Another Painful Lesson at Project Treadstone
I keep thinking: Okay, I have experienced enough to write a thorough guest post for Stephanie at Change.org on feral cats and TNR. Then something else unexpected happens. I think I have to just write the post and leave it open for further discussion.
This is Little Gray, the thirteenth feral cat trapped for Project Treadstone. She is over six-months old but certainly doesn't look it. And she looked this terrified the entire time she was at my house, in a large dog kennel, hiding in the sliver of space behind her litter box filled with Yesterday's News.
In fact, I took a dozen photos of her, hoping to snap one that didn't look like I was coming at her with a blowtorch, but alas, they're all the same. That was the only time in my life I felt like taking someone's photo was cruel.
She is now back with the colony, which I cannot say about the fourteenth kitty, Brows. And note to self: Take pictures before the cats go to the vet, as they might not be coming back.
Brows was a very heavy for her size, which led me to believe she was pregnant. And she was. She also had what appeared to be singed facial hair but was actually scarring from chronic ringworm. She had ocular and nasal discharge and a fever. And she was very lethargic and the vet didn't think she'd survive her surgery.
The vet tested Brows, who was FIV+, and then she called me to say that the protocol for this situation is euthanasia.
It's easy to say: Euthanasia for a cold? Euthanasia for ringworm? What? Aren't those treatable? Why is the cat now dead?
This is where subjectivity and the judgment of an expert come into play and it's a Gray Matter, at least for me. We must rely on the vet to determine the severity of the illness(es) and also whether there is evidence that they are chronic. And we must also rely on her to say whether the cat would survive surgery.
Brows was not euthanized because she was FIV+, but if she had the same combination of illnesses and was negative, would she have been euthanized?
I do know that if there is/are minor problem/s that can be easily treated, the cat would be sent back with me for treatment, and returned for sterilization after successful treatment. Minor illness does not equal death. Nor does it necessitate testing. So that's good news.
It's difficult being responsible for telling someone to end a life, even if that life probably wasn't all that enjoyable. It makes you wonder what a good life is and who gets to decide that (which is one of the main objections to Peter Singer's views on infanticide, and just for the record, Peter Singer has been a disaster for the animal rights movement in the past decade, possibly obliterating any early positive impact he had–take THAT, Young Master Dan).
The downside of TNR that we tend to repress is the loss of a cat who we intended to "help" and the guilt which accompanies the loss. Recently Susan on her Wildrun blog wrote about the tragedy of losing a cat. You can read it here http://wildrun.blogspot.com/ titled Backporch Heartbreak.
Too many times (and once is more than enough for me) I had to give the order/permission to euthanize a sick feral. Loving, friendly cats are generally difficult, at best, to medicate when they are sick. Ferals are simply impossible in most situations. Seriously broken bones, which take extended recovery times, often lead to a feral cat dying from the stress of confinement and constant exposure to humans. All that said, I made the decision several years ago to rescue a 6 month old female from our animal services. She had already gone through our TNR program a month or so earlier and then had been trapped and turned over to animal services. She was FERAL and too old to be socialized. But, I just couldn't bring myself to give the order to kill her. I arranged to pick her up, but somehow the message didn't reach the killing room. As I was standing at the front desk to pick her up, she was being anesthetized prior to getting the Fatal Plus injection. She was "rescued" in the nick of time. She had contracted an upper respiratory infection while at the shelter, so I took her to my vet for treatment. They had to anesthetize her again and gave her a shot of antibiotics and I took her home. All I could do was use a Vicks vaporizer to alleviate the symptoms of the URI. Much to my delight, she pulled through. She's been living happily with my band of renegades, as an indoor cat. Of course, most of the time when I go in the room to feed and clean litterboxes, she glares at me as if I'm going to disembowel her, but sometimes she ignores me and sleeps peacefully. We've obviously reached a bit of a truce.
The reality is that TNR is about ending the suffering. Most times the cats live better lives, sometimes they don't. I try to justify it by making sure that the decision is based on what is best for the other than human animal involved. After all, it's not about us. Regardless, the guilt still remains, but if I didn't care at all then I wouldn't feel guilty. It's the price one pays.
Poor little Brows.
"It's difficult being responsible for telling someone to end a life, even if that life probably wasn't all that enjoyable."
Yes, which is why we need more compassionate people like you involved in animal rights.
Thank you for working on Project Treadstone.
I appreciate the concession you’ve granted me regarding Doctor Peter, especially since I, Young Master Dan, am not even 12 years old. I only hope that I didn’t twist your arm too hard in getting you to say such things about Doctor Peter.
I know decisions on when to euthanize someone (human or nonhuman) can be extremely difficult (and yes, I very strongly support euthanizing humans in many cases!). It seems clear to me that you did the right thing. If I were that cat and had a battery of illnesses like that, I’d want to be painlessly euthanized also, even if there was a remote chance of me living back on the mean streets trying to avoid cars, juvenile delinquent humans, thirst, starvation, and cat fights.
Young Master Dan 🙂
I think Connie put it right: "It's the price one pays". It takes very special people to do this work (and experience the losses) over and over again. Your efforts are guided by compassion – Mary, you're doing a wonderful thing. Thank you.
It finally dawned on me (I'm a little slow on some connections) that you probably meant the Chinese Young Master instead of the English young Master. If so, thanks for the compliment; I apologize for the misinterpretation, but I hope it was worth a laugh. 😀
I second Bea. What you're doing can be emotionally difficult (understatement, I know), especially when it comes to the scenarios you just described, but that you're doing it is nevertheless a wonderful thing. Still sitting in my drafts folder is a post titled "Deciding Who Lives," and I imagine that if I ever get around to posting it, you'll be able to relate. Not easy stuff.