The reason this page is goofily titled “my cat friends” is because I read this great book, Animal Equality: Language and Liberation by Joan Dunayer. In it, Dunayer makes an excellent case for being careful around using possessive, objectifying language when referring to members of non-human animal species. To that end, I usually make an effort to say, “my cat friends” rather than “my cats” because they are not objects I own, but rather, individuals who I met in Brooklyn, who needed a home and appeared to like ours, and who have lived with us ever since.
[Edit: I just realized I used the phrase “our cats” in the blog post I wrote referring to this page! Oops… onward and upward…]
Let me introduce Snow, Sid (whose full name is Siddhartha Vicious), and Zora (whose full name is Zora Neale Hurston).
- Sid is an easy-going, laid back, self-assured bicolor blue tabby. When conflict happens she hangs back or disappears, aloof. She’s a fierce hunter, ready to attack any small animal or bug that makes its way into her territory. She has allergies and over-grooms, which isn’t great, except that it means her part-Persian fur is always incredibly soft. She loves laying in the sun, being outdoors, eating crunchy kibble, and getting tummy rubs.
- Zora, Sid’s older sister, is a sweet and super-fluffy bicolor black cat with a big appetite and a loud purr. She adores laying in my lap and follows me around like a puppy sometimes, but the vet knows her demon-side. She has a growl that terrifies everyone, including me, and stands her ground when dogs visit, grumbling at them from under chairs.
- Snow is a small, younger calico / tortie who lost part of one ear to frostbite just before she moved in. I’ll always regret we didn’t let her in sooner (we were waiting for her mother and sister and her to come in all at once, but finally took her in on her own when the snow came and she was the only one who kept showing up). Amazingly, she has no teeth, due to a painful immune condition that required them all to be taken out, but it doesn’t seem to hold her back. She’s a bit nervous and shy but also very curious about visitors, and is very vocal. She loves eating fish, being hugged against our shoulders like a baby, and rolling around wildly in catnip.
We don’t let our cat friends run around outside because, well, they’ll be statistically more likely to live 3-4 times longer than if we let them run around out there. But we consider their needs and feelings in every situation that affects them, from our moving to a new city, to our choice of cat toys, to how we handle situations where guests come into our shared space. And we feel very strongly that they need opportunities to run and climb and stretch and work their claws and chase and get fresh air and eat grass and so on.
To that end, they’ve had a pretty good life so far, I think: walks on a harness, good healthy food and cat grass and clean water, cat shelves in the windows, a tunnel leading from the living room to an outdoor enclosure, cat doors to let them into the mudroom and front entryway, treats, toys, cuddles, regular veterinary/dental care, interesting and healthy snacks like nori and nutritional yeast, and a lot of love.
All three are spayed and have microchips. We feel like these are intrusive and unfair things to do to cats, but this is, we feel, the safest way to keep track of them (and keep them from having kittens) if they ever run away or get lost.
The cat enclosure!
I’ll take better photos soon, but in the meantime, here’s a first glimpse at our finally-completed cat enclosure! I learned about these things years ago and vowed to make one happen for Sid and Zora and Snow. It took me years to accomplish, but within minutes of installing the cat door that connects it to the house, they were out there enjoying the sunshine. Yay!
Huge thanks to C&D Pet Products for producing the (relatively — I priced it out!) affordable and beautiful Economy Cat Enclosure Kit and tunnel, and to the awesome folks at Cosentini Construction for installing two cat doors and connecting everything up so skillfully after I’d put it together.
Here’s more on this kind of thing:
- Catios and Cat Enclosures
- Animal Architecture
- Cat Furniture and Built-ins
- Architecture by and for Animals
Why would a vegan live with cats?
Sid, Zora, and Snow were all feral kittens who lived on the street outside our apartment back when we lived in Brooklyn.
We had already been doing other forms of activism such as putting up (and sometimes making) fliers like the ones above, helping ferals and lost cats and adoptable kittens when we could, but wanted to do more for our small, furry neighbors. We’d seen too many local cats disappear during the winter, probably losing their lives to traffic and weather and lack of food and care.
When these babies showed up (first Zora and little Sid, and then a few years later, frail little Snow) they basically asked to come in. It would have been very hard to say no. I’ve been so grateful and full of relief that we didn’t, because they’ve become an awesome part of our lives.
We adopted these ladies genuinely believing that it would be safe to feed them vegan food. For many excellent reasons, they no longer eat a vegan diet. You can read more about that here.
Living with little carnivores can be very instructive and humbling for vegans. I know it has been for me. I believe that the good our family has done for cats, and the ways we’ve helped to minimize the harm they cause to other animals in our shared ecosystem, helps in some small way to make up for the animals we harm by feeding them a non-vegan diet, but I’m under no illusions that caring for meat-eating cats is truly “ethical” from an animal rights standpoint. (But then, neither is the presence of the cat, an essentially human-constructed species, in ecosystems all over the world that never evolved to defend themselves from tiny tigers.) I am sacrificing some lives to benefit others, and I feel far less vegan for it. Nonetheless: They’re my friends, and I made a commitment to them, so here we are.
What about songbirds?
These cats don’t get the opportunity to hunt, so we’re all clear! Well, sort of: I can’t adopt every feral in the area, but we’re working on getting those guys spayed and neutered and adopted, and we carefully support prey species by providing them with plenty of safe living / feeding spaces such as snags (standing dead trees) and bird feeders and houses, and forest and thicket to hide in.
Cat Litter Composting
We use a biodegradable litter and compost all of our cats’ waste and the clumped / used litter. We set up Earth Machines in a corner of the yard that’s as far as possible from our wellhead, drainage ditches, and food production, to avoid contamination. We layer the waste with leaves, wood ash and charcoal from our fire pit, and yard waste. If it gets too dry we add water. It doesn’t smell badly at all! We plan to use the (very, very aged) compost safely away from veggies and suchlike, just in case.
If you intend to try composting cat litter yourself, please be sure to do it cautiously — it’s something you should read about before jumping in. You might find it helpful to accumulate the supplies you’re going to use (including leaves, clippings, etc.) before you begin. Personally, I wasted a lot of energy by not layering properly from the beginning and then having to go back and mix stuff in later. Here are some links to get you started:
- The Straight Poop on Kitty Litter by Kristie Snyder for Greenstar
- Can I Compost Cat or Dog Waste? by Colleen Vanderlinden for About.com
Cats in Community
We continue to encounter and engage with ferals all the time. Click here to meet our neighbor cats!