Sunday, February 20, 2011

Of Cats and Kindness

A letter to the editor in a local newpaper about a problem with stray cats in a nearby town prompted me to share a story about the cat sanctuary in Ottawa, Ontario.

The Cat Sanctuary is located on Parliament Hill, and I had the opportunity to see it during a visit to Canada’s capital city in mid-January.

The sanctuary has been in place since the late 1970’s, and was prompted by a desire to provide some assistance to the homeless cats that roamed the Hill at that time.

Reminiscent of an oversized doll house—or an undersized person house, if you prefer—the “cat sanctuary” boasts a roofed veranda that shelters the feline occupants from the elements. The inhabitants can nibble from a number of kibble-stocked food dishes. During our visit, it was clear that the local squirrel population was also not above sampling the fare thus offered.

Doorways in the main part of the “house” lead into a straw-stuffed bedding area where the feline occupants can retreat to nap at their leisure. It looked quite cozy—if I were a little (okay, a lot) smaller I would be tempted to give it a try.

A sign posted at the site explains that the care and maintenance of the sanctuary and its inhabitants is funded entirely by individual generosity and donations.

The cats who live at the sanctuary have been spayed and neutered, to minimize the risk of the population growing out of control. The health of the cat colony is protected through annual vaccinations and wellness checkups.

The cat sanctuary is significant enough to merit an entry on Wikipedia, which outlines the history of the shelter and a listing of the names of the current and past inhabitants. The Wikipedia entry also notes that the cats make a contribution of their own, by helping to keep the rodent population on the Hill in check.

Although the Wikipedia site says that the sanctuary is currently home to ten cats, only two chose to show themselves during our visit. The first emerged from the small building, stretched its limbs in a leisurely manner, and nibbled some food, then sat and stared at us with the kind of haughty disdain that is all too familiar to any cat owner. Another feline popped out one door, snatched a mouthful of food, then wandered back into the sleeping area through another opening.  Clearly, these two residents at least were comfortable and secure in their surroundings.

After visiting the cat sanctuary, I ran across a story about Mother Teresa’s law of “one by one”. If we think about the examples of cruelty, abuse, or neglect that any one of us might have seen or heard about in the course of our lives, it might seem distressingly overwhelming—perhaps impossible—to hope to make an impact of any significance. But if we focus on one act at a time, no matter how small, over time the cumulative value of those acts can and will add up significantly. This is what I got out of the explanation of the law of “one by one”.

I don’t know what the answer is for any town’s or city’s stray cat problem. In the short term, raising awareness and dealing with issues one at a time are partial solutions. Perhaps the true long term answer lies in raising future generations in such a way that they learn to value and care for all living things, human and animal.

Meanwhile, I think we should all have faith that individual acts of kindness, no matter how small they may seem, are of value. One by one.

This content is adapted from the author’s Creemore Echo column of February 11th, 2011.

If you have examples of kindness to animals you’ve seen, or thoughts on how we could prevent cruelty to animals and abandonment of animals, feel free to share in the comments section.