There is a small colony of stray cats living behind the house next door to our apartment. Small but growing. Earlier this year one of the females had kittens. The woman who lives in this house feeds the cats and they mostly hang out in her yard, but they’re not “her” cats as far as I know. I think they come and go as they please.
Last week we were walking back from getting coffee and there was a dead kitten at the base of our stairs. The kitten was what Julie and I call a “teen”—something like six months old, not full grown but not a little kitten either. Not sure how she died but she wasn’t crushed, even though she was lying in the gutter. I recognized it from next door.
A lot of things run through your mind when you find what appears to be a dead animal lying on the ground. First: Is it really dead? In this case, I was hoping it was. Because the way it was lying there, if it was somehow still alive, it would be suffering pretty badly. But it had an open eye that didn’t close so it seemed clear that it was in fact dead. Next thing is, what I am going to do about this? Do you throw it in the trash? Leave it there? Is there a number you can call? Putting it in the trash feels wrong, but on the other hand, I have a hard time believing that the government of New York City has people waiting by the telephone ready to pick up dead cats. And what are they going to do when they come out? Throw them in the trash.
So I decided to go the house of the woman feeding the colony to talk to her and see what we could figure out. She wasn’t in, but a guy was standing on her porch, a relative. And I explained the situation, he said that she had some mental health problems but was out for the afternoon. And he came over to see the dead cat and said he would deal with it. I went upstairs and got a bag and came back down and he put the cat in the bag. Such an awful thing when you see a dead animal being moved, one that hasn’t been dead long. How limp the body is. I hate seeing that. He took it away.
Later, Julie was on the street and she ran into a woman from the neighborhood who is trying to trap the feral cats to have them neutered and them put back. And weirdly enough, she had taken the woman who feeds the cats, our neighbor, to a workshop about this very thing, and that’s where the woman was when I went over to her house. And I guess this relative had left the dead cat in a bag in her back yard and not told anyone about it, so they were wondering what was going on. This woman trying to trap them asked about us volunteering to house some of the strays in cages while they recovered from the neutering surgery. We’re thinking about it.
But there’s something that feels a little odd to me, and that is the idea of neutering the cats and returning them to the street by our apartment. Since they might be multi-generation ferals, it’s possible that they cannot be socialized and adopted, so I think the idea is that you let them go about their lives but at least they can’t reproduce.
And I got to thinking about the “no kill” approach to animal welfare in general, and I’m kind of torn on it. And I think it has something to do with how I feel about “life” in the abstract. To me, if an animal dies a completely painless death and feels nothing, it’s like it never existed, which is not necessarily a tragedy. I don’t know if I feel that “life” has value in every case, and I feel like reducing suffering is often preferable to sustaining life. So reducing the population of feral cats through euthanasia doesn’t necessarily seem barbaric. These ferals are diseased, constantly fighting, and living short and painful lives, as far as I can tell.