January 27, 2009





     The black flash scooted by so fast that I thought it was a mirage. Several days later, it happened again. By the time it happened a third time I realized it was a cat trying to escape my vision as it ran through the laundry room and out the cat door.
     Our visitor continued entering our home over a period of time, and gradually it stayed put long enough for me to identify it as a large, female, black, cat with bronze and orange striping. It was only over a gradual period of time that the stranger allowed us to approach it, and eventually stroke it. 
     Our neighborhood allegedly had a feral cat population, so it was logical to conclude that the feline was one of he strays. But after about six weeks, when she began sleeping in a coveted spot, someone suggested it belonged to a neighbor girl. I met her as she walked home from the school bus one day. Upon hearing where her cat was, she immediately came over to our house, with her father, to claim Chelsea. The father suggested that we block our cat door to prevent Chelsea from coming in on her own. I replied that I wasn’t about to shut it, since my cat, Honey, needed to get in and out. I wasn’t about to do butler duty for a cat, nor was I about to enter the world of emptying litter boxes.
     It wasn’t long before Chelsea returned to our house. I met with roadblocks when I attempted to contact the family. They had several dogs, kept on the family property by an electric fence, and while I didn’t think they would harm me, they were intimidating. I didn’t want to enter their yard. Only a few years ago, someone else who had “harmless” dogs, which didn’t attack. A huge dog, it came after me from behind, while I was standing still so as not to instigate him. The hit knocked me down on my knees, and I tucked my head down. My hands, still bearing tiny white teeth-mark scars, were tucked in my pocket. The three male teenagers could not pull the dog off of me. Their mother told me later that I “didn’t know what a dog attack was.” Perhaps I didn’t, but later the same dog attacked an eight year old, leaving her needing seventy-five stitches in her face. No, no way am I going to challenge any big dogs on their turf.
     I attempted to telephone Chelsea’s owners, but the listed phone number came up disconnected. I would have to wait for the owner’s to come fetch their pet, or to run into them while I was out walking. It didn’t happen.
     It was several months later when the father came to pick up the cat. This time, he asked what kind of cat food we were feeding her. My husband, Monte, handed Chelsea over, but immediately the cat was back. The father returned, and Monte went into the house to check if Chelsea was back. She was. He picked her up and took her outside, but when Chelsea saw the father she clawed Monte. But Chelsea was taken home.
     Not for long. When she returned, she was here most of the fall. It wasn’t until the day after Christmas that the girl’s father came to find out if she was here. He took her, saying that a shock collar for cats is now available, and he had one. He took her home. Within an hour, she was back. Within a couple of days, the daughter knocked on our door, telling us that her father had not had the shock collar turned on high enough. When she took the cat with her, I wondered how long it would take for Chelsea to return to our house.
     It took a couple of weeks. I woke up that Sunday morning, and Chelsea was curled up on the chair next to my bed. Monte suggested that the cold or the snow might have made the shock collar unworkable. Later, we couldn’t find Chelsea. Even later, the daughter returned to ask if she was here. I said she had been, but she wasn’t at this time. I couldn’t tell her where the cat was.
    “Are you sure?” she questioned.
    “Would I lie to you? Every time you’ve come, we’ve returned her to you.”
     A couple days later, while I was enjoying an afternoon nap, Monte answered the door. The father and daughter wanted to know if Chelsea was here. She was not.
     It seemed to me through this whole affair that, for some reason, Chelsea had repeatedly made a choice that our home was where she wanted to be, that, for some reason, she did not want to live in her owner’s home.
     It also seemed to me that Chelsea had been abandoned. Why had months gone by, on two occasions, when her owners had not come to claim her? Certainly they could figure out where she was—where she always turned to. What was their responsibility? Not once did they offer to provide care for the cat. Was it my responsibility to do so, or to contact them, chancing their dog’s response to me?
     Legally, if a person feeds a feral cat, they become responsible for it. Although I had tried not to feed the cat, in order to discourage her from making our home her home, I discovered that she did not go home to eat. She rather chose to catch wild animals, and left the remnants in my home. Furthermore, when she was hungry she would run between my feet hoping to get a meal, and I did not want to risk falling. It wasn’t worth it. So I fed her as minimally as possible.
     I cannot say where Chelsea is at this time. I do know that she chose us to be her family, to be her home.
     The question this situation raises is: What rights do cats have?
     Chelsea made it clear that she preferred living with us, rather that with her owners. Why, I do not know. But it appeared to be her choice. Did she have the right to choose where she would live?
     Twice, she was with us almost three months before her owners came to claim her. Does this constitute abandonment on their part? Does this make her a feral cat? Did the fact that I fed her make her my property?
     What rights do cats, or other animals, for that fact, truly have?
     I am not saying that I favor the direction that two separate European nations took when they granted unprecedented rights to members of the animal kingdom.
     Spain declared that our “non-human brothers,” the great apes—chimpanzees (whose DNA is 85 to 98.7 per cent the same as that of humans), bonobos, gorillas and orangutans, and monkeys. According to the 1993 Declaration on Great Apes, developed by a group of primatologists, ethicists and psychologists, nonhuman apes are entitled to the rights of life, liberty, and protection from torture. The Great Ape Project demands “the extension of the community of equals to include all great apes.” The declaration states that apes may not be killed except under “strictly defined circumstances,” such as self-defense. They may not be imprisoned without due legal process, and they may not be subjected to the “deliberate infliction of severe pain,” even if doing so is said to benefit others. Reuters reports that the resolution is expected to become law, and will likely take effect within one year. Torture, including in medical experiments, and arbitrary imprisonment, including for circuses or films, would be forbidden to use. The principles of the Great Ape Project points to the apes’ human qualities, including the ability to feel fear and happiness, create tools, use languages, remember the past and plan the future. The project’s directors, Peter Singer, the Princeton ethicist, and Paola Cavalieri, an Italian philosopher, regard apes as part of a “community of equals” with humans.
     New Swiss regulations recognize the social needs of pets, disallowing pets (eg. parrots and hamsters) to be kept by themselves. Livestock, such as sheep or goats, are required to have, at the very least, “a visual contact with their fellows.” The new Swiss regulations prohibit flushing live goldfish down the toilet, and ban fishermen from the practice of catch-and-release fishing, and using live bait. They took the process a step into the plant world, proclaiming that plants deserve respect. Killing them unnecessarily is morally wrong.
     Austrian animal rights activists are fighting to have a chimp named Matthew Hiasl Pan declared a person. They have lost so far, but are appealing to the European Court of Human Rights.
     Which brings me back to my point and my question: What rights do cats have?






















  1. What would you like to feed on on your birthday? I bet most of you would say “cake.” Not Timmy. Or, maybe Timmy. His treat was a 300-pound block of ice sculpted into a cake shaped like the number 50. But then, Timmy is a male gorilla, the oldest male in a North American zoo. He celebrated with the ice accompanied by three femal gorillas in his pack.
    Although he is the oldest male gorilla, he is tied for fourth place overall. Among the 11 gorillas in the Louisville, KY, zoo, is the third oldest gorilla in North America, 51-year old Helen.
    Zoo officials said male gorillas rarely live to be 50 years old.
    Happy belated birthday, Timmy!

    Comment by Carolyn — January 28, 2009 @ 4:25 am | Reply

  2. I first learned about the rights of animals at university when studying Singer in moral philosopy. All animals have rights not just humans. By saying apes are like us and so deserve human rights we are still making ourselves more important than other animals. We are saying other animals do not have rights. So, glad as I am to hear of animal rights becoming more sought after, I am sad that an animal has to be almost human before we consider this right to be justified.

    Comment by Animal Lover — January 30, 2009 @ 8:44 am | Reply

  3. A man is not a horse because he was born in a stable.

    Comment by Merry Bielicki — March 1, 2011 @ 6:28 am | Reply

  4. Poor cat, no wonder she preferred to be at your house! Her “home” with lots of dogs and owners who think shock collars are ok!

    Comment by Eliza — April 22, 2011 @ 10:24 am | Reply

  5. A friend was cat sitting for me and let someone maliciously take my cats and get rid of them and she will not tell me what she did with them. I know she didn’t take them to the humane society. I fear for their safety. What can I do?

    Comment by Elizabeth Michaels — May 15, 2011 @ 7:21 pm | Reply

    • I’m not certain there is a whole lot you can do. Have you checked with your local humane society? The thing I hear you saying is that your friend voluntarily let someone take the cats. So I don’t think any crime was committed. However, your friend didn’t fulfill her obligations. Perhaps you could take her to small claims court—it just might pull the entire story from her.

      Comment by carolyncholland — May 15, 2011 @ 7:34 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply to Elizabeth Michaels Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: