Tag: cat safety

My Thoughts On ‘Don’t F*ck With Cats’

I finally got around to watching Netflix’s Don’t F*ck With Cats, a documentary about the effort to track down a narcissistic killer whose victims included several kittens, an adult cat and finally a Chinese-Canadian engineering student.

If you’re not familiar with the three-part documentary, here’s the short version: A man uploaded sadistic videos of himself torturing and killing cats, prompting a group of online vigilantes to conduct their own investigation and offer the information to police, who promptly ignored all of it.

The cat killer taunted the horrified netizens for two years, vowing to continue taking life and leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for them to follow each time he killed more kittens, until finally someone found the headless, limbless torso of his first human victim in a garbage dumpster in Ontario.

The murderer had arranged to meet another man he’d met on Craigslist, then filmed himself killing the incapacitated man just like he’d filmed himself killing kittens. The video appeared online shortly after the murder.

The police, who couldn’t be bothered when it was “just” cats, suddenly got really interested. The killer fled to Paris — where he became the subject of an international manhunt and media circus — then to Berlin. He stopped in an internet cafe to Google stories about himself,  but the cafe’s clerk recognized him and called the police. He was taken into custody without incident, then promptly extradited back to Canada for trial.

The police don’t exactly cover themselves in glory with this case. Not only did they fail to act on information from concerned tipsters, they were either unaware or uninterested in the statistical correlation between people who kill animals for pleasure “graduating” to human victims once killing animals loses its thrill.

junlin3
Jun Lin, 33, the victim of the cat killer.

They had a man in their jurisdiction torturing and killing cats, capturing the horrific deeds on camera and regularly uploading new videos. They failed to act.

The thing is, animal life has intrinsic value. We delude ourselves into believing that because the voiceless — human and animal — can’t express their suffering,  it doesn’t exist. The police should have acted when the killer’s victims were “just” cats for the sake of the cats, and not only because animal abusers often move on to harming human beings.

Canadian police culture

It was also surprising to see how deferential and naïve the Canadian investigators seemed in comparison to their American counterparts. At various turns they failed to preserve evidence, missed important clues and underestimated the killer. In one scene an investigator casually mentions the discovery of a dead puppy in the same trash the human torso was found, failing to connect the dots despite the many warnings her agency had received.

When Canadian police finally got the killer into custody they handled him with kid gloves, allowing him to play the part of scared little boy who didn’t know what he was doing rather than what he was: A calculating 32-year-old man who clearly enjoyed inflicting suffering on people and animals, playing to his captive audience of several thousand people on Facebook as he led them on a scavenger hunt.

The killer routinely interrupted police interviews, shrugged off difficult questions by complaining that he was tired, and tried to buy time for himself to think by asking for things like warmer clothing, cigarettes and beverages.

In short, they allowed him to manipulate them as he had manipulated everyone else.

When the killer’s mother appears on camera, you can see the beginnings of his psychosis. She believes her son is a sweet little angel who was himself manipulated by a phantom, a person her son invented to excuse his deeds.

She also admits she knew about the cat videos and did nothing. In her view, people concerned about animal welfare are “crazy,” and those crazies shouldn’t have gotten so wound up over a few videos in which her son kills kittens while singing along to pop songs. Just a sweet little boy having fun.

Remembering Jun Lin

As for the killer himself, I’m not going to name him. His victim was Jun Lin, a 33-year-old engineering student who moved from China to Canada because, as his friend Benjamin Xu explained, the latter country is more accepting of gay men.

xu
Benjamin Xu/Credit: IMDB

Toward the end of the documentary, Xu mentioned something I’ve often thought about: Society’s obsession with “true crime” and how our morbid curiosity gives would-be murderers precisely what they want. If they can’t achieve fame, infamy is the next best thing.

We do a great disservice by immortalizing the killers and forgetting the victims. Everyone can name the two Columbine killers, but how many of us can name the victims?

“The really sad thing is, everybody is talking about [the killer] and nobody has ever remembered Jun,” Xu said. “That doesn’t seem fair at all to my friend. He doesn’t deserve that.”

The other stars of the show

Finally, there are the two “sleuths” at the center of the documentary, who spent two years of their lives ostensibly investigating the killer while giving him exactly what he wanted. Contrary to what the documentary’s title suggests, they weren’t cat lovers, just a couple of people motivated by the thrill of the hunt.

As their Facebook group about the murderer swelled to thousands of members he reveled in the attention, intentionally leaving clues for them in each subsequent video like a scavenger hunt, a fun little game for them to play as long as he remained the star of the show.

The documentary glosses over their mistakes, and there were some big ones: At one point they were so sure a South African man was the killer that they made his life a living hell, with an entire team of online vigilantes across the world harassing him from afar.

That man killed himself and was likely collateral damage in this fun little game the “sleuths” had going, but who has time for that when there are fresh clues and leads to track down? We got the wrong guy, LOL! Oops!

In the end it was someone else — quite likely the killer himself — who provided the alleged sleuths with the killer’s name once they’d exhausted their leads and the hunt became stale. He wanted them to continue the chase.

While the would-be detectives did manage to collect some information via their own efforts, it’s not accurate to say they solved the mystery.

On the other hand it’s fair to question whether the killer would have gone as far as he did if he didn’t have tens of thousands of people on Facebook hanging on his every video and utterance.

deannathompson
Deanna Thompson, who has now appeared in two documentaries about the killer and has parlayed her role into a side business.

The documentary ends with one of the killer’s obsessives, a Las Vegas woman named Deanna Thompson, looking at the camera and admonishing the audience for being interested enough to watch the documentary, as if everyone shares in the guilt for the killer’s actions.

But what she’d like everyone to forget is that her actions egged him on while he was on the loose and actively taking life. Playing into his scheme is a much different thing than passively watching a documentary more than half a decade after his conviction. There’s a good argument to be made that the vigilantes should be embarrassed by their role in this story, rather than reveling in the attention they’re getting as a result.

Remember Jun Lin. Remember the poor cats. Forget about the killer and the people who helped him achieve the fame he so desperately craved.

 

Note: I realize refusing to name the killer on this blog is like putting a single grain of sand back in a bottle after the whole thing has been spilled, but hey, we have to start somewhere.

Hug Your Cats Tight, Don’t Let Them Out Of Sight

Cats have been a Godsend in this era of social distancing.

People are looking for something — anything — to get their minds off grim reality and the repetitive, depressing 24/7 virus coverage that dominates television.

Cats have delivered. Our furry friends have been covering themselves in glory, providing an endless supply of viral videos and making people smile just by being their endearing, quirky selves.

Most of all they’ve been there for us at home, soothing anxieties and lowering blood pressure with each lap they claim and each affectionate nuzzle. We may be isolated from other people, but when there’s a cat in the house you never feel truly alone. (If for nothing else, their meows at meal time will make sure of that.)

For me it’s not even a question: Without my Buddy, I’d be slipping into depression of a kind that can’t be cured with Netflix bingeing, books or games.

buddy_march2020_funny
Little Buddy the Cat on March 27, 2020.

Now we’ve got to return the favor and protect our cats.

The first “confirmed” case of a cat contracting COVID-19 has come from Belgium, where a veterinary lab ran tests on a sick cat with respiratory problems and concluded the cat picked up the virus from her human.

“The cat lived with her owner, who started showing symptoms of the virus a week before the cat did,” said Steven Van Gucht, a public health official in Belgium, according to the Brussels Times. “The cat had diarrhea, kept vomiting and had breathing difficulties. The researchers found the virus in the cat’s feces.”

This is not good news.

Medical diagnostic labs in the US have tested thousands of pets for COVID-19 and haven’t found a single infected animal.

The World Health Organization has repeatedly said there is no evidence of dogs or cats serving as hosts for the virus or infecting humans, although that organization has killed its own credibility with its effusive praise for the Chinese government, and by parroting Chinese insistence that the virus couldn’t be transmitted from human to human. (WHO continued telling the world there was no evidence of contagion through late January, some six weeks after it was clear the virus was multiplying.)

The deadly consequences of misinformation

Unfortunately that didn’t stop innumerable people from abandoning their cats and dogs in China, leaving them in apartments and houses to starve. One Chinese animal welfare group, which is partnered with Humane Society International, says “tens of thousands” of pets were abandoned.

Some Chinese territories instructed people to kill their pets, and there are sickening reports of people clubbing defenseless animals to death in the streets.

That may not be surprising in China, which has an abominable record on human and animal rights, but now there are disturbing reports from all over the world. Shelter operators in the UK, for instance, say they’re fielding calls from people who want to abandon their pets because of the Coronavirus.

“Mostly, it’s people who haven’t got access to the right information online,” Claire Jones, who works at a shelter in Stoke-on-Trent, told the BBC. “It’s a nightmare.”

Misinformation and confusion are compounding the problem, the result of a new media ecosystem in which news is whatever a person’s social circle posts on their feeds and news consumers don’t distinguish between reliable press outlets (Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Reuters, etc) and the thousands of less scrupulous sites masquerading as legitimate sources of news.

Thus, when a dog in China tested positive for trace elements of Coronavirus — but blood tests were negative — sites like Quartz wasted no time pumping out headlines declaring that dogs and cats can be infected.

Exercising caution with information

It looks like the Belgium case is another in which fact and nuance are sacrificed for clicks. Belgian virologist Hans Nauwynck is among the skeptics who believe veterinary authorities in his country acted too rashly.

“Before sending this news out into the world, I would have had some other tests carried out,” Nauwynck told the Brussels Times.

To confirm the positive test, the lab used a polymerase chain reaction, or PCR. A PCR test “allows scientists to multiply a very small sample of genetic material to produce a quantity large enough to study,” the Times noted. But the test only confirmed that the cat suffered from a flu-like virus. It did not specifically match the viral infection with COVID-19.

“A clear link between virus excretion and clinical signs cannot be established, in part because other possible causes for the cat’s illness were not excluded,” wrote Ginger Macaulay, a veterinarian in Lexington, South Carolina.

In addition, authorities didn’t rule out the possibility that the sample was contaminated or maintain a forensic chain of possession that would ensure it was properly handled.

“I would advise people to slow down,” Nauwynck said. “There may somehow have been genetic material from the owner in the sample, and so the sample is contaminated.”

To be absolutely certain, he said, more tests should have been done to confirm the initial result, and certainly before making an announcement to the world. Veterinary authorities should have tested for the presence of antibodies in the cat’s system as well, he said, which is a sign that an immune system is fighting off an infection.

“I’m worried that people will be scared by this news and animals will be the ones to suffer, and that’s not right. As scientists we ought to put out clear and full information, and I don’t think that has happened.”

With reports about the infected cat spreading across the globe — and adding to existing fears — the Belgian virologist said panic could override reason, with catastrophic consequences for our little feline friends.

“I wouldn’t wish to be a cat tomorrow.”

Animals-Face-Mask-ASIAWIRE-4
A cat on a lead in China is protected with a face mask. Credit: AsiaWire

Reason #138 To Keep Your Cats Indoors: Mountain Lions

Just to clear up any misunderstandings — and hopefully stave off more of those “Would a tiger and a house cat be good friends?” questions — cats aren’t down with each other just because they’re cats.

You won’t see a jaguar high-fiving a jaguarundi like “Sup bro? Hunt anything delicious lately?”

And you sure as hell won’t see your cat shooting the shit with a puma on your back porch, trading war stories about taking down prey.

Nope. To the puma, your cat is the prey.

That’s what happened early on Thursday morning in Boulder Creek, California, where footage from a Ring doorbell cam shows a puma — also known as a mountain lion or cougar — hovering over something partially obscured by a planter. There’s a flash of domestic kitty eyes for the briefest instant, then more noise followed by the puma walking away with the cat in its jaws.

Cougar/Puma
Despite their large size, cougars are not considered “big cats” and are not aggressive toward humans. Source: CBS2NY

Sue Ann Sheely, whose camera caught the attack, said it’s the second time she’s seen a local cat fall victim to a cougar. She sent the footage to a local news station so her neighbors will finally wise up and bring their cats indoors.

Like coyotes, pumas aren’t breeding in greater numbers or suddenly intruding on human territory: We’re the intruders, chipping away at the wild cat’s habitat with each new housing development and strip mall we build. The majestic-looking cats die in unusually high numbers when roads cut through their ranges, and simply brushing up against a human neighborhood is often enough to get them shot.

With fractured habitats and fewer prey animals to hunt, pumas will sometimes turn to domestic animals as prey. Attacks on humans are exceedingly rare, and pumas normally do their best to steer clear of humans.

Previously, we’ve looked at other reasons to keep your cat indoors: Reason #127 To Keep Your Cats Indoors: Bad Guys, Reason #246 To Keep Your Cats Indoors: Coyotes, and Reason #001 To Keep Your Cats Indoors: Traffic.

Jaguarundi
The jaguarundi may be small, but it doesn’t mess around. Credit: CostaRicaJourneys

RIP Beautiful Kitty

I was driving home on Tuesday night, just about to leave the city limits of White Plains when I saw a cat laying in the road.

I swerved to avoid the cat, saw motion out of the corner of my eye, and pulled over on the nearest side street. There was more traffic behind me and I held my breath as I approached, worried that one of the passing cars would drive over the injured feline.

Using my iPhone as a flashlight, I finally got close. The poor cat was dead. There weren’t any obvious injuries, but his mouth was filled with blood. In retrospect I believe the movement I saw earlier was just the wind blowing his fur.

I picked him up, carried him off the road and set him down on the grass near a street sign. Then I called the police.

He was well-fed and well-groomed, with a striking coloration — medium-length fur that was pure white except for a single black stripe on his tail.

This was someone’s beloved cat, and that person was going to be rattling a bag of treats and calling out for kitty to come home, wondering where the little guy had gone.

Someone hit or drove over that beautiful cat and kept driving.

It’s one thing to know the statistics, to understand in the abstract that outdoor cats only live three years on average while their indoor counterparts live an average of 16 or more years, and quite another to see a dead cat up close with my own eyes, left there as roadkill.

Feral Cats
A group of feral cats. Image credit: Cats On Broadway Animal Hospital

Many people labor under the assumption that cats belong outside as if it’s their natural habitat. The truth is, cats don’t have a natural habitat. As domesticated animals they’re no different than dogs, pigs or cows — the process of domestication has rendered them human-dependent. They’re genetically distinct from their wild ancestors, molded over thousands of years to be companions to humans.

Domestic cats aren’t as swift or agile as wildcats. While they retain some of their wild instincts, they’re ill-equipped to deal with danger.

Life as a feral or stray is tough, brutal and short. Some can survive for a short while. Most don’t.

They should live indoors, and there’s no reason an indoor life should be boring for them. As caretakers it’s our responsibility to keep them entertained, to provide them with toys, perches, hiding spots and window vantages. Most of all, it’s our responsibility to give them attention and affection.

Please keep your cats indoors and safe from the many dangers of the outdoors.

Note: The featured photo at the top of this post is not a photograph of the cat I encountered, but a similar-looking cat. Header image credit /u/phlebotinum/Reddit.

Reason #246 To Keep Your Cats Indoors: Coyotes

A family in Sarasota, Florida, has learned the hard way why it’s not a good idea to allow pet cats outside without supervision:

The video shows his cat initially sitting on a chair on his patio. That’s when one coyote approaches it. The cat goes running after it.

Then seconds later, two coyotes start chasing the cat back into the porch. The coyotes are then seen dragging the cat to nearby bushes.

Vanchanka found his cat’s remains hours later after he noticed his cat was gone. He says this is the first time he has seen something like this.

“I’m horrified. I haven’t been able to go outside, only in daytime when I know for sure there won’t be any,” said Valeriya Rozin.

Rozin, who is Vanchanka’s wife, is now frightened to go outside by herself as the couple have a 2-month-old baby. To make matters worse, their other cat died Friday morning from what they say it was a broken heart.

Even small dogs are susceptible to coyote attacks, and have been prey to the ambush predators before:

Their neighbor, Avis Zoborowski, has a 16-year-old Lhasa Shi Tzu, and says she saw three coyotes roaming outside her mailbox one morning. She’s now scared to take her dog out for a walk.

“I’m afraid that by the time that I saw a coyote coming, by the time I pick her up, that dog will be right on my face. I just go out there and pray that everything will be alright,” said Zoborowski.

In my neighborhood, less than a quarter mile from my home, a brazen coyote snapped up a small dog — a toy breed — when his owner was taking him outside to do his business before bed on a summer night. I spoke my neighbor about a week after it happened, and to say she was traumatized was an understatement.

The coyote was completely unfazed by her presence — the attack was so swift and surprising, she didn’t have time to react before the leash was torn from her grip. She never found her dog.

There’s one way to make sure your cats or small dogs aren’t killed by coyotes: Keep them indoors. Indoor cats live for an average of 16 years, while outdoor cats live about 3.5 years on average, according to PetMD.

While some cat owners worry about condemning their cats to boring indoor existences, indoor life doesn’t have to be boring. Cats don’t need much to be happy: Give them attention, affection and regular interactive play time. Provide some lounging spots with good views of the outdoors and toys to play with. Let them sleep near you, where they feel safe. They’ll be more than content.