Scoppe: Feed the stray animals

Associate EditorFebruary 2, 2010 

I'M TIRED of reading and writing about Andre Bauer, but there's one more thing about his "stray animals" metaphor that needs to be discussed: The underlying "wisdom" is wrong not just when applied to people, but when applied to stray animals as well.

Yes, it's true that we have a problem with too many unwanted dogs and cats, and the problem is much worse today than it was when Mr. Bauer's grandmother was distributing her folk wisdom.

It's true that stray animals will breed if they have enough energy to do so.

But rather than glibly moving on to the next topic, we need to stop and think about what "don't feed strays" means: If they don't eat, they will die. They will die a very painful death of starvation. A death that we could have prevented with very little time or effort.

We're not talking about possums or foxes or other wild animals that throughout history have survived on their own. Any family discussion about whether to feed "stray animals" clearly involves cats and dogs - domesticated animals that are stray because a human being who was supposed to be responsible for them threw them away, or threw away the animals that produced them.

The way you stop stray animals from breeding isn't to torture them to death by starvation. It's to get them spayed or neutered.

It crossed my mind that perhaps I was looking at this emotionally instead of rationally. My beloved Nicholas and Blackberry are, after all, the result of breeding by stray animals. Stray animals that might not have lived to produce the most delightful kittens in the world if I had not helped feed them for several months after the mini-feral colony showed up at a friend's house. (We thought the original "kittens" were too young to reproduce, so no one had tried to catch them to spay before their kittens showed up for dinner last spring.)

So just to be sure, I called the president of the animal rescue program Project Pet, which literally pulls animals off death row and finds them homes. Deloris Mungo was driving a rescued dog to his new home. In the back seat of her car was a bag full of cat food and dog food and a gallon of water and bowls, which she keeps with her at all times in case she runs across any strays. "Whether I can catch it or not, I'm going to make sure that animal isn't going to be hungry as long as I'm there," she told me.

OK, so maybe that's extreme. But so is starving an animal. "That's not the way you treat anything," she said. "Nothing deserves to be hungry or cold. You should feed that animal and take care of that animal to the best you can," and if you can't provide a home for it yourself "try to find one of the organizations that will help you with that animal."

Before I start getting more hate mail from the Andre Bauer groupies, let me explain who Delores Mungo is: She's a friend of Andre Bauer's. She's supporting him for governor and wrote his campaign a check for $250 a couple of weeks before his comments. He was honorary chairman of a fundraiser her group had in December. When we talked, I kept having to pulling the conversation back to stray animals - which probably makes me the only person in the world who has had that experience - because she wanted to keep talking about how much Mr. Bauer has done to help the cause of protecting stray animals and about how his comments did not reflect his heart.

This isn't about Mr. Bauer. It's about how we treat animals, and the dangerous message we send when we spend a couple of weeks talking about starving stray animals as if there were nothing wrong with that.

"I can remember growing up people would always say if you feed them they'll hang around," Ms. Mungo said. "Well my parents always fed them anyway."

So did mine, and so there was always a yard full of cats at our house. The first cat I ever considered my own was a beautiful silver kitty I named Princess, who used to sit on my Dad's bare shoulder as he drove my brother's motorcycle around the farm. Her front legs were bowed because she was so badly malnourished when a friend and I spotted her along the side of a lonely stretch of road while we were out bike riding. I scooped up the tiny little stray kitten, took her home and fed her.

Of the seven cats who have owned me so far, five were strays, who were lucky enough to wander into my yard instead of the yard of someone far "wiser" than me. And my life has been made immeasurably better by every one of them.

Yes, the thought of starving children, or even threatening to starve them, so their parents won't "breed" is far, far, far more hideous than the idea of not feeding stray cats and dogs. That's why we spent more than a week talking about that. But as insensitive and offensive and hurtful as the remarks were, the fact is that we as a society aren't going to starve poor children to death. But we do that to cats and dogs every day.

Ms. Scoppe can be reached at cscoppe@thestate.com or at (803) 771-8571.

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