Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cat rescue and low income families

Our newest foster kitty is a six-month-old white short-haired kitty named Sunshine. She came from a home where her mom and another female cat are now raising fresh litters of kittens. The family is very poor, and they were not able to purchase cat food for the past few days, so they'd been feeding Sunshine and the rest fish sticks* up until today.

The family had agreed to give up the kittens so they could be fostered, altered, and rehomed, but they don't want to give up their adult momma cats because they are their beloved pets. The solution we are trying to come up with is to have me or someone else foster the moms and kittens until the babies are weaned, then get the moms spayed and returned to their family, along with some education and access to resources in case of future crises. The purpose of fostering them is to keep the moms confined so that they don't get pregnant again, and to make sure everybody is safe and fed for that time period.

Someone in a livejournal community had commented that they didn't understand why the rescue would get the momma cats at Sunshine's former home spayed, then return them to that situation afterwards. I gave her a very long answer, and thought I would share it here.


The goal is to try to find solutions that are agreeable to the family. Otherwise, if their animals are simply taken away, they'll just go and pick up a "free kitten" elsewhere and start the cycle all over again.

Ptera's mom and dad were in a similar home. She and her sisters were removed for fostering (by me--they were my first fosters, and I kept two of them, haha), and L, the coordinator dealing with that neighborhood's poverty-level families with cats, got the parents spayed and neutered so that the family wouldn't end up having more kittens. They received some education and advice, and now they have two loving feline companions that aren't going to increase the unwanted kitten population any more. They also now have access to resources if things get tough again.

The rescue also has a low-cost spay/neuter program for people to get their cats fixed even if they don't have a lot of money. Those who are on public assistance of some kind (medicaid, welfare, food stamps, social security) can get theirs done for free if they provide us with proof of their being on programs or low income. The cost is covered through the rescue by donations and grants. For $70, they get a spay/neuter, a rabies shot, a flea treatment, and a vet exam (where the doc can find other problems that need addressing and make them aware of it). For another $4, they can get the cat wormed. Again, low income families can get it done for free; we do a maximum of four free procedures each clinic, out of a total of 25 cats done that day--and the clinics are done every Sunday. It's a great program.

Even though the situations are not ideal for the animals, we have to acknowledge the reality that people are going to make the decision to acquire the pets anyway, and so we come up with realistic solutions, whether it's getting the animals spayed or neutered, removing kittens for fostering and rehoming, or helping them to budget for food and medical care, or find resources like food banks that carry pet foods.

I'll be very honest and say that, if I were in their situation, I would not want to live a catless life. When you're already down and out, the comfort an animal companion can bring is invaluable. The elderly are especially helped by their feline companions, but I also believe that it's valuable for children to be able to grow up with animal companionship, and it's rewarding to be able to give them that opportunity when they wouldn't otherwise have it.

Now, because I know you want to see them, here are some photos of Sunshine, some of them with her near-twin Ptera!
n my lap:
Sunshine on my lap

Getting sniffed by Ptera:
Ptera (standing) and Sunshine

Ptera (standing) and Sunshine

Ptera: This better not be my replacement!
Ptera (left) and Sunshine

* Yes, fish sticks may be pricier than cheap cat food, but you can't buy cat food with food stamps.


Arwen said...

As someone who grew up quite poor, I can say our cat was very important to me. My grandfather had dogs and cats as part of the family farm - and animals were just a part of the family, as far as my mom was concerned. Class wasn't even an issue to be thought of.

My poor cat grew up in a vegetarian household though. (Cheaper than meat, right?) So if we ran out of cat food before the next paycheque we'd make a "wet food" of eggs, yeast, and shredded bread ends. Of course, our cat was quite happy - and useful - in catching its own food, too.

Recently, there's more of the "poor people shouldn't have pets" thing, and it bothers me. It used to be pets were part of the family (and did their chores, too ... poor people are likelier to live in places with vermin, and cats are good at keeping that under control. In some ways, poor people are likely the ones who need "working" pets, and therefore all the moralizing that you should have enough money is rather backward. Vermin control is at least part of why we befriended cats!)

Generally, the common perception these days seems to be poor people shouldn't have anything but three jobs, a crazy ass work ethic, and a savings account. Or maybe that was always the middle class perception, but I went to university to start hearing it.

It's completely wacko. Poor people are the majority of the people on the planet, and they're allowed to live lives, with love and fun and laughter and beauty and companionship and entertainment too.

Anyway. I'm just saying "what you said", but I suppose it's been bugging me, this shift toward monied pet ownership.

Anonymous said...

I was never poor myself - I come from a German middle class background (the middle class is still the biggest income class in Germany) - but from what I see it is hardly only poor people who don't keep their pets the "optimal" way. The issues might be different depending on the owner's income level, but a lot of people don't really consider what the true needs of their pets are (not just the needs that they project on their pets) - even if they do have the financial means to fulfill them.

As long as a pet is not willfully neglected or abused it makes much more sense to educate people and make them aware of their pets' needs (and offer solutions how to meet those needs) than to tell them they can't have a pet at all.

(As it happens, I would love to have a cat again, and my quality of life would sharply increase if I had one since I have some social isolation issues right now. But I won't have any pets for a while because in my current life situation keeping pets would be irresponsible in my eyes.)

Anonymous said...

I've always been poor. But that sub-set of poor, where I made too much money to get any kind of actual help, but not enough money to reasonably provide for my family. And I have had 4 cats.

Those cats have brought me more comfort than anything possibly could have. They don't demand anything but food and attention. They don't throw a fit if you can't afford to buy them the latest fashion and they don't whine if you can't afford to buy them treats. As long as they have enough food to fill their bellies and your attention when they want it, they're happy.

When you go through life constantly worried about whether or not you're going to be able to pay your bills that month, that kind of unconditional love you get from a pet (of any kind!) is invaluable.

So... yeah. Those people that say "poor people shouldn't have pets"? Can suck it.

Anonymous said...

i'm horrified that anyone said that about returning the cats to the same "situation"- horrified beyond horrified.

if that had been a troll saying something about fat people, you would have been outraged. i am OUTRAGED. how dare someone act as though only rich people deserve pets. the PROBLEM was that they didn't have money to spay/neuter, not that they couldn't care for one or two adult cats. cat food is cheap, if you can feed yourself you can probably feed yourself and a cat.

i'm on disability. i've had more than my share of months where i was out or almost out of money before my next month's check came in. but my cat has NEVER gone without food.

this attitude towards poor people is disgusting and disgraceful. i'm glad you responded in a measured way but i wish you'd shown a bit more outrage. the idea that poor people are some sort of sub humans that can't be trusted with a pet and don't deserve one is disgusting. poverty is not a moral failing, period.

Anonymous said...

I thought you'd like to know, that recently we adopted a kitten, named Hitomi, that was a part of a litter donated to the local pet shelter.

Also, Hitomi is a romanized version of a Japanese name, meaning beautiful eyes. In case you were wondering.