The starting point. Le point de départ.

Veganism is the moral baseline, the starting point, of the abolitionist animal rights movement. The main purpose of this blog is to explore animal issues from the perspective of the emerging abolitionist movement.


Meet my feline family: Azrael, part 3

To get back to the less sad parts of the story, as I mentioned previously, I got Azrael spayed when her kittens were weaned. Since she was only an occasional visitor at my window at that time, what I did was to wait until she came inside on the windowsill to eat, and then I closed the window to trap her inside, before calling the vet to make the appointment. For this reason, I had to keep her in for one week beforehand, to make sure that she would actually be there at the time of the appointment. During that week, she was so bored and listless that it unfortunately reinforced my misguided notion that I couldn't keep her indoors without her getting very depressed, and so I let her back outside a few days after the spay surgery. For several months after that, she didn't trust me and didn't come to my window as much, staying on the outside windowsill when she did.

Eventually she forgave me though, and we became very good friends. I would open my window and call out "AAAZ-REEE-ELLLLLLLL" and if she was within earshot, she would come running, even meowing as she bounded up the spiral stairs. She would come inside, and I would pet her and give her some food. I put a collar on her on two occasions (she lost the first one, which I had put on even before she was spayed, if I recall correctly), mainly because as a long haired cat who was nervous enough about getting petted, never mind getting brushed, she would get matted all along her sides, and eventually the mats would fall off, exposing her skinniness to observers in the street. On the off-chance that someone who saw her like that might think she was a diseased, mangy, starving stray and call animal control to take her away, I put a collar on her to indicate that she had a home. She wasn't too thrilled about getting the collar put on, but by wedging her up against the window I was able to quickly get it on and secured before she could run away.

She began staying in for longer and longer periods of time, venturing into other parts of the apartment or sleeping on the armchair near the window. By this time EssPee (whose story comes next in the series) was living with us, and the two of them got along fairly well. Sometimes they could be found sleeping on the armchair next to each other.

EssPee was an indoor cat from the beginning, and so we would no longer leave the window partially open to let Azrael come and go as she pleased. We would often leave it open a couple of inches though, and on a few occasions realized that skinny Azrael had been able to squeeze out through a two or three inch gap. Not having grown up with humans, she hadn't learned to meow at us to ask for what she wanted, and so would sooner squeeze out the tiny opening, or, to my horror, leap a good six feet from our balcony railing over to the fire escape railing when the window was closed but the door to the balcony open so that EssPee could go out there if he wanted to (he was always a very good boy safety-wise on the balcony).

We did take EssPee out into the yard to walk on a leash when the weather was nice though, and during most of these excursions, Azrael would show up and follow the three of us around the yard, which was quite heartwarming - nice family walks!

The decision to keep her indoors came that summer after a scare where I was afraid she had been killed. My ex and I had gone out of town for a week, with my mom staying at our place to take care of EssPee and Azrael. But Azrael, as mentioned, mostly just likes me as far as humans are concerned, so after four or so days of coming around to find a stranger there instead of me, she stopped coming to the window. When I got home and learned that Azrael hadn't been seen for three days, I feared the worst, that she had been killed by a car like so many other cats in the neighbourhood. I felt responsible and extremely guilty. I *was* responsible; she was a member of my family, one of my dependents, and I had let her continue roaming around a dangerous neighbourhood. I certainly should have known better, but my fear that she wouldn't psychologically adapt well to indoor life had made me decide to wait until we moved out of town (less than two months away at this point) before trying to keep her indoors.

Thinking that she must be dead and it was my fault, I prepared lost cat posters and put them up around the neighbourhood, and visited the lost cat ward at the SPCA to look for her just in case, although it was extremely unlikely that anyone would have been able to catch her without a specific effort involving a trap, and I don't think many people paid that much attention to cats roaming around their yards anyway - it wasn't exactly unusual. I told myself that on the off chance that she was alive and I found her, I would keep her indoors from then on.

I almost couldn't believe it on Monday afternoon when my downstairs neighbour called to say that Azrael had been at her window a few minutes earlier, alive and well. She had just stopped coming around after I hadn't been home for so many days. The pit in my stomach from the past few days turned into a nervous hopeful excitement, as I waited for her to come upstairs so that I could see with my own eyes and truly believe that she was okay.

A few hours later she showed up at my window. I finally felt some relief as I opened the window to let her in. She hesitated partway through, starting to back up a bit, no doubt sensing my excitement. I quickly grabbed her, plopped her onto the floor, and slammed the window shut. I was going to keep my word to myself about no longer risking her life due to my own foolishness.

The transition to suddenly being an indoor cat wasn't easy on her at first. It must have been confusing and it must have felt confining. She wasn't accustomed to using a litterbox, and at the beginning would hold her urine for literally 48 hours, which worried me. A couple of times when she finally did pee she didn't do it in the litterbox. But after a few weeks, this gradually stopped and she was at least going once a day, in the litterbox.

She didn't actually become listless and bored like she had when I kept her in to get spayed a year and a half earlier. (Although there were some very hot days that summer where she and EssPee were both very listless, but that's different!) In retrospect I really needn't have worried about that at all. Mainly she was nervous and had to get used to the new routine. When we adopted Possum, about 10 months old, she and Azrael were not too thrilled with each other, but all that happened between them was growling and hissing and then staying out of each other's way. Not long afterwards we adopted several kittens, with whom Azrael was fine - if they got a little too rambunctious near her, she would just bat them on the head to remind them who was in charge.

Several years and several apartment moves later, she's still mainly the top cat, except that as I mentioned in a previous entry Fred has been bullying her, since the cats' hierarchy is in a bit of a state of flux. The photo on the left shows evidence of when they used to get along! She likes to spend her time sleeping in sunny and/or comfy spots, especially in our solarium and on the top platform of one of the floor-to-ceiling cat trees, and also enjoys sniffing the air at the window screens during warmer weather as well as watching squirrels in the park the apartment looks out onto. She's mainly a very quiet cat who doesn't meow, but every once in a rare while she'll roam up and down the hall at night meowing loudly in a way that I can only describe as otherworldly. It's been quite a while since the last time she's done this; it used to be more frequent back in Montreal not long after we started keeping her inside. I always wonder what's going on in her mind at the time... More recently, she used to love coming into the bedroom at night and sleeping on top of me, but unfortunately she hasn't been able to the last few months since we moved Hanna Harriet into the bedroom - the door is now usually kept closed to keep Fred from fighting with Hanna Harriet, who isn't fond of other cats at the best of times.

So, now you know a little about my sweet yet neurotic Azrael. She's been my dear friend for nearly seven years, and hopefully will be for many more. As an individual with likes and dislikes, preferences and interests, habits and personality traits, her personhood is clear. But there's no difference in terms of sentience between her and each of the billions of nonhuman animals that humans use and kill every year. If you aren't already vegan, take the personhood of nonhumans seriously and go vegan today!

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Meet my feline family: Azrael, part 2

This is the second part in Azrael's story: the story of her ill-fated kittens. Difficult to post about but here it is.

Azrael had two litters of kittens before I had at least enough sense to realize that I should get her spayed, because no one else was going to do it. Both were litters of three kittens. One of these litters was very lucky; my neighbour on the first floor adopted all three of them. She named them Alfie, Pogo, and Katya, the black, grey, and tabby ones respectively in the first two photos.

The other litter was not so lucky. Two of them, who I had named Tycho and Tibs (short for Ti-Boutte which roughly translates to Lil' Tip, because the very tip of his tail was white), were quite friendly and would come upstairs for food, and even come into the apartment. Their faces will always haunt me. Tycho was a beautiful light grey short-haired tabby, too curious for his own good, while Ti-Boutte and Traynor, the third brother, were adorable kitten-sized balls of long-haired brown tabby fluff, as playful as their brother if not as bold. Tycho and Tibs were both killed by cars while they were kittens. In both cases I heard the terrible news secondhand from neighbours.

Traynor, the most wary of the trio, never became comfortable enough to venture into the apartment like his brothers did. If he had, I would have kept them all inside and adopted them, but, misguidedly in retrospect, I didn't want to leave him outside "alone" without his brothers so I didn't keep the other two inside. What I should have done was actively catch him using a trap, while he was still a kitten. He stopped hanging around as much as he got older and his brothers were gone, and stopped using the insulated shelter box I had made for Azrael and her kittens during the winter. I don't think I saw him again for about a year, until unspayed Possum (whose story will be the third in the series) showed up on the block.

Traynor, nearly two years old, then reappeared, and got back into the habit of eating at my and my downstairs neighbour's windows. By this point, I had smartened up and Azrael was an indoor-only cat. When I saw Traynor back in the neighbourhood, I decided to catch him and give him a home and medical care, like I should have done the year before. The transition would certainly be difficult for him as an older feral cat, but with other cats to interact with and human caregivers prepared to give him as much time and space as he needed, it would be infinitely better than following the path of his brothers, older relatives, and so many others. I borrowed a trap from a friend who did TNR, asked the downstairs neighbour not to feed him as much so that he would be hungry enough to go into the trap, and spent the last month I was living in Montreal going out at strange hours of the night and morning, setting the trap and trying to catch him. It was a difficult, sleep-deprived and busy time as I tried to both finish my Master's thesis and catch Traynor before I was to move back to Ottawa.

It didn't work. He entered the trap one night, ate the food, and the trap did not go off. I hadn't placed the food dish far back enough, and he was able to eat from it without stepping on the metal plate that activated the trap. As I watched silently from a distance, heart pounding, I hoped I would be able to just try again, and that having gotten food from the trap once, he would be more likely to go in next time. But when he turned around to exit the trap after eating, he must have stepped on the plate because at that moment the trap went off. Facing the exit and already on his way out, he was able to escape before the trap closed, and after that traumatic experience he would not go into the trap again. This is where a drop trap might have helped, had I known about such things at the time. With Possum off the street and spayed, he had already been coming around less, and the continued presence of the trap and myself didn't help that. By the time I was to move back to Ottawa a couple of weeks later I had only caught an unfortunate raccoon one night (whom I promptly released of course; set traps should not be left unattended for more than 10 -15 minutes or so at a time). I left with a heavy heart knowing that as a Montreal feral his life was likely to be very short and very difficult. I hadn't succeeded in helping him any more than I did his brothers the year before when I was much more ignorant of what I ought to do...

These are some of the results of domestication - abandonment followed by generation after generation of short, painful lives. This is happening all the time because humans view nonhumans, even the ones we supposedly love such as cats and dogs, as our property. Even people who are trying to help often have bad judgment, as I clearly did when I first became involved with the neighbourhood cats. This cycle is not going to stop while humans continue to consider animals their property, whether it's as objects to use or as "things with feelings", rather than as true members of the moral community who ought to be taken seriously and should not be exploited for financial gain, nor for emotional gain.

We can all help by taking animals seriously and going vegan, educating others about veganism, and providing care for domesticated nonhumans in need.

Next time I'll continue with the story of Azrael's transition to an indoor cat. This part will have a happy ending, at least.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,