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].