Monday, March 3, 2008

Don't give them more ammunition

A young lady wrote to me to say that her condominium manager had put up a circular about cats in the area. The circular mentioned that feeding the cats would encourage more cats to come in and that they were a health hazard to all residents. Both statements obviously are untrue.

The caregiver wrote a letter to dispel these misconceptions, which was clearly a good thing to do. Unfortunately some of the information in the letter probably went some way to causing more confusion and/or panic.

Firstly, she mentioned that unsterilised cats do not mix with sterilised cats because they form cliques with those with those with similar likes or dislikes, just as we humans do. That's not strictly true - nor can one really consider being sterilised a like or dislike. It's not the same as for example liking the same kind of music. Sterilised cats drive unsterilised cats out because they are more territorial (and she mentioned this). It is important to give the right information because otherwise causing misconceptions of a different kind may cause more confusion. For example, what if someone gets it in their mind that the estate is going to be colonised by UNsterilised cats who then drive all the sterilised cats out?

Secondly, while the letter did not mention what kind of health concerns there were, she went and enumerated the numerous potential concerns people might have. She mentioned toxoplasmosis for example, but did not mention that the risk factor is practically zero as the British Medical Journal said in an article. She DID mention that it's probably only possible to catch it from eating the defecation - and then proceeded to mention that the people are risk were pregnant women or people with lowered immunity. She also gave information about FIV and FELV and mentioned that worms can be passed to people as well, through skin contact and ingestion. What she DIDN'T mention is that skin contact usually involves for example walking barefoot across soil where the infected animal has defecated and where the eggs have since hatched (which usually takes a few weeks) - ie by practising good hygiene you won't catch it.

She ended her letter by saying that the statement that the cats were a health hazard to all residents was wrong, and that unless you were pregnant, immune compromised or you might dig and eat the soil, that the statement was clearly untrue.

I understand why the young woman was worried when the circular went out as she was worried that the cats might be caught, and she has sterilised them. I also understand that she meant to dispel the myths by giving out information.

However if I am a resident in the area and I knew nothing about cats, I think that her circular would have caused me a great deal more worry than the original circular. In this case, she has unwittingly enumerated all the potential health hazards - whether or not these are actual risks. If I was pregnant, immune compromised, or had a child that liked to dig in the soil, I might get potentially worried - and that could actually be a huge proportion of residents in the block. Instead of protecting the cats, this might have the opposite effect and give weight to what the manager said.

I have not heard from her as to the result of her letter, but I would strongly advise anyone writing to their management to consider what you want to put in. For example, we know that FIV and FELV will not spread to people - but mention that FIV is in the same class of viruses as HIV and you panic people, even if you mention that they do not spread. The idea is to reassure people - and sometimes putting in all this information does the exact opposite.

Often when people get a circular which is long (as this one was), they are also likely to skim. They may not take in all the information, but they may for example have seen FIV compared to HIV - which again could cause unnecessary worry.

As an example, say I am a childcare operator, and you are a parent who is concerned about diseases that might spread. Imagine I tell you that children might get bacterial meningitis but that if your child is not likely to kiss other children, you'll be fine. Now are you as a parent more or less likely to leave your child with me?

It would probably have been better in both cases to have said what steps are being taken to ensure that diseases don't spread, and to take the necessary precautions. It might have been good to suggest certain simple hygiene steps that people can take to protect themselves and then to follow up and ask what particular concerns the person has.


Chinky said...

I hope you have given her guidance on writing appropriately and factually.
We need a good cws to guide caregivers like this young lady with good intention but lacking in experience.
But it is good to hear young people speaking out for the gross injustice done to cats from all that killing for more than 20 years!
It is time to stop.
Why are we so kiasu and kiasi when what kill us are
1) Road traffic accident
3) Heart diseases
4) Stress from being so kiasu and kiasi and kiajenhu!

Dawn said...

I did actually suggest to her before she sent out the letter that she might want to change the things I mentioned. However she must have had her reasons for deciding to send out the letter the way it was.

I agree though that it's good to have caregivers who are willing to write in!

Chinky said...

The species to fear most are our own!
It is just a lot of paranoia of what we can contract from cats.
Toxoplasmosis comes from eating uncooked meat.

Anonymous said...

Many people will say that such and such animal spreads diseases, but when you ask them what kind of disease?...they got nothing to say because most of them dont know s*** and are just parroting what the PAP tells them. I suppose she thought that if she sounded knowledgable people would take her more seriously.

Anonymous said...

I think she is more concerned about what she knows and telling it - than telling it in the best possible way - on the side of the cats. Why mention the possible health problems cats may have ?
Most residents of the condo may not even know about it.

It is like asking someone to share a flat with another person and then proceed to say that the health hazards could be : the person may have HIV - but it is hard to contact. Or he could be a carrier of hepatitus but you may not get it unless he/she prepares food for you. He may have flu but if your immune system is good, you may not catch it etc etc ....

This person certainly give the worst presentation on behalf of the cats.

Dawn said...

I know she genuinely cares for the cats and I am sure she meant well. However as you said, it's sometimes just as important what you don't say, as what you DO.