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Something About Cats

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Actually, something about cats that has always bothered me.  But first for the back-up notes.

I’ve always had tomcats, and always had them from a single litter, and never had them neutered.  This is the first time I’ve ever had a problem with them being in the same house.

We did, of course, have a bit of a difficulty with marking wars in the beginning, but it eased off after a while. 

And we often don’t have any trouble with fighting.  In fact, the two we have now actually co-operate in a number of instances–when the vacuum cleaner runs, for instance, they’ll repair to the top shelf in one of the wardrobes and huddle together for dear life.  It seems that when they think they’re in mortal danger, they remember they’re litter mates.

In deep winter, too, when we sometimes get field mice trying to get into the house to escape the cold–it goes down to double digits below zero F here at times–they will hunt together to catch the thing or frighten it away.

But they do fight, sometimes, and that makes me wonder why that is, when we’ve never had tomcats fighting in the house before.  I wonder if it’s because these two are indoor cats exclusively, and never go out to meet girl cats or anybody else on their own, so that the only territory they’re concerned with is the one they’re in every day, and the only one they know.

That said, I want to address the neutering problem, because it seems to me that there’s something inherently contradictory about it.

I understand that there are a lot of irresponsible people out there, who let pets roam unsupervised, never give a thought to the litters conceived that way, and generally don’t take care of any of it.

But I also know that evolution is true, and that breeding works.

I saw a cable show once a few years ago about the way in which cats came to be domesticated, and the general view was that they hadn’t been domesticated.  Dogs were domesticated, and specifically bred for certain traits.  Cats just sort of showed up in the house and tended to be compatible.  We fed them.  They hung out as long as they wanted.  We let them be.

Neutering is a relatively new procedure for pets–new to the last century, I’d guess–so that even though we weren’t doing anything to breed the traits we wanted into cats, we weren’t doing anything to discourage them, either.  And it’s possible that we were in fact having some positive effect, since we were probably more willing to feed and house the cats whose behavior we liked than those whose behavior we didn’t, which would have made the first group more likely to survive and breed and bring up young.

These days, though, we do neuter, and we do it without thinking for a moment about what its long term effects are going to be on anything but the raw numbers of available cats.

A cat with traits we value–affectionateness, for instace, and gentleness around other pets–is more likely to be rendered incapable of breeding than one with traits we dislike.  After all, we’re much more likely to take in the cat with traits we like, and to provide that cat with vet care, and therefore to neuter him.  Or her.

Common sense says that to the extent we’re successful in our campaigns to have cats spayed and neutered, we’re actually descreasing the percentage of the cat population that has traits desirable to humans and increasing the percentage of the cat population that has traits undesirable to us.

And that means that we’re creating more cats who will be abandoned to go feral, because the people who originally took them in to care for them will be unable to handle their behavior.  And before you land both feet on the families who abandon cats, you need to know that some of those behaviors can be very difficult to handle if, for instance, you have small children in the house.

I do not have small children in the house, but if I did, I’d almost certainly be looking for a way to get rid of Creamsicle.  Why?  Because Creamsicle, although lovely in many ways, tends to communicate by biting (and gives little to no warning when that’s about to happen).  He’s also not a very cuddly cat under any circumstances, but children can live with a cat who ignores them.  They can live less well with a cat who bites them because they sit down on the couch and don’t realize it’s there, or because they want to pet it when it doesn’t want to be petted.

Holli, on the other hand, is practically the perfect house pet for children.  You can pick him up and carry him around like a sack of potatoes, and he just won’t care.  You can hug him, pet him for hours on end–hell, he’d prefer it–let him sleep in the bed with you (he’d prefer that, too), let him wander around a litter of nearly new-born kittens–it doesn’t matter, Holli is gentle and friendly and affectionate virtually without exception.

My head says that the sensible thing, in the long run, would be to neuter Creamsicle and find Holli a girl cat with similar traits to mate with, thereby increasing the chance that cats with traits like his will be born. 

And that, by doing this, we would also decrease–slowly but surely–the percentage of the cat population left to go feral.

I have no idea if I’m making any sense here.  We aren’t used to thinking of cats as animals that can be “bred,” except in the very narrow sense of being bred for physical characteristics so that they can compete in cat shows.

But the feral cat problem is not really entirely a matter of people being irresponsible about spaying and neutering.  It is, I think, as much a problem of the fact that we seem determined to systematically breed out desirable traits while undesirable ones run rampant. 

The perfect housecat ends up spayed, neutered and kittenless on the kitchen windowsill.  The nasty little animal who bites and scratches at every turn is off in the woods, producing litter after litter.

Written by janeh

December 8th, 2009 at 10:28 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'Something About Cats'

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  1. My cat Noodles, who will be three in March, is much like your Creamsicle. He is attached only to me and even bites me from time to time, although his bites don’t break the skin. He also scratches in a very annoying manner on solid surfaces to get attention from me or my roommate. He tears up books if they are left where he can get to them. But at the same time he will climb in my lap and be perfectly content for a period of time. He is neutered and stays inside. I considered initally leting him outside but it there is too much traffic to do this. Cats don’t really train as I have heard dogs do, at least not in my experience. But regarding feral cats being neutered or spayed, there are groups of cat lovers who capture strays and have them neutered or spayed and return them to their own environment. My former husband belongs to a group like this. The TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release)method, according to some source I located on the internet, has reduced the feral cat population. I see nothing wrong with cat breeding as long as the offspring are provided a home and not left to wander or end up in a shelter to be euthanized.

    jem

    8 Dec 09 at 11:39 am

  2. Long term, that might happen. There has already been a part of the UK – and island I think – in which spay/neuter has been so successful that they were short of cats, and had to bring some in from another part of the country.

    But I look around here at the number of cats abandoned and euthanized; and remember the difficulty people encounter finding homes for perfectly good friendly affectionate cats, and I wonder if the spaying and neutering is making enough of a difference in the ocean of cats to affect their evolution at all. If enough of a majority of the dumped and (for a year or so anyway) breeding cats are as domestic as cats ever get, the process could go on for many many generations without resulting in the average accidentally-born kitten becoming more and more unsuited to becoming a family pet. Not around here, anyway.

    I wonder when drowning kittens became considered animal cruelty? That was the old way to do it; back when there were no vets in rural areas (rural = fishing; wild fish don’t need vets) and few in urban ones, the standard way of managing a cat’s fertility was to drown unwanted kittens at birth (which was seen as a merciful release). If someone wanted a cat, you’d just not drown the next litter. Or some of it. Better than strangling in a rabbit snare or dying slowly of injuries from some predator or car, I suppose.

    I’m astonished your cats don’t spray. Any tom I’ve encountered did it from time to time. As for them fighting sometimes – not even siblings always remain on good terms with each other! I generally figure that as long as they don’t shed blood, they can settle their dominance issues themselves. The current two are more peaceful than the last two were, although none of them were litter-mates.

    Cheryl

    8 Dec 09 at 12:22 pm

  3. 1. There are so many millions of unwanted, breeding cats that there will be no reduction of people-friendly ones, no matter how many you neuter. The huge numbers of cats euthanized guarantees that friendly and unfriendly cats are both lost in proportional numbers.

    2. Most kittens, properly raised, will be people-friendly. All cats have individual personalities, obviously, but the percentage of out & out psychotic attack cats is very small. Just about any kitten, though, can be turned into a family-unsuitable cat by encouraging those kitten behaviors that seem so funny, like leaping at faces, or biting ankles, or growling and playing with claws out. All that has to be civilized out of kittens with a lot of consistent training.

    3. If you aren’t going to let your cat breed, neutering actually improves their health and longevity. A female who goes through heat after heat without being bred is prone to ovarian cysts and ovarian and uterine cancer. In fact, I once had a persian female I let go unspayed for several years. By the time I had a persian male for her, she never conceived, despite nearly constant heats, and when we did have her spayed, she had an ovarian cyst the size of a baseball.

    A male who doesn’t breed will be more likely to develop testicular cancer and urinary tract problems. Not to mention the quieter home life for both sexes (fewer fights, less yowling).

    I’ve lived with cats both before & after they were neutered. Remember that for cats, the reproductive and sexual urges are seasonal. Even for them, without the cycle to stimulate it, they are non-sexual beings. When permanently removed by neutering, they don’t miss it. They’re just in a steady state of being as they are when not in the cycle.

    As for breeding your sweet cat, remember it’s not just one litter of kittens. You can probably find homes for one litter. But then unless every one of those families neuters, you’ve got growing generation after generation and we’re right back where we started. With hordes of cats, some of whom are friendly, some of whom are not, and most of which have no homes. :/

    Personally, even if the cats don’t spray, the smell of an unneutered male’s litter box is too strong for me. Whew! Even when I had 9 cats, nobody could tell on walking into my house that I had cats. Well, except for the rolling drifts of hair.

    Lymaree

    8 Dec 09 at 2:48 pm

  4. What Lymaree said. The seriously nasty cats out in the woods breeding are almost certainly feral, not obnoxious ex-pets–they react to people as wild animals do, because they *are* wild animals. They’ve never known humans, never lived in a house, and are reacting to humans as they would to any potential predator.

    There are also ex-pets out there–I’ve had them practically knock on my door, begging me to let them in. They’ve all been very nice cats–probably either dumped by their irresponsible owner, or ran off when they went into heat or smelled a female in heat off in the distance, & then couldn’t find their way home.

    Even many ferals can be tamed to be great pets. It takes a lot of time & effort, and they have to be caught young enough (a year or so for females, a bit younger for males). But I’ve done it a number of times. They’re sometimes very shy with people other than their owners, but otherwise perfectly normal, affectionate cats.

    The main danger with unneutered males is if they should get out & impregnate a stray which goes on to produce a litter of feral kittens. Which grow up to produce more litters of feral kittens. As long as they don’t do that, if you’re happy, they’re fine.

    Lee B

    8 Dec 09 at 9:41 pm

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