As long-time readers of my column know, I have a special fondness for cats. Through the years I have written about my city gentleman, Midnight, my window kitty, Leo, my frail feline, Ebony and my country rogue and traveling man, Rascal Bayfield, my companion for almost 19 years. I've written about their antics, the joy they bestowed on my life and the affection they afforded me in the depths of my despair. How I loved my boys!
Now we have three newer cats in our household that we love dearly. Biscuit, our black kitty with an attitude, lived in a city crack house and was sent to the pound. She was rescued by my dear friend, Cindy Groslie. Our beautiful gentle giant, Jasper, was also at the pound. Both Biscuit and Jasper were scheduled to be euthanized.
Our most recent addition to the family is Papa Jack, who was living outside and near death when Cindy found him. After Papa received extensive medical treatment, Cindy nursed him back to health. He became her favorite kitty and her equivalent of my precious Rascal. How we adored our orange tabbies and how we spoiled them!
When Cindy was diagnosed with cancer a year ago, she asked me if I would take Papa Jack if anything happened to her. I assured her that Papa would always have a place with me. Six months later, when Cindy was in the hospital, we brought Papa Jack, her other cat, Buford O'Reilly, and her dog, Zak, up to see her. We wanted her to be able to touch them and gain strength from their presence as she headed into surgery. We all cried as she stroked Papa and Buford and gave Zak a dog biscuit.
I took Papa home that night. Over the next three weeks I gave Cindy daily reports about how well Papa was doing at our house and how very much we loved him. Cindy passed away the day after Thanksgiving.
My cats and Cindy's were all initially rescued from the vagaries of living outside. Other felines have not been so lucky. Each year, millions of cats are run over by vehicles, mauled by dogs, injured by other animals, exposed to toxic pesticides and antifreeze, caught in leg traps, shot, tortured, beaten, lost, severely injured, abandoned, abused and killed. When cats are allowed to roam, they also contract debilitating parasites such as worms, ticks, mites and fleas and suffer from the ravages of bites and bacterial infections.
Cats on the roam are often captured and end up being gassed or receiving lethal injections of drugs. And if that's not enough, there is another reason to keep cats indoors. Hundreds of millions of birds are killed annually by free-roaming cats. The suffering of both cats and birds is all the more tragic because it's unnecessary. Cats cannot be blamed for killing wildlife. It is the responsibility of cat owners to ensure their pets are safely indoors. The average life expectancy of an outdoor cat is just two to five years, while an indoor cat may live for 17 or more years. Cats who wander outside are constantly in danger.
Now that you know the downside of the situation, let's move to cheerier thoughts. Here is some information about a current opportunity for the favorite kid in your life. I'm coordinating a statewide poster contest for kids ages 6-12. It's part of the Minnesota Cats Indoors Campaign, which encourages people to keep their cats indoors for the safety of birds, wildlife and cats.
The age categories are 6-7, 8-9 and 10-12. The poster should depict a happy, safe, indoor cat. Artwork must be on an 8-1/2 x 11-inch piece of sturdy, white paper or posterboard. Keep in mind clarity of message; simplicity and color is important for reproduction.
To categorize entries, notify winners and mail prizes, each poster should be labeled on the back with name, age and address of entrant and county of residence. If applicable, the teacher/educator's name, school/group, address, phone number and e-mail address should also be included.
Entries should be mailed to the appropriate regional DNR nongame wildlife program office. Kids living in Cass, Wadena, and Todd counties should send their posters to Katie Haws, 2115 Birchmont Road N.E., Bemidji 56601. Kids living in Crow Wing and Aitkin counties should send their posters to Maya Hamady, 1201 E. Highway 2, Grand Rapids 55744. Kids living in Mille Lacs, Morrison and Stevens counties should send their posters to Joan Galli, DNR Building, Box 25, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul 55155.
There will be four winners in each age group and 12 winners in each of the four regions of the state. Three state winners will be chosen from the 48 regional winning entries. All decisions are final. Poster entries cannot be returned and the Minnesota Cats Indoors Project may use the winning posters in publicity as it chooses.
Regional judging will take place on April 30 in Bemidji, May 1 in Grand Rapids, May 5 in Rochester and May 7 in St. Paul. The deadline is April 26, although if entries are received between the deadline date and the regional judging date we'll allow them to be considered. The winning posters will be sent to Washington to compete for ABC's national poster contest.
Prizes include bird field guides, stickers, magnets, T-shirts, posters and Nikon binoculars. Mariah, my nine-year-old daughter is disqualified from entering, but she sure is excited about the prizes her friends, Girl Scout troop members and classmates could potentially win if they enter the poster contest. While obviously I want to relay the message of why it's important to keep cats indoors, at her age I know there's tremendous appeal in striving for a prize.
To see a previous national winning poster or to obtain background information about keeping cats indoors, contact the American Bird Conservancy in Washington, DC (202-452-1535 or www.abcbirds.org). If you have any questions, you may contact me at AndreaL@umn.edu or (612) 782-8943.
So if you've got crayons, markers and access to kids, encourage them to learn more about keeping cats indoors by creating a poster of a happy, safe indoor cat. Good luck!
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