Part 2 of Cats and Humans: Cats Under Christian Rule


St. Gertrude

Ancient Israel being a nation of herdsmen, cats are only mentioned once in the Bible:


“The idols' faces are made black with the smoke that is in the house. Owls, and swallows, and other birds fly upon their bodies, and upon their heads, and cats in like manner.”  Baruch 6:20-21


Likewise, Bastet's holy city only appears once in the Bible--in a failed prophecy:

“The young men of Heliopolis and Bubastis will fall by the sword, and the cities themselves will go into captivity.” Ezekiel 30:17

Initially, Christian painters honored the cat's role as a fertility symbol by including cats in paintings of the Virgin Mary. According to legend, Jesus' mother and a cat gave birth at the same time in a Bethlehem stable, and when Mary was unable to lullaby her baby to sleep, a newborn kitten crawled into the manger and purred him to sleep.  



Saint Gertrude became the patron saint of cats, and Saint Agatha turned into a fierce cat when angry.  Naturalistic cats were carved into church furniture, represented in gargoyles in Notre Dame, and appeared in illustrations in the 700 AD Lindisfarne Gospels, and in the 800 AD Irish Book of Kells. Christian Europe had laws that placed a high monetary value upon cats, punished anyone who abused or neglected a cat, and awarded the family cat to divorced wives.


In the ninth century, an Irish monk wrote endearingly of his cat in a poem entitled

“Pangur Ban (the title means A Fuller White):


“Pangur, white Pangur, how happy we are
Alone together, scholar and cat.
Each has his own work to do daily;
For you it is hunting, for me it is study.
Your shining eye watches the wall;
My feeble eye is fixed on a book.
You rejoice when your claws entrap a mouse.
I rejoice when my mind fathoms a problem.
Pleased with his art, neither hinders the other;
Thus we live without tedium and envy.”



By the 13th century, the Catholic Church was experiencing a growing disillusionment within its ranks combined with a permanent split with its Eastern branch. Pope Gregory IX blamed the church's problems on Satan worship, and because the church regarded women as morally and intellectually weak and associated cats with Bastet, Artemis, Diana, Hecate, and Freya, women and cats became targets of the church's wrath. The resultant persecution was based upon the Bible and upon Pope Gregory's 1233 Vox Romana 



“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Exodus 22:18
 


“For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” I Timothy 2: 13-14
 


“Then all sit down to a banquet and when they rise after it is finished, a black cat emerges from a kind of statue which normally stands in the place where these meetings are held. It is as large as a fair-sized dog, and enters backwards with its tail erect. First the novice kisses its hind parts, then the Master of Ceremonies proceeds to do the same and finally all the others in turn; or rather all those who deserve the honor. The rest, that is those who are not thought worthy of this favor, kiss the Master of Ceremonies. When they have returned to their places they stand in silence for a few minutes with heads turned towards the cat. Then the Master says: 'Forgive us.' The person standing behind him repeats this and a third adds, 'Lord we know it.' A fourth person ends the formula by saying, 'We shall obey.'” Vox Romana

So it was that the little predator that had symbolized divine fertility; lulled Jesus to sleep; and was lauded for its protection of food, health, books, manuscripts, bedding, and altar candles, came to be regarded as the associate of Judas. In the eyes of the church, the cat not only represented Satan, the cat was the embodiment of Satan, and the screams of tortured cats came to be regarded as music to God's ears. But it wasn't just women and cats who were persecuted, the church ascribed cat worship to all its enemies, and under torture, its enemies confirmed that this was true. Nor was the persecution limited to Catholics--England's Queen Elizabeth I celebrated her 1558 coronation with the burning of a cat-filled papal effigy. The  church's hatred of cats even infected medicine and academia.


“They who keep cats with them in their beds have the air corrupted and fall into hectics and consumption. The hair of cats eaten unawares stops the artery and causes suffocation.”
Edward Topsell, The History of Four-Footed Beasts, 1607


“The cat is a venomous animal which infects through its hair, its breath, and its brains.” Ambroise Pare, French surgeon 1510-1590

In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII declared: The cat is the devil's favourite animal and the idol of all witches. Witches, he argued, could shape-shift into cats, so he ordained that both witches and cats be burned. The last public killing of cats occurred in Ypres, Belgium in 1817, although the city's celebration continues to this day with toy cats. Yet cats were never universally despised even among leading churchmen, most famously the kitten-loving cardinal Amand Richelieu who left his kittens well provided for in his will although they were murdered after his death by the Swiss Guard. In his 14th century Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote: 


“Lat take a cat, and fostre him wel with milk, And tendre flesh, and make his couche of silk, And let him seen a mous go by the wal; Anon he weyveth milk, and flesh, and al, And every deyntee that is in that hous, Swich appetyt hath he to ete a mous.



In the 1700s, couples in the French court wrote love letters to one another under the pretense that they were written by the couple's Turkish Angoras, as did America's premier wit, Benjamin Franklin. By the 1760s British poet Christopher Smart could safely write:



“For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.


For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.

For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his Way....” 

And of Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), his cat-hating biographer, James Boswell, wrote:



“I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature.” 



But what of modern Catholicism's attitude toward cats? I don't know of a single church that concerns itself with the welfare of non-humans, but only the Catholic Church condemns them to suffer until such time as all human needs are met:



“It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery.”
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2418

Although recent popes have apologized to various of the church's many victims, cats were not included despite constituting the majority of the aggrieved. Because St. Francis of Assisi referred to non-humans as brothers and sisters, one might hope that the current pope might do the same, but perhaps he took his name from some other Francis. In any event, upon learning how much money people spend upon their pets, Francis complained:



“After food, clothing and medicine, the fourth item is cosmetics and the fifth is pets. That’s serious.” 



But on a positive note, he broke with numerous popes, including his immediate predecessor, by declaring that animals possess immortal souls and will live alongside us in heaven. The Bible agrees:



“The wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat...the lion will eat straw like the ox... Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain...” Isaiah 65:25 



Despite this enlightened view, the prescribed relationship between animals and humans was determined within the second page of the Book of Genesis:



“God blessed them and said to them, 'Fill the earth and subdue it; rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth.'” Genesis 1:28

Rule over cats? Good luck! When cats' observation that ours is a large and heavily armed race of homicidal maniacs didn't suggest to them that we deserved their homage, what did we do? What could we do? We could kill them, and kill them, and kill them. We could dance like King Louis XIV danced as caged cats were slowly lowered onto Parisian bonfires, and, when burning them grew stale, we could flay, crucify, eviscerate, draw-and-quarter, and throw them from towers while Christians cheered, happy in the knowledge that the same Jesus whom a kitten had once lulled to sleep had since realized that kittens were demonic.


We, the hideous, the loutish, the churlish, and the clumsy, destroyed the free, the noble, the brave, and the beautiful, and then came the rodent-carried Black Death. Our defenders being dead, and our sadistic god's maniacal laughter grown strangely silent, our bodies turned the color of blackened catfish before our putrid corpses were cast high upon meat-wagons. Now that the Plague is a distant memory, Christ's faithful can again celebrate him in song: “I've got joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my soul today.” If I were a praying man, I would sing too, a song of my own invention. It would start with the words Hail Bastet, and I would sing it whenever I remembered that what Christianity was to cats, the Black Death was to Christianity. Happily, cats survived that long ago reign of terror to grace our homes today, but, sadly, the religion of Christ also survived.

Christianity's last public killing of cats occurred in 1817 in Ypres, Belgium, where they were thrown from a watchtower. Today, as part of a family-friendly festival, toy cats are cast from that same tower. Would the pubic consider it just as amusing to draw-and-quarter Jews, or, in the minds of the many, is it more entertaining to watch cats die?

Kattenstoet, Ypres Belgium

Part 1 of Cats and Humans: the Cat Goddess Bastet


Felis silvestris lybica, Ancestor of the Domestic Cat

Between 15,000 and 40,000 years ago, human hunters bred domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) from a now extinct species of wolf, but the domestic cat (Felis silvestris catus) didn't appear on the scene until after 12,000 BC. The reason it arrived when it did was that the advent of farming in Iraq's Fertile Crescent brought on a rodent invasion that dogs couldn't address, so humans enlisted the aid of a nine-pound wildcat known as Felis silvestris lybica. Ferrets and mongooses also served in the rodent wars, but the wildcat became our closet ally because it was: easily domesticated; self-cleaning; made its toilet outdoors; bred prolifically; and, like ferrets and mongooses, killed the snakes that accompanied the rodents.

The oldest known remains of a domesticated cat were found in a 7,500 BC grave on the Island of Cyprus, but no people ever loved cats like the early Egyptians whose association dates from at least 4,000 BC, and who gave the cat goddess, Bastet, a major place in their pantheon. By 1,500 BC bejeweled cats were depicted as eating beneath the chairs of Egyptian women and accompanying the man of the house on bird hunts.
 
“The name of the god who guards you is Cat.”

Egyptian Book of the Dead, 1250 BC


Egyptians shaved their eyebrows when the family cat died; fed cats during times of famine; and killed people who killed cats. They also kept pet dogs, birds, baboons, and the aforementioned mongooses and ferrets (among others), but only cats were mummified in the hundreds of thousands. Sadly, few exist today because Victorian England imported countless tons of them for fertilizer (one company alone imported nineteen tons).
 
“Oh peaceful one, who returns to peace, you cause me to see the darkness of your making. Lighten me that I can perceive your beauty, turn towards me, O beautiful one when at peace, the peaceful one when at peace, the peaceful one who knows a return to peace.”

Inscription to Bastet on stele, 1200 BC

Contrary to common belief, the ancient Egyptians didn't worship animals, but neither did they regard them as inferior. Because they didn't feel the need to demarcate between our species and all others, they didn't even have a word for animal. The fact that they portrayed many of their deities as all or part animal, was simply due to their belief that gods assume the outward appearance of such creatures as reflect their inner natures. True to her cat nature, Bastet's hieroglyph means Devouring Lady, but because cats are also loving,
loyal, polite, playful, and gentle, Egyptians added a perfume jar to distinguish Bastet from the frightening and unpredictable deities that clothed themselves in the form of the big cats.
  

Bastet, circa 664-322 BC
When Bastet was first worshiped in the mid-third millenium BC, she did appear as a big cat--a lion. As the Egyptian's love for the domestic cat grew, Bastet transitioned to having a lion's head on a woman's body. She next metamorphosed to having a cat's head on a woman's body, and finally to being all cat. The Greek traveler and historian, Herodotus, joined a pilgrimage to her holy city of Bubastis in the fifth century BC:


“When the people are on their way to Busbastis, they go by river, a great number in every boat, men and women together. Some of the women make a noise with rattles, others play flutes all the way, while the rest of the women, and the men, sing and clap their hands. [2] As they travel by river to Bubastis, whenever they come near any other town they bring their boat near the bank; then some of the women do as I have said, while some shout mockery of the women of the town; others dance, and others stand up and lift their skirts. They do this whenever they come alongside any riverside town. [3] But when they have reached Busbastis, they make a festival with great sacrifices, and more wine is drunk at this feast than in the whole year besides. It is customary for men and women (but not children) to assemble there to the number of seven hundred thousand, as the people of the place say.”*



“Her temple is of this description: except for the entrance, it stands on an island; for two channels approach it from the Nile without mixing with one another, running as far as the entryway of the temple, the one and the other flowing around it, each a hundred feet wide and shaded by trees. [2] The outer court is sixty feet high, adorned with notable figures ten feet high. The whole circumference of the city commands a view down into the temple in its midst; for the city's level has been raised, but that of the temple has been left as it was from the first, so that it can be seen into from above. [3] A stone wall, cut with figures, runs around it; within is a grove of very tall trees growing around a great shrine where the image of the goddess is; the temple is a square, each side measuring an eighth of a mile. [4] A road, paved with stone, about three eighths of a mile long leads to the entrance...this road is about four hundred feet wide, and bordered by trees reaching to heaven.”*



“O cat of lapis lazuli, great of forms...grant the beautiful West in peace...”

funerary papyrus, 900 BC

Bastet devoted herself to avenging wrongs and protecting the defenseless. She reigned over cats, romance, women, perfume, purity, fertility, pregnancy, childbirth, children, music, the arts, festivity, and warfare. Her heavenly symbol was the moon as reflected in cats' eyes, and she was a combination of motherly gentleness and tireless ferocity. It was she who made each day possible by her nightly slaying of the snake god Apep, whose kingdom was built upon darkness and deceit, and who sought to plunge the world into everlasting darkness by killing Bastet's father, Ra, as he rode his sun barge through the twelve caverns of the underworld from west to east, and hence toward new day. Each night, Bastet's battle with Apep would be renewed; each night, she would behead him; and each night, she would do it again in her endless war against evil. 

https://ferrebeekeeper.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/9102d1158653520-bast_kills_apep-jpg.jpg
Bastet Slays Apep, papyrus, circa 1280 BC

What Job, Earthworms, Tree Squirrels, and Mark Twain's Wife Have in Common


Even if PEW is right about 15% of liberal Episcopalians being nonbelievers (see last post), that leaves 85% who are. While I doubt that most liberal Episcopalians believe in the virgin birth, the triune God, or that Christ died for their sins, I would imagine that they do believe in some nebulous force for universal good, a view that I daresay lacks currency among earthworms, earthworms being creatures that I reflect upon quite a lot this time of year. The reason for my reflection is that western Oregon gets almost daily rain each winter, and in order to breathe, earthworms must take to the pavement where there's nothing to eat, and they are subject to being run over or stepped upon.

Another case in point. I feed tree squirrels, so it sometimes happens that I witness their suffering. One recently lay on my porch with a skinned leg, and although I fed him, he soon disappeared. I should think that a God who is capable of creating stars by the trillion could save, or at least euthanize, suffering tree squirrels, but God does not, and this leaves but eight possibilities: (1) God does not exist; (2) God is ignorant of the suffering of tree squirrels; (3) God is indifferent to the suffering of tree squirrels; (4) God is unable to help suffering tree squirrels; (5) God allows tree squirrels to suffer for some unimaginable good; (7) Descartes was right, and only humans suffer; (8) the Judaeo-Muslim-Christian religions are right, and God became so disappointed in human beings that he made the whole earth suffer in retaliation. 

If you're a believer, which option do you choose, or do you simply throw up your hands and say that everyone must have faith in something, and your faith is in the Rock of Zion. Yes, we all must have faith in something, but I would offer that your argument has a serious problem in that faith must be based upon a record of reliability. For instance, I have faith in my wife because my wife has shown herself reliable, but upon what record of reliability do you base your faith in God, and when you answer that question, how do you know that God deserves the credit?

Mark Twain's wife was a devout Christian until her father and small son died, after which she regarded God as unreliable, her faith in God's reliability having remained constant through other people's losses. The faith of the Biblical character Job was not so shaken. In that account, Satan told God that he could make God's rich, devout, and happy servant, Job, curse God to his face, upon which God said prove it. Satan then killed Job's children, destroyed his home, made him a pauper, and afflicted him with boils, but Job remained steadfast. Where the story fails is that it gives the reader no understanding of Job's constancy and no reason to prefer the morality of God to the morality of Satan, since both had conspired to wreck Job's life--and kill his children--simply to prove a point.

In a very limited way, I go to church; I benefit from going to church; and I have no intention of not going to church; yet there remains an incalculable gulf between most churchgoers and myself. This means that my welcome at church is conditional upon keeping my mouth shut regarding scores of objections to the very concept of religious faith. Sadly, I have been in a similar dilemma in other groups, not because I'm generally unpleasant, but because I find it nearly impossible to remain silent about things that make other people cringe. Socrates was killed for asking uncomfortable questions as was, perhaps, Jesus Christ, only they died knowing that they had made a positive difference, while I can't tell that I have ever made such a difference. I simply anger people, and then I leave, and the more I come to trust a group, the closer I get to the day of my departure.

Winning Salvation



In 2018, I started re-attending the Episcopal Church, a denomination that I joined in 1972, after abandoning the fundamentalism of my youth. I have since become the most regular participant at a Gregorian Chant Evening Prayer service, and I am among the sextons who provide building security. I volunteered for the sexton job because I felt obligated to do something for the church; because I wanted 24/7 access to the sanctuary and library; and because I needed the trust that goes with having a key to the building.

I have shared the fact of my atheism with those church members who are important to me, most notably the head priest, Bingham, and the layman, Max, who leads the evening prayer service. Bingham has shown me unfailing warmth and acceptance, and Max complimented me by saying that I approach church with a purer spiritual intention than that of many believers.*

The Episcopal Church has long embraced liberal theology, modern Biblical criticism, and archaeological advances. While other mainstream churches buried their heads in the sand during the 1960s, Episcopal priests marched in support of Civil Rights (one was killed) and in opposition to the War in Vietnam. In 1974, the church ordained its first female priests. In 2003, Gene Robinson became its first gay bishop, and, in 2010, Mary Glaspool its first lesbian bishop. The Episcopal Churchs courage and integrity has cost it many members and led other churches within the Anglican Communion to advocate for its expulsion.

Since the time of Martin Luther, most Protestant Christians have defined faith as belief without evidence, and preached that salvation is by faith alone. They claim that this view frees believers from the onerous requirements of the Mosaic Law, but ignore the fact that no one can believe that which he considers nonsensical. The logical conclusion of such a belief is that the worst person who ever lived will go to heaven if he professes faith in Christ at the moment of death, while the best person who ever lived will go to hell if she does not. An alternative definition of faith divorces it from what a person believes and places it upon how he lives. In the common vernacular, by attending church regularly, I am practicing my faith. In terms of pleasing a deity in which I dont believe, the proper definition of faith is meaningless, but in terms of being able to attend church with integrity, it makes an enormous difference.
  
When people lose any semblance of belief, they also lose their fear of hell, but when, at age eleven, I entered the netherworld of agnosticism (as Christina Rosetti put it, the twilight that doth not rise nor set), I was besieged by periods of abject terror that lasted for two decades. The more afraid I became, the more I hated God for making me afraid, and the more I hated God for making me afraid, the more afraid I became. Shame kept me from sharing my torment with any other person because my church believed that doubt constitutes the unpardonable sin.

Given the misery that religion caused me, what possible reason could I have for going to church--any church? I go because I hunger, and while the god of my boyhood church was like a stone, the god of the Episcopal Church is like an apple. Just as one need not be a Hindu to practice Yoga or a Buddhist to practice Vipassana, I need not be a Christian to appreciate the solace of evening prayer. I sit amid the glow of stained-glass windows, absorb the light from flickering red votives, and praise the long-dead priest who hand-carved the altar. I recite the ancient liturgy as though it were a beloved poem, and no matter how my day was going when I entered, I am soon awash in the pastel light of joy and peace. But is my non-belief not an obstacle? If I were among those who believe in the monstrous deity that much of the Bible portrays, it would be, but the the beliefs of Episcopalians tend to be amorphous, and they consider it bad form to even talk about their private theologies. This reluctance is one reason that the churchs evangelical and Catholic critics castigate Episcopalians (and other liberal Christians), for practicing a watered-down, cafeteria-style version of Christianity that allows its members to take the dessert and leave the meat(the meat being passages which support conservatives belief in hell and portray God as sharing their sexism, racism, tribalism, and homophobia). 

The church’s critics are correct regarding its theological vaguity, but wrong in that the Episcopal Church is quite specific on issues of social justice. It is not the evangelicals, or the fundamentalists, or the Catholics, who welcome such outcasts as I, but Episcopalians. Just as the Biblical Samaritan made no demand that the man he was helping give proof of right doctrine, neither does the Episcopal Church expect it of me. When my local parish gave me, an atheist, a key to its building, I offered it as much of my heart as I can offer any group.**


The Parable of the Good Samaritan

...an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
 
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply, Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So, too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw the man, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came to where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. Look after him, he said, and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have. 

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” 


* In researching this post, I learned that 16% of politically liberal Episcopalians describe themselves as atheists or agnostics: https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/religious-denomination/episcopal-church/political-ideology/

** I limit my loyalty to groups because groups are unable to give loyalty in return. Also, the Episcopal Church has taken a few stands by which I am appalled. Namely, it: (1) opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia; (2) teaches that only human life is sacred; (3) opposes laws that would restrict abortion, yet expresses moral opposition to most abortions; and (4) professes a reverence for nature, but neither conserves resources nor takes measures to protect non-humans.

We Adopt a Fifth Cat


Our three fosters were here for seven weeks. The two long-haired black sisters left yesterday to live with a young bookstore clerk and her parents, and Harvey, the gray-haired boy, will live with us, although CRAN (Cat Rescue and Adoption Network) initially rejected our application. Since no one wanted to give us the bad news, five days passed during which we wondered what was going on. Finally, a woman named Aven called, and said that CRAN had decided to give Harvey to someone else. When we asked why we couldn't keep him, she gave two reasons. The first was our age, and we could but acknowledge that we shared that concern. The second was that we had stated on our application that if we could no longer care for our cats, we would return them to CRAN. 

Aven said that CRAN was disappointed by that response because it might be hard, if not impossible, to find homes for what by then could be elderly cats with ongoing medical needs. We were astounded by her words because when we adopted our previous CRAN cats, we had been made to promise that we would return them to CRAN no matter how long they had been with us or what our reason was for giving them up. After a pause, Aven conceded that we were right, but she gave no explanation for the discrepancy. I suspected that there must be some additional reason for our rejection, but she didn't give one.


Harvey Schmoozing with Three of His Four Elders

She then wanted to know what our vet would say if she called and asked if our cats were current with their vaccinations. I said he would tell her that our cats had never been vaccinated, the reason being that he advised against it in the case of indoor-only cats. She asked if we would run the matter by him again and follow his advice, and we said we would. With that compromise out of the way, she said, "I think you should keep Harvey." We were again astounded because we hadn't known the subject was debatable. Three days later, we signed the final papers, paid the $140 adoption fee, and Harvey was ours. 

Sisters
We were impressed that CRAN cares so much about its charges that it would deny a cat to its own desperately needed fosters, but puzzled as to why, in our case, one of its two reasons made no sense. Because Peggy rarely has friction with other people, and I regularly do, I can't help but wonder if I somehow incurred bad feeling. As to what I might have done, all I can think of is that, ten days before they were adopted, I was told to take all three kittens to PetSmart where they would remain until adoption. I refused because Peggy (who couldn't be reached that day) knew a woman who she believed would give them a good home, but the woman was out of town. The placement coordinator who I explained this to asked me to at least have the woman start the application process by filling out an online form, but I refused to do that as well because the woman hadn't seen the cats. My refusals were met with a flurry of phone calls and emails, but I stood my ground, and given how things turned out (Peggy and I met and approved of the young woman who adopted the girls), I'm glad I did. Aside from that, I can't think of anything that either of us might have done wrong, and I don't intend to ask. I do intend to remain with an organization that has come to mean a great deal to me, an organization that rests upon an edifice of values, goals, and attitudes that I hold in the highest regard.

As to why I feel so strongly, many people complain that the cost of adopting a CRAN kitty is too high, what with cats being given away on Craigslist, but CRAN doesn't even recoup its cost much less turn a profit. During their time with us, Peggy and I spent upwards of $200 on our fosters, and while we could seek reimbursement, we won't because the funds would have to come from volunteers like ourselves, some of whom have far less money. It is also true that our kittens incurred a heavy expense before they came to us, having been abandoned on someone's porch, and spending the next three months in CRAN's long-term care facility where they were chipped, vaccinated, sterilized, and treated for ringworm, fleas, and ear mites. Two days before we received them, a volunteer named Kim dropped off bowls, toys, litter, blankets, two litter boxes, canned food, dried food, a 3'x2'x4' kennel, and various other supplies, all paid for by CRAN.

CRAN is staffed by over 200 volunteers and has an annual budget of $199,000, nearly all of which comes from individual donations. It is currently building a new long-term care facility, but all of its healthy cats are housed in approximately seventy foster homes until space becomes available in one of five local pet supply stores. CRAN's cats are also listed on Petfinder.com. All applicants must undergo a background screening and, in the case of renters, their landlords are called. Everyone in an applicant's home must want the cat(s), and applicants must promise, in writing, to keep them indoors, and, where desirable, provide them with an animal companion. CRAN cats that are bonded with other CRAN cats must be adopted together. I don't know of a single other humane organization with which I am so philosophically aligned that I can give it my unreserved support.

How to Continue?


The three kittens are still here. Once space opens up for them in a local PetSmart store, I'll drop them off, and they'll be housed in cages until adoption (the store doesn't profit, and the rescue agency goes deeper in the hole with every cat). On that day, I will become the man who betrayed them, and I won't even have the comfort of knowing that they will be sent to loving homes.

I expected fostering to be hard, but I also expected to have the same kittens for only a few days or, at most, a couple of weeks. They've now been here for six weeks, and while I try to enjoy them in the moment, I know what they do not, and that I could spare them. To atone to the dogs I murdered in order to help dogs, I could make this their forever home, and so what if my life contained seven cats--is seven really that many, once they become old enough that the furniture can be uncovered and the knicknacks returned? Peggy says yes, and while my head agrees, my heart doesn't care. My only comfort comes from knowing that, according to the actuarial tables, I will die when their lives are but half over, so it is better to let them go now.

Can I keep inviting this heartache? But if not I, then whom: people who care less; people who are stronger; people who are more practical?

I hate my species for what we do to other lives.

Perhaps, I would be doing better if it were summer because every winter, for me, is a struggle for survival. My pain is worse, and the virtues of the other seasons are absent, replaced by what? Cold. Gray. Drizzle. Darkness. Death. What insanity possessed me that I moved halfway to the North Pole, to a place that rarely sees the sun for life-sapping months? I can't breathe for the agony. I am lost already, and the worst is yet to come.

Peggy, who is more rational than I, points out that there are other ways to serve animals. For instance, I could volunteer to show them to potential adoptees, and the decision to allow--or disallow--those people to adopt wouldn't even be mine. But what if I didn't approve? What then? Turn a cat over and hope for the best? Tell the applicant to go fuck himself? Like a crazed father who greets his daughter's beaus with a shotgun, I favor the latter.

I so wanted this to be fun. I so wanted to be useful, but I am drowning in sadness.

Sacred Beings Entrusted to My Care


Foster Kitten Harvey Centered Among Three of Our Adults

Surrendering to Love

Peggy and I adore the longhair kittens that weve fostered for three weeks. In the late 1970s, I killed dogs as a volunteer for a rural humane society, but surrendering these kittens to their forever homes will be even harder because at least I didn’t know the dogs.

Our three fosters came to us through the Cat Rescue and Adoption Network (CRAN)*, a local group with over 200 volunteers, no paid staff, and a $199,000 annual budget. The group’s Medical Rehabilitation and Ringworm Treatment Facility is nearly complete, but cats who are able will continue to be lodged in seventy local homes. CRAN’s cats are also listed on PetFinder and, as space becomes available, taken to one of two local Petsmart stores where still more volunteers oversee the adoption process.

Our three lovelies came to us with a large “condo,” toys, bowls, food, blankets, a litter scoop, two litter boxes, two tubs of litter, and other odds and ends, and it was all new. CRAN’s generosity had the effect of making me, at least, feel obligated to house cats regularly instead of sporadically, which is what I wanted to do in the first place if only Peggy will allow. 


Partial Page from a CRAN Newsletter
I had wanted to foster cats for years, but Peggy worried that they might infect our cats with parasites or disease, and that I would want to keep them, so she made me agree that we would accept only such cats as a vet had screened and vaccinated, and that I wouldnt whine about adopting them. After receiving our application, CRANs president, Louanne, came out in mid-October to tour our home and and conduct a screening interview. We havent had contact with her since, but Kim, the lady who brought first the supplies and then the kittens has stayed in frequent touch. She paid us a visit last Saturday because one of the kittens had a swollen abdomen related to having been spayed, and Kim wanted to examine her before we took her to WAG (Willamette Animal Guild) for a checkup. She later emailed: “You and Peggy are dreams for our foster organization.”

Dreams, us? I can accept that Kim was exceedingly pleased with how safe and happy our fosters feel, but when I consider people like Kim herself who have devoted a large part of their lives and fortunes to helping cats, we’re pikers. Yet within the confines of what we agreed to do and how well we’re doing it, we are good—very good. We’re also loving it, or at least I’m loving it, Peggy being less pleased with the necessity of putting away her knicknacks, draping sheets over the upholstery, and devoting a chunk of our den to a cat condo. In my view, nothing that we put away or covered over came even close to being as beautiful as the precious beings that took its place, and I have been glad to  observe that Peggy cheerfully takes on half of the work, which is a bit more work than we figured on because we have a bit more kittens than we figured on.

We initially agreed to take only one kitten at a time, but when Kim asked if we could take two, we reflected upon our very real desire to help and the amount of money the organization had invested in buying us supplies, and we said yes. So far so good, but ten minutes before she was to arrive, Kim phoned to say that she was en route with three kittens, and could we please take them all because they were bonded siblings. I don’t think the term “bonded” quite applies to kittens, but if we hadn’t taken them, Kim would, and she already had six fosters and fourteen resident cats. She sniffed so much while here that I asked if she had a cold, and she said no, she’s allergic to cats! I said that Louis J. Carmuti (1883-1981), the world’s first full-time cat vet was also allergic to cats.

 
The Hard Stuff

Far from being the cruel, selfish, and unloving little shits that cat haters claim they are, cat lovers regard cats as gentle, giving, loyal and sensitiveat least I do. How sad that they must eat the bodies of other gentle, giving, loyal, and sensitive, creatures. Vegetarian that I am, I think about this a lot now that I’m feeding seven cats.  I also reflect upon other humanitarian dilemmas. For instance, here is how the latest CRAN newsletter (see second illustration) described its care of a nursing kitten named Forrest who was found living on the street with his mother and sister:

“He became very ill and fought hard for his life. From vet visit to vet visit, antibiotic treatment to antibiotic treatment, medicated nebulizer treatments to steamy showers, sub-Q fluids and bottle feedings…all of this care leading at last to a healthy and thriving kitten.”

How is an organization to decide the worth of a kitten (or a child for that matter) when funds are limited, all kittens are of inestimable value, and the money devoted to one will be denied to others? I started this post by admitting that I used to kill dogs (call it euthanasia if you will, but it just felt like killing), and the fact that my intentions were good hasn’t mitigated the anguish that I continue to feel fifty years later. The bottom-line is that year-in and year-out, millions of animals are killed (or allowed to die) most of them because human beings are too indifferent to misery to spay and neuter, and it is oftentimes the very people who love animals who must end their lives. I am too new to intimate involvement with CRAN to know how it manages to remain a no-kill organization but, generally speaking, no-kill shelters pass on their worst cases and their overload to shelters that have no choice but to kill, shelters that are tax-supported. Sadly, the term no-kill can be interpreted to mean that the people who staff kill shelters are callous, maybe even kill-happy

I was the only man in the organization that I killed for. When we accumulated so many dogs that they were cannibalizing one another due to the extreme stress of gross overcrowding, an emergency board-meeting was called. At that meeting, the women all pronounced themselves too soft-hearted to do what had to be done. They then crossed their arms and waited for me to speak. I wish I had walked out.


Finally, CRAN, like many rescue groups, requires that those who adopt its cats keep them indoors, and it also requires that kittens have the companionship of another animal. It does not trap feral cats, neuter them, and re-release them into the wild. Sadly, studies from the world over (including a recent mega-study by the Smithsonian Institute in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Survey) have consistently shown that feral cats kill billions of birds a year (and three times as many other creatures), a number which exceeds the number of birds killed by cars, pollution, pesticides, wind turbines, slamming into windows, and all other un-natural causes combined (Felis catus is un-natural in that it was created by humans in northern Africa and introduced to the rest of the world).** 

I used to see several garter snakes a year in my yard, but five years ago a neighbor with twelve outdoor cats moved in, and three summers have passed since I last saw a single snake. I watched a cat clamber over my fence carrying a grown tree squirrel, and the cat next door has killed birds by the dozen each and every year for the eight years that he has lived here. Many cat-lovers respond to studies of cat predation—and to my own eye-witness accounts of cat predation—with flat-out denial, vulgar vituperation, and in the case of the referenced study, death threats. A major concern that I have about being affiliated with a cat rescue group is that I don’t want to associate with such fanatics, and I certainly dont want to be numbered among them. This is why I was careful in my selection of CRAN.

*https://catrescues.org/
**https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms2380

"My Great and Unmatched Wisdom"

 
Soon after tweeting that he was about to withdraw American support from our longtime allies in the fight against terrorism, the Kurds (who live in the part of Syria that is adjacent to Turkey's southern border), Trump wrote another tweet: "If Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!)." 

The next day, Turkey's president, Erdoğan, began shelling and bombing the Kurds while announcing plans to send 3.6 million Arab refugees (who now reside in Turkey) to build permanent homes in the Kurdish homeland. As Kurdish troops moved to the border to meet the coming Turkish invasion, Islamic State prisoners were left lightly guarded. When a reporter asked Trump, "What if ISIS fighters escape and pose a threat elsewhere?" Trump responded, "Well they are going to be escaping to Europe, that's where they want to go." (There has since been one escape attempt.) Erdoğan, when criticized by the nations of Europe for the Turkish invasion, said that if Europe didn't back down: "We will open our borders and send 3.6 million refugees your way."

Trump's latest action marks the first time that I remember him receiving even token criticism from high-ranking Republicans, yet it has caused the support of his base to actually increase, and his base will do all they can to defeat any candidate who isn't solidly behind Trump. During his first few months in office, I imagined that when his base realized that Trump was a dictator wannabe, they would turn against him, yet the more brazen he becomes, the more they adore him, and the less place there is in government for anyone of his party who does not at least pretend to do likewise. I interpret this to mean that while both they and I understood what kind of a man Trump is, but that they liked him that way. The only good that has come from this realization is that I have a better idea what Germany was like before Hitler killed off his opposition.

Last year, someone in Trump's administration wrote a letter to the effect that, yes, the president is deranged, but there are those of us inside the administration who will continue to work to minimize the damage.** Since then, Trump loyalists have eliminated all such foot draggers, and Trump himself has either fired or forced out eighteen cabinet members (the cabinet is the president's inner circle of department heads) who dared to disagree with him. This means that his most significant opposition now comes from Congressional Democrats but, in the short-term, there is little they can do. In the long term, the effectiveness of their criminal investigations are unknown, and their impeachment effort is unlikely to succeed simply because Republicans know they won't be re-elected if they support it. It is also feared that our already unstable president might react to the culmination of any threat to his power by calling for civil war. In fact, he has already indicated that he will do so.


* This is the same Erdoğan who frequently talks to Trump on Trump's private cell phone, and whose bodyguards have twice gotten away with beating non-violent American protestors on American soil.

** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Am_Part_of_the_Resistance_Inside_the_Trump_Administration

Sows, Wives, Brood Mares, and Other Expendable Properties


When I asked my sister for help with constructing our family tree, she demurred, saying that the study of genealogy gives ancestors ...a kind of aura simply because they’re dead.” I would substitute stench for aura.

When my grandfathers wanted to raise hogs, they paid for sows; when they wanted foals, they paid for mares; when they wanted children, other men paid them to take away their daughters. When those daughters died in childbirth—as they often did—other fathers paid my ancestors still more money to take away their daughters. By the time Peggy and I were married, dowries had been eliminated, but the parents of the bride still got stuck with the cost of the wedding, the implication being that girl children were so worthless that their parents should have to pay to be rid of them.

The only aura that I paint around my dead relatives is around old maids for having the guts to buck a system that held women in lower esteem than hogs, and portrayed independent women as desperate, ugly, unloved, and unhinged because, clearly, all normal women wanted nothing more than to accede to God’s curse on their gender by spending their short lives pregnant and under the domination of a man. While so-called confirmed bachelors” never sank below old maids in societys estimation, unmarried people of both genders were regarded as pathetic creatures that nobody wanted, and this remained true during my boyhood. Upon being told that a woman was an old maid, I would immediately wonder what was wrong with her.

It was only when I began studying genealogy that I learned enough to grieve over the ill-treatment endured by my unmarried aunts and uncles. I was even reduced to tears by the life of my great great aunt Sarah Jane Newby (1831-1882), an Alabamian who openly criticized the Southern Cause” (a euphemism for rich mens right to own black people). Sarah Janes bravery would have been lost to posterity had the Union Calvary not come along one day and taken “a valuable sorrel mare sixteen hands high” out from under her. In her post-war petition for reimbursement, Sarah Jane swore that she shed tears of disapproval when the South seceded; did her utmost to dissuade her three brothers from joining the Rebel army (all fought and one died); gave the Union army material assistance; and denied help to the Confederacy except when compelled to cook for its troops. One of her witnesses described her as a quiet woman who made no secret of her loyalty to the Union, and added that only her gender saved her from being assaulted.  

If anyone deserves an aura—if not a haloit’s not my male grandfathers who quoted racist and misogynistic Scriptures to justify their abuse of women and black people; it’s my unmarried aunts who said Hell no! to the prospect of staying pregnant for nine months out of every year until such time as pregnancy killed them, following which a second—and oftentimes a third—two-legged brood mare would take their place in bed in order to bring to fruition the manly desire to father as many boy children as possible in as short a time as possible.

Ah, but I haven’t mentioned my early 19th century West African grandmother who was raped by one of my grandfathers, nor have I made reference to the slave men who fathered their young in the knowledge that they would be the property of my grandfathers from the moment they drew breath. When asked about this in the 1930s by a Federal Writers Project” interviewer, one of my ancestors slaves said:

No, not any weddin’s. It was kinder dis way. When dere was a good nigger man an’ a good nigger woman, the Marster would say, I know you is both good niggers, an’ I wants you to be man and wife dis year an’ raise little niggers because then I won’t have to buy em. 

Paint auras around my ancestors? The more I learn, the more I distrust the men and pity the women. While men like William Lloyd Garrison were struggling valiantly for gender and racial equality, my male ancestors exhibited no more compassion, morality, and respect for the rule of law than a Trump supporter. But would I not concede that, just maybe, some women—and even some slaveswere happy with their lot? Would you be? 

That question aside, I will concede that if the oppressed were so beaten down as to believe that God ordained their oppression and would reward them in heaven, perhaps they were happy. I will even concede that most of my male ancestors honestly believed that God willed it that they rule over women and black people. I came to this conclusion upon finding deathbed wills that contained such provisions as, I give and bequeath to my daughter, Elizabeth, one bay horse and one slave named Polly, to belong to her and to her heirs forever.” 

But is it worse to do evil while thinking it is good, or while knowing it is bad? I suspect the former because where there is no awareness of wrong, cruelty becomes unrestrained and repentance impossible, which is why members of the Islamic State can douse caged prisoners with gasoline and burn them alive.

I have found little obvious heroism among my kin aside from the fact that they somehow found the strength to repeatedly survive the deaths of their children. While it is indeed possible to cry over old census records (I have done so), such sources tend more toward cold factuality than emotional revelation, and so it is that one can only probe the heart of most ancestors by reading between the lines. The fact that her courage and sense of fair play was right out there for everyone to see is why I so respect my aunt, Sarah Jane. Sadly, I can’t even find her grave.

How to Die in Oregon


In 1997, Oregon became the first American stateand the third place anywhereto legalize physician assisted dying.* Since then, eight other states and the District of Columbia have followed. The title of this post is the title of a documentary about the Oregon law. Frontline's The Suicide Plan, a related documentary, concerns assisted suicide in places where it's either illegal or a person doesn't qualify under current law. For example, the Oregon law requires that death be expected within six months and that the patient be able to take the required medication without assistance, the result being that some terminal people kill themselves before they wish, and that non-terminal people are excluded regardless of the severity of their condition.

While the American Medical Association and various handicapped rights groups oppose assisted dying (I was pleased to learn that my own doctor supports it), the bulk of the opposition comes from religious groups and is based upon the following: (1) God allows suffering in order to ennoble the afflicted and their caregivers, and (2) God alone can create life, so God alone must decide when to end life. Given their second argument, evangelical Christianity's military hawkishness and support for the death penalty is at best paradoxical, as is the fact that, this year alone, several states in America's so-called Bible Belt have passed laws to either end or severely restrict abortion and birth control, while also restricting financial assistance to poor families.

**
My own, very liberal, denomination, the Episcopal Church opposes assisted dying based upon the opinion of its General Convention that Christ, had he thought to address the issue, would have opposed it. I doubt that the church's position carries weight even among its own members, and I maintain that anyone who attempts to contribute to the public dialogue on the basis of authoritarian religious pronouncements has nothing of value to contribute to the public dialogue. "God said it; I believe it; and that settles it," only settles doubts regarding the speaker's intellectual earnestness.

But what of the slippery slope argument, the claim that assisted dying today will lead to outright euthanasia tomorrow? I certainly hope so. Under the Oregon law, if I fall victim to Alzheimer's, I will be too mentally compromised to kill myself by the time my life expectancy is within the six month limit, which means that I will be obliged to end my life early, while alone, and by means that are violent or degrading. Other sufferers—from ALS for examplemight retain their mental faculties but be unable to raise the glass to their mouths or swallow its contents. It would therefore take an enormous weight off the minds of many if the law permitted them to have help in dying or, where necessary, to outline in advance the conditions under which they would wish to be euthanized.

But why choose death rather than palliative care? (1) Not all pain can be relieved by narcotics, and some conditions cause excruciating pain for which palliative drugs are completely ineffective unless they are given in such high doses that the patient is rendered unconscious. For example, I was once told that I had Chronic Regional Pain Disease, a condition so horrifically painful that the patient must literally choose between suicide and insanity. (2) No drug can take away the misery and humiliation of having to have one's ass wiped, of needing to be bathed by others, of being too wretched to experience pleasure, and of losing all hope but the hope of a death that cannot come soon enough. (3) In America, the government will only pay for a person's long-term medical care after that person has nothing left to spend, and I, for one, have not spent my life saving only to leave my wife bankrupt so that I might prolong a nightmarish existence that is no longer worthy of the name life.

For those who, despite the things I just listed, continue to "say yes to life," I leave it to them to live, but how dare they deny me the right to die in a peaceful, timely, and dignified manner in the presence of my loved ones! Yet what rankles me most is not their arrogance but that they justify their arrogance by invoking the name of God without a smidgen of evidence to support that invocation.

It is no coincidence that all of the states (plus Washington D.C.) that have passed assisted dying laws are heavily Democratic and secular. The following list of Death with Dignity states*** includes the dates the laws took effect—the Maine law will become active in September. I'm confident that the day will come when the only states that lack such laws will be those of the Bible Belt, a reactionary region that never fails to go kicking and screaming behind the rest of the nation when it comes to the expansion of human rights.

Oregon—1997
Washington—2008
Vermont2013
California—2016
Colorado—2016
District of Columbia—2017
Hawaii—2019
New Jersey—2019
Maine—2019 


Finally, for my beloved Aussies who constitute the bulk of my active readership, I was pleased to learn that your state of Victoria has recently enacted a "Dying with Dignity" law.****

 
* The Death with Dignity lobby opposes the word suicide, so I will use their preferred terminology out of respect for those who have worked so hard to bring the laws about.

**https://euthanasia.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=001320

***https://www.deathwithdignity.org/learn/death-with-dignity-acts/

****https://www.dwdv.org.au/