Hey, guys and gals, let's not let our cat fight/flight adenalin get out of hand. I admit i read Jewelcat's first e-mail with a bit of soul-searching, since I have had up to 20 plus cats (in-house and feral) at one point -- I am down to 16 at the moment, but these, together with the five dogs (only 2 of which might be called "small") really fill up the house in the winter, when they all want to be in a warm, dry place at once.
And while the house is a mess, this has nothing to do with the animals -- my houses have always been a mess. What I DON'T have is scattered animal food, uncleaned floors, or ANY unspayed or unneutered animals. The only kittens and puppies I have at any point are the ones that are either thrown over my fence by freaks who think that I am here to take care of their unwanted leftovers (after they have exhausted their friends and neighbors for homes), or those that children bring me from survivors of litters of cats and dogs thrown out into patches of wasteland near our village. Not that many of them survive to be rescued, because we live in a desert, however many trees and other flora we nurture with irrigation and sprinklers.
As to collectors, of course there may be some of that. I went through a period where I took in every animal that came by my door (although I never went out looking for them), but I had to shake myself into a more rational behavior pattern. I now take most puppies immediately to the humane society in Beer-Sheva, which has a very good record for puppy adoptions. Two things have stopped me from taking all of the foundlings there -- one is that, if the pup is unattractive, it stands a good chance of being dumped into runs with larger dogs, who are kept for a time but ultimately killed if no one wants them. The other is that, since I live outside the Beer-Sheva city limits, I have to pay about $12 (50 shekels) for every animal. This past year I took them 12 puppies. I live on a very small income, and there are some months when I simply don't have the money to take a puppy into the city (there is the gasoline for the car, as well). So occasionally I end up keeping a pup, since my food distributor lets me write post-dated checks to times when I expect money to come in from my self-employed work.
As to cats, I just couldn't pass them by if they were in need. So I vowed I would only take those cats that appeared inside or next to my garden fence (I had to fudge a little to accept cats found by other people and brought to me -- after all, they were not brought inside by me, but delivered by others!). I went through a kind of "collector's" syndrome for the first two years -- a gradual loosening of my common sense. Fortunately I had the support of an excellent vet hospital, which let me pay the bill when I had money, and which tries to give me either half price (on spaying, neutering, and operations) or wholesale on certain medicines, and often doesn't record attending to more than one animal at a visit (although I habitually fill up my cat carriers with any cat that seems to exhibit abnormal behavior -- this is because I do not go into the city very often, and I need to maximize my efforts when I do. I do put up signs and try to give away cats (and dogs), and I badger my friends to badger their friends to find homes, but I have not been very successful, because most people admit that they have decided to take a dog from the animal refuge in Beer-Sheva because they know that it might be killed when it becomes surplus, and of course the cat-house, so-called, is always overcrowded and has only a modest adoption capability (so I was told). And that is the reason that I never take them a cat. Well, it's true I don't let my animals die without a fight against whatever is ailing them, but they keep me poor and they keep me busy, and I wish the people who dump them in my garden would put a few shekels in my mailbox to help me care for the food and vet fees of their unwanted animals.
Now I imagine this pattern is pretty much the same for most people who take in strays and ferals. Setting out to do a good thing, getting caught up in trying to save every stray or feral for miles around (incipient collector's syndrome), and finally settling down to make rules for ourselves -- I will not have more than X number of animals -- I will not have more animals than I can afford to neuter or spray -- And so on. Those who can find the money, the community or veterinarian support, or have enough land to offer the animals a reasonable quality of life can manage more, perhaps, and those who have less room and money can manage less.
When I walk in my house during the winter, with all the animals inside, I have to step over them or shift them, because there is simply not enough floor space. Fortunately, most of the cats sleep up on top of furniture, while the dogs actually like it under the tables, chairs, or bed. So it is just manageable for the short time we have rainy and cold weather. In spring/fall conditions, all the animals prefer the outside. The yard is fenced, has a number of climbing trees to enjoy and bushes to sleep under, and areas where they can dig up the ground for "cool" nests and I where don't hassle them about my lawn or flowerbeds (which I do hassle them about if they start digging). In the summer -- usually about 2 months of really unbearable desert heat in the daytime -- all the dogs want to stay in (there is a small airconditioner, which is for my computer room, actually), while the cats prefer the deep shade of the bushes. At night, only the youngest and most dependent of the cats prefer not to be out in the nice cool desert night-breezes -- the best bonus I can think of for living in a desert instead of north in a city (when they have high humidity 24 hours a day -- we have lower temperatures of 4 to 8 degree Farenheit in the desert, and it's usually dry as a bone).
This description is a long way of saying that people who appoint themselves as rescue centers usually recognize what they can bear. We say that God gives us only those burdens we can cope with, and I think most of us fall in that category. If it means turning vegetarian because meat is expensive and the animals have to be fed, this is a choice that some of us make with very little heart ache, although it might be an unbearable choice for another person just as concerned about the welfare of animals. I gripe that I don't have a decent place in the garden to sit with friends, what with both dogs and cats mucking up things (holes in the ground, ripping up the flowerbeds when they are in a jolly mood, using the best areas of lawn or shade as their toilets...), but this is mainly poor management, rather than lacking money, on my part, and I am gradually finding solutions that are acceptable to both me and the animals. The same is true of the house -- it was too small to have more than two or three guests at a time, and now, with one room dedicated to my free-lance work, 5000 plus books that take up all available wall-space, and my computer/printer system, one room as my bedroom (bed, dressers, wardrobes, and the TV, since there is no place else), and the remaining room to a table, a few more bookcases, and spill-over china and glass ware cupboards (small room -- I use it for teaching English a few days a week), it is impossible to have any but the closest friends over for tea and only one or two a a time. OK. It is inconvenient, but I am figuring solutions here too (Perhaps building some big weatherproof cupboards under the porch roof to hold those things that are used seasonally or only on special occasions -- those books of my 5000 or more that I may want to reread someday, but which don't have to be in the house proper -- ). Instead of complaining about inconvenience and overwork, I am gradually shifting my attention to solutions -- and as I get a little money for wood or tools, I am converting my living space into something that we (the pride and the pack and me) can tolerate.
As to quality of attention, I have to say that I am very lucky in this respect -- I work entirely at home, and go out only to visit friends, deliver or pick up work from clients who live in this part of the Negev (most of my clients now send me their work by e-mail attachment -- I have never even met most of them face-to-face!), to the city on a buying trip (the big supermarkets and specialty shops, the Beduin market for gift-buying, the train station, if I going north to visit someone for the day...). So I am mostly at home, and each of the animals gets quality time alone with me in any given day. And I get quality attention from them, too, so we are mutually satisfied with our interactions. What is more, the dogs and the cats don't see to mind living in a crowd on the whole -- the few that couldn't adapt and enjoy the companionship take themselves to several neighbors who put out food every day for the strays. I go and pick them up and take them to the vet for check-up if I see they look poorly, and I try to pick them up for yearly vaccinations (I buy the vaccine from a cooperative bet at wholesale (he supplies the needles and syringes for free), and another vet who deals only with large herd animals as a rule gives them the shots -- quite a production). All animals who pass through my house, whether he/she stays or decides to move on, is spayed and neutered. The big risk for cats that go (or return to being) feral is poisoning and dogs, and recently someone (either deliberately or inadvertantly) killed almost all the cats who habitually raid the area garbage cans. Of the ferals who once passed through my care, I have only caught sight of several in the last month.
And let's face it -- while dogs will pine away without human companionship and love, cats very often don't want it at all. They are pleased to be treated affectionately and fed regularly, but unless the chemistry is right, they don't always bond with their self-appointed "owners." In this way, they are far more human than simply animal. They may not fulfill all their potentials for affectionate interaction, but most of them will take good food, good treatment, and a safe territory any day. The fact is that most of my house cats are bonded very strongly to me, but then, I bottle fed many of them.
So dear Jewelcat, consider that most people like myself really do manage pretty well to give the strays and ferals enough food, a certain amount of vet care, and as much love and affection as they can take on board. If things are cramped and we find we can't live with that, if money is tight and has to get tighter, if the house is a mess that has to be constantly cleaned and we can't bear litter boxes in every room during the rainy season, then we find solutions. Because most of us care very much for the quality of life for the lost animals.
I know of only one person (although I am sure there are others here and there) who exemplify your collector. A woman in the city who feeds over 40 strays and who, in spite of offers by the vet hospital to do them for next to nothing, refuses to consider spaying or neutering. Thus her animals multiply most fruitfully, and the mortality rate among them is horrendous. The only two times I have ever seen her at the vet's, she has been complaining endlessly about the burden of her good works, and how much in despair she is, and how she has no life. If she didn't have kittens twice a year, she could cut her problems by 75 percent. She told me it was "against nature" to spay or neuter (a popular belief here), and that her now-dead husband would never have condoned it. I know another lady who has over 30 cats in a city apartment, but the vet hospital gives her a lot of support, and the Cat Humane Society in Tel-Aviv sent down a vet's mobile clinic and spayed and neutered all her animals for free. She is now on a more even keel. But she cries more tears over every sad little foundling and can't turn one away (nor can I, come to that). Even so, by neutering and spaying and having the support of friendly vets, she is now managing what seemed unmanageable.
Now, gentle down, let passions generate positive action.
A lot of people are doing God's work in helping to care for his suffering creations -- human, animal and environmental -- each to his/her abilities, passions, or georaphical location and experiences. As a Jew, I am pretty unhappy with Hamas -- the principal Arab terrorist group in our area. But as a humanitarian, I am glad that, for whatever reason, they also maintain social and material programs to help needy Palestinians. I am equally unhappy with the ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel, but I am glad that they put their money where their talk of good deeds is and also maintain social and material programs for their community. I do not like what they are teaching their respective peoples, but as I have faith in the Creator, I have faith that things will progress as they should, and that feeding, clothing, and helping people is a first priority, even if the devil is doing the feeding. Do I hear you saying that what they teach is hatred and that perhaps these potential terrorists (in both camps) should be allowed to die out? A dead person cannot learn and change as he matures. And if it is meant that that person will never learn to love peace and tolerance, then they will die by their swords in their own time -- but not by my will -- not by my refusing them food and shelter, even if they are my enemies.
In the same way, I think that even the collectors, if they can manage to find sympathetic vets and generous benefactors so that their refugees are at least materially cared for, are doing something wothwhile. I would not like to see general euthenasia for all stray or ferel cats, and that is the alternative to self-created refuges -- even those of collectors.
Peace. No flaming. Recognize the bad, but dwell on the positive. Where you can offer positive solutions to the problems of collectors, do so with as much suspension of judgemental language as possible. Channel strong passions into positive energy. The forums here on TheCatSite are meant to help people find solutions or to share hope and support.