This isn’t a story about a cat, or even a pet in the usual sense of the word: but a pet is a kept animal, and although most of us treat our pets very well, usually as a member of our family, and love them dearly, we know there are cases where animals are kept in horrible conditions, against all norms of decency and kindness toward another living being. Raju was such an animal, an elephant, stolen from his mother when he was young, illegally bought and traded many times by unscrupulous dealers looking to make income from him, by forcing him to “beg” on the streets in India. His legs were chained, with spikes digging into his skin.
Finally, after fifty years of captivity, cruelty, and daily beatings, he was freed in a rescue operation. His story is told in this CBC Radio documentary, and by the organization that saved him, Wildlife SOS India.
In August, people who were following this story were horrified to read headlines like this in the Daily Mail:
Raju the crying elephant faces life back in chains after cruel former owners launch legal battle to win him back
But on 2 December this year, the Daily Mail reported–
last night after a series of hearings, an Indian court ruled that Raju must stay with his rescuers from the British charity Wildlife SOS.
Founder of the charity Kartick Satyanarayan, who led the daring, midnight rescue to save Raju said: ‘We are beyond overjoyed that Raju is finally saved.
‘This is a huge victory, not only for Raju, but for every elephant suffering in pain silently.
The Dodo (www.thedodo.com), an online journal about animals, has a heart-warming follow-up story on Raju. The former owner of Raju went to court to get him back, claiming he was stolen by Wildlife SOS. Fortunately the courts turned him away.
Raju now is among other rescued elephants. Elephants, long-lived intelligent animals with large brains, have strong ties to their extended families, and yet they are still hunted in Africa for ivory (for Chinese customers) and captured to be used in circuses worldwide.
We don’t just value our cats, our dogs: the welfare of all animals should be our concern. This is why I stopped eating meat, why I believe cats should be kept indoors, and why I cannot abide cruelty toward any animal–or human! I don’t understand cruelty, I don’t know where it arises–ignorance, certainly; poverty of imagination and empathy, possibly; a feeling that we humans are privileged and that the world is ours to use and abuse.
In this inter-connected world, as John Donne (1572 – 1631) wrote:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
Any animal’s death pains me. To see a raccoon that has been hit by a car, to see a truckload of frightened cattle as it travels toward the slaughterhouse, to hear the howl of a dog chained in a yard hour after hour, day after day: the only way we can build a kinder, gentler world is by considering all life precious, because we are all expressions of God.
“Your cat will figure it out.” This is the catchy tag line from the designer of the Cat Ball, a fabric dome or cat-cave which Jennifer Schmidt came up with while working as a costume designer. This is one of the few things I’ve bought Miss Picky and Persnickety that she actually likes and uses. Designed by Jennifer Schmidt, available from her website thecatball.com, it is a hexagonal (six-sided) fabric ball with a large entrance at one end and a smaller exit at the other.
I wrote Jennifer:
For a few weeks after receiving my Cat Ball, Pumpkin basically ignored it. She saw it, she sniffed it, but she wasn’t interested in climbing into it: I put it on the bed, on the floor, on the couch. I was resigned to it being yet another purchase that she turns her nose up at like the three different scratching things, or the food dispenser/toy, all of which have been donated to cat charities.
But then I came home one day to find her sleeping in it. And tonight, after a monumental man versus cat struggle to get her into the cat carrier (wounds inflicted, ego bruised, you guess which is which), in order to get her nails clipped at a local vet, she came home (with me) and hid under the bed. I know she appreciates having shorter nails which don’t get caught up in things, or maybe she’s really pissed off at having shorter nails, who knows, but she did agree, a few hours later, to some play time. And surprised me by basically lunging into the Cat Ball. We played a string game in and out of it. She had a great time twisting and turning around inside it as I passed the string by one hole and then the other. She’s curled up in it now, asleep, as I type this.
Sometimes I wonder why we keep these silly animals. I have plastic wrap all around my dining chairs, which it turns out were designed to be tall, fabric covered and totally stable, so the cats started scratching them. Actually, take KITTENS started mountain climbing them, and it went from there. It’s a battle we can only fight with stuff like plastic wrap and that sticky tape stuff. I guess I’m thinking of your ego bruising after this epic cat carrier battle. Maybe the vet techs have tricks- and if they do, please tell me! Getting a cat into a carrier can be so hard.
If you could have only been a fly on the wall the day Pumpkin walked into her previously ignored Cat Ball! I get so curious when I hear a story like this. What finally motivated a cat? In any case, I really appreciate that you took the time to write to us! Such a sweet story, and it does have a happy ending!
I asked Jennifer to tell me how she came up with the design:
I believe that accidental collisions of two entirely different worlds can result in innovation. In 2009 I was employed as a costume designer and had been hired to make three adult size soccer ball mascot costumes. I had never done anything like this before so I decided to start with a miniature prototype. The miniature sat around my workshop while I made the full size costumes, and after getting two tiny orange kittens I had the brainstorm to turn this prototype into a kitten bed.This costume prototype had two openings that corresponded to the head and feet of the actor.
I named this bed design “Cat Ball”, and added it to my Etsy store. Eventually I received an email from Kate Benjamin at Hauspanther.com (her blog was named ModernCat.net at that time) informing me that she’d posted my Cat Ball® beds to her blog, and I should expect to get increased store views as a result. I was flooded with responses! The two Cat Ball® beds I had made sold out and people were writing and asking for more! Customers were actually buying Cat Balls® from me before the fabrics had been selected. It looked like I had developed a viable product so I bought a business license.
One thing I hadn’t thought about when I developed the product was the territorial nature of cats. I received a message from a customer, who had just received her Cat Ball®, that she was immediately buying another unit, saying, “the cats won’t share!” It’s a funny situation that I hadn’t forseen, but it does affect my sales! I also like to get creative and make novelty designs. These creations are a great way to attract interest and our most popular novelty design is the great white shark Cat Ball® bed.
“What Philosophy Can Tell You About Your Cat” edited by Steven D. Hales (Open Court Publishing, 2008.)
This is one of my favourite philosophy books, along with those I’ve mentioned in previous posts by my friend Gary Steiner*. Each of the 18 chapters is written by a different philosopher or person who has something to say about philosophy and cats, with titles such as:
What I Learned from a Cat that No Philosopher Could Teach Me (Gary Steiner)
The Friendship of Felines (Diane Jeske)
Cats and the Aesthetics of the Everyday (Allison Hagerman)
Our Obligations to Domesticated Animals (Evan Moren0-Davis)
Are You Any More Rational Than Your Cat? (Bryony Pierce)
Do Cats Have Beliefs? (Manuel Bremer)
Cats in the Afterlife (Judy Barad)
It’s impossible not to have noticed that cats pause at the threshold, between indoors and out-of-doors, especially. It takes them a moment to undergo the transition, to gird themselves up for the larger world outside or the smaller one inside. Sometimes they pause for maddeningly long stretches…Cats are mistresses of the liminal, the borderland between the beautiful and the sublime; this region of experience is populated with things that have some form and some formlessness. This power of the threshold among cats comes from cultivating the parts of experience that are almost too big to handle, but not quite… (Randall E. Auxier, “The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful”)
Something that I am learning from my life with cats (the two that I had for almost twenty years each, and the one I have had sharing my place for seven months), is that it is the present moment that is what the cat experiences, and what the Buddhist practices, and what I am trying to do more of in my life. Mindfulness. I’m not suggesting Pumpkin is intentional in her present-ness, she just is. I used to imagine the cats had a rich store of memories, that those hours spent staring at a wall were indicative of something going on in their heads, memories of past hunts, of encounters with the other cat. Now I think, no, perhaps what I experience as mindful attention to the present, sitting cross-legged on my zafu and zabuton cushions for twenty or thirty minutes a day, Pumpkin and her kind has always experienced. This attentiveness is, of course, both an offensive and defensive behaviour: offensive, in the sense of hunting; defensive, to be alert to movement that might mean danger.
She was, for some while this evening, lying on her stomach, paws folded under her chest, eyes half-closed, but not quite: watching me write and read. When I would look over at her, she’d give me the slow blink of acceptance and non-aggression, and I would return the long blink, with a smile. She is here. This crumpled piece of paper she’s nosing around and leaping on is here, now, and she would like me to stop typing and play with her, and so I will.
The inter-connectedness of life is especially poignant when one species saves another species. Here are some moving stories of people saving non-human animals, of animals saving animals, and one of a cat making life better for an autistic girl. All found on the wonderful site, The Dodo (https://www.thedodo.com/).
The fisherman who saved a bald eagle. Watch Dan Dunbar, fishing near Nanoose Bay on Vancouver Island, rescue an eagle swimming in the ocean. The eagle looked tired (plus, they don’t normally swim). In an un-selfconscious video with thumbs covering the lens some of the time, and some self-deprecating humour, Dan uses his other hand to scoop the bird in a net and allows it to rest aboard his boat, although he doesn’t know what he’s going to do with his “fishing partner.”
Mouth to mouth resuscitation of a turtle. David Steen, a herpetologist working in Florida, saves a turtle who had become trapped underwater for too long.