Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Moral Authority

Someone wrote to me yesterday and mentioned that she hoped the whole dog attack thing didn't degenerate into a dogs versus cats argument. I told her that I do worry about the same thing, but I hope it won't happen.

I also don't happen to think it's about dogs versus cats - it's because the whole issue is about something larger, which is one of whether animals have a right to live in a society such as ours.

The difference I think also boils down to one of moral authority. The minute someone asks that an animal be killed in some circumstances, opens up ALL animals, cats, dogs, birds, monkeys etc, to the same fate.

Here's why - when you say that it is okay to kill in some circumstances (ie dog attacks, dogs being aggressive, the human population being put at risk) then should the same accusation be leveled at cats, then you are implicitly saying that you agree with the cats being killed as well. Do cats attack? Could cats ever conceivably be aggressive and attack? Yes if threatened or if the circumstances are such. During SARS, they were clearly accused of being a health risk.

If the thinking is that killing is okay under some circumstances, then you are saying that it is acceptable to kill the cats too. If you have asked for a dog to be killed/removed, then should your community cat be placed in a similar position of some complainant asking for it to be taken away for any of the reasons alleged, then you're going to have no moral authority to ask that the cats be spared. The same arguments that you have marshaled in asking for the dogs to be removed can be turned around and used to convict the very cats you are trying to save. The TC is just going to say to you, but the cats are a threat, just like the dogs - and if there is a child that got scratched for getting too close, you're going to have a hard time convincing the TC or the parents that your cat is not 'aggressive' and hence should be killed.

If people point to an increasing number of dog attacks/more dogs around, then I'll also point out that last year at CWS, I had the most number of 'cats attacking' complaints as well in my 6 years with them. One reason could well be that people don't quite know how to behave around the cats (and misread the behaviour), others that the cats are in situations where they for example are defending their kittens or themselves. One cat was just extremely territorial - and would attack people, dogs and even other cats. Maybe it's just that there are more instances where cats are coming into contact with people. The fortunate thing for these cats is that someone was there to look out for them, and they were given a reprieve.

Yes, we all know that unsterilised cats are caught and rounded up and killed. The question is do we agree with it? I don't believe any caregiver condones it - we know it happens, and we know that until the day every community cat has a caregiver, the killing is going to continue. We don't however actively support it or ask that it be done. (Thankfully with more caregivers, and more sterilisation, the number of cats killed last year I've heard anecdotally, dropped).

Would caregivers see a group of unsterilised cats and then ask for them to be killed? I doubt it. Surely you might point to the fact that cats are not posing a threat to other community cats. So what happens to the cat that does? I knew of a feeder last year who had a tom she couldn't trap and it was hurting very badly her community cats. I believed I blogged about the fact that she wanted to poison the tom cat. Would other cats that attack cats within the community also be weeded out and killed then?

Once we call for the killing of some animals (and obviously I'm not referring to euthanasia in the true sense of the term) then the floodgates are opened to the fact that all animals are then fair game. It's very hard to make a case that some animals should be spared if the circumstances really aren't that different.

On a side note, it seems that in the Jurong case at least, when I was speaking with one of the caregivers, that there is a dog feeder in the area. This may be why the dogs are in the area, and think it is their territory too.


kaori said...

Frankly speaking, if there is a group of unsterilized cats in a housing estate, I think they should be removed too if the caregivers are way overstretched or there aren't any.

Even if the issue in Bishan is not brought up by a cat caregiver, it will still escalate into a news report. I think most people don't mind stray cats/dogs around, but if they are teeming in numbers right downstairs, then they cannot be ignored.

AVA is known to cull strays, but people will tend to look to AVA for answers when stray dogs balloon out of control. If there is no responsible dog feeder around, other neutral residents probably have no idea how to trap a dog,especially when it is not just one isolated dog, so we don't even get to think about sterilization costs yet.

Pity the dogs, at least there's still CWS and caregivers watching over the feline folks.

Dawn said...

kaori - I have to disagree :) If there are cats there, sterilised or unsterilised, I wouuld not want them removed. I understand that they are removed and killed because of complaints, and that it can't be helped if there are no caregivers there, but it's certainly not something I agree with.

Frankly, dogs are not a new thing - and there have been cases of dog attacks in the past. The problem is that when an issue like this is raised to the national press, it does bring attention to the dogs in a way nothing else does. It may also have the side effect of bringing unwanted attention to the CATS.

For the residents who aren't necessarily familiar with animals, cats can be just as 'dangerous' or unwelcome as the dogs. To the person who claims cats scratch their cars (something dogs I think aren't accused of), the cats may be even more of a 'menace' so to speak to their property and their happiness.

Chinky said...

Well said :)

Anonymous said...

Kaori - i totally disagree with you. Unsterilised or sterilised cats, managed or not managed by care-givers - every living thing has a right to life.

"Removed" means culled/killed.

How many is "teeming in numbers right downstairs" ? 10 or 20?
From my limited experience, cats are not that sociable as to live in large numbers together in one place.
If people do not feed - the population of cats would be self-regulated.
If someone feeds cats, sterilise the cats that he/she feeds, the numbers will remain stable and then decline in time.

If there are many unsterilised cats in the area, someone/somebodies are feeding and not sterilising.

Anonymous said...

4 million+ people as opposed to maybe 10-13000 cats? I wonder which species is ballooning out of control.

Anonymous said...

I think we human species are in denial that WE the cause of all the woes that befall us!
I think human beings should start "culling" ourselves with sterilisation.
Adopt children from impoverished countries so that we truly become internationalized. Imagine each family having children from different races!
As long as we guard our territories with "state of the art" weapons, we are truly the barbaric species!

calsifer said...

Well said, Dawn. I agree totally with your point. Having been caring for both a colony of formerly stable 6 cats (now down to 3 plus 2 new ones) that is in a "civilised" but uninhabited patch of the town we call Area 3, and 2 colonies in inhabited areas, Areas 1 and 2, whose numbers are always fluctuating because of irresponsible cat owners, I can see how a cat population CAN be stabilised through TNRM when there are no interference or minimal human-rooted issues eg dumping or irresponsible owners letting unsterilised pets roam. The appearance of the 2 newbies in Area 3 shows the vacuum effect is also in plain evidence.

Unsterilised cats are everywhere. Every colony starts out with few or ZERO sterilised cats. The TNRM has to start somewhere.

In doing TNRM, colony numbers do change, and sometimes not from human-rooted causes.

Caregivers have to accept that casualties from dog attacks is a possibility. For us, we've long accepted that it is a risk our cats face living in the streets, since there's always construction work of some kind going on in the area and the so-called industrial parts of town are quite near too.

In the last year, Area 3 lost 3 members, the latest just 2 weeks ago. While there is no direct evidence of dog-attacks, right before or after their disappearance, dog packs were seen running through the area. Do we call SPCA? AVA? No, precisely because of this moral authority conundrum you explained so well.

Caregivers have always cried foul and raged whenever their charges are rounded up. We also write and respond to letters in the media complaining about cats. How can we do what we despise or disapprove of to other animals? I for one, cannot reconcile the moral dilemma.

Yes, like every other caregiver, we don't want dogs harming our cats either, but does that mean we can and should cause harm to the dogs?

Someone mentioned in response to a previous related entry by you that the dogs have a tough lot trying to survive in the same concrete jungle that our cats are trying to live in too. I agree. If we don't want our cats to die, why should we wish death on the dogs, for calling AVA is passing an irreversible death sentence?

It is too simple an exercise to replace the noun in any letter like the one Miss Susanna Lim wrote. Dog, CAT, rabbit, bird... where will it end?

The damage from Miss Susanna Lim's letter cannot be undone though I hope the repercussions can be mitigated. MY worry is that hers will not be the last letter of this ilk. Too often, we come across caregivers who want similar actions taken. They do not appreciate the moral dilemma nor the impact on their moral authority if they carry out their actions. So I just hope that cat caregivers will think through the course of their intended actions before setting things in motion.

I appeal to cat caregivers, the important thing to remember is: what goes around CAN come around. Having to eat your words may be discomforting, but think of what it means for your cats.

Anonymous said...

So absolutely right, Calsifer.

There are dog care-givers just as there are cat care-givers in the community.

People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

Dawn said...

well put Calsifer and thanks for sharing as someone who has lost community cats in this way too.

You brought up a good point too - that life on the streets does have risks. I have been fortunate not to have lost any community cats to dogs, but one cat was hit by a car, another disappeared and never turned up again.

Some people will say that unlike a car accident, that being killed by dogs is not similar - because a dog isn't an inanimate object. That's true - but a dog also doesn't have intent, as say a human does.

Let's put it this way - when a cat kills a bird, does it have the intention to kill the bird? I don't believe so - it just wants to play. Otherwise why would a cat chase a bunch of feathers tied to a string?

It's the same with the dogs - I don't believe either animal acts with malice or cruel intention.

Anonymous said...

Humans act with cruel intention when they call ava to "remove" dogs.

How different are these humans from the people who asked TCs to "remove" cats from their void decks?

Like Calsifer said, the noun "dog/cat" is interchangable. The intent is the same, they want dogs/cats killed.

calsifer said...

Sorry to hear about your loss. We've had cats gone MIA for other reasons too - old age, pest control round up...

For sure, while there construction work was going on before our block from 1997 to 2005 or so and dog packs roamed the area more frequently, we were always apprehensive that we'd find mangled cat bodies. But all our cats through the period remained safe from dog problems. So I believe this shows that not all dog packs attack cats, and not every cat will fall victim to dog packs.

In fact, all three lost cats in Area 3 HAD grown up or are savvy with dog-pack situations, so it's either a case of bad luck or MIA by other causes though dog-pack attack remained the highest possiblity.

Well, it seems like one of the worser scenarios, that dog caregivers retaliate is happening, from Dawn's post "Now the cats are at risk too". Like Anonymous (April 23, 2008 8:26 PM), said: "People who live in glass houses should not throw stones."

And just as Anonymous (April 24, 2008 1:34 AM) said, however they style themselves, people calling for the removal of one species or another for whatever reasons, cannot deny that their intent IS the same. Blood is on their hands. And unless AVA has expanded their killing fields to include horseshoe crabs, the colour of blood in every AVA killable animal, cats, dogs, birds, is the same as ours: red.

Dawn said...

You brought up yet another good point calsifer - that often human behaviour affects the animals, construction work being an excellent example. With so much construction going on, it's not a huge surprise that more animals (dogs and cats) are going to be displaced.

Anonymous said...

If there are dog caregivers in the area, they should stand up and be counted. Feeding dogs without excercising care and not sterilizing them is just waiting for disaster to befall on them.
The population of cats in the community has been stable compared to the dogs.

Perhaps we have played into AVA's ploy. By choosing inaction until things come to a boil, then AVA is not the bogeyman but merely acting on media report. If they had taken action right away, they will incur the wrath of dog lovers.

calsifer said...

Anonymous (April 24, 2008 2:37 PM),
How do you mean "If there are dog caregivers in the area, they should stand up and be counted"?

Perhaps, like most sensible cat caregivers, they've kept a low profile to avoid drawing attention to their charges. I know for certain that people we encounter during our feeding rounds tend to be surprised to find out about what we're doing. The first thing they point out is they think the cats are pregnant because of rounded tummies... even male cats. We have to explain tipped ears and so on. So don't assume.

On a related note, does ASD maintain a caregiver list like CWS does, you think? Perhaps it may help if CWS and ASD shared their caregiver lists so both cats and dogs can be co-managed, inasmuch as this is possible?

Dawn said...

calsifer - I believe they do but they don't know anyone in that area.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous April 24, 2008 2:37 PM :
Are referring to the "wild" pack of dogs mentioned by Susanna Lim at Jurong West? Have you contacts with the dogs?
How do you come to the conclusion that the dog care-giver(s) - if there is one - "without exercising care" ? What proof is there for such a statement?

Can you give figures to show that the cat population has remained stable while dogs have increased.
You too are drawing attention to the JW community cats.

If Susanna Lim had written about the self perceived "dangers" of
feral dogs without mentioning the community cats - she may NOT have gotten the community cats of Jurong West into public attention in the first place. Now she has gotten the Jurong West feral dogs into danger AND the Jurong West community cats into the picture.

If she is trying to "defend" the Jurong West community cats - she is certainly not succeeding. She has stirred up controversy among the animal care-givers & bring media attention - to JW cats !!

Calsifer is right - keep low profile. Wise way for animals to stay alive in SG. Stay away from the media !!