Wednesday, August 09, 2006



There are powerful, compelling arguments for why we should not breed cats and have them as companion animals: our propensity to breed for arbitrary physical traits has worked against cats' health interests; so many people mistreat, neglect, or abandon their cats; many people declaw their cats, which among other things destroys a cat's ability to truly scratch and thus degrades his quality of life; until a totally safe and complete vegan formula for cats is devised, animals must be killed to feed a companion cat; spaying and neutering is necessary to control cat populations but what might it take away from their lives; if we let cats outside they may eat birds or get hit by cars, but unless the cat has lots of perches and toys and daily play times, he will get bored inside.

And yet my cat is sitting in my lap, I'm scratching his chin, and he is purring blissfully. Are you sure we're not meant to be together?

Well, that's the beauty of adopting shelter animals. You don't pay into the immoral breeding industry. Companion animals are always a big question mark, particularly dogs and cats, which have to be fed meat. Yet research shows that pets have enormous benefits for our health, and many, if not most or all, dogs and cats seem to like being members of our families. So it seems impossible to choose to live without them, particularly with so many unloved companion animals needing good homes.
I agree with everything you said. But what about in the future, when we've pretty much cleared out the shelters, and rescued and/or TNR'ed all the feral cats? Do we breed? Or is that selfish, and/or does it pose unnaceptable risks to the cats (and other animals)?

(I realize that we let very irresponsible humans create offspring, but, at least for now, we don't deem it practical and/or ethical to prohibit people from procreating. Although we do have the power to remove children from overly abusive / dangerous homes. Maybe it's more like adoption. But even there, how strict would we be if there were no abundance of children available for adoption? I don't have the answers to any of this. My gut feel is that both companion animal and human get enormous satisfaction from their relationship with each other - but is it fair to breed animals for traits we like, and castrate them to keep them in a child-like state? I have to really put myself in their place as much as possible. It's impossible to do it 100 percent accurately, but I feel I should try my best. For instance, even if a neutered cat has a great life, when we say "oh, mating and having kittens is such a bother for cats," are we deceiving ourselves for selfish reasons? Or does it just happen to work out as a win-win? In the future, do most female cats have one litter, and we regulate the number of cats based on good, loving homes? I do not know. Fortunately - or not - we do not have to face those problems for a while.)
I don't really believe in breeding for selected traits as it is done now. If the traits being selected for are good health and intelligence and relatively sociable personality (in other words, no Kujos) rather than color or fur length, then that should, in theory, make for generations of healthy cats (or any other domesticated animal). I think we're a long way off from eliminating the homeless animal problem. But if we also agree that it's wrong to spay or neuter pets, then they will breed themselves, so someone will still need to adopt them; dogs especially have trouble adjusting to a feral life-style. As we've agreed, it's not an easy question to answer.

Here's an interesting anecdote, though I don't know if it simplifies anything: at my campus farm we have a mare who doesn't have a sunny disposition at the best of times, but can be particularly cranky when in heat. It's extremely difficult/hazardous to spay a horse, so mares are left in tact. Yet this mare perhaps would be a lot happier if she could spayed.

Also, a friend of mine with an adult female cat recently fostered a litter of kittens. The adult cat didn't have the least interest in mothering them, and stayed as far away as she could. So, one could imagine that not being a mother isn't really a loss for her.

Of course, they can't talk to us, so we'll never really know. But I can't say I really like the idea of a world with no more cats.
In my future world, my thinking was not so much feral cats and dogs versus cats and dogs bred under human supervision; it was no cats and dogs versus cats and dogs bred under human supervision. (Careful, caring, dilligent, informed supervision.) We will likely one day have to make the decision, "do we continue to produce cats and dogs as companion animals, and if so, how?"

You're right, some cats seem to have no interest in motherhood. But most are quite good mothers, and some are extraordinarily good. I suppose we could let surrogate mother cats and "human parents" raise neglected kittens. If we did breed, we may also be able to identify the good mothers beforehand. But I'm getting way ahead of myself with these details...

>>>But I can't say I really like the idea of a world with no more cats.<<<

I hear you. There's something magical about cats, and indescribably wondrous about being befriended by a cat. A world without cats sounds empty.

Nonetheless, the decision, as far as I'm concerned, has to be guided by "what's best for the cats?" They probably have more at stake in that decision than we do. Hopefully, we can come up with a win-win in which cats thrive and can be themselves, but also maintain a relationship with humans. Let's hope our descendants are wise and compassionate.
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