A little over a week ago, I had the opportunity to attend the sixth annual Pennsylvania Bar Institute Animal Law Conference in Philadelphia.
That means that lawyers all over the Keystone State are devoting their time, gifts and love to thinking about and working for needy animals. Heaven knows the cats (and dogs, and eared sea lions) could use a good advocate. All of this gives me tremendous encouragement.
But what surprised me was the great disparities between “dog law” and “cat law.” The tome given out to all conference attendees devoted 223 pages exclusively to new dog laws…and exactly 30 pages to cat laws. By no means do I blame the fine people who planned the conference. Their presentations simply reflect the state of the laws.
I was shocked to learn that, while all 50 states have specific “dog laws,” only three (CA, RI and ME) have comprehensive “cat laws.” Now, before we storm our state Senate buildings with flaming torches, consider that the dearth of cat-related laws is a mixed blessing. On the downside, of course, this means painfully limited protection for our beloved felines.
But there’s a good side here, too. As one attorney explained, there are more laws surrounding dogs because the legal profession (and most people) perceive dogs as at least potentially dangerous. Cats, on the other hand, are still considered largely “harmless,” and therefore need less regulation. While more cat-related laws could help protect felines from abuse and mandate greater responsibility, they may also penalize folks for helping ferals (i.e. caretakers of feral colonies, good people who do trap-neuter-release, etc.). When a colony of ferals is managed by caretakers, the issue of ownership creeps in, and tighter laws could actually slap fines onto feral caretakers for owning dozens of cats. So, there are advantages to not having more cat-centric laws. As with most things legal, it’s complicated.
More than anything, the conference reaffirmed for me the vital importance of loving these cats with all we’ve got. Although the 90 million owned cats in the US make felines America’s most popular pet, 70% of cats who end up in public shelters will be euthanized, while only 1-2% will be redeemed by their families. (Compare that to 50% of dogs in shelters being euthanized, and 20% being redeemed.) Given that there may be as many as 90 million feral cats in America, that means there’s one homeless feline for every beloved family cat. As one attorney grimly put it, these cats are trapped in an “assembly line of death,” and a “national tragedy of epic proportions.”
I wish we could take in 90 million homeless cats at Tabby’s Place. I wish we could nudge the world towards cat-loving laws, and help educate folks to prevent “disposable pet” syndrome.
But I know we can love every cat we touch with everything we’ve got. I know we can change the world for every Tabby’s Place cat, and love him as if he were the only cat in the world. I know we can play our part.
Let’s work and pray that the laws and love of the world will follow.