Tag: China

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.”

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.

Twitter Malcontents Shame Journal Into Dropping Study About Cats

Last Monday, the academic journal Biological Conservation published a “controversial” study about cats.

It didn’t last a week.

The journal quietly took the paper offline after it was buried in a heap of scorn and hysteria from that fount of good vibes, Twitter.

People whose profiles are appended with tags like “she/her” and “he/him” outlined why the paper is “problematic,” providing an afternoon’s worth of fresh outrage for the grievance enthusiasts.

The study, by a research team from China’s Nanjing University, has two main conclusions: The more women living on a college campus, the more stray and feral cats live there too. Additionally, the team surveyed men and women about their interactions with strays — with responses indicating women are more likely to care for them — and followed a handful of men and women to watch their interactions with cats.

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“Study? Yes, I like to study…how to bend humans to my will so they feed me more delicious yums!”

Is it ground-breaking science? No. Do the results prove women are better caretakers of cats than men? Nope. Did the authors perhaps overextend themselves by mixing up correlation and causation? Probably.

But it’s still research, and studies should not be buried or banished from peer-reviewed journals because a handful of malcontents on Twitter cry sexism. Some aspects of the paper, like the small sample of observed interactions, are thin. But the authors did look at 30 universities, a healthy sample size as far as institutions go.

If follow-up studies indicate that women are indeed more likely to care for cats, so what?

Is reality sexist? Do we need to protect people from even the most mildly controversial things?

As a man who loves cats, I don’t doubt that most caretakers are women. I see the anecdotal proof among the ranks of rescue volunteers. I see it in my readership here — aside from the Extraordinary League of Cat Dads, some 85 percent of this blog’s readers are female.

And that’s perfectly fine!

I would like to see more men warm to the idea of adopting and caring for cats, but the fact that women in general seem to have more empathy for them isn’t sexist. It doesn’t mean every woman loves cats any more than it means all men don’t.

Very Sad Buddy
Pain In The Bud’s readership is overwhelmingly female, but most of our traffic isn’t from women — it’s from female cats who find Buddy devilishly handsome!

Some readers know I have a background in journalism and spent almost 15 years of my career as a reporter and editor. One thing that appalls me as a journalist is the routine practice of quoting tweets in lieu of speaking to people face to face or picking up the phone and asking questions.

Platforms like Twitter thrive on negativity. Whether 140 or 280 characters, Twitter’s bite-size messages may be good for people who have the attention span of gnats, but they don’t exactly foster productive or nuanced discussion. Perhaps most important of all, people are more likely to say negative things online than they are in a human-to-human conversation, and too often handfuls of loudly-complaining people are mistaken for a majority.

Studies show negative tweets are far more likely to spread than positive or neutral messages, which skews public perception. They also show Twitter opinions are not representative of the general public, in part because most of Twitter’s power users come from similar backgrounds and share world views.

To put it bluntly, Twitter is full of roving bands of grievance artists constantly on the lookout for new things to shit on, and we should stop assigning so much importance to what we think are the prevailing sentiments on social media platforms.

Academic journals are peer-reviewed. Taking the vetting responsibility away from experts and giving it to a few unhappy people on social media is not a smart way to present research.

The study authors’ peers will poke holes in their work if the holes indeed exist, and that’s part of what peer review is for. Not to bury research, but to encourage scientists to rethink it, refine it and try again.

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.”