This weekend a young cat abandoned her two newborn kittens under our house.
We are not cat people. Or at least, we are not stray–cat people. I have had pet cats, but I have no emotional attachment to stray cats, which are wild animals of an invasive species.1 Our neighborhood is overrun with the vermin, which slaughter the birdlife and shit in the flower beds. I have on many occasions trapped neighborhood strays and taken them to the pound. I have surely caused the deaths of several of those strays, but lost no sleep over it.
I know the theory: you shouldn’t euthanize strays but rather TNR—Trap, Neuter, and Release—because neutering the cats and returning them to the colony will result in the diminution of the colony over time. But I don’t believe it. Cat lovers in the Houston Heights trapped, neutered, and returned all the cats they could last year, and still we have cat teen moms ditching their unwanted children. TNR is failing in the Heights.
The theory behind TNR is that “whenever cats are removed, new cats move in, or the surviving cats left behind, breed to capacity.” My theory of why TNR isn’t working in the Heights is that cat lovers, by feeding cat colonies, increase the neighborhood’s capacity for cats beyond what nature has provided and what cat lovers can manage. The more food you put out, the more the unfixed cats will breed to fill that capacity. The greater the capacity, the more cats. The more cats, the more will get missed in the neutering efforts. The more unneutered cats, the more litters.
Stop feeding the cats, and they’ll reach a much smaller population equilibrium.2 Feed the cats, on the other hand, and you are ethically responsible for them. If you care about the cats (which, if you feed the cats, you probably do), then you are also obligated to TNR them.3
Feed the cats and fail to TNR them, and you are responsible for their offspring.
So. Two kittens, abandoned by young mama cat who had no idea what to do with them: nature did not intend that these survive. They’d have been easy pickings for the red-tailed hawks that we’re sometimes fortunate to see in the neighborhood. But instead of letting natural selection do its job, we boxed them up and took them to the cat lady down on the corner, one of several who feed the neighborhood strays. When we explained that our alternative was to leave the box on the curb and hope somebody would come pick it up, she complained about all the time and money she had spent on her cat colony, but grudgingly took the two rat-sized kittens off our hands.
And then, at about midnight,4 she rattled off a cross email to me, CC all of her friends:
I just want you to know I feel about the kitten incident. I am still sitting outside crying and unable to sleep. You took advantage of someone who obviously cannot let you “leave the kittens on the corner.” I feed the feral cats as one small part of all I can do. I trap them and get them fixed. I spend inordinate amounts of money on trying to help animals and my heart breaks everyday. It is pathetic that this city has 1.2 million stray dogs and god knows how many cats. … I spent the rest of my day taking the kittens to Sunset Blvd Animal Clinic, I made two trips to Petsmart to get what they needed, and my vet at Greenway Animal Clinic is going to get them into a rescue program tomorrow at my expense. They still had umbilical cords attached and had maggot eggs on them. I hope you can do something more responsible in the future and not thrust responsibility on people who can’t say no. Please contact [vet] at 713-xxx-xxxx at Greenway Animal Clinic if I am out of town or me at 713-xxx-xxxx or 713-xxx-xxxx if you find more kittens or the mother so we can do something since you obviously will not.
Thanks to Rule One, I have resisted responding to her, but things worked efficiently here: people who had little interest in the survival of these cats delivered them to someone who obviously had great interest in it.
As a result, the cats get a chance to live without passing on their mother’s defective kitten-abandoning genes. The cat lady gets whatever psychic value she so obviously finds in saving stray cats and, as a bonus unforeseen to me, gets to play the martyr among her friends.5 I get the cats out of my front yard, the pleasure of having saved a living thing,6 the satisfaction of having given the cat lady what she wanted,7 and a blog post.
I’m not saying this is the only or even the most efficient result: had a hawk or a raccoon snacked on the kittens, things would also have worked efficiently—better for the predator, worse for the kittens and cat lady—but I probably wouldn’t have gotten a blog post out of it.
Meanwhile, back in the federal courthouse…
Thanks to the sequester the government has cut funding for Federal Public Defenders’ Offices, resulting in layoffs, and cut the already-low rates paid private lawyers appointed to represent indigent people in federal court (Criminal Justice Act, or CJA rates).
The more rational solution would appear to be to cut back on prosecutions, since defense expenses follow prosecution expenses.
But the criminal-defense bar, like the cat lady, gets psychic value from doing what it does.8 Even though CJA rates were already below market rates for good lawyers, good lawyers took appointments in federal court because it provided other satisfactions, among them the pleasure of helping those whom God had forsaken, society’s strays.
I believe, as a matter of principle, in calling bluffs. Criminal-defense lawyers ought to quit the CJA panel en masse, because gutting the defense to preserve the prosecution is wrong, and because the only way for the lawyers to keep the government from cutting their pay and laying off PDs is by refusing to accept it. If the government wants to prosecute people, it must pay to defend them; if it’s not willing to do so it should be forced to forgo prosecution.
But that will never happen. Because of the fringe benefits,9 the government will get away with cutting CJA rates, and there will not be mass resignations from the CJA panel.
There are plenty of strays I can help without being appointed to help them, so I am resigning from the CJA list. But the CJA bar as a whole will not say “no” to continuing to help the strays despite the feeling that they are being treated unjustly.
Most of them won’t send alcohol-fueled midnight emails complaining about the injustice of being forced to do what they have chosen to do. Now that the government has gotten away with cutting CJA rates, it’ll do it every time the opportunity presents itself, and the lawyers have nobody to blame but themselves.
Maybe even one that doesn’t have me baiting the Havahart. ↩
When I get a cross email sent in the wee hours, I assume that alcohol was involved. ↩
Never underestimate the value of this in our narcissistic victimocratic society. ↩
A verminous living thing, granted, but still. ↩
Though she complains about it. ↩
My first thought when the cat lady complained about her money and time spent helping stray cats was, “what a waste.” But I probably spend more time and money helping stray human beings, and who knows: maybe cats are more worthy of saving than human beings. It’s easier to see results when you’re helping cats. ↩
As well as a lack of political will among criminal-defense lawyers. ↩