Something should be done by our legislatures to protect the cat, and also to dispose of the superfluous ones. It is a law of average human nature to value most those things which cost most. If our municipalities would make a cat license obligatory, just as most of them have ordained a dog law, placing even a small yearly tax on every cat, and providing for the merciful disposition of all vagrant, homeless ones, not only would there be fewer gaunt, half-starved prowlers to steal chickens and pigeons, but the common house cat would rise in value and receive better care. In New York, cat taxation has become a law.
The United States government, even now, recognizes the cat as a public servant. A prominent post-office official tells me that a large number of felines are regularly in the employ of the United States government. These pussies are more than three hundred in number, and the cost of their support is carried as an item on the accounts of the Post-office Department. They are distributed among about fifty of the principal post-offices in various parts of the country, and their duty is to keep rats and mice from eating postal matter and mail sacks. Each city postmaster is allowed from eight to forty dollars a year for the board of his feline staff, sending his estimate for cat meat to Washington at the beginning of each quarter.
A beautiful cat is a very beautiful animal. Anatomists tell us that no animal possesses a body better fitted for its special purpose, or with a greater strength in proportion to its weight. To seek to bring such a creature to the highest state of physical beauty is therefore a worthy object. The fact that we are bestowing this trouble on one of the most useful of our animal friends, makes it all the more worth while. At the same time care should be taken not to develop the physical qualities of the cat at the expense of the moral. If we obtained beauty in exchange for the domestic virtues of the cat, our loss would be great. Many believe that the higher qualities of the dog have been injured by the practice of breeders seeing only a superficial excellence. A mongrel is often a more intelligent animal than a pure-bred dog of the noblest breed.
The danger of injury to the character of the cat by the practices of breeders arises from a somewhat different cause. He is an animal quickly driven to wildness by neglect or by harsh and unsympathetic treatment. Virtues developed through centuries of intimate association with the household may be impaired or lost in a single generation by a change in the conditions of life, and he should have the full benefit of the refining and educating influences of the home. Consequently the cat must not be put apart with animals of exactly the same appearance, as dogs are. He should have the fullest and freest personal liberty consistent with the well-being of his neighbors. In that case he usually divides his time equally between human society and his own species. He then becomes an agreeable, intelligent, and useful companion, cunning in all the ways of the cat family. He learns to open the back door, to find the most comfortable places in the house, to keep an eye on mice holes, and to be on hand before, during, and after meal-times.
I am much concerned about the way the ordinary family cat is treated. In too many households the cat is relegated to the shed and yards, or, if allowed in the house at all, it is never fed or petted, and then is railed against as a thief. Worse yet are those homes where growing children are allowed to abuse and torment the cat for amusement.
1. Maternity chambers across south end of Oasis Kennels,
I shall never forget visiting a fine house some years ago, the mistress of which claims to be a devout Christian. The one child of the family, a delicate girl of five, was sent for to come in and see the visitors. When she came, she was swinging a miserable, stunted kitten by its ears. It was dripping with soapsuds, the child having been giving the poor creature a bath when called; and when the child had spoken with us, she sat down and poked her fingers into its eyes and ears, the poor creature having long ago learned the futility of resistance. On my venturing to protest, the mother said:—
"Oh, she loves her Tommy so, and then he's used to it: he doesn't mind."
And yet, this woman read her Bible daily, and talked earnestly about "the Christian life." It did not occur to her that in permitting her child to be cruel to one of God's creatures she was in any way trespassing against one of His laws. Nor did she realize that in allowing her child to torment the helpless creatures under her care and authority, she was deliberately educating that child in cruelty and selfishness, and developing a stony-hearted indifference to suffering.
Ah! there is a principle underlying this point much deeper than appears on the surface. Suppose the hard-hearted landlord, the selfish invalid, the man who delights in torturing others, not to mention him who can look with indifference on the sufferings of others,—suppose the murderer, even,—had been blessed with mothers who had carefully educated their childish consciences into love and pity for all God's creatures, high and low, think you the world would not have been better for it to-day? No mother who cares an atom for the moral and spiritual welfare of her child can afford to neglect this teaching of kindness to the lower animals.
A child with a kitten is one of the prettiest sights in nature. But little children are apt to squeeze the pet too hard, and then out come sharp little claws, a cry ensues, and perhaps a foolish mother or nurse is angry with the kitten, and so gives a direct lesson in cruelty and injustice to the infant mind. All intercourse between young children and animals should be guarded by judicious elders, or suffering on both sides may ensue. A young child is naturally fond of animals. If he is cruel to them it is because of ignorance or thoughtlessness at first. Educate him in the belief that God, Who careth for even the sparrows that fall to the ground, and Who "loveth all things great and small," loves every creature, and that God's children must be kind to them; then we shall have no more horrible stories of vivisection, or deliberate cruelty, or even neglect.
"'No heaven for brutes,' you fancy that is clear; Then let us make a heaven for them here. If immortality is thus denied To any beast beyond the Stygian tide, Then all the more incumbent doth it seem To make their earthly life a happy dream."
And yet, in spite of all that has been said and done, there are still many people, some calling themselves Christians, who desert their cats and kittens, or drop them on the street, salving their calloused consciences with the excuse that "some one" will care for the poor, forsaken creature and assume the duty which they have shirked. How are these deserted ones cared for by "some one"? In nine cases out of ten the servants of the house are strictly forbidden to feed a stray cat, for fear of "coaxing her to stay." From door to door the hungry cat or kitten goes, only to be driven away by a broom or some worse missile.
In one neighborhood where a mysterious influx of half-grown starving kittens appeared, it was found on inquiry that a minister living in one of the houses ordered the family cat to be shut out and no longer fed, that she might be made to seek other quarters, because she was too prolific. In Old Orchard, at the close of one summer, forty deserted cats were seen about the beach, some of them so wild that no one could get near them. At Nantasket there are sometimes a hundred cats left to starve in the same way. The excuse is often heard:—
"Oh, a cat can get its own living!"
Possibly, in the country, where there are plenty of mice-infested barns and outbuildings; but on a deserted sand beach in winter, or on a city street, what chance do the poor creatures have? My heart goes out to the cats who are so cast out, with nothing left them but to crawl into insufficient shelter beneath doorsteps of deserted buildings, rubbish heaps, broken platforms of railway stations or wharves, and there suffer the pangs of maternity and die uncared for by the slow process of starvation.
Something should be done for these poor creatures, and we need not look for the millennium until it is made impossible for them to suffer as they do. A friend of humanity has suggested that police stations might be made a harbor for cats which have no homes, and methods provided at each station for relieving their troubles by a merciful death. And again, that a law be passed by which every person who is known to drop or otherwise desert a cat could be fined not less than ten dollars, the money to go toward maintaining some kind of a refuge for deserted or homeless animals.
It does not seem possible that any one can be guilty of such deliberate cruelty—to take into one's house and pet and care for an animal, and then abandon it to starvation and misery. Cats certainly become attached to people, and when deserted in this way they suffer not only from want of food, but from want of the companionship and affection to which they have been accustomed; and we should always bear in mind the fact that whether handsome or ugly, sensible or stupid, all animals have feelings, and on that account ought to be treated with kindness and consideration.
Then again, what right have we to expect a cat, unless we have taught her, to exercise a moral judgment in regard to what she chooses to eat when left to herself? A cat may be trained to discriminate between canaries and English sparrows, between pigeons and rats, but she usually needs education in this matter. The whole thing in a nutshell is well put in the following quatrain found in a newspaper:—
THE THREE MENUS She:—The cat has eaten our pet bird ; He:—The wicked beast shall die. Then he resumed his quail on toast And she ate pigeon pie.
Some people have a theory that cats will not catch mice if they are well fed; that the only way to "make a good mouser" is to compel her to depend upon such game as she may catch for a living. Not only is this untrue, for a good cat will catch a mouse whenever and wherever he sees it, and whether he is hungry or not,—but such treatment actually detracts from her ability to serve as a rat-catcher. It has been amply proved that a half-starved cat suffers a direct weakening of the sense of smell. It is this sense which tells the cat there is a mouse near by, though out of sight; and a starved cat is deficient in the first necessity of what some people consider her mission on earth. On the other hand, a well-fed cat has this sense well developed, and her natural instinct demands that no mouse shall escape uncaught. A well-fed cat does not always eat the mice he catches; but I respect him the more for being somewhat epicurish.
1. Caprice, mother of Paris: owned by Mrs. W.E. Colburn, Chicago;
Is there more to be said on this ever-interesting subject of cats? Yes, plenty. But I shall only quote from Mr. Thomas Janvier:—
"It will be a long step toward winning back the Golden Age, when the cats shall come to their own again by restoration to their rightful place as the honored intimates of men. And so it is that whoever helps in hastening the advent of this halcyon philo-feline era, whereof the outcome must be a substantial increase of human happiness, deserves the gratitude of the world at large."
And again: "It is a happy fact that even the least of us—drawing closer as did the blessed Saint Francis of Assisi to our brethren, the beasts and the fishes and the birds—may in some measure forestall the millennium in our lives. And also it is true that in so doing we may at the same time hasten, by a fractional part, the revival universal of the gracious epoch when man and the so-called lower orders of animals once more shall be on terms of cordial fellowship; when, most joyous of all the joyous sights of that reunion, Homo and Felis shall stand friendly together, hand clasping paw."