The c-word. This is a touchy one when looking at animal shelters.
I’m talking about cages.
I remember once as a child I begged my dad to take me to the local animal shelter to see the cats only to be faced with a bank of small, mewling cages. An especially desperate cat reaching through the bars to try and touch me led to my having to flee in tears. I still find it an upsetting episode.
Imagine how the cats felt.
A July piece in The Examiner on the San Francisco SPCA quotes Shelter Medicine Department director Dr. Jennifer Scarlett:
“Keeping large numbers of animals healthy and being mindful of each has always been an issue for me personally,” Scarlett said. “The traditional shelter environment in particular is extremely stressful for cats. They are small and so it’s easy to cram them into a small space. Unlike dogs, they don’t make a fuss, yet when you put them in a cage the size of an oven, they shut down. Also in a small space, cats are forced to exist right next to their litter boxes, which is contrary to their fastidious nature, not to mention, they unable to do normal cat things – stretch, walk, play and rest comfortably.”
Given that this is the sort of image that the word “cage” can evoke in relation to animal shelters, I’ve been reluctant to use it when talking about the RAPS sanctuary for fear of giving a wrong impression of the place. Perhaps I should explain.
The vast majority of the cats at the sanctuary are free to wander as they will around various parts of the complex.
If any of these cat should become ill, they are moved to a cage for observation and treatment, then let out again as soon as they are well enough
Newcomers are given a cage to give them time to adjust to their new environment without having to deal with hundreds of other inhabitants at the same time. Cats like Rita especially need this kind of refuge. Young ferals are much more likely to become tame and friendly if they are placed somewhere they will be regularly exposed to humans. Take Lillix, for example.
When I first met my two, they were in a large cage with four other cats.
Why so crowded? They’d all been housemates before being surrendered and it allowed them to stay together.
The four were let out soon after I adopted Daphne and Leo, but Snowball has recently been returned to her old cage, which she now has all to herself, for a “time out” because she needed a break from all the other cats.
I spent some time with her in there after my shift this week and found her looking more relaxed than she’s been in a while.
Next up: Aurora, cage dweller by choice!