fling themselves around it and see who could scratch the fastest and the hardest. I had eight cats, all with claws intact in my house. I also had a brand new couch; [the cats and couch] co-existed peacefully. It wasn't easy, I admit. Training a cat requires patience, much like children. I used waterguns and scratching posts.

“Please remember if you have a kitten that some materials may be too rough on your kitten's claws. It takes a while to break these things in. Give it a little time! Try a carpeted scratching post that also has the heavy-duty stuff. I kept my cats' nails trimmed regularly, starting as kittens. Try SoftPaws. Provide fun distractions: my cats had a six-foot tall cat tree and they loved it! As far as biting goes, this is a common "side effect" [of declawing]. Cats with no claws have no other means of expressing dissatisfaction with their lot in life and resort to biting. Or maybe they are just mad at the world now. I don't know.

“Finally, for those [who] have attempted to rationalize a declaw by comparing it to a spay/neuter: you aren't even in the same ballpark. A spay/neuter cat comes in just like Nala, but she doesn't cry during her surgery. She gets to go home that very day while Nala must wait behind. She bounces and runs around the house that very night because she is so glad to be home. She doesn't even seem to notice that she will never be a mom. Meanwhile Nala is getting a pain injection. Our doc stopped doing ear crops. I hope declaws are the next to go. Mutilation in the name of aesthetics or convenience is still mutilation. Don't add another 'Nala' to the world of unwanted, problem pets who are deemed 'unacceptable' through no fault of their own.

The above text about Nala’s declaw operation was provided by a volunteer at the Midwest Friends of Animals, Inc., who wishes to remain anonymous due to threats on his/her well-being. You can visit their website at http://www.petfinder.com/shelters/IN217.html.

Even though I’m formally trained as a biologist, and could speak at length about biomechanics and physiology, there’s no need to take my word for the horror known as declawing after reading the above text, or what follows. At http://network.bestfriends.org/Blogs/PostDetail.aspx?bp=325, veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Conrad responds to a reader’s claim that her declawed cats are just fine. Dr. Conrad also visits the topics of tail-docking and ear-clipping in dogs. At http://community-2.webtv.net/zuzu22/stopdeclawtemporary/, veterinarians and others speak about the psychological and behavioral impact of declawing. This site also has an interesting graphic that pretty much summarizes my opinion on declawing: If you want to have your cat(s) declawed, which amounts to surgically removing the entire tip of each front toe, then first you should volunteer to have the tips of each of your fingers surgically removed to see if your life is affected by that decision. I think that sounds fair.

Adopting Pets

Without exception, every pet that my family or I have adopted has come as a stray, from a private individual/family, or from the Humane Society or similar rescue agency. Why? Because we always cared about animals as individuals, rather than seeking a specific breed for any particular reason, because we know that specific breeds don’t necessarily possess particular behaviors or characteristics, and because we know that if we want a particular “look,” we can find that “look” among any number of strays at shelters and pounds.

Because I believe that having pets truly enhances our quality of life, I think it is important for individuals and family to adopt animals needing homes. At the same time, I know that there are lots of people who buy pets at pet shops because they want a particular breed. Let me preface any further discussion by stating that there are indeed many reputable breeders whose goal is to preserve particular breeds of dogs and cats against mixed breeding, because many of these breeds have a long and dignified histories. The key here is the word “reputable.” These are people who are dedicated to enhancing the quality of animals’ lives, and ensuring their placement in loving homes.

It just so happens that I currently share my home with two purebred cats: Lugh, the white Persian, and Muscat, the Seal Point Ragdoll. I never planned to adopt purebreds. I ended up with them because when I wanted to adopt again, I ended up adopting Lugh and his late sister Luna from a woman who was giving them up in order to live with her allergic boyfriend (and she had neglected them for the previous year; both had lost 1/3 of their normal body weight … which they quickly regained at Casa Beall). Then, last summer, when I knew that Luna’s renal insufficiency (caused by the Chinese pet food contamination) would eventually claim her life, I sought to find a companion for Lugh, who had never been alone. This time, the Universe sent me a companion, when a friend told me about her friend’s need to find a new home for her cat due to her relocating to Ireland. I went to visit Moose, immediately fell in love with him and his magnificence, and agreed to give him a good home (and a more Bret-like name, Muscat, which is pronounced “Moose-cat”). Now, he and Lugh are intermittent companions (Lugh wants to play more than Muscat, though they are the same age), and I still have the first purebreds of my adult life.

I’m choosing to write about this topic in part because of the recent excellent exposé on puppy mills offered on The Oprah Show by investigative reporter Lisa Ling. While the show highlighted the unexaggerated hideousness of puppy mills, be assured that the same situation exists for kittens and cats. Too many people think of animals as commodities, and don’t realize that they are sentient beings with feelings, fears and the ability to experience pain (I had an 8th grade teacher inform me that animals don’t experience pain like humans; she was wrong). I’ll be writing another column on animal intelligence, but all I can say is that I find it inconceivable that anyone who has spent any time with animals could believe that each animal doesn’t have a unique personality and level of intelligence. As a scientist, I believe in empiricism, and I know that every single animal has its own personality and intelligence (for example, Lugh and Muscat are both extremely affectionate and sweet-natured, but Lugh is not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, while Muscat is the most intelligent cat with whom I’ve ever shared my home).

Humane Societies, shelters and rescue agencies are all in dire need of both funding and willing adopters. My first Humane Society adoption was with the Human Society of Huron Valley in Ann Arbor, MI. I visited them, completed an application, and was approved. I knew I wanted a particular “look,” so I left that request with them, along with instructions to call me if they received a cat matching that description. Within a week, I got the call, “We have two cats for you to look at.” TWO? I only wanted to adopt one cat, but I went in, and discovered that a mother and daughter had been abandoned, and needed homes. The mother matched my description, but the daughter didn’t, though she was unbelievably beautiful, so Freya and Bastet came to Casa Beall (the one in Ann Arbor while I was a grad student, and then the first of the Casa Bealls I’ve had in Chicago). Freya lived to 17 until she died of diabetes (despite my regularly giving her insulin shots), while Bastet lived to 16 before cancer took her life; both were loving, amazing companions, and one friend declared that Bastet was the sweetest cat she had ever encountered. These shelter cats made my life richer, and shelter cats can make your life richer as well.

Helping Animals Without Adopting

If you are not prepared to adopt a pet at this time, you can still help shelter animals in many ways. First of all, donations of cash are always welcome. Oprah recently made a donation to PAWS here in Chicago as a memorial to her late dog, Sophie; you can follow her example. Secondly, if you can’t afford a cash donation, consider donating your old towels, blankets, and the like; one of my newsletter subscribers, Lynn in Ontario, made this suggestion to me when I wrote the first Power of Pets, and now I’m sharing it with you. Third, consider volunteering at a shelter; they need you. You can also contact your local animal shelters and ask them what they need; most have a ready list of needed donations.

I would welcome hearing about your reactions to this column, or your own experiences with adoption, by emailing me. Thanks in advance for your feedback!