Declawing is a net negative for cat welfare

There’s a bill going through the New Jersey legislature to criminalize declawing as animal cruelty. Apparently one of the primary defenses of declawing from the veterinary community is that some owners have their cats euthanized because they’re fed up with the scratching, so in that sense, declawing keeps a lot of cats alive.

Then in the Facebook comments on the article, someone says spaying/neutering is mutilating the animal’s genitals, and nobody seems to find anything wrong with that, so, therefore, mutilating their paws should be okay.

Right. So, here’s the difference between one type of mutilation practiced on companion animals (spay/neuter) and another (declawing): spaying and neutering cats actually achieves what declawing is supposed to do.

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Saying goodbye to the cute.

The weekend after I came back from Elbasan was the last couple of days with Iggy in my care.

After that one night when he joyously scarfed down a healthy quantity of canned cat food, he wasn’t so enthusiastic about solids, and I spent Saturday syringe-feeding him again. I realize this is normal, and that weaning to solids is not a linear process, but it was nonetheless frustrating. I found myself wondering how many more weeks I would spend giving the kitten a syringe several times per day.

Another complication was in cleaning up after him. There were several very good grocery stores in Lushnjë when I lived there (and there are now probably at least as many), but none of them carried any type of cat litter. The day after Iggy took his first solid food was also the day he took his first poop without me stimulating him, and that incident was not a problem, but obviously the situation was unsustainable. I was not ready to let a 5-week-old kitten become and outdoor cat, and it would take me a full day on a weekend to haul some kitty litter down from that one supermarket in Tirana. In the interim, I was kind of at a loss for ideas.

I don’t remember whether it was Saturday or Sunday morning, but some time over the weekend, my host dad Berti came to me and told me that he would take the kitten off my hands on Sunday afternoon. I had previously disclosed to them that I had not intended to keep Iggy in the long term, due to my allergies. Perhaps they had a better setup for keeping a grown cat, or perhaps they had grown attached to him in the previous week and didn’t want to say goodbye to his feline cuteness, but Berti and Donika were adopting my foster kitten. Since I was in the middle of scratching my head over how to keep Iggy from leaving “presents” all over my house, and how to get him to say goodbye to the syringe with heated formula, Berti’s announcement was good news. I still don’t know whether they started letting him wander outside the house right away, or whether they got him to do his business on a piece of newspaper in a corner, but either way, Berti came and collected Iggy on Sunday afternoon. I gave him the box and most of the bedding, and the mostly-full can of solid cat food. I kept my shawl.

That was right around the beginning of May. When my parents visited later that month, we went for a walk with Berti and Donika, and I asked how Iggy was doing. Donika related to us that he had a penchant for climbing to the top of the curtains so that Berti had to pull him down, and that he had a fondness for kitty acrobatics. (This whole conversation took place with me interpreting between Albanian and English, in case you’re wondering.) “But he’s disciplined!” she said. “He’s disciplined, because every night? He goes into his box, goes to sleep.” It sounded like he was a handful during the day but he at least did them the courtesy of sleeping through the night.

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In which Iggy is happy to see his Foster Mommy.

Before I found Iggy, I signed up for 5 days in Elbasan for training-of-trainers in Life Skills, which meant I had to be separated from my kitten for 5 days and 4 nights. I left him with my host family, Donika and Berti for the week and showed all my friends the adorable pictures on my digital camera.

Bottle is made of warms!

Iggy needs a little feet-warming time.

When I came back, I went to my host family’s door right away and brought my kitten in his box back up to his room. He was doing just fine, though his little paws were awfully chilly. I filled him up a fresh hot water bottle, and he hopped up on it to warm up his feet. I had often seen him snuggling up to the bottle like it was his mama, but to see him fully standing on top of it was unusual.

Next I gave him some formula and he demanded cuddle time. In fact, he basically commandeered my hand and made a ritual out of claiming it as his own. My host family had taken good care of him, but nonetheless he’d missed me and was happy to see me again.

I think it was only late afternoon on Friday when I came home—I might be mistaken about the day of the week, but I’m fairly sure it was Friday evening that I gave Iggy his first solid food.

Due to the way I held him down while syringe-feeding, I was afraid that Iggy would not know how to handle himself when presented with food on a plate. I was afraid that the repeated ritual of holding him on his back with his head grasped firmly in my hand had messed up his sense of the way eating was supposed to happen.

Yeah, well, he did just fine that night.

"Git in mah belleh!"

OM NOM NOM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here he is, a little more dignified.

Delicious meatiness!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this is the infamous happy-to-see-Foster-Mommy shot. It appears that I was not shaving my forearms that Spring, but anyway. Iggy was all pleased with himself for getting his paws on my hand again. I took this picture while lying on my stomach on the floor. In case you were wondering.

*knead*knead*purr*

Iggy is all up in my palm's business.

Iggy is a spoiled kitty.

Once again, with feeling! Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

Remember in Part 2, when Iggy was strong enough to climb out of his shoebox, so I needed to give him a larger cardboard box so that he wouldn’t get lost in my big house? After a few weeks, he was big enough that the larger cardboard box in the living room wasn’t quite enough to contain him.

dining room chair

Iggy likes exploring the dining room chair. Notice the cloth covering.

It wasn’t that he couldn’t get comfortable in there; it was still plenty roomy for his wee self to stretch out. It was just that as he got older, he became more ambitious and wanted to spend more time outside, and as he became bigger and stronger, he was able to vault himself out of the box even with my shawl heaped on top. Even with the I-Knead-You time, he still didn’t take kindly to me sticking him back in his dark cardboard cell so that I could go do things that didn’t include keeping an eye on Iggy.

Remember how I said I’d been sleeping downstairs in the winter because it was easier to heat? Well, by late April, there was more sunshine outside and thus the upstairs was warmer. The downstairs was in shade and the tiled floors were still plenty cold. Anyway, one evening I was at home with Iggy, and he was not happy about me putting him back in the box. He yelled at me, struggled and raked his little claws against the inside cardboard walls. He couldn’t get his claws to dig into the cardboard, but if left alone he managed to get enough liftoff to catapult him over the ledge. The point is that one evening, I went upstairs for a few minutes, and when I came back down, Iggy had freed himself from the box.

He was cowering under the cardboard flap, not daring to step off the little hand-knitted acrylic rug.

I think I know what happened: he jumped out of the box, briefly shouted “FREEDOM!”, then pressed one dainty little paw into that bare tiled floor, and said, “HOLY SHIT THAT’S COLD!” All those weeks of never being allowed to walk on anything that wasn’t either covered in fabric or generating its own heat (i.e. my hands), and then there was the living room floor.

So, that happened while I was upstairs, and I came into the living room again to find my foster kitty not daring to step off the rug again, and you know what I did? I pointed and laughed at that poor animal.

Iggy sizes up the gift bag.

It must have been very soon after that moment that I moved Iggy upstairs. There was a spare bedroom with nothing but a couple of twin beds and a large rug taking up most of the floor. I brought Iggy and his box up to the room, set the box on its side and kept the shawl draped over the opening so that it would keep him warm when he slept but not keep him from getting in and out. I scattered my crocheted practice pieces all over the rug so he could play with them.

In case you’re wondering, most Peace Corps Volunteers do not get anywhere near this much house to themselves during their assignments. Most volunteers rent small apartments and are grateful for the privacy. I had an embarrassment of housing and I appreciated every day of it. Since I had this embarrassment of housing, I had this whole extra room that I could set aside just for my foster kitty.

He was undoubtedly the most spoiled cat in post-Communist Europe.

The change of setting meant that I had to either bring the heated formula upstairs or take Iggy downstairs for feedings. It also meant I started bathing him in the upstairs bathroom rather than the kitchen sink. Shortly before I gave him his own room, I started trimming his nails, and you can probably imagine that he didn’t enjoy this. Not that he ripped my hands to shreds, just that he was constantly wiggling out of my grasp and it took several attempts to get all his talons trimmed down. Since I didn’t give him a scratching post, and the claws kept getting caught in my clothes when I held him, I figured the nail-trimming had to happen.

He didn’t demand a lot of cuddle time outside of feedings, but he seemed to like being near me. Whenever I came into his room, he’d scamper out of the box and when I left, he’d try to follow me through the door. I’d come into the room, stretch out on the rug, and Iggy would mainly just march around the perimeter of the rug, occasionally stopping to claw at my house slippers. If I sat on one of the beds, he’d sit between my feet. I sometimes brought him out to the balcony to enjoy the sunshine, and I’m sure he liked the warm upholstery on the sofa out there, but he was also rather nonplussed that I wouldn’t let him jump to the ground.

 

Iggy is having none of that bullshit.

If this is the first post in the story of my rescue kitten that you’re reading, you might like to see the earlier ones in the series: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

Remember how I said I’m allergic to cats, and brought Iggy home anyway? Well, in order to avoid being a pathetic, sneezing, sniffling, swollen-faced basketcase all the time due to handling his little feline self several times a day, I did something that made me a very mean Foster Mommy.

I bathed Iggy every day.

When he was a tiny thing, I’d fill a bowl with warm water and immerse him up to his neck for a few minutes, making sure to scrub out any dried-in formula that had accumulated in his fur. Once he was clean, I’d dry him off with a paper towel or cloth dish towel, though I found the paper towels tended to work better for this.

You horrible primate! Disgusting, sadistic ape!

This is not Iggy's favorite time of day.

When he got too big for the bowl of warm water, I’d turn on the kitchen sink and hold Iggy under the flow while he struggled, shrieked and clawed at my hands. He had a knack for getting his claws just at the corners of my cuticles and pulling upward, so I had to keep moving him around in my grip because the pulling-at-cuticles part was a more disconcerting sensation than any other clawing I took from him.

And just in case that didn’t make me a nasty enough caretaker, you want to know what I did once a week? I’ll tell you what I did: I gave that poor kitten a shampoo.

He didn’t enjoy getting dried off, either, but leaving a soaking-wet kitten too young for solid food to air-dry in my shaded, chilly house in early Spring was a non-starter.

I managed to make him very angry at me several times a day, and kept coming back for more, because he had a similar reaction when I stimulated him to pee and poop (he pooped once every several days) between feedings. I’d rub his tummy with my thumb, and he’d make a racket and wave his little front legs around—unfortunately this is one of those tasks that required two hands, so I couldn’t take any pictures—until his bladder began to release. Once the stream began to flow, he stopped struggling, his little body went slack in my hand, and he just let out a little apathetic “meh” every few seconds until he was all emptied out.

"Help! This is animal abuse!"

This is not his idea of a pleasant time, either.

At some point during this stage it became obvious that, Donika’s friend’s assessment notwithstanding, I was definitely caring for a male kitten.

(In case you’re wondering, the daily bathing seemed to get the job done where my allergies were concerned. I had a little bit of eye irritation which I managed by rubbing some Carmex into the corners of my eyes, but very little reaction beyond that. A few weeks into April I became intractably allergic to pretty much everything I breathed in, just like I’d been at the same time the previous year in a home with no felines, and just like I did at that time the following year, long after Iggy had left my care. Something got into atmosphere of central Albania in the early Spring that made me perfectly miserable for a couple weeks a year. The kitten didn’t bother me.)

The funny part of Iggy’s raging against the evil primate’s hygienic practices was that he never stayed angry once I was finished doing whatever it was. Once he was safely dry, he’d be ready to cuddle, knead and purr again. He was a very sweet, affectionate kitty when I wasn’t actively engaged in torturing him. He didn’t seem to get any more comfortable with bathing in the time that I had him, but oddly enough, my host mother later reported to me that Iggy liked being in water. Perhaps he was just a lot less unpleasant during his bath than any other cat she’d had.

honk-shuuu

That's my dress pocket. Iggy is about to fall asleep against my hip.

He didn’t like water when he was my foster kitty, but he did like being stuffed into my pocket. This is the cool thing about cats; they appreciate the simple pleasures of life. Give him a warm, soft, enclosed space, and the kitty feels right at home.

Iggy Kneads Me

Fuzzy Friday, everyone! I’m getting to this entry rather late, as there were family goings-on after work tonight, but here we are.

To recap, this is the fourth in the series. In Part 1, I found an abandoned newborn kitten and brought him home. In Part 2, I agreed to be his Foster Mommy until he was old enough to be adopted out. In Part 3, I named him Iggy because he was a little monster and I’m a dork.

Ehn...

Anyway. In the first part of the second week after I found Iggy, he opened his eyes, and I’ll tell you what happened then: he became cuter. Of course in his first week and a half he was the most perfectly adorable baby kitty that ever snuggled a water bottle, but with his eyes open, he looked more like a baby feline and less like a furry space alien. He also became, unsurprisingly, more aware of his surroundings and more demanding of my time. The series of pictures with my hand were taken before he opened his eyes, but after he decided that my hand was his mama’s tummy.

Since I didn’t have a bottle designed for a newborn kitten’s mouth (I once went to a veterinary supply shop and tried to find one. Didn’t work.), I was syringe-feeding him, and since he was a clueless fidgety thing, I had to hold his head in place with his back to my lap to get the syringe aimed properly into his mouth. Needless to say, the feeding took two hands and I was accordingly unable to take any pictures, which is a shame because it was funny to watch.

EHN!

Once the syringe was in there, he was quite enthusiastic in sucking the formula down like it was oxygen, but he couldn’t just slurp down a full stomach’s worth of the stuff like a nice cooperative critter. No, he would take a syringe or two, then he’d refuse any more, so I’d have to let go of him so that he could exercise his Baby Animal With Paws instincts. He would break free of my grip, get his little face and front paws on my palm, and knead me. He did the making-bread dance on my palm, and then he’d get his mouth on the pads of my fingertips and suck them. Did this turn your blogger into a ridiculous, baby-talking pile of goo? Why, yes. Yes it did. Anyway, I guess it was too much to ask a wee kitty that probably hadn’t seen his feline mother since the day he was born to be content with a hard plastic syringe shooting cow juice down his gullet, so he had to get the sensations of the “soft living stuff under my paws and tongue” dance to know that it was a legitimate feeding and not some weird kinky shit that large, giggling primates do for entertainment.

CLIMBING MOUNT FOSTER MOMMY!

Anyway, once he was satisfied that I was a gibbering mess from the oxytocin rush, he calmed down and I was able to feed him some more. He performed other amusing tricks during feedings; as he grew bigger, he would, upon securing the syringe in his mouth, poke his front paws between my fingers, stretch his legs to their fullest extent (his hind legs were unrestricted), and stretch out his paw pads and claws while going all Vampire Kitty on the syringe nozzle. I’m so sorry I couldn’t get a picture of him doing this, because it had to be seen to be believed; I tell you, he was doing Jazz Hands.

The point is that before Iggy opened his eyes, he might not have really known what I was, or at least didn’t know where I ended and the box began, but he knew to associate the smell of my hands with food and other nice things that baby animals require. Before he opened his eyes, though, the care ritual was very efficient: I would take him out of the box, make him go pee in the sink (and I’ll get to that later) while heating up some formula through a small glass placed in a larger cup of hot water, then feed him syringe-fuls of my lovingly mixed formula until he refused to take any more, massage him between my hands until he burped (yeah, you read that right), put fresh hot water in his bottle, and stick him back in the box. He’d mew at first when I left him alone, but then he mewed all through feedings, so that only meant he was awake. After a few minutes alone in the nice warm covered-up box and without stimulation, he would either snuggle with the water bottle and purr like thunder or he’d just go back to sleep.

Iggy likes his blue bedding on the kitchen counter.

On the day that he opened his eyes, I tried doing the usual pee-feed-bottle-sleep ritual with him in the late evening, as I was readying myself for bed as well. When I put him back in the box, Iggy started mewing more than usual. I guess I should say, he started shrieking like a little demon. He was extremely unhappy about being unceremoniously stuffed back into his cardboard prison, and he wasn’t going to take it anymore. I  don’t exactly remember now whether I tried feeding him some more, or tried making him go pee in the sink (it would depend on what I’d already tried before putting him to bed), but whatever it was, it only made him angrier, and eventually I brought him onto the sofa bed with me and sort of sat him on my chest. With that, he stopped behaving like Demon Kitty and dug his little paws into my pajamas. He still yelled at me a little while doing the I-Knead-You dance on my sternum, but after a few minutes he chilled the fuck out, and once I finished exhaling out all my tension, I was able to put him back in his box with a minimum of protest so that I would be rested for another day of trying to teach English to uncooperative teenagers.

I may have been a clueless Foster Mommy, but I did not make that mistake again. For the rest of the time Iggy spent in my care, I never, ever tried putting him to bed without giving him some snuggle time first. This meant I spent more time caring for my kitten and less time doing grown-up human stuff like reading books from the volunteer library, but since he wanted to spend that time kneading and purring, it didn’t bother me so much.

In which I become a Foster Mommy to a new kitten.

It was Sunday afternoon when I found the kitten abandoned by the trash heap. On Monday night, my host mother Donika came back to me with her sister-in-law Marjeta, who stated that she couldn’t continue to look after the kitten. She had a sick son, and the kitten’s crying at night was a problem that she couldn’t tolerate, so we needed to place him with someone else.

By that point, his umbilical cord had fallen off, and he was energetic enough to do a lot of climbing around on our clothes and squeaking persistently, but he was well away from opening his eyes. I held him in place in my hands while the three of us went to the family across the street, who had a mama cat with a litter. Donika explained to the lady of the house that I’d found a newborn in the street and asked her if she’d take him for their mama cat to feed, but our neighbor was having none of that. She sounded extremely annoyed, and I caught “është puna juaj” (“It’s your responsibility!”) while she got rid of us. Since that didn’t work, I agreed to look after the kitten. Marjeta gave me a syringe and showed me how to feed him. We put some weird assortment of fabrics (including the green scarf I’d used to hold him to my neck the previous afternoon) in a shoebox as his bed. He loves that water bottle in the red kerchief.I filled a plastic bottle with hot water, wrapped it in an old red kerchief, and stuck that in the box to keep him warm.

(Quick digression: it’s possible that the family across the street was the one that abandoned him along with the trash and had no interest in taking back the runt they’d already discarded. I don’t have any evidence, however, aside from proximity.)

After Marjeta and Donika went to their respective homes for the night (Donika and her husband Berti lived in an apartment underneath the house I rented from them), I was alone with the kitten, who was now clean, fed, sheltered and still had no idea what was going on. It was late at night by then, I had to get up in time to be at school by 8 AM, and I needed to get him to stop squirming and crying so we could both go to sleep.

I was probably right in the middle of, or a little more than halfway through, the rough draft of Charlinder’s Walk, and since it was still chilly at night at that time of year, I was sleeping on the pull-out bed in the living room because it was easier to heat than upstairs. I found that I could, indeed, hold the kitten up to my shoulder with my right hand and write fiction in longhand with my left while sitting up in bed with a notebook on my lap. I placed his shoebox on a little handknitted acrylic rug (my handiwork, of course) on the floor next to my bed. He woke up once in the middle of that night; I fed him again, put him to bed, and he was fine until the morning. He slept through the night from then on.

Don't be fooled; he was a little monster when he woke up. Within the next few days it became clear that he was plenty strong enough to climb out of his shoebox and scamper around, and I did not need to have a still-blind, still-deaf, vulnerable little critter running around while I was at school and getting lost in the furniture of my non-insulated and unevenly heated house which was quite large as Peace Corps housing goes. I stuck the shoebox inside a larger, cardboard box and dropped some more fabric and my crochet-practice pieces (I had just started learning to crochet after the previous Christmas) inside to keep him warm and occupied. I folded up my big, cherished shawl and draped it across the top of the box as an additional barrier to cold air and the kitten’s escape.

New kittens need to be fed several times per day, so it was fortunate that I only had 6 hours per week of my own classes; the rest were observation and assistance with my counterpart, who had no problem letting me escape in the middle of the school day to go and tend my new animal. (My house was about an 8-minute walk from school, so I could easily come and go as I pleased.) He seemed to be really into his water bottle; I’d stick him back in his box after feeding, and I swear, I could hear him purr halfway across the room from inside the box where he cozied up to that warm cylinder wrapped in cloth. I don’t think he understood the difference, just then, between the big moving thing that picked him up and squirted milk into his mouth and the smaller stationary thing that nicely sat in the box and kept him warm. I’m pretty sure I could also hear his paws kneading away at the fabric, like the water bottle was his mama.

It was not my intention to keep him in the long term, since, as I mentioned before, I’m allergic to cats and it would not have been feasible to bring him home with me. I decided to take care of him until he was big enough to be adopted out, and then I’d place him with another volunteer or other expat. Ergo, I identified myself to him as Foster Mommy. However, just because I didn’t plan to keep him for more than a few months, didn’t mean I could deny he was just about the cutest thing that ever was.

For my next trick, I will show you pictures of a kitten.

April 1st, 2007. No one played any pranks on me, though perhaps that was because I was living in Lushnjë, Albania in the middle of my Peace Corps assignment, their customs are different and I was a foreigner. My neighborhood was never interested in treating me like a native, but that’s a blogging-as-therapy session for another time.

On the way to the grocery store, I passed the neighborhood trash heap, and there was something different stretched out in the sand at the edge. There was a small, furry creature, which on closer examination turned out to be a new kitten, crawling with ants. I had to wait a few seconds for a little twitch to show me the animal wasn’t dead.

He was so young that his umbilical cord was still attached, and it had apparently not been trimmed beyond his feline mother biting messily through it after his birth. Needless to say, his eyes were closed and ears sealed shut. Judging from the amount of dirt that had accumulated in his fur and ants crawling on his little body, he’d been laid out in by the trash for several hours, his feline mother unavailable and his human owners uninterested.

I am horribly allergic to cats, so of course I took the poor thing home with me. I recall thinking on that afternoon that the kitten probably wouldn’t live much longer, but I could give him a bath and a warm, dry place to rest so he’d be spared the indignity of getting tossed around with the trash or tortured by bored children.

(A few things to know about Albania: 1. Animal welfare is a very new, alien concept, 2. Their children are generally left unsupervised, past a certain age, for several hours a day and have very few resources for entertainment, and 3. House cats are considered dirty, outdoor creatures. If you want to find a pampered pet, look for a small purebred dog like a Pekingese. I say this because it would not have been especially unusual or frowned-upon behavior for a clutch of unsupervised first-graders to amuse themselves by throwing chunks of road pavement at a near-dead newborn kitten that someone else had left by the trash heap.)

As I was saying, it was no more than a jump back to my house, so I filled a glass bowl with warm water, cleaned the dirt, bugs and excrement out of his fur, and dried him off with a paper towel. I left him resting again in a bowl in a sunny spot on the kitchen table while I went about my grocery shopping.

"Ehhhn! Ehn! WTF is this?!"As the afternoon wore on, the kitten showed a bit more energy but not much enthusiasm. I didn’t have any feeding implements except spoons, and my attempts at feeding him milk were unsuccessful. I texted my sitemate (fellow Peace Corps volunteer stationed in the same city) to ask if she knew anything about caring for newborn kittens, but she was out of town for the weekend. That evening, I wrapped the kitty up in a scarf around my neck and showed him to my host mother, Donika, who was shocked and flabbergasted but agreed to look after the kitty. Before I handed him over, I took this picture of him. No, I am not strangling him; that was the best way to hold him upright in front of the camera, as he just barely filled my hand. At some point I trimmed his umbilical cord down to something more manageable.

That was Sunday night. Donika didn’t really know any more about looking after helpless baby animals than I did, so she gave him to her sister-in-law, Marjeta (say: Marietta) who lived next door. The kitten stayed with Marjeta until the following evening.