by Anjali Ravi, Communications Intern
When film director Ceyda Torun was a child, the cats of Istanbul traversed with her through the streets. They were her companions, neither bound to her nor separate. They guided seven-year-old Torun around the city and her own backyard, teaching her about courage, coexistence, and boundaries.
Torun grew up and moved to Los Angeles, but she never forgot Istanbul’s self-proclaimed cultural symbol. With cinematographer Charlie Wuppermann, she directed the 2016 feature-length documentary film Kedi – Turkish for “cat.” IndieWire described the film as “the Citizen Kane of cat documentaries.” Time magazine penned it as one of the top ten movies of 2017. The film even boasts a whopping 98% on Rotten Tomatoes – so what about Kedi has critics and viewers leaning into the screen?
Cats have lived in Istanbul for thousands of years. In an interview with The Guardian, Torun notes the ubiquity of Istanbul’s feline population: “There’s nobody here that doesn’t have a memory of cats: no grandmother, no generation has been here without cats, so they’re ingrained in our collective memory.” Among an ever-shifting political and social climate, these creatures have remained a constant.
“The cat embodies the indescribable chaos, the culture, and the uniqueness that is the essence of Istanbul,” says a voice at the start of the film. But among locals, the cat is also anthropomorphic. The website for Kedi lends profiles for each cat featured on the film. Sari, for example, is the hustler and mother who “doesn’t give a sh*t.” Psikopat, the jealous housewife. Gamsiz, the happy-go-lucky neighborhood man.
These cats have character. By likening them to the people around us – the neighbors, friends, and family that we meet day-to-day – they take on new meaning and intimacy in our lives. Experiencing these animals has also allowed the residents of Istanbul to contemplate their interactions with one another. Of Sari, one woman says, “She has qualities people should have . . . she doesn’t compromise her freedom.”
During the production of Kedi, street cats strode the frames with dignity. “If we approached the cat and she didn’t want to be filmed, we left,” explains Torun to The Guardian. “If she stuck around that meant she was giving us permission to shoot.” The authority given to cats is willing and necessary; in humanizing these creatures, people sustain their own humanity.
Some may feed or pet the cats and expect something in return – a show of affection, a loyalty to come back the next day. But still more seem to agree upon the sincerity of a cat’s unapologetic behavior and the way they provide, without intent, for those who wander into their paths. “People miss their kids, right? I miss her,” says one local about the cat Bengü, whose role has become familial to the workingmen in her industrial manufacturing neighborhood. “If there is afterlife,” says another, “I want to meet her [the cat] again, not my grandmother.”
Studies have shown that interacting with animals can increase people’s level of the hormone oxytocin, which boosts cell growth and helps us feel happy and trusting. Because of this, it’s no surprise that petting the cats also seems to give many residents of Istanbul a sense of security. Language becomes simplified to gesture, and touch. The small, honest, and fruitful encounters with these cats have calming and therapeutic effects. One man interviewed during the film had a nervous breakdown in 2002, only to be “cured” by his relationships with feline friends.
The symbiosis of cats and people is a lesson on empathy, and Kedi is a portrait of kindness. After making the film, both Torun and Wuppermann questioned whether they could justify making a documentary about Istanbul’s cats, as opposed to the city’s Syrian refugees or the country’s political upheavals. Aren’t those issues more important? What Torun came to realize was that her “love letter to the city and the cats” could be a form of resistance – a way of immortalizing the beauty of Istanbul through all the turmoil.
Now she lives beside an eleven-year-old tabby with the personality of a middle-aged man. “It’s kind of wonderful,” she says, “to experience life with another being like this.”
By Anjali Ravi, Communications Intern
On my first day of interning at Alley Cat Rescue, my co-workers showed me the kitten room. A small office filled with free-roaming kittens, some curled beside each other in beds, others playing, wrestling, sliding across desks. I’ll be here a lot, I told them.
My favorite cats were the ones that came to me: Pellusa, the office cat, who nibbled on my hair and sat in my lap as I typed up fact sheets, and Rigatoni, the kitten who cried when I wasn’t holding him, to name a few. These cats validated my love for animals without asking much of me.
Then I dropped by the isolation room, where our new cats are first brought. There I met Basil and Petunia, two feral kittens who had not yet been socialized. Picking them up left me with scratches on my arms. They hissed when I came close. They were wide-eyed, sharp-clawed, shivering babies.
I visited often. A co-worker showed me how to scruff them, wrap them in a towel, and hold them close. I brought Basil a toy and slowly she started opening up to me. Eventually they were moved to the kitten room, where a family fell in love with playful, sweet Basil and took her home.
Getting closer to shy cats is a process. Some feline friends are slow to acclimate to people and environments due to traumatic pasts, insufficient socialization, or genetic predisposition. Yet cats like Peaches, Lincoln, and Zetta at ACR have stolen my heart – not because they owe me affection, but because our connection had to develop over time.
Interested in befriending a shy cat? Here are some tips to make sure your cat is as comfortable as possible!
Last week ACR had the opportunity to travel to Roanoke, VA to meet with local groups and sponsor five public spay/neuter clinics. Over the week, just under 200 cats and kittens were fixed and vaccinated. Beyond the numbers, we got to chat with staff and locals to learn about the particular challenges they face helping cats in their community.
We began the week at Angels of Assisi, a full-service clinic with a mobile van that travels to the surrounding rural areas for vaccine and wellness clinics. With a station for neutering, a station for spays, prep areas and a recovery space, there was constant movement of people and cats. When fully staffed, this clinic can serve up to 100 cats in one day and watching them work as a team was impressive.
Our sponsorship provided free spay/neuter surgery and vaccinations for cats and the check-in room was packed on clinic days. We met some great folks who had brought cats in for sterilization and they told us a bit about why our sponsorship was so important. Many said they simply couldn’t see ever fitting a full-price spay or neuter procedure into their budget on their own. Others said this was the first time they felt they had access to the services, that spay/neuter and a proper vet visit weren’t just for folks with financial resources to spare.
We also sponsored a free spay/neuter day at the Old Dominion Veterinary Clinic in Troutville, VA. This clinic provided free spay/neuter appointments to the public as well as appointments for free-roaming cats brought by our friends, Barn Cat Buddies. This clinic went above and beyond a typical day for them and sterilized an impressive 28 cats. The story from folks at this clinic was much the same: people care deeply for their cats and know that spay/neuter is important, there’s just no money to do it or no vet nearby providing it at an affordable rate.
We’re excited to have connected with another organization serving the greater Roanoke area: Clover Cat Rescue. This dedicated one-woman operation provides spay/neuter and transport services for cats from a rural area north of Roanoke. Clover Cat helps folks who often don’t even have gas money, let alone funds for surgery, so we were happy to provide funding and hands-on help for her trip with 25 cats this time and we hope to work together again soon.
Our week in Virginia was busy, but more importantly it was inspiring. We met great people, beautiful cats, and heard some amazing stories about people and the animals in their lives. We got to speak with a young girl who asked about cats and declawing and an older man who told a story about bottle-feeding a young deer with a two-liter soda bottle. And we were reminded that every community’s challenge with cats is unique. The people served during our clinics in Roanoke have love and time to give their cats, but for many, the budget is tight. Some communities may benefit most from TNR training, while others may need hands-on help. ACR is committed to providing resources targeted to the communities we serve and we’re deeply thankful for the generosity of our supporters who make this work possible.
Buying cosmetics can be a confusing and time consuming task. What does sulfate-free mean? What’s the difference between nourishing and moisturizing? Do I really need to buy toner? All of this is made even more confusing when you look at the back of the label of your favorite brand and realize they test on animals.
Animal testing for cosmetics is currently legal in the United States, despite the fact that there are humane, non-animal alternatives. Further, the European Union and countries such as India and Israel have banned the sale of cosmetics tested on animals all together.
Congress has tried multiple times to ban cosmetics tested on animals here in the US by introducing the Humane Cosmetics Act. The bill is currently in Congress but has been stuck in a committee for over a year.
California has decided to act on their own and push our country towards an animal testing cosmetics ban by introducing SB 1249, the California Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act. According to the bill’s text, “This bill would make it unlawful for a manufacturer to knowingly import for profit, sell at retail, or offer for sale or promotional purposes at retail in this state, any cosmetic, as defined, if the final product or any component thereof was tested on animals for any purpose after January 1, 2020, except as specified.” Any violation of the law is punishable by an initial fine of $5,000, excluding a few limited exceptions.
Animal testing for cosmetics has actually been illegal in California since 2000, but the current law only applies to products tested within the state. The California Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act would open this up to include products tested outside the state as well. If passed, this bill could have monumental effects on animal testing throughout the country.
As the president of Social Compassion in Legislation, Judie Mancuso, said in a press release, “As the state with the largest population and economy in the country, if California bans the sale of cosmetics tested on animals, in order to comply with our standards, manufacturers will have no choice but to stop testing on animals to sell cosmetics to the entire United States."
Therefore, this bill could move our country towards protecting animals from painful and unnecessary procedures nationwide. If you live in California, make sure to contact your legislators right away! The bill has passed the Senate floor and will be going to the Assembly for a vote. Tell your Assembly members that you support an end to the invasive and cruel practice of animal cosmetic testing and support the use of more effective non-animal methods.
Even if you do not live in California, you can urge legislators to introduce a similar bill in your state. Let’s help the US become a more humane country!
In April, Maryland became the second state in the U.S. to ban the sale of animals from puppy and kitten mills. The law, signed by Gov. Larry Hogan, will take full effect in 2020. This means that with the exception of animals that have come from welfare organizations, animal control units, and licensed breeders, cats and dogs will not be sold in pet stores.
The news reflects a triumph for animal welfare and advocacy groups nationwide, as the conditions at puppy and kitten mills are further exposed. Puppies and kittens sold in pet stores are usually from breeding mills with cramped, filthy living conditions. A large number arrive at pet stores malnourished, sick, or injured, and they often go without veterinary care .
Moreover, people who breed animals and then sell them to pet stores are contributing to the overpopulation issue. There are already so many cats in shelters and even more wandering the streets, abandoned or lost. The more animals bred, the harder it is for these cats to find a happy home. Sadly, about 2.4 million healthy cats and dogs are put down in U.S. shelters each year.
Fortunately, more and more people are coming to terms with the ugly side of many pet stores across the nation. Billie Castro, who testified in support of the bill, told the Washington Post in April that she thought she’d found her dream job at a store called Just Puppies, but that it turned into a nightmare. She told the Post that puppies would arrive at the store malnourished and infested with parasites, and that about once a month a puppy would die in their care.
While pet stores sell animals for profit, shelters find animals homes in order to save lives and prevent suffering. They provide stray or abandoned animals with spay/neuter surgery, veterinary care, microchipping, food, water, and shelter. Buying from a store merely creates space for another kitten or puppy to be sold, but adopting from a shelter frees up space and resources so that another animal in need can be helped.
Are you ready to find your forever friend? Support animals shelters and rescues by joining the #AdoptDontShop movement today! If you’re in the Maryland or Los Angeles area, consider adopting a cat from ACR.
A New Approach emerges, challenging tradition to see each tree within the forrest.
by Maggie Funkhouser
Whether the topic is feral cats or Bengal tigers, bald eagles or pigeons, when it comes to managing animal populations, the traditional school of conservation thinking tends to choose lethal practices as its primary tool. However, with new research and evidence showing that nonhuman animals are more similar to humans than not–studies proving these species think, feel, and possess sentience–traditional conservation is being challenged by a new ethos called “compassionate conservation,” where nonlethal practices are the focus.
Traditional conservation approaches for managing nonhuman animal populations are based on the notion that these individuals have simple minds; like machines, they only respond to stimuli, are not feeling creatures, and are “lesser” in some way. This school of thought is also hunting centric, with a firm focus on the herd or population as a whole. The idea is that if the integrity of the whole is thriving, the well-being of the individual is not necessary to consider.
With mounting evidence that nonhuman animals are capable of feeling a wide range of emotions, from joy and happiness to sadness, sorrow, and even post-traumatic stress, some scientists are beginning to shift their views of these species; and with that, they are shifting their management practices (“Animal Sentience,” 2018). This change in mindset is questioning the status quo regarding ethics and moving towards conservation that again takes into account the value of individual life with a focus on “do no harm.”
“As a conservation community we have normalized the perpetration of significant, intentional, and often unnecessary harm against wildlife individuals. This constitutes a tragic failure to exercise our considerable capacities for compassion,” states Arian Wallach, an ecologist at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia, and her colleagues in a recent Conservation Biology essay. With increasing evidence surrounding the “widespread sentience and sapience of many nonhuman animals,” they state, “practices that categorically prioritize collectives without due consideration for the wellbeing of individuals are ethically untenable” (Wallach, Arian et. al., 2018).
Traditional conservationists are having a hard time accepting this new approach of compassion and empathy in managing animal populations. They are holding onto the belief that in order to protect biodiversity, compassion has its limits and killing is necessary. Director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, Peter Marra, and bird advocate Chris Santella strongly support this idea. In their latest book, Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer, Marra and Santella write, “From a conservation ecology perspective, the most desirable solution seems clear—remove all free-ranging cats from the landscape by any means necessary” (Marra and Santella, 2016).
This new debate among scientists has placed conservation management practices on a spectrum with lethal methods at one end, occasional killing in the middle, and abstaining from lethal force at the other end of the scale. Dr. Mark Beckoff, Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder and a pronounced leader of the compassionate conservation movement, responds to Marra and Santella’s Cat Wars, stating, “The phrase ‘by any means necessary’ is among the most reprehensible statements I’ve ever seen, and of course, in addition to it being morally repugnant, it is not based on science and it won’t work. And, think about the horrific lesson it offers to youngsters. The authors totally ignore the cognitive and emotional lives of cats, and view them as mere disposable objects” (Bekoff, 2016).
Does killing work?
Scientists in favor of the compassionate conservation approach point out that killing often allows root problems o be ignored. It’s easier to kill than to formulate solutions to the underlying causes; lethal practices simply provide a band-aid fix. Whereas the new school of thought looks towards ecology, natural processes, and the interconnectedness of all living things to find the answers that will most likely be more effective in providing long-term solutions over repeated killing. These scientists propose allowing nature to “take its course,” to allow natural processes within an ecosystem to self manage.
For example, instead of killing apex species to manage a habitat, compassionate conservation would allow these species to naturally regulate the ecosystems in which they reside–scientists would observe more and interact less. Alley Cat Rescue strongly agrees with this school of thought and therefore advocates Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) as the preferred method of managing feral cat populations because TNR programs–following sterilization–allow natural attrition to reduce local cat colonies.
Embracing humane methods
Killing has a dramatic effect on the environment, often with counterproductive results, TNR provides a practical solution with a more subtle approach to interacting with the environment. TNR stops the breeding cycle without wholly removing animals from the ecosystem, which prevents the creation of open niches and keeps nature in balance. TNR also recognizes the individual by providing care to every cat who is trapped. In fact, surveys show that most individuals would rather see a cat sterilized and returned to his or her outdoor home over having the cat trapped and killed.
More communities and agencies are embracing this humane, nonlethal method of managing community cats, not only because it preserves the sanctity of innocent life–do no harm–but also because it provides an effective, long-term solution. Unlike catch-and-kill, which only provides a temporary fix and often requires repeteated attempts, TNR programs stabilize populations, improve the overall health of outdoor cats, and reduce both shelter intake and euthanasia rates. Additionally, such programs drive community involvement and encourage compassionate actions.
Scientists opposed to this school of thought believe this is a naïve approach in that it’s biased towards non-native (i.e. invasive) species, which when left unmanaged can be detrimental to ecosystems. Feral cats are often placed into the category of non-native, invasive species and labelled a “nuisance,” but ACR believes that this categorizing of species is often arbitrary, especially in today’s world as travel and trade continue to increase. Traditional conservationists still claim that if not removed from the environment, feral cats will in some way “take over,” despite numerous studies that show habitats fair better when cats are TNR’d rather than removed. What’s naïve really is to deny the inevitability of ecological globalization.
A question of values
Compassionate conservation is also challenging the outdated ethos that some species are more worthy of protecting than others. There is a push to move away from protecting just the cute, unique, and not-so scary ones. Traditionalists fear that due to limited resources it will be impossible to protect all species. They believe conservation needs to pick and choose which species to save. The majority of scientists continue to maintain this train of thought despite cases where non-native species are actually providing critical support for endangered, native species. Stripping away this arbitrary worth/value system would ultimately lead to less discriminatory killing.
Just recently a US District Court ruled that federal Wildlife Services, a division of the Agriculture Department that removes and kills millions of animals each year, overstepped its use of authority in order to kill native predators in Idaho. The court ruled that the agency did not provide “an objective analysis of the environmental impacts” and stated that federal officials dismissed legitimate concerns raised by sister agencies (Fears, 2018). This case sets a new precedent, not only calling for more adequate environmental impact studies to be conducted prior to implementing animal management practices, but also showing that blanket killing of animals as part of traditional conservation is now being closely monitored and challenged.
Compassion does not exist in a vacuum and not all suffering is avoidable. However, unnecessary and human-caused harm should and can be avoided. There is now some agreement that lethal methods are too often implemented when not necessary and that lethal precedent often overrides genuine species protection. Hopefully this commonality will propel the conversation field towards more ethical, nonlethal practices. In the meantime, Alley Cat Rescue will continue to advocate for the humane, nonlethal management of feral cats through TNR, while also supporting compassionate conservation for all species.
We don’t know about you but Alley Cat Rescue staff is feeling the heat here in Brentwood, Maryland. If people are feeling the effects of the hot weather that means our beloved pets are too.
There are plenty of ways to keep your pets safe during the summer (read our summer tips here), but one of the easiest ways is to keep your pets out of hot cars. It might not seem like a big deal to leave your cat or dog in the car while you run a few errands, but a hot car can quickly become fatal to innocent animals.
The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that hundreds of animals die each year from heat exhaustion after being left in hot cars. The temperature in a car can rise almost 20 degrees in just ten minutes. After an hour, the temperature can rise over 40 degrees. This means that even on cooler days the inside of your car could be deadly for animals.
Cracking your window will do little to prevent your car from quickly becoming a sauna. A study conducted by the Louisiana Office of Public Health found that cracking the window in a car had minimal effects on the temperature rise. The only way to ensure your pets are safe is to keep them out of unattended cars!
Slowly, legislative changes have been made to address this issue. In total, 29 states and the District of Columbia have laws against leaving unattended animals in cars. Not every state that has a law prohibiting leaving animals in cars allows for citizens to rescue the animals. In fact, in New Jersey and West Virginia it is illegal to leave an animal in the car and it is illegal to break into a car to save the animal, even for law enforcement.
Only 13 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Indiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin) have “Good Samaritan” laws that allow private citizens to rescue animals from cars themselves. If you live in these states be careful before you rescue an animal. Some of the laws outline certain steps you need to take before breaking a window, such as contacting law enforcement, so you can be exempt from criminal liability.
Never leave your own companion animals alone in a vehicle, and make sure you are familiar with the laws in your state so that you know how to act if you see an unattended animal in distress. When in doubt, call your local law enforcement and alert them of the situation.
Meetings can be rescheduled, errands run at a different time, and broken windows can be fixed, but there’s no replacing a cherished member of the family.
It seems every time an international sporting event is coming up there are news stories about plans to cull stray animals in host cities and countries. Most recently, Russia has been in the news over concerns that the country killed stray dogs ahead of the soccer World Cup.
Although Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko has said that the country built shelters to hold the stray dogs, there are still concerns about the fate of these dogs. It is estimated that 2 million stray dogs live in the cities hosting the World Cup. Simply putting these dogs in shelters during the World Cup is not a viable solution. If these shelters become overcrowded then it is likely that some of the dogs will be euthanized.
Russia may also be trying to hide their stray dog issue without actually addressing stray dog overpopulation. Culling stray dogs is a short-sighted and ineffective solution. Countries that implement eradication plans ahead of international sporting events are more concerned with appearances than the welfare of the animals.
Additionally, the eradication plans can quickly become expensive. One of the cities that is hosting the World Cup paid a company $560,000 in January to catch and hold stray dogs. While government officials state that holding the dogs is humane, Russian activists say that the dogs are being held for just 10 days and then euthanized. Ahead of the 2014 Olympics, the Russian city of Sochi paid a company $29,000 to kill 1,200 stray dogs and cats with poisoned darts.
Alley Cat Rescue and other animal groups advocate for the use of humane sterilization plans to manage animal populations. Many countries currently implement sterilization plans for stray dogs that are similar to the trap-neuter-return (TNR) method Alley Cat Rescue uses for community cats. Under these programs, stray dogs are given a rabies vaccine and sterilized. Just like in TNR, friendly dogs can be adopted out and unsocialized dogs are returned back outside. These programs help address the public health and appearance concerns that countries may have ahead of international events.
Russia and other host countries should reject eradication plans and instead allocate funds for long-term sterilization programs. Concerned animal lovers should boycott international events where stray animals are killed and demand that humane solutions are used instead.
After Hurricane Harvey hit last autumn, thousands of pets were thought to be displaced or missing. The aftermath was devastating to many people and homes, but also animals living in the area. Now, with the recent floodings in Maryland and hurricane season underway, there’s no doubt that many pet guardians are wondering about the safety of their animal companions.
In the past, victims have been told to leave their pets behind. Most Red Cross shelters do not accept pets, and at the time of Hurricane Katrina, there were no federal or state laws addressing the safety of pets when planning for disasters.
Though victims of Hurricane Katrina were told that they could not bring their dogs and cats with them to shelters, a poll from the Fritz Institute found that 44% of the people who refused to evacuate did so because they wanted to remain with their pets. In response to the aftermath of Katrina, the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act was born. It requires that response plans “account for the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals before, during and following a major disaster or emergency.”
If staying behind is too dangerous for you, then it’s too dangerous for your pets! Here are some ways for pet guardians to prepare for a disaster:
A recent New York Times article came out about the feral cats that Google employees are feeding at their corporate headquarters, called Googleplex. Instead of focusing on the good work these employees are doing, the article discussed criticism Google is receiving from bird groups.
According to the article, bird groups blame the feral cats Google staff are trap-neuter-returning for the population declines of the burrowing owl. While Alley Cat Rescue cares deeply about bird populations, the connections between the feral cats and the owls are minimal at best. The article states one instance of an owl being found dead after being followed by a cat, and one photo of a cat with a bird in its mouth as evidence that the cats are causing the population declines.
Instead of grasping at straws, we should focus on the true causes of the burrowing owl’s population declines. According to both the Urban Bird Foundation and California Audubon Society, loss of habitat is a central cause of the burrowing owl’s population declines. In fact, a golf course next to the Googleplex has caused multiple owls to die. The article states, “One of the biggest threats uses the Shoreline golf course. A bleak Mountain View report three months ago noted there have been deaths ‘due to direct contact between golf balls and burrowing owls.’”
Alley Cat Rescue has reached out to Google to ask them to keep implementing their trap-neuter-return program and we ask you to do the same! Trap-neuter-return will help to manage the feral cat population and will reduce problem behaviors such as roaming, keeping the owls and cats apart. Further, if eradication methods were used against the cats around the Googleplex, these methods could kill the burrowing owls as well.
You can contact Google here:
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043
Alley Cat Rescue is leading in the way in promoting humane and compassionate care for ALL cats.