Sunday, 10 March 2013

Disposable Cats

Fierce and Proud Stray Black Cat

Japan is teeming with stray cats. Many of them look sleek and cared for. People leave small piles of cat food in alleyways and cans of tuna under the bushes in parks. People treat cats like umbrellas: easy come,easy go. When peoples’ cats have unwanted kittens (which is often, because de-sexing seems uncommon) they bring them to school and dump them in the playground, assuming that the kids won’t be able to resist and that by the time they get them home they will be too attached for their parents to refuse. This also once happened with a litter of hamsters (although thankfully not at the same time as any kittens). One of the sweetest things I’ve seen recently was  a group of high school boys surrounding a stray kitten beside the river. One was playing with it with a piece of grass while the others snapped photos with their phones and chanted “kawaiiiiiii” (cute) over and over.

Stray kittens on a Japanese river bank
Stray kittens on a Japanese river bank
Whether because of this atmosphere of disposability or because of a pre-existing lack of empathy or the fact that social consequences are substantially reduced when living away from friends or family I don’t know, but some ALTs in my town have behaved pretty appallingly towards cats.

The little kitten above was called Kiki. One of my old ALT co-workers took her in after I helped my elementary students save her from a car and they subsequently guilt-tripped me into finding a home for her. I guilt-tripped my co-worker into taking her, a mistake I will regret until my dying day. I don’t know how old Kiki was, but she still had her milk teeth. She was hungry for both food and affection. The ALT who took her in left her in the apartment all day without so much as a scratching post to occupy her, then got angry when Kiki was all over her meowing for attention when she got home. The most time they spent together was at night, when the ALT complained that Kiki purred too loudly and kept her awake. She tried to train Kiki not to scratch the walls by hitting her. I bought her a scratching post but the point didn't get across.

The ALT never had Kiki vaccinated or de-sexed, and eventually she went into heat and meowed at the door non-stop. Having had enough, the ALT let her out then told everyone that she had “returned to the wild” and that she had never been suited to being a pet anyway. Unfortunately for both of them, after doing what cats do when in heat Kiki found her way back to the apartment. Despite being urged to get Kiki a hysterectomy then while there was still time, the ALT maintained that she was sure Kiki wasn’t pregnant. When (surprise surprise) four kittens were born, the ALT was overwhelmed. Still not having taken any preventative health measures, all five cats quickly became flea-ridden. The ALT decided that rather than a $10 flea treatment, she would just have Kiki and all her kittens put down.

I’m definitely on the dog side of the dog v cat divide, but that doesn’t mean that stories like this don’t make me furious. Animals are not temporary accessories to be discarded when they cease to be convenient, whether they are dogs, cats or hermit crabs. I suspect that people who are in Japan temporarily feel free to behave badly because they don’t have to face long term recriminations or deal with negative reactions from their families. People always talk about peer pressure as a negative thing, but if you think about it there are many instances when peer pressure encourages individuals to behave better. It is unfortunate that some people show the worst of themselves while living overseas.
I’m having a run of depressing posts lately sorry! To lighten the mood, here is an imagining of what would happen if cats could talk from the 2011 anime Nichijou (Daily Life). Unfortunately it's broken into four parts, but each is very short so please watch all of them!

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  1. Since George and Erika's ( comments keep disappearing, I'm going to have to copy them in from my email >.<

    George and Erika has left a new comment "Disposable Cats":

    This post is depressing, but true. I often see strays (dogs) running along the backroads of Tsukahara and Shonai. It's heartbreaking to see. I'm torn between stopping the car and feeding them or letting them continue on their journey. It's a problem that exists in the U.S. as well. At every opportunity, we try to influence people with pets to have them spaded or neutered. We are often told that that's cruel for the animal and they refuse to listen. It's a mindset that needs to be changed at a younger level. Ignoring the issue only makes the problem worse.

  2. They're trying to pass a law here where cats are spayed/neutered and then returned to the wild instead of being euthanized... I don't know which is more cruel since many wild cats don't live great lives...

  3. omg that is awful, i am so sorry that I read that.
    Were they at least put down humanely and not gassed?? If they were, please don' t tell me..


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