Tag: animal welfare

Help Your Local Strays: They’re Starving During COVID-19 Lockdown

Years ago I worked with a guy who started a food pantry from scratch.

This man, a retired software engineer, approached the biggest restaurants, bakeries and food distributors in the area, asking them to donate their leftover/unused food so his pantry could distribute it to the poor.

Many obliged, but they all had the same request: “Don’t tell anyone we’re participating,” they told him.

The request wasn’t prompted by humility. These businesses didn’t want the public to know how much food they waste, and they waste a lot of perfectly good food, a dirty little secret of the restaurant, hospitality and food industries.

The reason I bring this up is because there’s another demographic that depends on the food those businesses toss out: Stray cats.

Stray Cat
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

With restaurants shuttered because of the Coronavirus, stray cats are going hungry and dying for lack of the scraps they scavenge from rubbish bins, dumpsters and sidewalks. It’s happening here in New York, across the United States, and in countries like Turkey, India, Greece and Morocco.

For animals who already live difficult lives, the pandemic made things worse.

“The strays have no means of feeding themselves as all offices, restaurants [and] roadside eateries are closed,” an animal rights activist in India told the environmental news site Mongabay, in a story headlined ‘Slim pickings for strays and pets during COVID-19 lockdown.’

Cats aren’t the only animals suffering. One particularly dramatic example was caught on video in a Thai city where thousands of long-tailed macaques live and depend on food given to them by tourists.

Hundreds of starving monkeys stopped traffic in a chaotic brawl over a single piece of food, shrieking, clawing and pushing each other aside to get at it.

As if things weren’t bad enough, stray cats are now competing with former house pets for the little food available.

In India, where bad actors have been spreading false information about COVID-19, animal rights activists are finding abandoned pets — including pedigreed cats and dogs — on the streets after their caretakers abandoned them.

“A lot of this is happening because of misinformation that went viral earlier about pets being carriers of the virus in China. It turned out to be fake, of course, but a lot of damage has been done now,” People For Animals’ Vikram Kochhar told Quartz.

Much of the damage has been done on social media, where conspiracy theories and rumors about contracting COVID-19 from animals are rampant. In China, where pet owners abandoned cats and dogs en masse during the first wave of Coronavirus, some social media users on Mandarin-language platforms called for the “extermination” of cats after a pair of studies conducted by Chinese research labs suggested cats are susceptible to catching the virus.

It isn’t easy to combat waves of viral misinformation, even as health authorities across the world stress cats cannot transmit the virus to humans.

Stray Cat
Credit: Animal Bliss

In Greece, abandoned pets — many with their collars still on — are following strays to food sources, especially in larger cities like Athens.

“We are seeing an increase in the numbers of cats in areas where we feed, some appear to have been abandoned, while others have roamed far from their usual spots in search of food,” animal welfare advocate Serafina Avramidou told Barron’s.

In feline-loving Turkey, where taking care of street cats is considered a cooperative responsibility, the central government has told local officials to make sure strays are well fed and taken care of. By making it a government responsibility, their thinking goes, citizens who normally care for the cats will be much more likely to stay inside during the pandemic.

“There are lots of cats on the side streets where there are only closed businesses,” a Turkish Twitter user wrote. “I haven’t seen food anywhere for days. The cats are running after us [looking for food].”

In Istanbul, Muazzez Turan fed some 300 stray cats daily before the pandemic, but said she’s had to stay home: Not only has her country been particularly hard hit by COVID-19, but she has pre-existing medical problems that make her susceptible to complications should she contract the virus.

Still, she said, her mind “was always with the cats,” and she told Turkish news agency Anadolu that she was relieved to hear the strays hadn’t been forgotten.

“I will sleep peacefully for the first time today,” Turan said.

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LaTonya Walker of Brooklyn feeds a stray in Canarsie. Credit: 24 Cats Per Second

Here in New York, some animal lovers are picking up the slack for closed restaurants as well as at-risk people who normally feed strays.

Among them is Latonya Walker, who told the New York Post she normally spends $600 a month feeding several colonies of strays but expects her costs this month will be “way more since there’s less restaurant garbage they can eat from, and more hungry cats walking around.”

“The cats have no clue what’s going on because nothing has changed for them,” Walker said. “It’s not in my DNA to see a cat suffering and not do anything about it. I’m equipped to make a cat’s life better, so I’m going to.”

How Are These Cats NOT Murdering Their Humans?

This isn’t exactly a new trend, but apparently it’s becoming more popular among people who want to become Instagram-famous.

Apparently they’re called dragon and lion cuts, and they’re available at fine groomers everywhere for people who view their pets as toys.

I showed these to Buddy and wrote down his comments:

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Buddy: “What is this? My eyes! The horror!”

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Buddy: “The indignity! If you did this to me I’d shred you like taco cheese!”

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Buddy: “What am I thinking about? Murder!”

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Buddy: “Oh hell no!”

Buddy: “This confirms dogs are dumb and way too trusting. People say cats are paranoid and too high strung, but you’ll never see a cat groomed to look like pixelated Styrofoam.”

The Mixed Legacy of CC the Cloned Cat

Like Dolly the sheep, CC the cat’s arrival into this world was accompanied by apocalyptic pronouncements, grave concerns about man’s hubris at playing God and warnings that human clones wouldn’t be far behind.

At the time cloning was revolutionary, something that was only supposed to exist in science fiction movies. Most people were uneasy with it, and much of the public debate centered around ethical concerns.

It was 2001: The world had just gotten over the Y2K scare, the Sept. 11 attacks and an abundance of turn-of-the-century, end-of-the-world prophesies. When people thought of cloning, they pictured tyrannosauruses rampaging through Jurassic Park and Jeff Goldblum’s scientist character lecturing the park’s proprietors on playing with the awesome power of nature.

CC passed away on March 4, 2020 at 18 years old — a full life by feline standards. The real consequences of her existence were less dramatic than predicted, but ultimately disappointing.

CC the Cat
CC with her surrogate mother, Annie. Credit: Texas A&M

Copy Cat’s birth didn’t herald an age of human cloning, but it did open the door to widespread animal cloning — including, as of last year, non-human primates — and eventually, to pet cloning.

A Mixed Legacy

Mark Westhusin, a scientist who was part of the team that successfully cloned CC, sees it as progress.

“CC’s passing makes me reflect on my own life as much as hers,” Westhusin said Wednesday. “Cloning now is becoming so common, but it was incredible when it was beginning. Our work with CC was an important seed to plant to keep the science and the ideas and imagination moving forward.”

CC lived as any typical house cat would, according to Shirley and Duane Kraemer, who adopted the famous feline. Duane Kraemer was also part of the research team involved in CC’s cloning.

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Kraemer with CC. Credit: The Eagle (Bryan, Texas)

When Barbra Streisand admitted she had her dog cloned in 2017, she responded to the backlash by writing an editorial in the New York Times, defending cloning as a way to get over the heartbreak of losing a pet.

There are now several genetics companies that offer pet-cloning services for people who want to bring their dear dogs and cats back to life.

“The human–animal bond is a pretty strong thing,” said Kerry Ryan, a veterinarian who works for pet cloning firm Viagen. “Our pets truly are a part of the family, and people want to have a piece of their pets around forever.”

Clones, But Not Your Real Pets

Except, of course, they really aren’t bringing cats and dogs back to life, and the animals won’t be around forever. Viagen’s customers get a genetic copy, but that doesn’t mean the clone will look or even act the same.

“It can be a genetically identical animal that can come out looking differently than the animal that you had,” veterinarian Katy Nelson told WTOP in 2018.

To the people who can afford dropping between $25,000 and $50,000 to clone their cats and dogs, it doesn’t seem to matter that both nature and nurture will ensure differences.

Pet cloning has also drawn the ire of animal welfare activists and major organizations like the Humane Society and SPCA, who point out that every cloned cat or dog means one less home for strays in shelters.

The Humane Society “opposes cloning of any animals for commercial purposes due to major animal welfare concerns,” HSUS’s Vicki Katrinak told National Geographic. “Companies that offer to clone pets profit off of distraught pet lovers by falsely promising a replica of a beloved pet. With millions of deserving dogs and cats in need of a home, pet cloning is completely unnecessary.”

False Starts, Gene Splicing and Clone Experimentation

Then there’s the truly dark side of cloning.

Each cloning attempt involves implanting eggs into several surrogate cat (or dog) moms, and no one wants to know what happens to the other clones, whether or not they make it to term. There’s no law requiring the companies to disclose the fate of those animals, so for now it remains a mystery.

Not all clones end up in loving homes, either. The lucky handful do, but others are birthed into the world to be experimented on, like a quintet of monkeys cloned by scientists in China.

Cloned Monkeys from China
Scientists edited the DNA of these monkeys to remove a gene that regulates sleep, resulting in depression and anxiety, among other problems. Three of the five monkeys pictured here are sucking their thumbs, which is a sign of stress when primate infants are taken from their mothers. Credit: Institute of Neuroscience, Shanghai

The scientists who brought the monkeys to life also edited their genes, “cutting out a gene involved in regulating the sleep/wake cycle.” A 2019 story on Phys.org explained the consequences:

“The gene removal created multiple effects in edited monkeys, such as reduced sleep time, increased movement during the night, changed blood hormone levels, increased anxiety and depression, and some schizophrenia-like behaviors.”

Which was precisely the point: The research team wanted to study the unintended consequences of gene-editing on animals to learn more about how it could impact humans.

To be sure, none of this is Copy Cat’s fault.

The famous cat, who was delivered by a surrogate mother, lived for 18 years, a year or two more than the average house cat. She spent the remainder of her days as a typical house cat, albeit one whose vet visits and blood work were carefully pored over as geneticists confirmed she was as healthy as any other kitty.

But as science barrels forward and labs — many of them in countries with no regulations — are bringing cloned animals into this world, we should think about the consequences for animals and the human race.

Chinese Government to Citizens: ‘Deal With’ Your Pets, Or We Will

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a government with no respect for any kind of life — human or animal — would threaten the mass extermination of cats and dogs.

It’s par for the course in China, where authorities in dozens of cities and provinces are urging people to “deal with” their pets in the wake of the Coronavirus threat — or the government will, media reports say.

The warnings have been issued in Wuhan, the epicenter of the Coronavirus, as well as Shanxi, Beijing, Tianjin, Shandong, Hebei and Shanghai, according to the Humane Society International.

Yet there’s no evidence the virus has been transmitted by domesticated pets like cats and dogs, and no evidence those animals can catch it from humans, experts say.

In Wuhan, residents have been told to keep their pets indoors, and warned that any cats or dogs spotted outdoors will be “killed and buried on the spot,” the UK’s Metro reported.

But experts say it’s the government’s fault that the virus jumped from wild animals to humans in the first place. China has refused to shut down so-called “wet markets,” where live animals are sold next to the carcasses of recently-slaughtered animals, despite the fact that SARS and other viruses originated from those markets.

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A Chinese wet market. Credit: Nikkei

Officials believe the Coronavirus originated at the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, one of many “wet markets” described as “filthy, crowded places where animals are displayed alive in small cages” and “are often slaughtered on site.”

China has been “mired in long-held beliefs about the benefits of eating exotic and often endangered animals for good health,” the Humane Society said in a statement, referring to traditional Chinese “medicine” and other folk practices that use animal parts in ineffective and dangerous tonics and elixirs.

In addition to creating the circumstances for viruses to jump from wild animals to humans, the illegal wildlife trade has pushed animals like tigers and pangolins to the brink of extinction.

“Chinese society is boiling with anger at wildlife policy failures,” said the Humane Society International’s China policy specialist, Peter Li. “Social media is full of posts condemning the refusal to shut down the wildlife markets. This is the worst Chinese New Year in China’s recent history.”

Reason #127 To Keep Your Cats Indoors: Bad Guys

“Hey! Sorry for stealing your cat. I felt really guilty about it, so I abandoned him by the side of the road in another town. Totes a bad impulse decision lol! I never meant to be the bad guy! I hope you can forgive me, but don’t worry, if you don’t I forgive you! Buh-bye!”

That about sums up the bizarre letter a Minnesota woman received on Dec. 11, three months after her cat, Dot, went missing.

She last saw Dot on Oct. 10, when Byron Thomas Vieau delivered a package to her home in Watertown, 20 miles west of Minneapolis. Vieau was visibly taken with Dot, the cat’s owner would later tell police, and bent down to pet the 12-year-old tabby as he delivered the package.

Security footage shows Vieau encountering Dot on his way over, and it’s clear the cat follows Vieau, but the 23-year-old Minnesota man likely nabbed Dot on the driver’s side while walking back to his truck because we don’t get an angle on the theft itself:

 

Vieau completed his delivery, and Dot was never seen again. Dot’s worried owner called the cops, who questioned Vieau, but he denied knowing anything about the missing moggie.

“Byron lied to me (twice) immediately after Dot was stolen, he lied to police the next day, I feel he is still lying about what he did to Dot,” Dot’s owner wrote in a Facebook post. “In my world this is such an unnecessary tragedy and I wish this upon nobody!”

Then in mid-December, Dot’s owner received this batshit-crazy letter from Vieau:

note-from-thief

The letter reads:

Dear Heidi,

My name is Byron and I unfortunately made a poor judgment decision to take your cat. I cannot stress enough how sorry I am, I am a HUGE animal lover and I only wanted to have a pet of my own. It wasn’t meant to hurt anyone. I am so embaressed [sic]. I did make a bad impulse choice right outside of Watertown to let the cat go, I started feeling awful and quickly shoved the cat out of my car. I do not know where it went after that. This isn’t the story I gave you the first time, I felt so bad and I didn’t want to own up to things. I just wanted to take it home with me, but I quickly changed my mind. I never hurt it and I never meant to cause this much pain. I should have owned up sooner. I can only hope they can find it where I dropped it off. Again, I never meant to be a bad guy, I just wanted to give it a home. I’m so sorry for doing what I did. If you can’t find it in your heart to forgive me, I totally understand.

Byron Vieau
Dec. 11, 2019

What stands out is the lack of genuine awareness, of any consideration for the victim’s feelings or the welfare of the cat. Everything’s about Byron. Every sentence is “I wanted” and “I didn’t mean to” and “I can only hope.”

Every action is minimized: Byron Vieau didn’t steal the cat, he “made a poor judgment decision.” He’s a HUGE animal lover, and all he wanted was a pet of his own! Byron didn’t heartlessly shove a house cat — who doesn’t have the skills to survive as a stray — out of his car and abandon it on the roadside, he simply “made a bad impulse choice to let the cat go.”

Vieau tells us he was “embaressed,” he “didn’t want to hurt anyone,” and “never meant to be a bad guy.” He doesn’t mention how Heidi pleaded for the return of her beloved cat, or her anguished posts on Facebook as she asked for help looking for the “clearly well-loved” tabby.

He’s looking for forgiveness and absolution from his victim without troubling himself with considering her feelings, because he wants to feel better about what he did.

Police have arrested Vieau and charged him with misdemeanor theft and misdemeanor animal abandonment, which carry extremely light penalties. Under Minnesota law, Dot’s theft is a minor property crime of the same severity as the theft of say, a toaster, but not as severe as a shiny new flatscreen TV.

In the meantime, Dot is still MIA. Dot is primarily white and black, with traditional tabby markings on his head, and he weighed about 14 pounds at the time he was taken, according to police.

Any readers in the Carver County or Watertown area of Minnesota can call Detective Neil Kuhnau of the Carver County Sheriff’s Office at 952-361-1212 if they’ve spotted the missing moggie.

We hope Heidi and Dot are happily reunited.