Y’all bring the facts – I’ll bring the feels10.08.14

Text of the speech I gave before the North Tonawanda Common Council on Tuesday, October 7th.

Thank you for this brief opportunity to speak for those who cannot do so on their own – the community cats of North Tonawanda.

I’m not here to tell you statistics about how Trap Neuter Return has changed the lives of community cats around the world, or how it decreases the number of kittens surrendered to shelters every year, or how it’s not feral cats that are causing certain bird populations to decline. By now, you’ve heard about all these things. Instead, I’m here to tell you a story that’s, not surprisingly, about a cat.

It was Mother’s Day 2012 when we found them – five little kittens, their eyes barely open, curled up together in the pachysandra. This was not the first time we’d retrieved kittens from the bushes around our house in Martinsville, but to be honest, everyone in my family has a full house as far as cats go so these five couldn’t stay. But I had recently learned about trap neuter return – TNR – and I was determined to end this cycle in my own back yard.

It was determined which of the five kittens was the loudest, and we used him as bait – securing him in a carrier and placing him at the end of a humane trap that had previously only housed woodchucks and the occasional raccoon, and covering the entire contraption except the front with an old blanket. We also added some extra enticement, a paper plate full of mackerel, the stinkiest canned fish we had on hand.

With this setup in place, mama cat was caught in short order. And let me tell you, I’m a cat person and I love them all – but this was the UGLIEST cat I had ever seen. Rail thin, her long fur missing in spots including a huge bald spot on her forehead – it was obvious that she had given her all for her kittens, just as any mother would. But this would be her last litter.

I had never seen this cat before in my yard – and I didn’t recognize her as one of the regulars.  But when you take in a cat for TNR, you have to give them a name, whether you’ve already given them one or not.  Since “butt ugly mass of hissing fur” is not a good name, we decided on Mackerel, after the fish we’d used to catch her.

So off she went to Operation Pets to be spayed and eartipped, we brought her home, and kept her in a large dog crate for the required few days to make sure she healed after her surgery. The day we set her free,  she took off like a rocket, down the driveway, across the street, and into the woods.

Months passed. As we learned more about managing a colony, we set up a dedicated feeding station for all the community cats, and cataloged them all. We even set up a webcam at one point so we could keep track of who was coming and going, to make sure that we were placing out just enough food for all of them with none leftover. The last thing I want to do is feed any raccoons.

With the help of Pets Alive we set up a time and day to catch the rest of the cats in our yard, since it’s much better to trap all of the cats in a colony at once.  On trapping day, though, we just could not catch this one beautiful longhaired cat – and oh did we try. All the other cats we were able to catch, but not this one – nothing would entice that cat into the cage. Finally we gave up, in the hopes that we’d be able to catch it another time.

Mackerel, the feral cat

The photo of Mackerel

And then later that summer, we happened to be outside while this particular cat was there, and I happened to snap a photo. When I looked at the photo on my computer, I realized why we’d never been able to catch her. The cat was already eartipped. It was Mackerel.  No longer burdened with endless litters of kittens, and with a stable food source and shelter as a part of our colony, she had blossomed and was totally unrecognizable from the ratty beast she had been a year before.

Now, groups like People for the “Ethical” Treatment of Animals would tell you that we should have had Mackerel euthanized because her life outside was too horrible. When we trapped her, she was stuck in an endless cycle of kitten production – undernourished, covered in parasites, and missing giant chunks of fur – what kind of life is that for an animal? And I won’t deny that the life of a community cat is not easy. In the years that we’ve taken care of our community cats, we’ve lost a few to who-knows-what. But that doesn’t mean that all of them deserve to die at the hands of humans, merely for the crime of being born feral.

I don’t know why Mackerel doesn’t have a home. I don’t know why she’s not warm and safe in a house instead of living outside in the woods of Martinsville, coming to my house every night to sit next to my barn, patiently waiting for one of us to go out and fill up the food dish. Her kittens were much luckier than her – they all have wonderful homes where they have grown up and thrived. She wasn’t that lucky when she was a kitten, so she learned to adapt, and part of that adaptation is being a part of a managed colony.

Speaking only for myself, as the proud caretaker of an “illegal” managed community cat colony here in North Tonawanda, the only thing I ask of you tonight is to allow myself and the other colony caretakers do this work on behalf of the cats. I don’t want to be reimbursed by anyone for the money I’ve paid to TNR, I don’t want the city to help me catch the cats, and I don’t expect anyone to chip in on those giant bags of cat food. I don’t own these cats – we call them community cats for a reason – because they are a valuable part of our community, and one that deserves formal recognition from our city. I hope you will do what is right and amend the ordinance to allow for the legal care of the community cats of North Tonawanda.

Thank you.

I’d love to think that it was my speech that changed their minds, but I know better. But it’s nice to know that no matter how long Mackerel is a part of our colony, in a little way she’ll live on forever, as part of the legacy of change.

Media coverage of the meeting from Channel 4, the Buffalo News, and the Tonawanda News.

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My penance is never-ending09.08.14

I am no angel. I branded my sister with a spatula when I was 9 and she was 2. I walked out of a Pizza Hut on campus still holding my gigantic red plastic glass full of Pepsi. I borrowed a book from the bookstore I worked at and never returned it. And quite honestly, these indiscretions don’t exactly keep me up at night.

But when I was 13, and my parents bought their house, I helped my mom dump a cat in a cornfield.

My parents had just bought the house my mom had pined for her entire life, and the house came with a cat. His name was Retty, or Reddy, or Rashidy, I’m still not sure which – an elderly orange half-feral tabby cat who I had known for years. He was Meale’s cat, but Meale no longer owned the house – we did, and she had been sent off to a nursing home, which with her advanced dementia was a much better place for her.

Retty was my only real knowledge of a cat. I’d “owned” cats before – first there was another orange tabby I’d named Casey, and then some time later a white one with a black smudge on her forehead named Snowball – but our landlord didn’t allow cats so my mom found both of them homes with someone she worked with, that “owned a barn”. But Retty I saw in the back yards of Martinsville all the time, lying in the sun, chasing mice, and living a pretty good life for an indoor/outdoor cat.

And then Meale went to the nursing home, and my parents did not want this cat around. So one sunny day, we boxed up Retty, drove down Transit Road, turned down some random road to “farmland”, and all but tossed him out the door of the car.

At the time, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t realize how terrifying this would be to a cat, especially to an older cat like Retty. I didn’t understand how territorial cats are, and that there were certainly cats living where we had just dumped him, and those cats were not likely to just make all nice with him. I just believed what my mom told me, what I’d always been told about cats, that they could take care of themselves.

My 13-year-old self didn’t know how wrong that was.

But now I do. So I do my penance.

Feral cat house

 

Every night they are out there, waiting for me to fill the food dish. When you care for feral cats, have them spayed and neutered, you give them names, and you learn their personalities. Rattail is a talker, chirping at me as I walk toward their shelter. Mackerel, the one we first caught and had spayed, using her 4 week old kittens as bait in the cage, looks a thousand times better than she did when first caught her now that she’s not leaving litters of kittens in our bushes 3 times a year. Sam-I-am is the newest in the colony and likes to think he’s the leader of the pack, lounging in the sun all day long.

And there are some we haven’t seen in a while – little all-black Licorice who was Rattail’s shadow until one day she just stopped coming, the tortie mama cat Sardine with a half-orange face, the impossible-to-catch and hated-by-the-entire-neighborhood tailless Kuro. Such is the way of life in a feral colony – some cats remain for years, and some are gone before the winter snows.  Trying to stay detached is darn near impossible – even though they are feral and not 100% dependant on humans, they have made me even more of a cat person than I was before.

It’s a penance I gladly pay, for Retty’s sake.

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“I’m a challenge to your balance”06.07.12

An open letter to all my friends:

I like pressing buttons. No, not like. Love. LOOOOOOVE. There, I’ve admitted what you’ve probably suspected all along. I love being able to get your goat. Here I come again to cause trouble and make you all aggravated and mad at me. All those lovely negative emotions that we’re taught to be afraid of.

That’s what you think, isn’t it? That I’m being confrontational, angry, and aggressive. That I think I’m right and you’re just an idiot. Go ahead, you can admit it, that’s what you think (or have thought at some point in time, I’m an equal opportunity hater after all, there’s people out there who will tell you that).

Well, you’d be wrong.

Oh not about the button-pressing thing. I really do love pressing buttons. It’s why I have pink hair and why I don’t sugar coat the things I say to you. It’s why my kids don’t go to school and why sometimes I still use two spaces after a period. It’s why I no longer apologize (or feel guilty) when someone reads my words thinking I’m out to get them. It’s why I’m aggravated when people don’t fact check stupid crap before posting it on Facebook.

But I am not a hateful, spiteful, or angry person. I don’t hate anyone or anything. Even the people who have treated me badly, hurt, or abandoned me – I don’t hate them either.

I push those buttons because I want to push you out of your comfort zone. Make you shift your paradigms, question everything around you, and not take anything for granted. So you can make your choices on your own, using your own thoughts, and taking responsibility for your own actions. So you can keep learning about yourself and the rest of the world you live in.

I want you to come join me in a life where you can be yourself. It’s really a nice place once you’re used it, really. You stop worrying about what other people think, what they’ll say about you behind your back. Because guess what, conforming to what society expects of you isn’t going to keep the formehlyde out of your lungs once they go to embalm you.*

If you don’t get what I’m saying, if you only ever think I’m being mean, or I’m out to insult or humiliate you (which should realize just isn’t true) you only have one choice – figure out how to keep me from pushing your buttons. The easiest way, of course, is to place the blame all on me and go your merry way. Fine with me, you’re not the first person to turn me into the bad guy.

Or, you can search inside and contemplate just why I can press those buttons. Why is your goat so easy to get? Why is that hot button so easy for me to hit? If I were out and out wrong, you’d be able to refute me.

You think I don’t know what I’m talking about? I used to let every little thing everyone said bother me. 20 years ago I would have never had pink hair. That first shift, that first abandonment of what is expected of you by society, is the hardest of all. Once you realize, oh gosh the sky won’t fall, and the world won’t end, and I’ll know who my real friends are because those are the ones who know me for who I am – it is so much easier to live a life without regrets.

And that’s what I want for you. I want you to take your last breath with as little regrets as possible. I don’t want your last moments to be filled with “coulda, woulda, shoulda.” The #1 thing (drunk) women in their 40s say to me (in a bar bathroom)? “I wish I had the guts to have pink hair.”

YOU DO.

Live your life as if every minute is your last, because you don’t know when it will be up. Be true to yourself instead of trying to conform to this freakish politically correct world where everyone has to get along, where everyone has to be the same, where no one can debate. Surround yourself with people who don’t think like you do, so they can help you expand your mind and you can do the same for them. Embrace the deviations from the norm, whether it’s someone with tattoos, piercings, or pink hair – guess what, we all poop.

Figure out just why it’s so easy for me to push your buttons.

Because you know what? Once you figure that out, I won’t be able to push them anymore.

Namsate

*Unless, like me, you’re not going to be embalmed. But that’s not my point here.

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    There's too much in my head, and it's all coming out slapdash.