Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fire in Haifa

This week was one of the most difficult experiences I have had, apart from wars. We have been having unusually dry and windy weather. After a long, hot summer, this weather created perfect fire conditions, particularly in areas with trees and vegetation, and a series of fires broke out all over the country. On Thursday the fires reached Haifa.

It was about ten o'clock in the morning when I noticed a strong smell of smoke. I looked out of the window and saw ash floating in the wind. I quickly closed all the windows and checked the news sites. They were reporting a fire elsewhere in Haifa, and it took a while for them to report that there was also a fire quite close to our home. I then found out that they were saying our road was being evacuated. I didn't really know what to do, and since I had an idea that when you are told to evacuate you just leave, without wasting time packing and saving precious possessions, I did just that.

Smoke coming from the east
I put my cat Eleni into her carrier and went out to the street, with just the clothes I was wearing and my usual everyday backpack. I walked down to the main road, where people were starting to gather. The traffic was bad, and the police had started blocking some roads. Parents were trying to get their children out of the local schools and kindergartens. There was chaos, and the smoke was increasing, so I decided to walk away from the smoke, down the main road.

 As I walked, I could see the smoke coming from the direction of my home. I tried to get away, sometimes stopping to check the news, talk to people on the phone or by text messages, and take photos. I had to take a break every now and then to rest my arms. Carrying a cat in a carrier is not easy over long distances. I saw a few other people with cat carriers, and more with dogs. After a while, the news site reported that an evacuation centre had been opened at the Haifa Auditorium, where I have seen many concerts and films and ceremonies. This was in the direction I was heading anyway, so I decided to go there.

Smoke in Haifa
I arrived after a walk I later found was 4 kilometers long. The volunteers from the municipality took the details of everyone who arrived, and asked people to let them know if they left so that they would have a record in case people were looking for each other. I sat in the auditorium lobby with Eleni in her carrier, and waited to see what would happen. They provided water and sandwiches. After a while, they brought in the residents of some retirement homes, and they were the main groups in the evacuation centre. It was later reported that 80,000 residents were asked to evacuate their homes, but only about 700 people went to the various evacuation centres around the city. Most people made their own way to stay with friends or relatives outside the risk areas or in other towns.
Firefighter plane above Haifa
 During this time, I was waiting to see what Ivor was doing. He had been evacuated from the university. The bus he caught was moving very slowly because of the solid traffic jam, so he got off and started walking. He soon got to an area full of smoke, and decided not to go any further. He waited around for a while. It became apparent that we would not be going home that night. The retirement home residents who were not collected by relatives were taken to a hotel, and some stayed overnight in the auditorium. Various people offered us a place to stay overnight, and we chose to go to the closest place, in Nesher. Eventually Ivor walked in another direction and managed to get a bus. After having a very low battery on his phone, he was finally able to recharge it at the bus station, and then contacted our friends in Nesher and arranged for them to pick him up and then come to pick Eleni and me up from the auditorium.

 It was good to get out of the evacuation centre after about 6 hours and spend an evening with friends, alternating between watching the news and trying to distract ourselves from it. Our friends had two dogs and since Eleni doesn't get on with dogs, they took them to stay with relatives so Eleni would be comfortable. We had bought some cat food on the way, and they borrowed a litter box for Eleni. We slept in our clothes on mattresses on the floor. This discomfort didn't bother me as much as not knowing whether we would have a home to return to.

On Friday morning we waited for the authorities to say everyone who had been evacuated could return home. We were relieved to come back in the afternoon and find our home undamaged, though some buildings further up the road and down the hillside had reportedly been damaged or completely destroyed.

 Today we went for a walk up our road and around the area. The closest fire damage to us was a tree about 200 meters away. I wanted to see what had happened in the area, not out of prurient curiosity, but as a form of coming to terms with the anxiety I had experienced, so see what could have happened. We didn't see the houses that were damaged, because to do that we would have had to go down stairs into their property. Most of them were not visible from the road.

Used fire hoses abandoned up our road
Remains of a motorbike up our road

Burned trees down the hill from our road
Burned bench

The lessons I have learned from this experience: First, it would be worth having a small emergency bag packed and ready. This should contain a change of clothes, basic toiletries, bottled water, and a phone charger. I was grateful for the offers of help and for people getting in touch to see if I was safe. I was also grateful that nobody was killed in the fires, and it did seem that the firefighters did a good job and coordinated well. The evacuation was less efficient than it could have been, but it seemed that most people sought help from family and friends rather than from the authorities. Several countries sent firefighters and firefighter planes or vehicles to help with the efforts.

We are now waiting for the fires in other parts of the country to be put out. This is why we always want it to rain as early as possible in the autumn or winter. People in rainy countries don't often understand how important it is to get rain in a dry country, where there is no significant rain for 8-9 months of the year. Lack of rain is a serious issue for us, both for our agriculture and because it creates an increased risk of fires, such as the Carmel Forest fire almost exactly six years ago.

There have also been reports that some of the fires were started deliberately, and some people started calling it "arson terrorism". A few suspects have been arrested. Even if this is true, making public declarations about terrorism only serves to incite more hatred and distrust at a time when we should all be working together. Haifa is famed for its coexistence, and the Israeli Arab community as a whole has been offering help to those who have lost their homes. Obviously, most Arabs disapprove of burning down cities. Even Turkey and the Palestinian Authority sent firefighters to help, despite any political disagreements. There have also been fires in Arab areas and in the Palestinian Authority territories, and it seems unlikely that all or even half of the fires were arson.

In emergency situations, it seems that some people focus on survival and become hostile and suspicious, while others want to help and maintain social cohesion. We all live in this world together, and nobody benefits from watching it burn. I would like to thank and congratulate those who helped others, offered to help others, and focused on the positive.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Returning to NaNoWriMo

Long time readers of this blog know that I have participated in NaNoWriMo several times before. Now I'm about to participate again.

NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, a challenge in which people write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. Usually people write novels, or at least part of a novel. The challenge takes place all over the world, with people of all ages, languages, and levels of experience using the month of November to motivate themselves to write.

This year I will be writing a non-fiction book instead of a novel. It's a book I have been thinking about and working on for about two years, but I found that I wasn't making progress, so I decided that NaNoWriMo would be a good opportunity to make the effort to write every day and get it finished. I will be starting from the beginning, not using what I have already written.

The subject of my book is cats, and specifically how we can make ethical and responsible decisions in our relationship with cats. I will be presenting a way of thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of various decisions for us humans and for our cats. I intend to self-publish this book, and hope to interest the kitten cam viewer community in it, so they can help spread the word. If it sells well, I will be donating a share of my profits to the cat-related organizations I support.

I find it very poignant that just recently the word "Nano" has come to mean something else to me, in addition to "NaNoWriMo". Nano is the name of a small kitten rescued by TinyKittens, whose short life inspired many to help cats in various ways. The recent Fixathon was named after Nano, and I have heard that many viewers have started, or continued, perhaps more intensively, to volunteer in shelters, to foster kittens in their homes, or to donate to organizations involved in saving cats.

Everyone does what suits them best. I see one of my main roles in life as writing about things I care about and informing and educating my readers. This book, written during NaNoWriMo, will be my contribution to the #nanoeffect, as people are calling the influence of Nano's life story on those it touches. I hope that the book can have a ripple effect, spreading the cause of treating cats ethically and responsibly to many more people beyond the kitten cam community.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Feral Cat Fixathon

Nano, the mascot of the Feral Fixathon
To mark Feral Cat Day this weekend, Tiny Kittens, a cat rescue in Canada, will be holding a Fixathon at a feral cat colony. The aim is to trap all the cats on a rural property, spay and neuter them, treat any medical conditions they may have, and later either return them to the farm or, if they show potential, keep them for socialization and eventual adoption.

Tiny Kittens has had remarkable success in TNR (trap, neuter, return) with the previous feral colony in the Happy Forest, with over 90% of the 200+ cats spayed and neutered, and many of them adopted. This colony continues to receive daily feeding visits from volunteers and neighbours.

So far, since Tiny Kittens was granted access to the new rural property, the cats there have been identified and named, and a few have been brought into Tiny Kittens HQ for medical care.

The first group were three 5 week old kittens who were found living in a hayloft. Amelia fell from the hayloft, but fortunately was not seriously hurt by the fall, and her two brothers, Wilbur and Orville, were also rescued. You can watch the Hayloft Flyers on TK's livestream channel.

Next a family of tabby cats was rescued. The mother, Zetta, had done very well at keeping her five kittens healthy for 5 weeks. Unfortunately, one of them, Nano, was only a quarter of the size of his brothers. This was due to an internal deformity that made it difficult for him to breathe, especially after eating. He enjoyed a few happy days with his family at Tiny Kittens HQ before his situation worsened. Surgery was attempted despite the low chance of success, and sadly he died, leading to a massive outpouring of grief among the kitten cam viewers. His spirit will be remembered, and he has become the mascot of the Fixathon efforts. The rest of the Metric family can be viewed on the VIP livestream (for a monthly or yearly subscription).

A few days later, two 8 week old sisters were brought in with serious eye infections leading to complete or partial blindness, and one has a nasty upper respiratory infection too. At the moment it is not certain whether the treatment they are receiving will help restore their vision. Faith has little or no vision in both eyes, but has adapted well to being blind and plays happily with the Hayloft siblings. Hope has one eye that probably has some vision, but she's still recovering from her cold and is not yet very playful.

As often happens with feral cats, at least one of the Hayloft kittens and both the blind kittens have ringworm, which is why they are now sharing a room, while the Metric family seem to be clear and are kept apart. Ringworm treatment means they will have to remain in Tiny Kittens' care for a few weeks longer than the minimum stay before adoption, which gives them more time for socialization and for treatment of their other medical conditions.

These stories show the importance of TNR. Cats can survive in the wild, but it is not the ideal life for them. The lives of feral cats are full of risks: predators, disease, starvation, extreme weather conditions, and cars are among the main causes of death or injury. Unfixed cats are driven by instinct to mate and reproduce, and this leads to toms being injured in cat fights and the queens having to care for litter after litter of kittens, which takes a toll on their bodies. Not all the kittens born survive. Some estimates say that only one in four kittens born in the wild survives to reach its first birthday. Those few kittens that live may have diseases and parasites that cause constant suffering.

Humans are collectively responsible for domesticating cats, and so I believe we all share the responsibility of caring for as many cats as possible, whether they are loving pets or skittish cats living out of doors. One way of caring for cats is to reduce the number of unwanted kittens born to a life of probable suffering. TNR both helps the cats who are spayed and neutered to have better lives, and also prevents the suffering of the kittens who would otherwise have been born in the wild.

When feral cats are fixed, they can return to their original outdoor home and have much better lives. Spayed and neutered cats are healthier and happier, and some of the ferals gradually learn to like human company and can eventually be adopted and become happy indoor pets.

To help this weekend's Fixathon, you can donate to Tiny Kittens, or else spread awareness of this event to others who may be interested in helping in some way. Watch live broadcasts and updates from the Fixathon this weekend.

You could also mark Feral Cat Day by finding events in your local area. Even if your local area is not doing anything special, it is worth finding out which local rescue organizations are helping feral cats.

There are many ways people can help feral cats, depending on their situation and ability.
  • Adopt a formerly feral cat, whether one you rescue yourself, or from a shelter or foster home.
  • Donate money to a rescue organization or shelter that helps feral cats.
  • Volunteer to help feed a feral colony or become involved in TNR.
  • Volunteer at a shelter that rescues feral cats.
  • Sponsor a rescued cat living at a shelter.
  • Buy or make items to sell at fundraisers for a rescue organization or shelter.
  • Raise awareness of the importance of caring for feral cats.
If this blog post has inspired you to help feral cats, feel free to share it with others.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Multiple motivations

When people do something unusual, it is natural for others to try to understand their motivations. This is particularly true when the unusual thing is an act of violent crime or terrorism. Most people can't imagine doing this themselves, and so they wonder how the perpetrator could be so different.

Unfortunately, in such cases people often tend to think simplistically. They want to find one motivation, one explanation. But in fact people are complex and have multiple motivations for their behaviour and actions. There is no logical requirement for "purity" of motivation. In our everyday lives we often have multiple motivations for our actions. For example, the more fortunate among us both enjoy our work and do it for the money. The fact that we enjoy it doesn't mean we would necessarily do it for free, nor does our being paid for it mean that our enjoyment is any less authentic.

One of the expressions of this sort of simplistic thinking in recent days has been in discussing the spate of violent attacks around the world. The question tends to be "was this an Islamist terrorist attack?". People then search for clues in the perpetrator's past and try to find another explanation so they can rule out a terrorism connection.

One example of this was the investigation into the Orlando killer's background. At one point the media started to argue that he had spent time in gay clubs and was a "closet gay", filled with self-loathing, and therefore his decision to attack a gay club was entirely personal and had no connection with Islam. This seemed to me to be very illogical, since even if this were true, his self-loathing would have been a result of his awareness that in Islam homosexuality is considered sinful. In such a case, regardless of whether the killer hated gays because he was one or because he wasn't one, he hated them because of religious teachings, and therefore he had an Islamist motivation. This can be in addition to any personal motivation he may have had.

More recently, several young Moslems have committed violent attacks in Europe. The media doesn't want to admit that there is a pattern emerging here, because that would be racist or "islamophobic". I have written before about what racism is and what it isn't. It seems to me that when people insist on denying a trend that is emerging, they are potentially endangering lives and blocking any attempts to prevent future crimes.

Yes, many of these individuals acted alone. They may have been mentally unstable, but that is to be expected when people turn to murder. But to say that these crimes have nothing to do with Islamism, when the killers themselves left messages declaring their loyalty to IS seems to me a denial of reality. Even if they had several motivations at once, that doesn't make them any less authentically motivated by Islamism.

To be a terrorist of this type, an individual does not have to "belong" to a group. It is sufficient for him or her to identify with the group's aspirations. Even those who act alone are inspired by, and consider themselves part of, the Islamist holy war against the west. For the west to continue calling them "lone wolves" and to deny that this war is taking place is dangerous and irresponsible.

I would like to see people starting to think more maturely about issues of motivation. People can decide to become terrorists in the name of IS in addition to having other reasons for their decision. For example, some may feel guilt at their previous "sinful" way of life. Some may know that if they become martyrs, their family will receive financial support from Islamic "charitable" organizations. Some seek glory. Some may be attempting "suicide by police". This does not lessen their self-identification as holy fighters for Islam, as they see it.

Obviously, I don't consider every Moslem to be a terrorist. However, to say that no terrorist can be a Moslem is equally unhelpful, and the element of identification with the extremist form of Islam has to be taken into account when trying to prevent further attacks.  Similarly, the many refugees entering Europe are mainly victims of war and should be given help. But at the same time, we have to remember that victims can also become perpetrators. Again, this is not to say that all refugees could be terrorists, but nor should we assume that no refugees are ever terrorists because they are victims.

It seems to me that the west has to find ways of helping the Moslem community, primarily through education, both in order to benefit a minority that feels marginalized, and also for the sake of the majority society. If we think in a more complex way about people's identities and motivations, perhaps we can help those who need help, identify those on the cusp of becoming violent, and prevent some of the violence, rather than just shying away from any profiling that might be seen as racism.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Memories of the Second Lebanon War

Building in Haifa damaged by rocket
This week marks the tenth anniversary of the start of the Second Lebanon War. This is probably the worst, or second worst, war I've experienced as a civilian under attack. I want to share my subjective memories of this war as it affected me, a resident of Haifa. I don't have the emails I wrote at the time, and my diary for that year only contains short notes about the events of each day.

The war lasted from 12 July 2006 to 14 August 2006. We first heard about the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah and subsequent exchanges of fire, then on the 13th a Hezbollah rocket landed in Haifa. On the 14th we went out for a drink with a Greek academic who had just arrived in Haifa to take a summer course in Hebrew. We talked about the situation and expressed our opinion that it wouldn't develop into all-out war. We tried to persuade him, and ourselves, that Hezbollah had too much to lose by provoking an Israeli response. Unfortunately, we were wrong about that. We later heard that the Hebrew course had relocated to Tel Aviv, out of the range of the rockets.

After an uncertain weekend, on the 16th we heard sirens and went down to the shelter in our basement. We soon started to hear rocket explosions. That day 8 railway employees were killed in Haifa, and we realized this could be a bad war if that sort of casualty rate continued. The station where they were killed has since been renamed "Hashmona" (= "the eight") in their memory. I think this was actually the highest number of people killed in a single attack in Haifa, though there were larger casualty numbers in some other attacks further north.

My diary notes rocket attacks every day for the next few weeks. There were over 300 rockets fired on Haifa during this period, and we could hear many of the explosions from our shelter. Some buildings and cars were damaged or destroyed about 10 minutes' walk from our home. We have 50 seconds to reach the shelter from the moment the sirens sound, which means we had to stay alert all the time and be able to drop whatever we were doing and rush down the stairs. We left meals on the table, abandoned work in mid-sentence, and one time Ivor had to rush out of the shower and go down to the shelter wearing just a towel! We spent many hours in the shelter with the neighbours, listening out for the explosions and trying to guess what direction they came from and how far away they were. We had a radio in the shelter, which we played quietly, waiting for them to announce the all clear, usually ten minutes after the last rocket exploded. Sometimes we had just climbed the stairs when there was another siren and we had to go straight down again. We had to leave the cats at home as it would have been impossible to grab then and carry them down the stairs quickly enough.

One time we had just got into the shelter when we heard loud knocking on the building's front door. Someone went and answered it, and a scared couple came in. They had been walking along the road when the siren went off and they rushed to the nearest building to take cover. They spent the attack with us and then left.

Life did not quite continue as usual. While some work places remained open, everyone's routine was ruined. Public gatherings were forbidden. The civilians under attack were collectively known as the "home front", and political and military leaders were constantly praising the bravery and resolve of the home front. I had mixed feelings about this, because I felt the initial reluctance to send ground troops into Lebanon came at the expense of the civilians in the north. Soldiers are supposed to protect civilians, not the other way around.

During the month of the war, it was estimated that about 15% of the population of Haifa (45,000 people) left the area for at least some of the time, while 30% of the population of the entire northern region (350,000 people) did so. We were invited by my parents, my sister, and some friends in the centre and the south to stay with them, but we couldn't leave our cats and taking them with us would have been difficult. I also felt that leaving my home would make me more anxious. We had only moved into our new flat a few weeks earlier, and now there was a real risk that it could be destroyed.

I spent a couple of days away from home, but couldn't relax and kept expecting sirens even though I knew the rockets didn't reach that far. We went out with friends a couple of times, supporting the cafes and pubs that remained open. We also visited a friend who was volunteering in a shopping mall's shelter, looking after the children of the mall's employees who could spend the day in safety while their parents were at work. The volunteers tried to keep them occupied and distracted.

During this time, I continued working as best I could. I remember I was preparing the Index of a book I had translated, which was quite boring and unimaginative work. Even so, it was hard to concentrate, and my computer was right underneath a window, so I felt exposed and was constantly listening out for sirens. I later moved my desk away from the window. I couldn't listen to music, I couldn't read, and it was even hard to watch films on DVD. I also had a toothache throughout this war, and obviously couldn't go to the dentist because I was afraid that something bad might happen if the siren went off while the dentist had a drill in my mouth!

The day before the ceasefire came into effect, 13 August, there were more attacks on Haifa than ever, and I saw that as evidence of bad faith. Hezbollah had already agreed to end hostilities, so why try harder than ever to cause damage right at the last minute?

After the war ended, it took me a while to trust that it was really over and there would be no more sirens and rockets. At the time, I felt I would never be the same again, and didn't know when I'd be able to get my concentration back and to enjoy life again. I think that like most people in Israel I have some low-level PTSD. I still startle easily at anything that sounds like a siren, dislike explosions (including fireworks, which I used to enjoy), and have some residual anxiety and vulnerability. But I believe people are usually resilient, and I gradually returned to my normal self.

My experiences of war have played their part in shaping my identity. I don't take my safety for granted, and I am aware that at any moment there could be another attack, whether from across the border or from within. I can hope to live in peace for as long as possible, but part of me feels that war is inevitable, not only in the Middle East, but soon throughout the western world too. People's insistence on sticking to group identities that divide us rather than finding what we have in common can only cause suffering.

War comes in many forms. It no longer involves professional armies meeting to fight on a remote battle field. It often involves attacks on civilians, either by a military group or by individual terrorists/fighters. We can all become victims of war, whatever our opinions on the issues used as a pretext to justify it. Instead of feeling powerless in the face of destruction, my choice is to try to spread compassion and empathy in the world. I try to do this through my writing and through my personal example. It might not be much, but that's all I can do.

Friday, July 8, 2016

New craft: Needle Felting

Today I tried needle felting for the first time. I was given a kit to make a cat brooch, made by Hawthorn Handmade. Before starting, I watched the tutorials on their website.

The kit contained the various colours of wool required, two felting needles, and the brooch pin, along with clear printed instructions. There was plenty of wool left over, so the quantity supplied is generous. Felting is done on a foam pad, so I used a piece of foam packing material.

First I made the body of the cat. I quickly got used to the felting technique, stabbed the wool faster than I was expecting to, and managed not to stab my fingers.

Next I made the head and connected it to the body.

Then I put the ginger patch on the cat's head and then made and attached the ears.

I decorated the cat with coloured patches. The picture on the box was of a white cat with ginger patches, but I decided to make a calico cat with ginger and black patches.

I made the tail, and decided it should be stripy.

Finally, I added the facial details: eyes, nose, and mouth, and sewed the brooch pin on the back.
It was a good idea to start a new craft with a small project, which I finished in about two hours. However, the small size made some of the details fiddly. I also found it difficult to estimate the right amount of wool for some of the stages. The instructions said how long and wide each section should be, but not how densely packed the wool strand should be.

I enjoyed making this little cat. It took shape quickly and it was easy to follow the instructions and also to customize the design. I can understand why people enjoy this craft.

However, I don't think I will be doing any more needle felting. This is not because I didn't enjoy it, but I am sensitive to wool and can't wear any clothing that contains wool, even a low percentage. I also avoid wool blankets. I was a bit worried about touching wool for so long, and I did feel a slight tingling or itching in my hands that hasn't gone away even after I washed my hands. So this is probably not a craft for me. I recommend it to people with patience and no wool sensitivity.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The ripple effect of compassion

I have written here often about the work of TinyKittens in rescuing feral cats. This week we have witnessed a heartbreaking story, but one that also demonstrates how a compassionate action can have a ripple effect that creates positive change in the world.

Skye is a feral cat who was in the forest. She was going blind from an eye infection, and was pregnant. Shelly trapped her and brought her to TinyKittens HQ. Without human help, Skye would have found it increasingly difficult to find food and survive in the forest, let alone care for kittens, as her vision declined. Shelly worried at first about how she would able to give eye drops to a feral cat, but Skye became socialized and friendly within days and cooperated with her treatment. The vet, Dr. Ferguson, was able to bring in her portable ultrasound device to check on the kittens. Skye spent a few weeks in a bathroom, and enjoyed sleeping in the sink.

Soon it was time for the kittens to be born, but Skye had difficulty with the labour, and Shelly took her to the vet for a caesarean. Four healthy kittens were born, and Skye enjoyed nursing them and caring for them. After a while, the kittens from two other feral mothers, Savina and Neelix, were added to Skye's brood. This was because she is friendly with humans and can teach the kittens to trust and love humans, instead of them learning from their mothers to be afraid or even aggressive. Skye loved having 11 kittens, and nursed and washed them all.

Last week a stomach virus started making Skye and the kittens ill. One night Skye collapsed and was rushed to the emergency vet. She spent two days in hospital, close to death at first, getting urgent care and undergoing various tests, and eventually recovered. She has since had a few more visits to the emergency vet and to Dr. Ferguson, with more tests and expert evaluations. The diagnosis is that she has a heart disease and may only have a few months to live. At present she is back in her bathroom, and can have supervised visits from the kittens when she is dressed in a protective garment to prevent them from nursing, as her medications would pass to the kittens in her milk and endanger them. It is fortunate that this happened at a stage when the kittens are eating and are not dependent on nursing.

This is very painful for all those who have watched her on the Livestream. We watched a cat born in the forest become a gentle and loving indoor cat, friendly with humans and an adoring mother to her own four kittens and seven others. She has overcome partial blindness, a dramatic C-section birth, and has survived the first symptoms of a dangerous heart problem. We were all hoping for her to be adopted into a loving home and have a full, happy life. Now it seems that she will have a much shorter life, and will require regular medication and constant supervision. We hope a suitable home will be found to give her the love and care she needs, despite the short duration of her expected future.

With all the pain of this story, what I have found inspiring and uplifting is the way it has had a ripple effect. From the moment Skye was rushed to the emergency hospital, viewers from all over the world started donating money. So far, I believe over $10,000 Canadian has been raised for Skye. I hope that all her hospital costs are covered by the donations.

Another form of ripple effect stems from the very fact that Shelly chose to try to save her. It is very rare for people to invest so much in feral cats, who have usually been assumed to be unadoptable and resistant to socialization if rescued as adults. Shelly's work has shown that ferals are individuals, and some of them can be fully socialized and become loving pets just like cats born to pets and socialized from birth. So Shelly wanted to give Skye every chance possible for a good life, even when she was close to death. For Shelly, and for those inspired by her, euthanasia is only an option if the cat would have a life of incurable suffering. If there is a chance of recovery and a stable period of good health, it is worth fighting for. The tests conducted on Skye had rarely been done on feral cats, and Dr. Ferguson said that this is in itself a contribution to science. New things will be learned from Skye's case that can be applied to other cats in the future, and her survival might encourage other people to try to save cats in similar conditions rather than give up and euthanise them. This is also true in the case of Cassidy, who is at the forefront of veterinary implant research.

So we see that people who have followed Skye's story have made a personal effort to help her, and that Shelly's compassion for feral cats is helping to advance medical science, which may save the lives of other cats in the future. One of the ultimate aims of what TinyKittens is doing is to educate the public about feral cats so that more people understand that they are worthy of our compassion and help. Some people may be inspired to get involved in local TNR (trap-neuter-return) programs, or local feeding stations, or perhaps even to try rescuing and fostering those feral cats who may have the potential for socialization. Instead of treating feral cats as wild animals who deserve to live on the margins, we should call them community cats and provide them with appropriate care.

Compassion can be contagious and can spread and ripple out when people see what caring can achieve.

Watch Skye and her kittens (currently in separate rooms) on TinyKittens Livestream.
Donate to Skye.
Learn about the feral program.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Directing blame

When I talk about politics, I usually prefer to discuss a general principle that can be widely applied to many situations rather than the details of a specific issue. A while ago, I heard someone on a podcast quote a statement that resonated with me. I can't remember or find the source of the quotation (if you know, please let me know in the comments), but the idea expressed was something like this:

People should direct blame upwards and inwards instead of downwards and outwards.

This idea seems relevant to a lot of things in Israeli politics, and also to discussions surrounding the referendum in the UK about remaining in the EU or leaving it (I hate the compound word "Brexit"!). It is also worth applying to the statements and attitudes of various candidates in the US presidential race. Readers are welcome to see how this idea can be relevant to various situations in their countries.

"Upwards" means that the people who are to blame for what is wrong are those who have power and wealth: the politicians, business leaders, and the wealthy in general. They shape our economy and society through their political and economic influence, through lobbying for their interests, and for constantly increasing the wealth gap to benefit themselves. They have brainwashed much of the public to believe the following ideology: that the rich deserve their wealth because they "worked hard"; that everyone could improve their circumstances; that the wealth "trickles down"; that the business sector benefits society by creating jobs; and that any centralized regulation aimed at increasing equality and providing care for the less privileged is a violation of basic freedoms.

Meanwhile, "downwards" in this statement refers to the tendency of many politicians to blame the poor for their own situation. This is often expressed in terms like "lazy" and "entitled", when in fact these could be more accurately applied to those at the top of the scale. Poor people are poor firstly because they did not inherit wealth, secondly because they did not receive the sort of education that would get them well-paying jobs, and thirdly because the entire economy is based on "reducing costs" and "improving efficiency", which often means finding employees willing (or forced) to work for less, sometimes moving whole industries into third-world countries at the expense of the local poor. Also, people are increasingly accused of being "exploiters" if they claim benefits such as unemployment or disability. This is a classic case of blaming the victim and even of psychological projection, where the wealthy must be subconsciously aware of knowing they are getting money they don't deserve and instead of admitting it they prefer to accuse the poor of doing this.

"Outwards" refers to the tendency to accuse "outsiders" of destroying society. Politicians often blame minorities and immigrants for all society's troubles, and this issue is becoming heightened by the struggle between Islamism and western society. While it is true that it is preferable for a society if those who join it become assimilated, at least to some extent, rather than insisting on maintaining their foreign way of life, this sort of accusation ignores the contributions of immigrant communities to the economy and to culture. There are confused statements from those who want to believe that immigrants are both "claiming benefits" and "taking our jobs", when in fact many immigrants are taking jobs that locals no longer wish to do and are contributing to the economy, and it's highly unlikely that anyone moves to another country out of a burning desire to live off benefits, which are increasingly difficult to obtain and are being cut by many governments.

Finally, directing the blame "inwards" is the most difficult part of the quotation. It asks people to consider that their own actions or inactions are partly responsible for the situation they find themselves in. People who don't vote and then complain about the policies enacted in their names are a prime example of avoiding responsibility and not looking inwards. Those who claim to be "not interested in politics" and so avoid learning about the reality in which they live, and are then easy to sway with cheap demagoguery, fail to realize that they could and should acquaint themselves with the relevant facts and think beyond populist slogans. I am always in favour of individuals taking responsibility for their actions and educating themselves, and in a democracy it is in the voters' interest to know what they are voting about.

I call upon voters everywhere to seek out the truth, to shed their apathy and complacency, to have sympathy for the less privileged, to question the motivations of politicians, and to blame the rich and powerful for what has happened in society as a result of their greed.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Home ownership

This week marks ten years since we moved into our home. After many years of living in rented flats and having to move, we were finally able to buy our own flat. This made a big difference in my life, and now seems to be a good opportunity to reflect on what home ownership means.

The first thing to note is how difficult it is for most people now to buy their own home. We were only able to do so after inheriting money from Ivor's parents and grandparents and from my aunt. This gave us enough for a down payment and to get a mortgage with a monthly repayment that is lower than the rent we used to pay. So while we obviously didn't want anyone to have to die for the sake of our home, at least we were able to make good use of the money we were given, and I think our relatives would be pleased to know that they had helped us in this way.

The second interesting thing about our home is how we chose it. When we decided to move to Haifa, someone recommended this street as being in a good location. It is close to shops, and also close to buses going to the university and to other parts of the city (this was before I had a car). I remember one day we came up to Haifa to look at the area, before we moved. We walked up this street and noticed that there was a vet, which was useful. We saw this building and the balcony, and realized there must be a good view of the sea from that balcony. A couple of weeks later we were able to rent a flat in a building up the road from here. A while later, this flat that we had noticed from our first visit had a For Sale sign. The first time we saw the sign we were not yet ready to buy, but a few months later, when our inheritance money had arrived, the flat was for sale again, and we went to have a look at it. We knew we would have to do some major redecorating, but we wanted the flat for the location and the view, and had a good feeling about it. So we bought the first flat we saw!

Once we had bought the flat, we started the design and redecorating process. We hired an interior designer who adapted the space to our needs and helped us find all the professionals and items we needed. The redecorating took six months, and it was interesting watching the place take shape. After so long in rented flats, it was good to have things looking the way we wanted. There were some delays and setbacks during the redecorating, and we have had to do more work on the place since moving in.

Owning a flat gives you both freedom and responsibility. You are free of landlords and their possible interference. You are free to decorate any way you want. You are free of the worry that you might be asked to move at the end of the contract. However, you become responsible for looking after your home and making whatever repairs are required. It seems that there is always something that needs to be repaired!

Being homeowners gives you a certain social status, especially in a society where it is difficult to buy a home unless you have a really well-paying job or have help from relatives (living or dead). For a while we had thought we would be renting all our lives, so being able to say that we own our home felt like a social achievement. It might be a rather conformist, normative, or bourgeois sort of thing to feel, but for me the main thing it represents is security and stability, which have always been important to me. The uncertainty of living in rented homes and having an unsteady income from a variety of jobs was finally over.

Ten years is by far the longest I have ever lived in one place. I think that the longest time I had lived in the same home was six years (twice: my parents' current home and one of our rented flats), and I only lived in most places for one or two years. I hope to stay in this flat for as long as possible. There are circumstances that would make it necessary or worthwhile to move, but until or unless they come along, I would be happy to stay here forever.

For me in particular, my home is important as I work from home and spend over 90% of my time here. So being able to design my rooms and furniture to suit my taste and needs means a lot to me. Home is not just where the heart is, it is where almost all aspects of my life take place: work, family, hobbies, friends, and creativity. It also became a stable home to our cats, who had moved with us every couple of years and adapted to our new rented flats each time. I'm happy that Eleni won't have to move again at her age.

I hope everyone fortunate enough to own a home appreciates it, and those who have to rent are still able to make their temporary space feel like a home.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

New music versus new fiction

Listening to a new album is a different experience to reading a new novel. I think this hints at some of the differences between the media.

When I listen to music for the first time, I go through a process of discovery, second by second, as the music unfolds and gradually forms into a sequence of sounds that makes sense over time. When it is music that I love, I get shivers down my spine and a tingly feeling all over, and I know that I will listen again, often. At the same time, I sometimes feel impatient to become familiar with the music, so that it becomes part of me that I can anticipate, rather than something unknown I am discovering.

Reading fiction for the first time is also a journey of discovery, and also involves connecting the memory of what has gone before with the new words acquired one at a time. As the story unfolds, I feel engaged and enveloped by it. I want to carry on reading to find out what happens next, but at the same time, if the story is good, I feel reluctant to get to the end of it and have to leave the fictional world. But I don't have the sense that being familiar with the story and anticipating how it develops could be better than the first reading, as I sometimes do with music.

Music is intended to be experienced repeatedly. When you love a piece, you can listen to it hundreds of times, often more than once a day, and still love it. Sometimes you become too familiar and grow tired of it, but later return to it and enjoy it with a fresh perspective. Some favourite pieces accompany us throughout our lives, or are rediscovered at later stages, when we are different people and have a different reaction to our old loves.

I'm not sure if novels are deliberately written with the thought of being read more than once. In fact, we say we "reread" a novel after the first experience, but never say we "relisten" to a song. This choice of words reflects a perceived difference in the experiences. While most of us have "reread" our favourite fictional works, there are also books we read once and enjoy, but never think to open again. I estimate that I have read the novels I love most perhaps 10 or 20 times over many years, which is significantly less than the times I listen to music I love.

Music can accompany us while we are doing other things. I listen to music while working, while driving (long journeys only), and when I'm on public transport. Reading is its own activity and requires one's full attention. But I don't think this is the only reason for the difference in frequency. I think the familiarity with music increases our enjoyment of it more than our familiarity with fiction.

A good day involves both listening to music I love and reading good fiction, with my preference being for familiar music and new fiction!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Four years of watching live kitten cams

Today is the four year anniversary of my watching livestreaming kitten cams. This seems like a good opportunity to write about what the experience has meant to me.

I first came across a link to the very first kitten cam, Foster Dad John's cam showing Miranda and her four kittens, on Boing Boing. As a cat lover, I was intrigued by the idea of being able to watch kittens live. My cats were no longer kittens, and watching in real time seemed like a more authentic experience than watching short, edited videos people had chosen to make of their cats. Of course, it helped that these happened to be very beautiful tabbies!

I immediately wrote about it in an email to relatives and posted about my discovery on Facebook:
Here's a webcam site where you can watch four tabby kittens and their mother playing! If there's nothing happening on the Live stream, scroll back on the scroll bar to see what was recorded earlier.
Yesterday Pandora was watching with me and sniffing around the screen trying to find the kittens! Eventually she realized they weren't really in the room. It was like the first time she saw her reflection in the mirror.

Love, Ruth xxx

This was my introduction to the world of kitten cams, which has been part of my daily life ever since.

Foster Dad John started the first kitten cam so he could watch his fosters while he was at work, and decided other people might also enjoy watching them. When the cam was noticed by sites like Boing Boing it gained popularity, and over the years it has had hundreds, thousands, and at some times tens of thousands of people watching at any given time. Other foster care providers started their own cams, and I currently follow three of them: Foster Dad John, Shelly Roche's TinyKittens, and Sarah's Kitten Cuddle Room. Thousands of viewers watch the various cams, from all over the world, and each person benefits from watching in individual ways. Here's what watching kitten cams has done for me.

First, and most obviously, cats and kittens are fun to watch. There is even scientific research that watching cat videos is good for your health. I find watching kittens to be calming and happiness-inducing. Being able to watch happy kittens also helped me through my cat Pandora's illness and death in December 2014.

Second, it's educational. I have learned so much about cats from watching the cams. I've been exposed to different types of cat behaviour and health issues, and the foster care providers are dedicated to educating their viewers about what is seen on their cams. On TinyKittens I have seen cats give birth, an experience that would otherwise never have been part of my life. On all the cams I've seen how to treat various health conditions, and have watched cats and kittens recover. Sadly, sometimes there are kittens who die, either at birth or shortly afterward, from innate conditions, or even after adoption from various illnesses. This is part of the cycle of life, and viewers have to acquire the strength to accept these losses along with the joy they receive most of the time.

Third, it has raised awareness about the importance of spaying and neutering not only our own pets but also feral cats. I have long been aware of trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs for colonies of feral cats, and enjoy seeing the local ferals in my city, with their clipped ears indicating that they have been spayed or neutered.

Fourth, it has encouraged my involvement with a local no-kill rescue organization. For years I had been buying calendars from Let the Animals Live, and donating money to them, and since watching the cams I have increased my donations and attended a conference they organized. I also donate to the rescues associated with the cams I watch, but I believe we should always act locally.

Fifth, I find great inspiration in watching the foster care providers on cam. John has been a role model from the very start, with his quiet compassion, his endless patience, and his gentleness. Shelly has started a much more ambitious rescue organization, and her work with feral cats and with Cassidy goes way beyond just fostering for a rescue. Sarah's cam might have fewer viewers than the others, but those who watch know that she works wonders with her cats. All three of them are sensitive but strong, compassionate but practical, and put the cats' needs first.

The cams show very clearly that each cat is an individual with a distinct personality. When choosing a cat to adopt, it is wise to think not only about the cat's appearance but also about things like personality and behaviour. This is why it can be better, in some cases, to adopt adult cats rather than kittens who are still forming their personalities.

I have been deeply moved by the way the foster care providers' love and kindness can change timid cats into purring, friendly companions. There have been some remarkable stories of stray and feral cats transformed into house pets, and since all my cats have been former ferals I have rescued myself, I am glad that others around the world are learning from the cams that this is possible. Again, this depends on individual personalities, and some ferals will never change enough to live indoors. When Shelly returns a feral cat to the forest colony, at least we know that the cat has been spayed or neutered and will receive daily food and shelter at the feeding station.

The kitten cams provide a real, uncensored view of fostering, and encourage a long-term commitment to learning about cats and their lives. People with short attention spans can get their cat fix from brief, edited videos. I, however, appreciate being able to follow these cats and kittens for the two months or more that they are on the cam, get to know them as individuals, and later get updates about some of them on Facebook. This is a bit like my preference for reading novels rather than short stories, or listening to entire albums rather than individual songs, or talking to long-term friends rather than strangers.

Finally, watching the kitten cams has inspired me to write about cats, both here in my blog, and a larger project I will tell you about later. I see writing about cats and sharing what I have learned over the years as a calling and a privilege, and I hope my words will help educate, enlighten, and entertain readers in a way similar to that of the kitten cams. This is my way of paying forward the good the cams have done in my life.

Monday, April 11, 2016

What racism is and what it isn't

Racism is a prejudice referring to a racial group. It is a tendency to attribute to members of a particular group certain characteristics, often extreme ones, rather than viewing them as individuals. It is an extreme form of group-thinking, of "us" versus "them", and of simplifying our complex human reality into labels.

All groups, whether racial, religious, linguistic, or any other type, contain a wide variety of individuals. The majority of individuals are around average on any characteristic, while there are a few at the extremes at either end of the bell curve. To judge an individual on the basis of a prejudice against a group he or she belongs to is a form of bigotry, and shows a tendency to over-simplified thinking. Bias against groups is intellectually lazy, because it is easier to identify people using broad labels than to get to know each person as an individual with different characteristics. In fact, individuals exist in an overlapping Venn diagram of different identities and groups, or an "intersection", as it is currently called.

Historically, racism and group-thinking have led to wars, slavery, persecution, discrimination, and genocide. Therefore, people who consider themselves liberal and tolerant have an aversion to being considered racist or biased. In some cases, though, this has been taken to an equally inaccurate and unhelpful extreme.

Sometimes, people who strive to be tolerant adopt an ideology that all groups are equally good, and that the "privileged" groups have no right to criticise groups that have historically been "oppressed". They insist on the equality of all groups, or sometimes even glorify those groups that tend to be the targets of racism or bigotry.

One logical fallacy people fall into is when they want to think that a particular group is positive, so when they see an individual from that group not conforming to their positive image, they say that individual does not belong to the group. This happens, for example, when people think that a religion is good, so any person who behaves in an immoral or criminal way cannot belong to that religion, no matter what this person believes or practices.

There is a difference between belonging to a group and representing it. To say that a group contains a few negative individuals does not mean that the group is defined by these individuals, only that the group is internally diverse. To exclude negative individuals or sub-groups from their group because it's "not nice" to have any criticism of the group is just as irrational and ideologically-motivated as to consider all members of the group as being as negative as a few of the members.

An unfortunate example of this at the moment is people's simplistic attitudes to Islam at this time of terrorism by sub-groups and individuals in the name of Islam. While anti-Moslem "racism" or bias, is, of course, an unwelcome form of hatred that only exacerbates the violence, I find some people's denial that the terrorism has anything to do with Islam to be equally unrealistic and unhelpful.

Like it or not, there are Moslem individuals and sub-groups that interpret Islam in such a way that leads them to perpetrate atrocities in the name of their religion. Some of them might be cynical psychopaths exploiting the religion as a pretext for carrying out their perversions, but many of them are probably sincere, if deeply misguided, believers. When a person like this carries out an attack in the name of his religion, and an observer shouts out "You ain't no Moslem, bro!", this is factually untrue. It would be true to say "Not all Moslems are like you", but that should be self-evident and obvious to anyone who does not partake of group-thinking.

Just as we shouldn't judge a person by a negative prejudice toward a group, we shouldn't deny a person's group identity because of an ideological positive bias toward the group, in the name of not being biased.

In order to deal with the current reality, and as a matter of principle, the way individuals and groups self-identify must be taken seriously, especially when they act explicitly in the name of their professed beliefs. To acknowledge that bad things can be done in the name of a group identity is the first step in understanding the motivations behind such behaviour and trying to prevent it.

This is not "racism" or bias or "Islamophobia". A prejudice against Islam would be to say "All Moslems are terrorists", which unfortunately some politicians and members of the public believe. But saying "No terrorists can be Moslems" is a denial of reality and of the deep-seated beliefs and motivations of some terrorists. A realist has to admit that there are, unfortunately, some Moslems, at the extreme end of the bell curve, who are terrorists and who consider their actions to be required by their interpretation of Islam.

Thinking people have to learn to live with the complexity of human life. We have to be able to accept that groups are not uniform, and to say that someone belongs to a certain group is not necessarily very informative, since there is a lot of variation within each group.

Also, groups and individuals can be both victims and persecutors, as is often the case with people who were abused as children and later become abusers. So just because a certain group was or is oppressed does not mean that all its members are blameless for the rest of time.

Individuals and groups can and should be judged on the morality of their actions, and when a sub-group acts consistently in a negative manner, this should be acknowledged rather than denied in the interests of preventing bias against a larger group.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Painful decisions

Lily, photo by Sarah Lillard, from Facebook
When people say a decision is difficult, this can mean two things: either it's difficult to decide, or it's relatively easy to decide, but the situation itself is difficult. I prefer to call the second type of decision "painful" rather than "difficult". This week I saw an example of this type of painful decision.

Sarah is a foster mother in Los Angeles who broadcasts her experiences of fostering cats and kittens on Livestream. A friendly pregnant cat called Lily was rescued and given to Sarah's care. Sarah was happy to have a pregnant foster for the first time, and looked forward to broadcasting the birth of the kittens.

When Lily went to the vet for her first check-up, the first test they did showed that she was FeLV (feline leukemia) positive, though she has not shown any symptoms. As is the usual practice, they did another, different, test, to confirm or overturn this diagnosis.

The second test came back negative, much to Sarah's relief, and that of her viewers. However, after a few days it transpired that this negative result belonged to another cat and was given by mistake, and Lily's result was actually positive. This was a terrible shock, and forced Sarah to make a painful decision about whether to continue Lily's pregnancy.

When a decision is difficult, there are two (or more) options with advantages and disadvantages that need to be weighed against each other. In this case, the advantages were mostly or entirely on the side of ending the pregnancy, while continuing it had overwhelming disadvantages. In this respect, the decision was obvious. However, because it was a painful decision, Sarah deliberated and agonized for days, consulting with other fosters, the Director of Kitten Rescue (her rescue organization), and her vet.

Everyone agreed that letting Lily continue the pregnancy and give birth would put her at risk. FeLV often breaks out and becomes dangerous when a cat is under stress, and giving birth would be precisely the sort of stressful event that could trigger the disease. So this was a clear case of the mother's life being at risk, which is a widely accepted justification for abortion.

Secondly, the ultrasound performed during Lily's first vet visit showed that the kittens were underdeveloped. Two of them were much smaller and seemed to have no heartbeat, while  another larger one did have a heartbeat. When there are abnormalities in the kittens, the delivery is often complicated. It might have been necessary to perform a Caesarean, which is risky in cats. And the kittens might not have survived anyway.

Even if any kittens had been born alive, it would have been necessary to remove them from Lily immediately and not to allow her to wash or nurse them at all. This is because they could catch FeLV from her saliva and milk. This would mean that the kittens would be denied the benefits of the first few days of nursing on colostrum, which in healthy mothers contains special antibodies and nutrients that are very important to newborns. The mother-kitten connection would never be formed, and the kittens would have to be bottle fed from birth like orphans. This would not be ideal even for healthy kittens, and would not be ideal for Lily, who would be denied the comforts of nursing her babies.

Of course, it was very likely that the kittens would either be stillborn or would be born infected with FeLV and be unlikely to survive very long. This being the case, the dream of healthy kittens seemed unrealistic, and aborting them started to seem more merciful than trying to save them against all odds, for what might be at best a short life of suffering.

So Sarah had to take the very painful decision to take Lily to the vet for an abortion and spay. This would give Lily the best chance for a good life, until the disease takes over, and would avoid the risk that delivery would pose to her life, and the suffering of her kittens, even if any survived.

When the vet performed the procedure, two seriously underdeveloped fetuses and two less underdeveloped ones were removed. It did seem that these babies would have caused birth complications and been unlikely to survive. While this is very sad, it does support the decision that Sarah had to take.

Lily is now recovering, and will later go and live with a foster care provider specializing in FeLV positive cats. We hope she will have as many healthy and happy years as possible. We also hope that Sarah will soon be able to foster another pregnant cat who will have an easy delivery and delightful kittens!

The kitten cams I watch show reality as it is. Sometimes it is hard to watch and learn about the terrible diseases cats can have. It is also hard to see the fosters, like Sarah, have to make such painful decisions when they are already emotionally attached to their foster cats. Their sensitivity is what makes them good fosters, but it also forces them to become stronger when things don't go as they would have wished.

The only way to reduce the prevalence of diseases like FeLV is if more cats are spayed and neutered to prevent unwanted kittens, and more cats are adopted into caring homes where they are given proper veterinary care, including vaccinations.

Watch Lily on Sarah's Kitten Cuddle Room.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Rusty 2010-2016

Rusty was a semi-feral cat born in 2010. She was always more friendly than most of the feral cats around here. Our neighbours started feeding her and adopted her as an outdoor cat and took her to be spayed. I'm not sure if they took her to the vet for annual vaccinations. She grew to be larger than most female cats, and was definitely the alpha-cat in the area.

We gave her the name Rusty because of her high-pitched meow that sounded like a rusty door hinge. The neighbours called her Leelo, but we kept our own name for her. She lived in our garden and was fed regularly by her adopters and sometimes by us and other neighbours. She liked to greet everyone who came through the garden, sometimes with leg-rubs, sometimes with mews. She would accept a bit of stroking, but would tell you when she'd had enough. She often sat on the posts of the garden fence, or in a tree in the next garden. Her territory included our garden and bits of the neighbouring gardens. I often used to see her sitting on a ledge underneath an air conditioning unit next door. I would always look out for her when I was hanging up washing or looking out from out balcony. Once or twice when I was waiting at the roadside for people to come and give me something she would stay with me, winding and rubbing around my legs.

Over the years, she chased tom cats out of the garden, but often tolerated female cats and their kittens. I think she protected the mothers and kittens from tom cats, and they stayed for several weeks before moving on. Sadly, most of the feral mothers and kittens we've had in the garden have disappeared. I know there is TNR in our city, but it doesn't catch them all.

Last week we noticed something was wrong with Rusty, and this week the neighbours told us that she had died. They took her to the vet and she was given subcutaneous fluids for dehydration, which was her most obvious symptom, but she died. I don't know if they did tests to see what her problem was, so it could have been any illness that could cause dehydration or just prevent her from searching for water.

She had a happy and healthy life, right up to the end. She never had to go through the stress of mating, pregnancy, and raising kittens in the wild. She was well-fed, so she only hunted for pleasure or out of instinct. But still, I think an indoor life would have been better for her (and probably longer) and I'm sad my neighbours didn't try taking her in from an early age.

Rusty was not "my" cat, but she was part of my life and I will miss her.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Refugees and Compassion

Last week my friend Ariadne from Greece wrote a blog post entitled Our Syrian Friends. Her family opened their home and invited a family of refugees from Syria to stay for a few days. I was touched by the compassion Ariadne and her family showed, and proud to have a friend with such generosity.

Unfortunately, the refugee crisis in Europe does not always lead to empathy and compassion. Ariadne wrote that some people disagreed with her actions, and we hear about demonstrations against accepting refugees in several countries. There are also those who have decided to consider all refugees as potential terrorists or criminals, or to think that they want to take jobs or welfare that only long-time tax-paying citizens deserve. I want to explain why I believe the refugees should be treated with compassion.

Are people obligated to stay in the country where they were born, no matter what wars or disasters are destroying it? Would you stay and await long-term suffering and possible death?

Think of what people in Syria have been going through. The war has lasted over five years now, and has killed, injured, and displaced millions of people. Those who choose to leave have probably experienced one or several of the following: friends and family members being killed, injured, or raped; destruction or damage to their home or town; losing their jobs and routines; food shortages and starvation; living without electricity or running water; constant fear of danger; and above all, no real hope that the situation will return to normal any time soon.

Then, when they decide to leave the country, they have to somehow find the money to pay the smugglers. They leave behind everything they had and travel into the unknown. Some of them drown on the way. Families can get split up and lose touch with loved ones. On their journey and upon arrival they live in bad conditions and in camps, with no certainty that their lives will improve.

And finally, in Europe they are treated with suspicion and hostility, and accused of being the same as the very people they are fleeing! This is a typical victim-blaming stance adopted by people who want to simplify everything and pass the responsibility away from themselves.

Those who keep saying that some of the refugees are terrorists or criminals are letting the terrorists win. The main aim of a terrorist organization, as the word implies, is to make the population terrified. Naturally the terrorists claim that they are smuggling operatives into Europe among the refugees, and there may well be some truth in that. However, many of the terrorist attacks in Europe have been carried out by long-term residents or citizens.

Every group contains good and bad people, and no group should be judged collectively by its worst members. Terrorism has to be dealt with, but not at the expense of vilifying thousands of innocent people. Criminal behaviour among the refugees needs to be addressed, but while taking into account that many of them probably suffer from PTSD. Just as many child abusers were victims of abuse themselves, so survivors of war and trauma need therapy and support to prevent them from trying to regain a sense of control through socially undesirable behaviours.

Another problem raised is that the large number of refugees is straining Europe's economy. This is particularly true in Greece, which has been suffering an extended economic crisis. However, the economy, particularly of a whole continent that has economic union, could become flexible if the will were there. If the public decided to devote some of the continent's collective resources to adjusting to a larger population, something positive could be done. Europe has a low birth rate and ageing population, and it would be interesting to see how the immigrants could change this trend.

Of course, there are problems. Religious and cultural differences would have to be overcome, and the immigrants would have to adopt the general universal values of their new countries, as well as learning the local languages and acquiring relevant work skills.

I'm not going to be naive and ignore the challenge faced by the clash between extreme Islamism and western culture. Those fighting to impose Islam on the world are a serious threat, and they are fighting ruthlessly, free of the inhibitions and scruples the west tends to have about human rights and international law. But I also know that not all moslems support this type of Islam, and most want to live peaceful lives and practice their religion in private, while accepting other people's choices.

The extreme attitude and behaviour of the Islamist terrorists and regimes leads to an unfortunate extremist response, with some leaders and individuals viewing the world in simplistic "us and them" terms. The idea of banning moslems from entering certain countries can only create more hatred. You cannot fight hatred with hatred.

Here in Israel, there is not much we can do to help the Syrian refugees. All factions within Syria seek to destroy Israel, and Israelis have more reason than Europeans to fear the spread of the war. However, when Syrians, both civilians and fighters for any of the factions, show up injured at the border in the Golan, they are taken to Israeli hospitals and given medical treatment. This humanitarian gesture is not widely reported.

It seems obvious to me that the key to creating a peaceful world is through education. Sadly, it is much easier to destroy than to build, and it is much easier to think in simplistic terms than to try to understand the complexity of human life. Education takes time, patience, empathy, and a vision of the universal values we would like the world to adopt. To be a good person means having empathy and finding what is common with others, instead of labelling individuals on the basis of their group belonging.

I would like to see a world where victims of war were treated with compassion and helped to achieve productive, happy lives. This is important not only for the people receiving the help but for the givers of help, and for society as a whole. In times of struggle we should all strive to be the best people we can and to counter hatred with love.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Cindy Lou Mew - Inspirational Kitten

Cindy Lou Mew, screen capture from Livestream
Sable is a feral cat who grew up in the forest. Fortunately for her, she is part of a colony of feral cats under the care of TinyKittens. These cats are regularly fed, spayed and neutered and returned to their colony as part of a TNR (trap-neuter-return) policy, and those who require medical care are trapped and taken to the vet for treatment and later returned to the colony.

I have written earlier about the groundbreaking project Shelly Roche, of the TinyKittens webcam on Livestream, initiated for the pregnant ferals. She has been trapping them while pregnant, having the kittens born in a safe environment at TinyKittens HQ, providing medical care when required, and socializing the kittens so they do not grow up feral and can be adopted into good homes. The mothers are spayed and returned to the colony.

When Shelly saw that Sable was pregnant, she trapped her and brought her home. On Thursday she gave birth to four kittens. I watched the birth live on the webcam and was happy to see that the kittens would be easy to distinguish: classic ginger, tabby, tortie, mackerel ginger.

It soon became apparent that the second-born kitten, the tabby named Cindy Lou Mew, was not nursing on her own, and Shelly took her out for bottle feeding. Cindy Lou's back feet were bent, and Shelly gently stretched them back to their natural position. But this was not the only problem. She made a clicking sound, and her breathing was irregular. She would take a few breaths and then stop for a few seconds, like sleep apnea, but not only during sleep.

The vet, Dr. Ferguson of Mountain View Veterinary Hospital, performed an x-ray using the mouse setting (newborn kittens are as small as a mouse), and established that Cindy Lou seemed to have all her organs and didn't have any liquid in her lungs, but it wasn't clear what was causing her problems.

For three days and nights Shelly and expert vet tech (= vet nurse) Gwen bottle-fed Cindy Lou every two hours. She fed and gained a little weight, and even purred a bit. But as time passed and there was no real improvement, it became evident that she would not develop normally. In order to prevent future suffering, last night Shelly and Dr. Ferguson took the painful decision to euthanise her.

Cindy Lou would have died of starvation with great suffering within hours of her birth had she been born in the wild. In her short life she received loving care, was kept warm and fed, and spent some time with her mother and siblings in between the bottle feedings. She had a better experience in her brief time on earth than would have happened in nature.

During her three and a half days of life she was watched on the Livestream kitten cam by over two thousand viewers, who all came to care deeply about her. No matter how we tell ourselves not to get too attached, that is exactly what we do. Over the days, some viewers remained hopeful while others warned that it was more realistic to accept the possibility that her life would be short. Sadly, the realists were proven right.

The experience of watching Cindy Lou's life raises some questions. What is the value of a cat's life? Why should we humans invest so much effort and emotion in trying to save a cat? How can we decide what is best for a cat?

Shelly and her group of volunteers and her viewers believe that every cat's life is worth living. The human race is collectively responsible for the evolution of the domestic cat from wild cat species, and while feral cats do live in the wild, they are not necessarily ideally adapted to this way of life. Some of the feral cats Shelly has brought home for medical treatment ended up undergoing rapid and very impressive socialization, and have been adopted as pets. Feral cats are closer to our domesticated pets than to any wild species, and it is just circumstances that have led to them being born in the wild. This is why the term "community cats" has been introduced to describe the colonies of feral cats living in and near our human communities. They deserve just as much love and care as any indoor pet.

Decisions about euthanasia are always painful. The guidelines, in my opinion, are quite clear. Cats should be kept alive if they can have a happy, relatively healthy and painless life. If they are suffering, and the suffering is temporary, it is worth trying to save them in the hope of future happiness. If they are suffering and this is expected to be permanent, the suffering should be ended, no matter how hard it is for us humans to say goodbye. Cindy Lou was not expected to have a happy and healthy life, and it was likely that her condition would deteriorate into suffering.

One of the main lessons we can take away from Cindy Lou's life and death is that spaying and neutering cats, both pets and ferals, is essential in order to prevent unwanted kittens being born and suffering. They estimate that only one out of four kittens born in the wild survives to the age of six months. I can support this figure from my observations of feral cats where I live. I have often seen whole litters disappear. Kittens born in the wild can die of starvation, congenital conditions, disease, attacks by predators (including other cats), and traffic accidents. As part of our collective responsibility to cats as a species, it behooves us to prevent such suffering, to support local TNR projects, of course to spay and neuter our own pets, and to try to improve the public's perception of feral or community cats.

Watch Sable and her three remaining kittens on TinyKittens Livestream.
Learn about the feral cats.
Support TinyKittens.
[Alternatively, support a local no-kill shelter in your local area].