Friday, July 31, 2009

What's in a name?

A caregiver called me the other day and said that someone might be contacting me about a mediation problem they were facing. She said that the person who was contacting me thought that it might be useful to speak with me because of my legal training. The interesting thing was that this wasn't a legal problem at all.

I'm grateful for my formal education but honestly, I've learnt much more during my time with CWS. The bottom line is - it doesn't matter what your educational level is or what you were trained in. One of the best mediators I know is a woman who doesn't speak much English and yet manages to almost always solve the problems.

There's no special 'trick' to being a good mediator or even a caregiver. Being a doctor, or a lawyer, or an accountant doesn't automatically make you better at it. Certainly you can go for classes and courses for mediation at least, but the most important thing is experience.

I think a lot of us are hung up on titles or degrees. It's only natural - but we're much more than our formal education. Mark Twain, who himself left school early, famously said, "I never let my schooling interfere with my education".

Don't think that you are not 'qualified ' to be a caregiver, or a mediator because you don't have the right 'training'. All you need is a desire to keep learning, a calm temperament, and a bit of common sense. There are tons of resources - more so now than ever before. There is a vast array of information on the Net alone. There are other caregivers or mediators who can give advice whether online, or in person, or over the phone.

You'll be surprised how much you learn just by observation. Much of it cannot be taught - though an experienced caregiver may be able to point it out to you.

Finally, remember that everyone has their own set of skills. Some people will make excellent caregivers, others, fantastic mediators. Still others may be fantastic fosters. Find out what you enjoy and what you're good at and that's where you'll best be able to contribute, no matter what your 'training' might have been in.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Alley Cat Allies

Alley Cat Allies, originally uploaded by dawnkua.

I visited with the nice people from Alley Cat Allies today. However you're getting photos of the cats and dogs because admit, it - you're rather see the animals :)

Also, people can be shy - but what can a cat do when it doesn't want it's photo taken? Jazzy on the lower right hand corner demonstrates the correct etiquette when she's had enough photo taking for one day.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

South-pawed kitties?

Interesting article though it was a small study group - anyone want to try it on their cats? :)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Hummingbirds, originally uploaded by dawnkua.

You know the old untruth that people shouldn't feed cats because more and more cats will come into an area when there is food? The more I watch different animals, the more I see how untrue it is, not just for cats, but for other animals too.

We all know that cats enter an area because of territory, not because of food. However, this isn't just limited to cats. If anything else, it's almost as if the animals don't want others near 'their' territory and food. In this photo, the hummingbird below is watching the hummingbird above as the latter tries to move closer to the food bowl. It doesn't matter that there are several food ports. It doesn't matter that there is plenty of food for both birds (and others besides). The hummingbird just does NOT want the other bird in its territory, or near its food.

I've seen hummingbirds that will just sit there and warn others away from the feeding station. I've heard someone say that her hummingbird would rather go hungry then let anyone else close.

This is the case for squirrels, raccoons and other birds even when there is ample food. I hang a finch sock outside and the finches have their own 'spots' even though there is plenty of food. If a finch attempts to sit on another 'spot', he or she is driven away.

The only time this doesn't seem to apply so much? Mating season.

So sterilised cats don't have that issue - and they get even more territorial about their area. Food really isn't the issue.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Observatory Cats

In New Hampshire, there is an observatory that studies the weather. It is apparently extremely cold most of the year. What is interesting is that they have always had observatory cats. The last active cat, who 'retired' two years ago, just passed away at age 19. Here are some photos of how cold it can get.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The vaccuum effect and natural attrition

Today's post is about two phrases we bandy around a lot :- the 'vacuum effect' and 'natural attrition'.

Here's a definition of the vacuum effect from Alley Cat Allies. Here's a definition of attrition. Now that we have our definitions out of the way, we can talk a bit about what they really mean to us in terms of TNRM :)

Some people deny that this happens - and most of the time it's because they've never dealt with a colony being removed.

However, most people who DO work with cats, or who have had issues with the cats will have noticed that the vacuum effect is very real. This includes a condominium I know that used to spend a few thousand a year getting 'rid' of the cats or town councils that asked why there are new cats coming in when the existing ones were removed and killed. This also includes a caregiver I know who removed the cats from the area thinking it wasn't safe on the streets. When she went by the next day, there were four new cats waiting.

We see how nature abhors a vacuum every day in nature. We see it when water floods in to fill an empty space, or when air does. I'm sure one day we may even understand WHY it happens, but we can already see its effects. We may not all understand how gravity works exactly (or maybe that's just me:)), but we don't deny it exists.

Many people may not have much exposure to cats - and that's where caregivers like you guys come into play. That's also why it is so important that caregivers are accurately able to explain concepts to people who may not know much about cats.

I spoke recently with a caregiver who said that natural attrition would kill off all the cats in the area. It's natural (no pun intended) to be confused when so much literature tells us that natural attrition will kill off the cats. BUT, if you accept that the vacuum effect exists, then there is no way that natural attrition can kill off ALL the cats. Will natural attrition kill off cats? Yes, of course it will. Cats can't live forever after all. It may even, when coupled with sterilisation, bring the population down dramatically depending on the size of your colony. But to have NO cats in the area? Not if you accept the vacuum effect because logically new cats will move in when there is a vacuum.

At some point, the colony numbers after the cats have been sterilised, will drop to such a point that the territory CAN accommodate more cats - note I said, territory, NOT food. Even if you try and remove all newcomers, new cats are going to keep showing up. Some of you may remember the analogy I once gave. If you have a castle with four entrances, and you have five or six guards posted at each door, chances are you'll be able to defend the castle. If you have two guards, chances are that some intruders are going to sneak in. It's the same with the cats.

The vacuum effect does not respect your intentions, good or otherwise. The vacuum effect does not care whether you removed the cats to adopt them or relocate them. It does not care if the cats died a natural death or were killed in animal control somewhere.

Some of you may wonder why I'm splitting hairs about this, but it's very important that a person or organisation who agrees to a TNRM programme knows what to expect. Some expecting that all the cats will die out after they have lived out their natural lifespan and that there will be zero cats is going to be in for a big shock. They might well think the programme is a failure.

Some complainants may also ask why not just remove all the cats NOW. If they are all taken away, then why wait for them to be sterilised and eventually die. In other words why wait for natural attrition to kick in, when we can have UNnatural attrition?

I know some people will say that complainants may not want to hear that the cats are always going to be there. I believe that if you're honest right up front, but say that a managed, sterilised, cared for colony will create less issues than an unmanaged, growing cat population, most people will see the sense in that. Yes, the colony may always be there - but it doesn't NEED to cause any problems. Removing the cats and killing them just means the same issues come back over, and over again. It may of course take more than one conversation to get someone to agree but don't give up. There's tons of resources online and it's a good idea to take the information with you - one good resource is ACA's website.

At the end of the day, your argument has to be logically consistent to you, before you can convince someone else.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stones in garden

Stones in garden, originally uploaded by dawnkua.

I attended a meeting with the feeders, the people who were facing problems, and two other mediators this evening.

One of the mediators had gone down over the weekend and set stones down in the garden to prevent the cats from defecating there. Aminah - I remember you asked your town council to do this, and they eventually did, which also stopped the defecation problem there.

The good news is that there will be a 6 month trial period and if the situation is good, the programme can continue. We mentioned that it's a good idea to keep the lines of communication open during this period - and not have an accumulation of problems till later.

The bad news - unfortunately there does seem to still be quite a lot of distrust in the room. I do hope that the different groups will be able to start anew.

This is why it's sometimes useful to have mediators come in. They're not privy to all the bad blood that may have occurred in some situations, and can hopefully bring a more objective eye to the situation. Some caregivers are wonderful at caring for the cats, but may not be the best at mediating. This is why designated mediators can really be helpful. As we have discussed before, one of the main advantages is that mediators may be able to help out as well on a more flexible schedule - ie they obviously won't be called in every day - but they'll still perform a crucial role in a TNRM programme.

What was really helpful today was that one of the mediators drafted an agreement so that both sides knew what was expected from each side. It would be also good, and I am sure they'll be adding this in, to put in what the expected results will be in 6 months - or our dreaded Singaporean KPI :)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cat in trees

Cat in trees, originally uploaded by dawnkua.

I helped out with a mediation last week and mediated alongside a young lady who was a pleasure to work with. I was only carrying my compact so this isn't a good shot - sorry. The most interesting part of this mediation for me? The fact that while Singapore and the US are miles apart, people aren't all that different.

Fortunately the case seems to have been resolved for now (pending a meeting tomorrow), but I think one of the issues boiled down to trust, or the lack of it. As a result, the feeder didn't always tell everything to the people whose property the cats were on, and they in turn felt that they were being kept out of the loop. The end result? Misunderstanding and more distrust.

When you care for the cats, chances are that you may well run into someone whom you may not particularly like or trust, but whom you have to work with. This may include your town council, the management of the office or building where you feed, or even neighbours or property owners where the cats live or wander onto.

Whatever your feelings are about this person, or however justified those feelings may be, you basically have no choice - you NEED to work with the person or people involved.

Bear in mind that on the other hand, they often do NOT need to work with you. They can refuse to allow the cats to remain there, or to work with you. Some may demand the cats be trapped and removed. Worse, some may trap and send them to AVA or animal control , or call the town council without your even knowing about it.

So what do you do?

First of all, try and sit down and talk to the person and agree on certain guidelines. One of the issues that I think arises is that both sides may only have a vague idea of how this will play out and this gives rise to different expectations. Then when those expectations are not met, anger and/or disappointment sets in, and the situation deteriorates.

Second, hard as it may be, try and start anew. I remember a Town Council where the caregivers really did have justification for feeling that the town council had gone behind their backs and gone back on their word. Some of the caregivers always feared the TC would turn around and stab them in the back again. Some others were wary, but really tried in good faith to work with the officers involved. I would say that the second group was generally more successful. Mistrust usually just snowballs into more mistrust. There's a difference between being careful and being antagonistic - and usually people can tell.

Third, this doesn't mean you should not be careful. Decide how much information you are comfortable sharing, and how much you think the other party needs to know. If you think a person might go back on their word, then make sure you document everything. Get someone to go with you if you need to meet with them so you have a witness. If you speak with them on the phone, follow up with an email or a letter stating the contents of the conversation, and how they can get in touch with you. This will all stand you in good stead later on if there should be a dispute as to what happened.

Also make sure you keep good statistics with regards to your colony. Be sure you know how many cats you started out with, how many you sterilised, and how many you have now. Keep a tracking sheet - they are ALWAYS a good idea.

Finally, always be polite.

There will of course be some people who are just impossible to work with - but at least you will have tried your best. You may then have to consider possibly relocating the cats for example.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Keeping birds out

This is interesting - someone I had spoken with had talked of a consultancy to help with community cat issues in the same way. If people will pay to stop the birds from defecating, one wonders if a similar professional run company that handles attendant issues in relation to cats might work? Of course, since the birds CAN'T be killed (or aren't as easily caught to be killed), this may be the reason why the companies are willing to pay to prevent them from defecating on the premises.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sharp shinned hawk with kill

Sharp shinned hawk with kill, originally uploaded by dawnkua.

You know how cats get the blame for killing birds? I saw the black cat wander through my yard yesterday and walk right by the birds.

On the other hand, this hawk landed on top of my bird feeder. It usually flies off the minute I move, but this time it didn't notice me. It swooped, and in maybe thirty seconds, it had something in its talons. When I zoomed in with my camera, it was a bird and it was already dead from what I could see.

I mentioned this to my neighbour. She said that she always feels conflicted. I love the hawks - they're beautiful creatures. Also on one hand, it is nature. On the other hand, you do feel bad for the bird that died.

She also mentioned something interesting. Her cats, who are kept strictly indoors, were sitting on their screened in porch when the hawk swooped down. The hawk landed and stared at them - and the cats were terrified. Her cats like watching the birds, but they knew that this hawk was a predator, which could easily carry them off, and they froze till the hawk was gone.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Simon's Cats - TV Dinner

Right after the article on cats and their purrs, here's a cute short film on a cat purring to get his food :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cats and their purrs

Thanks to yskat for sending in this really interesting article on cats and their purrs. Ask anyone who has spent a significant amount of time with a cat and I think they'll tell you that different meows and purrs can indicate different things. They can also be very persuasive as anyone who has been woken up by a purring, hungry cat in the morning can attest - though in the case of one my cats, nipping me has the same effect :)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Adoption - always the best thing for a cat?

I was corresponding with a caregiver about an adoption that she had to help out with. The feeder she has been helping out told her that she found a home for some kittens. The caregivers warning bells went off when she realised that all of the kittens were going to the same household that already had some cats. She decided to go with the adopter, especially because the adopter turned up with no carrier in tow.

To cut a long story short, the existing cats in the household weren't sterilised, and the condition of the household was far from ideal. The home was not meshed up, the cats were being fed raw, uncooked food, there was no litter, etc.

Fortunately, the feeder was able to get the cats back, but in the first place, it's important to make sure that the cats go to a good home. Sometimes, some people are so excited that someone will take a kitten, that they give it away with no questions asked.

I have been asked by a desperate foster to help her 'catnap' the cat back because the adopter would not let her in again and the foster was worried about the adopter's ability to care for the cat. I found another cat literally matted in dried defecation.

Some people think that the ultimate goal is to find homes off the street for community cats. It really isn't. The goal is to find GOOD homes for cats that can be adopted out. I know of caregivers that are definitely taking better care of the cats than some 'adopters'.

You have to wonder, which is worse? To live life on the street, cared for by someone, fed regularly and sterilised? Or to have a cat enter a household where it is unsterilised, has several kittens, is fed badly, and gets no or scant medical attention? The former might well live longer. The latter may well continue the cycle of misery by having more kittens that live under the same conditions.

There are far worse things than living on the streets.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cat in cinema

I'm sure some of you have received the email about a cat that was stuck on the roof of an abandoned cinema along with a link to an earlier blog post of mine. I was sent the email as well by a few people. Fortunately the cat has been rescued. Unfortunately, it seems that the situation there has not been resolved though I have not heard from the people involved for a while.

There was also no link to my followup blog posts which are here, here and here. This may give an incomplete picture of what has been happening - or at least what was happening when I went down almost two years ago.

The person who contacted me about this case was helping out but wasn't the feeder and thus was limited in what he could do. The management had gone down a few times and opened the place up - but unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be an attempt to plug up the holes. The building was also apparently in bad condition and would be unsafe to walk into.

Worse, at least when I was there, at least one feeder was still feeding the cats inside by throwing food in. The woman I met was worried that the cats would be hungry, but throwing more food in does nothing but encourage the cats to stay in, especially when the doors were open as on the day I went down.

Obviously, thinking long term - ie how to keep the cats out - is more important than the short term, ie the cat is hungry. To that end, it would have certainly been better if there had been attempts to try and work with the management to prevent the cats from going in. Perhaps it was done, but the feeders I did meet did not seem very interested in that.

Whatever the case must have been, unfortunately because there doesn't seem to have been a long term fix, this means that this has been going on for years. I am also pretty sure the management will have long lost patience by now if the problem has been reoccurring.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Here's an interesting article about rats not straying from their territory. There have also been reports of how birds seem to know how to know how to return to their territory after migrating every year. It seems that somehow animals have an instinct on where to return - and a strong territorial instinct. Perhaps this explains how lost cats and dogs find their way home - though we still don't know how.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Knitting and cats

For those of you who knit (and preferably read Japanese!), you might find this of interest.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

ST (2-7-09)

This was an interesting letter. Instead of asking that the cats be killed, I think that it's good that he asked that feeders be educated and that cats be sterilised instead.