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.