Cold shoulders and moral outrage: When the staff doesn't back your stance on TNR
I’m getting the cold shoulder at work these days. Lots of could shoulders, actually. Verbal complaints, too. The moral outrage is so thick you could slice it mid-air. And it’s all to do with my take on TNR, which I’ve been working hard at lately.
Almost every day this week I’ve brought in a trapped feral. My neighbors and I have decided that the colony of [mostly sick] feral cats has got to get down to a manageable level.
We live in busy suburbia and the cat population has proliferated so successfully over the past year that cars are running over kittens and neighbors are pulling cat carcasses out of their dogs’ mouths.
Moreover, the sick rate seems very high and I’ve estimated that the FIV incidence in the colony is at about 50% (among the adults). It starts to become untenable to leave your porch cats out during the day when you know this disease stalks them.
Not that I reserve much sympathy for those who let their beloved cats out unsupervised (after all, that’s how most of these cats historically came to be here). But I DO worry for all the non-feral, free-roamers in the neighborhod. I mean, if you’re a veterinarian, a colony chock-full of FIV is not a neighborly thing to turn your back on––especially when it’s happening right across the street from you.
Sure, the best thing would be to require people to keeps their cats indoors or at least spayed and neutered. But then, that’s a whole ‘nother post.
In any case, I’ve got a cat problem. I’m TNR-ing (trap-neuter-returning). But I’m also euthanizing. (See last week’s post on this for more background.) For those who are visibly very sick, I’m not spendng my resources getting them well––unless they prove very sweet or especially adoptable.
The tuth is that I have to draw the line somewhere. We can’t save them all. And we all draw our own invisible lines on this issue.
It’s also true that the lines are not always so neatly drawn. Sometimes the decision to euthanize is based on our degree of frustration that particular moment. Survival can come down to a tug of the heartstrings based on some feline gesture or another, maybe an inkling of some potential adopter (did X say she was looking for a Y?).
But mostly it’s a more objective distinction, like knowing this one is hardy enough to get neutered and ear-tipped or that one’s babies were all disease-free so we might as well include her in the colony cats that get to stay. After all, we’re planning to send some cats right back out to keep the feline vacuum-factor from drawing more new cats in. Cutting down the food supply is also in the works.
Yet despite all my thoughtful attempts, not everyone thinks they’re so well-reasoned...or fair. In fact, most of my kennel staff is seething over my work. Maybe they’re convinced I’m a secret sadist or an undercover cat hater. Perhaps they think my way with a needle is too arbitrary and unfair. In any case, I haven’t been spoken to for a few days now.
It’s disheartening, this condemnation, especially for someone who hates taking on this detail to begin with. No one likes killing. And because the euthanasia is so emotionally devastating, it’s enough to obliterate any feeling of success one might have at saving the lives of the others and alleviating the suffering of the sick euthanees.
The collective cold shoulder has reached the point where my bosses (who happen to support my extra-curriculars) have put me on notice to "respect the staff" by undertaking my work after hours. Easier said than done, but doable, nonetheless...if I can recruit a helper from somewhere.
So you know, I undertake these spays and neuters and euthanasias with a minimum of staff. I acknowledge the stress (for myself, as well) and explain why I’m doing what I’m doing. Still, it’s not enough to combat the green scrub-clad defenders of felines in my midst.
The upshot: Out of respect for my employers, I'll be taking my work underground, for now. But this is what I really feel like saying:
What would you have me do? This population is in crisis. Would YOU leave them out there? YOU want to come over and look at sick cats every day? Would YOU scrape them off the street when cars run them over? Would YOU pick up kitten intestines in the yard after the raccoons get them? Will YOU pay for the spays and neuters and testing and treatment?
If that's the case, then we’re all agreed. I’ll keep bringing them in and YOU can pay for it all and take them all home until they can be humanely released in the way you'd prefer. If you can't or you won't, then you can all suffer right along with me. Because sometimes, THIS is what it means to work in veterinary medicine.