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.


Anonymous said...

Welcome to Workingstiffs.

My vet agrees with you. Cats should stay indoors.

It's my cats who disagree. They were both older when I got them - strays who had been taken in by my mother before she died - and they were used to going out. I tried to keep them in at first. Then Dusty (if he were in high school, he would definitely make the football team!) broke a hole through my wooden basement door and escaped. I know it sounds unbelievable, but it's true. The door was old and may have been weakened by water damage in a house fire (another story) but I came home to find splintered boards surrounded by cat fur and no Dusty. He was apparently trying to get back to my mother's; animal control picked him up mid-way between my house and hers. When I went to get him at the shelter, he had lost 1/3 of his body weight and had dozens of splinters in his neck and shoulders from squeezing through the broken door. Now both cats go out. They wear bells and haven't brought any bodies home, nor have they left dead birds around the yard. I think they want to kill, but haven't been successful (or else they're even sneakier than I thought).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for coming to Working Stiffs, Clea! Your books sound great.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Clea, for joining us today. I don't have cats. I have two Springer Spaniels, one of whom thinks "cat food" is a redundant phrase. If the neighbor's cats stayed inside, there wouldn't be half-dead critters in my yard -or cat turds in my vegetable garden. I quit vegetable gardening because of cat "pollution." Grand idea!

Anonymous said...

I'll admit it.--I'm a dog person. But I also indulge in the perverse pleasure of watching my various neighbor cats stalking the squirrels and the---well, other rodents that live here in the city. I say--let the kitties practice what comes naturally so I don't get those rodents in my house!

Welcome, Clea! Nice to see you here!

Joyce Tremel said...

Thanks for visiting with us, Clea.

Our cat, Shadow, was a stray that we took in years ago. She was definitely an outdoor cat and would only use the litter box in a dire emergency (ie too much snow on the ground). She'd go out, but always came home for dinner. She used to bring me lots of "presents" too. One day she never came home.

The cat we have now (really my son's cat) is named Layla. She doesn't go outside at all. She's afraid of the outdoors. She'll stare out a door or window, but as soon as you open the door, she runs and hides. My son should have named her Chicken. And I swear she has ADD. No attention span whatsoever.

Joyce Tremel said...

Clea, can you tell us more about that case in Texas that changed pet law?

Anonymous said...

Clea--Great post. For my WIP, Death in a Cat Fight, I spent an evening with the local feral trap-neuter-release group, observing the volunteers and vets and vet assts. spay and neuter almost 100 ferals. (I lasted about 2 hours, then my allergies kicked in and I had to flee the building when I couldn't breathe.) Quite an operation, very organized and efficient. But even they acknowledged that these monthly events are a small victory in a big battle--the feral cat population in these parts--southwestern PA--is growing apace.

Gina--The New York Times ran a lengthy article recently (past weekend?) about the Texas case. The shooter was the head of the Galveston area birding group, and the cat was a feral that lived in a small colony under a bridge near a toll interchange--one of the toll takers fed the cats. He considered them his "pets." The court case lasted a week (!), but the jury couldn't agree on a verdict.

Lee Lofland said...

What a pleasant surprise to visit the blog this morning and find a post from Clea, my almost neighbor (I'm two minutes away from Cambridge).

Clea, did you see the newspaper headline about coyotes in our area? This is another reason people should keep their small pets inside. Not to mention it's very cold and snowy.

I looked outside my office window this morning and saw my neighbor's cat sitting on the front porch. Apparently the poor thing had been outside all night. The temperatures haven't reached 20 yet.

Our dog wouldn't dream of touching snow, mud, or rain water. Yep, I'm the tough guy ex-cop who stands on the street during a rain storm holding an umbrella over a toy poodle while she takes care of her business.

Joyce Tremel said...

We have coyotes here, too. Every week I get at least one call from a resident who thinks they saw a wolf. Then I have to explain that it's "only a coyote."

Lee with an umbrella and a toy poodle. Now there's a picture!

Anonymous said...

Your books sound interesting, Clea. Welcome!

My two cats are permitted short, supervised visits to the woods out back. I have to watch the 19-year-old at all times, because she's deaf now. Young Missy climbs trees and gets wild in general. I think animals need to go outside for their health. Can you imagine living the rest of your life in your house without ever going out? That reconnection with nature is vital.

All my novels include a pet helper of some sort.

Clea Simon said...

Thanks for the warm welcome, folks!
And now - your questions: I have a link to the NYT story on the Texas case on my blog, at - I'll see if I can post here, too (there were news stories and also a big story in the Sunday New York Times Magazine.)
No, Leo, I hadn't seen the story on coyotes. But I know they're out there - and I've seen photos of fishers (nasty mink-like things with huge jaws) in Arlington, as well!

I think we're all pro-pet here, but it is an interesting argument, isn't it? And, I mean, hey, I believe in supporting the comeback of the piping plover, too!

Clea Simon said...

OK, this should work for the New York Times Magazine article

And this was the daily story on the end of the trial.

I also blogged on this and Deb Grabien, who does feral TNR, did, too, at my blog.

Thanks to everyone for the warm welcome and the interest!!

Ramona said...

I don't have a cat, but my dog Marcie sounds like a candidate for the chair. She is the biggest wuss on earth (hides under the coffee table and covers her ears with her paws during thunderstorms), but in the back yard, her boxer half emerges and she becomes the huntress!

I once caught her joyfully running around the back yard carrying something brown in her mouth. Upon investigation, it was a rabbit. Or, had been a rabbit. It was in perfect shape, except it was dead, apparently of shaken bunny syndrome.

Nice blog, Clea!

Lee Lofland said...

Joyce, the umbrella thing is not so bad. It's when Denene insists that Pebbles wear her yellow raincoat that I get the really weird looks from the neighbors.

You've made me wonder what happened to my exciting life. I used to tussle with armed bad guys and kick in doors while serving search warrants. Now, it's all been reduced to walking a poodle in a raincoat and losing my hair. I guess it could be worse. I could be like the guy down the street who's lost his dog and walks his raincoat. He's two years older than me. Sigh...

Clea, do you ever attend our local MWA meetings? I don't think I've seen you there. We'd love for you to join us. The next meeting is Tuesday night.

Anonymous said...

Welcome, Clea!

While I can't really identify with the cat lovers of the group, I am a huge dog lover. I'd rather kill a person than a dog (in fiction, of course!), and I'm a huge advocate of animal rights.

Your book sounds great. Thanks for stopping by!

Clea Simon said...

Thanks - I like to think I'm not "species-ist," though of course we all have our favorites!

(I was recently interviewed by a hipper-than-thou weekly here in Boston and they were really pushing me to say something outrageous. The interview tried baiting me, saying "dogs are better than wussy old cats" and stuff like that. I knew she wanted me to say something a little far out, so I told her, and this ended up as the kicker to the interview: "It's like sexual preference -- you know what you like, but you should let everyone else choose too. Some people like S&M; I like cats."

I have a feeling that's going to haunt me!

Joyce Tremel said...

Clea, that was the perfect response to that reporter for baiting you!

Clea Simon said...

Thanks, Joyce. I'm just wondering where that quote will pop up in the future!

Clea Simon said...

Oops- meant to respond to Cathy (and others) about letting cats out. I'm sure supervised outings are fine. But cats don't NEED them.

Cats are obligate carnivores - hunters - and thus they exist with short bursts of energy (for chasing prey) and then sleep or rest up to 80 percent of the time. Therefore, if you play with your cat for 15 to 20 minutes two or three times a day, it really will be sufficiently worked out so that it will not be bored. Consider doing this - and giving your cat a perch from which to look out the window! It can take a while to re-train a cat, but it will result in a longer, healthier life for your cat - and a better life for the birds and small wildlife around you!

(One of my nonfiction books, "The Feline Mystique," was on cats and I've talked to a ton of animal behaviorists, etc., so I know this is true.)

Anonymous said...

I don't think Mother Earth and my wild cat Missy agree with you about whether or not cats need to go out. We play with her 15 minutes three times a day and she still drives me crazy crying to go out. When she's older, maybe she won't need to go out, but now it's an absolute necessity.

And come on, you would deny me the pleasure of seeing her climb the trees out back?

Clea Simon said...

Nope, as long as you watch her and make sure 1) no bigger creature eats her and 2) she eats no smaller creature! Enjoy!