Thursday, December 06, 2007
When Pets Murder
Working Stiffs welcomes guest blogger, Clea Simon. Her newest book, Cries and Whiskers (Poisoned Pen Press) will be released December 15th.
Is your kitty a killer?
Yes, I write mysteries, but even so I know that may seem like an odd question. Some of you may respond, “I don’t have a kitty.” Fair enough, but then look around for the sweetest feline you can spy. Look into those innocent vertical irises and ask, “Could little Mittens do murder?”
Well, yes. And therein lies a tale.
You see, a few years ago, I received an email with the subject line: “PETA kills pets.” I followed the links and found myself in the middle of a battle. While it’s debatable whether any one group has set out to destroy our animal companions, I discovered that there are many who, under the banner of animal rights, contend that pets are evil – and should be eliminated.
Pets, they argue, are overwhelmingly non-native species. The only small native cat here in North America is the bobcat, hardly the Felis silvestris catus I have in my lap. But the animals our little house tigers prey on – birds, voles, mice – are native, and facing an enemy that evolution never prepared them for. Therefore, runs the argument, to defend the rights of native species, to protect the local ecosystem, such foreign invaders should be destroyed.
But don’t our pets deserve love and care, too? Well, yeah, and that’s the core of the animal rights vs. animal welfare debate, a debate that planted the seed for “Cries and Whiskers.” A debate that had very real consequences recently when a Texas man shot to death a cat because it was hunting endangered birds. (The case ended up changing Texas pet law!)
Now, I’m the author of mysteries with cats in them. I have as my constant companion my own shelter kitty, Musetta. So I fall pretty solidly in the pro-pet category. I would never, ever kill or hurt a cat – in real life or in my fiction. But the animal rights folks have a point. Every summer, I see portions of my favorite beach fenced off to let the piping plovers nest, and I’m not averse to scolding those who ignore the roped-off areas. But what would I do if I saw a well-fed tabby stalking those pint-sized birds?
All this leads to one of my major – you could say “pet” – peeves: I’m a big believer in keeping cats inside. Not only to save indigenous wildlife, but also because it ensures your cat a healthier, longer life. (And if you’re worried about your pet’s happiness, play with her more. Twenty minutes a day will do it. Cats are obligate carnivores, hunters, which means they have only short bursts of energy anyway.)
When it comes to feral animals, however, the problem is harder to solve. Ferals – domestic animals gone wild – often cannot be re-domesticated. A feral cat born in the wild will be just as terrified of a human as a native bobcat. Their lives tend to be nasty, brutish, and short (nature red in tooth and claw, and all that). And they can wreck havoc on the environment.
But that’s not their fault. It’s ours. Which is lousy for the animals, and may provide motive for murder – at least in a murder mystery. Is my kitty a killer? Maybe, but under my watch, all her victims are felt and rubber, with only a catnip heart.
Clea Simon is the author of the Theda Krakow mysteries, Mew is for Murder, Cattery Row, and Cries and Whiskers, as well as three nonfiction books, including The Feline Mystique: On the Mysterious Connection Between Women and Cats. The recipient of multiple honors, including the Cat Writers Association’s Presidents Award, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband, Jon Garelick, and their cat, Musetta.