I have a lot of very strong feelings about how we treat animals, socially — the way a culture takes care of its animals is a strong indicator of how it treats those who are unable to advocate for themselves. Animals in the US are by and large treated as property rather than living beings, and there’s also a certain amount of belief that they’re almost disposable. When they’re sick, or no longer entertaining, or you’re moving, you can just dump them, and it doesn’t matter, because, after all, they’re just animals.
There are a lot of complex social challenges surrounding people and pets, with class being a pernicious issue — people with limited economic resources may feel like they cannot afford to care for sick or injured animals, or may not be able to be choosy when it comes to finding pet-friendly housing, which is less available and more expensive. But some of these issues are created by society, and the fact that people don’t know about solutions that are ready to hand is deeply disturbing. Even shelter directors and veterinarians don’t necessarily provide people with resources they can use to keep their animals, despite evidence that people may be deeply upset by what they see as ‘the only choice.’
Leila often comes up for me as an example when I’m talking about this. When I first brought her home, she and Loki didn’t get on at all, and they got a bit internet famous for it. Over time, they mellowed a bit, but they still fight to this day — and for a long time, when Loki attacked Leila, she would pee in terror, which was suboptimal. She still sometimes does it, usually when she feels trapped, and I’d lie if I said it wasn’t frustrating. It’s frustrating to find random deposits of cat pee. It’s frustrating to have to replace upholstery and throw things out.
For a time, Leila was on antianxiety medications in the hope that they would help, and they did — they definitely helped get her over the hump of being abjectly terrified, and now both cats largely roam the house, though I keep the bedroom closed during the day due to an Unfortunate Incident. At varying points, people have suggested that I should get rid of her, as though she’s a piece of trash that I can crumple up and toss.
Leila, it should be noted, was abandoned in a foreclosed home, where she was trapped with another cat for at least a month before the sheriff rescued them and brought them to the humane society. Both cats needed extensive medical treatment for fleas, worms, and other medical issues. That’s a traumatic experience to live through, and when I adopt animals, I take it very seriously — I think about their known issues, and whether I’m willing to commit to them for life. I made that choice when I adopted her, and turning around to surrender her again is personally abhorrent — especially because it would traumatise her even more.
Antianxiety meds are relatively inexpensive, but there’s another simple solution: Diapering. Diapers are used widely on cats with paralysis and poor bladder control, as well as cats who have a problem with ‘excitable urination,’ like Leila does. It’s easy to learn how to diaper cats and it radically improves everyone’s quality of life. The cat doesn’t have to experience the humiliation and distress, and the guardian doesn’t have to wonder where the next pee land mine might lie. Diapering, in point of fact, saves lives, because it means that cats aren’t being killed just because they can’t control their bladders.
Yet, people with cats who sustain injuries that make bladder control difficult aren’t necessarily told that they have options. Instead, they’re advised to euthanise or keep their cats in enclosed areas. This isn’t necessarily the result of malice on the part of care providers or shelter personnel, but ignorance, or sometimes the belief that guardians aren’t ready to take it on. Even in the face of evidence that people are very committed to their cats and very willing to take on a little extra care to keep their cats healthy, independent, and happy.
Notably, ASPCA research shows that when people turning up to surrender their pets are provided with information about free and low-cost veterinary care, housing options, and other resources, the vast majority decide to keep them. Trashing people who surrender their pets is a simplistic kneejerk reaction — many people think they are doing the responsible, necessary, and reasonable thing by taking their pets to a facility where they might get a second chance. They do so because of a failure to communicate, a lack of information about available resources, not because they are cruel or don’t care about their pets, and socially, we need to be simultaneously expanding these resources to help more animals, and providing better outreach and education.
Cats like Leila aren’t disposable, to be ditched at the shelter when they turn out to be imperfect. She may drive me up the wall sometimes, and I may mourn the hundreds of dollars I’ve spent replacing things she destroyed, but when I adopted her, I made a commitment to her, that she would never be abandoned again, that she would be treated with respect and dignity. If that means making her wear a diaper at night, so be it.