Magdalena was born with two perfect, identical ears. But that was before the homeless kitten spent weeks—or perhaps even months—outdoors fending for herself in rural Virginia. Now, there’s a tattered stub where her left ear was, as if someone tore it off like a sheet of notebook paper.
No one knows who or what mangled Magdalena’s ear. What we do know is that she was lucky to beat the odds. Kittens are especially vulnerable to the many dangers that cats who roam outdoors face, including untreated parasite infestations, deadly contagious diseases, exposure, dehydration, speeding cars and predators such as loose dogs and cruel people. About 75% of homeless kittens don’t survive beyond the age of 6 months (the leading cause of death is trauma), according to a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, which is why it’s a matter of life and death to rescue them—and all homeless cats—from the streets.
This would seem to go without saying—obviously, helpless kittens need to be rescued, right? But increasingly, as part of misguided efforts to fraudulently boost “live-release” rates, some animal shelters are not only refusing to accept cats—especially frightened, unsocialized ones they deem feral and “unadoptable” and therefore apparently unworthy of shelter—but also actively discouraging people from rescuing homeless kittens. They justify this dereliction of duty by erroneously implying that lost and discarded companion animals are interchangeable with wild animals.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Homeless cats are not wildlife—they’re domesticated animals, genetically identical to the cats we share our homes with. And just like any other cat, they can’t survive without our protection—the average lifespan of a homeless cat is under three years. It’s cruel and irresponsible to recommend leaving cats and kittens to struggle to survive outdoors.
Just ask the horrified people in Virginia who found a homeless kitten so badly injured that “his back right leg was hanging on by a small piece of skin” and had to be amputated. Or ask the good Samaritans in California, who rescued a kitten dubbed Furiosa (after a fearless Mad Max character) because she managed to survive for days hanging upside down after her hind legs became entangled in a chain-link fence, possibly causing nerve damage. Or you could ask the Oregon garbage collector who found a squealing kitten encased in spray foam in a trash can. You’d probably get no argument from the Alabama couple who ran outside to intervene after hearing ear-splitting screams, only to find a homeless mother cat attempting to fight off a predator while in the process of giving birth to a litter of kittens. The mother cat and two kittens were saved, but five kittens didn’t survive the attack.
Who in their right mind would argue that any of these cats would’ve been better off left in “their outdoor home,” the absurd euphemism used by “no-kill” extremists who advocate abandoning cats to fend for themselves on the streets?
The woman who found Magdalena certainly doesn’t ascribe to that position. She put out food to earn the skittish kitten’s trust while asking around to see if she lived with any neighbors. When nobody claimed her, she called PETA.
Magdalena is now in a loving indoor home, safe from whatever or whomever robbed her of most of her left ear and could very easily have robbed her of her life if not for the intervention of a compassionate person.
Please, don’t abandon homeless kittens like Magdalena to a fate that you wouldn’t wish on your own cat or dog. Bring them (and their mother, if you can find her) indoors—and if you can’t keep them, take them to a reputable open-admission shelter where they’ll at least have a chance at being adopted into a loving home, as opposed to facing (and inevitably losing) a daily fight for survival on the streets.
Teresa Chagrin is the animal care and control issues manager at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.