Finally saw the 2009 documentary Cat Ladies and it’s well worth watching. What struck me was the ambivalence that all four women felt about what they were doing. They love cats and enjoy looking after them and they don’t like seeing animals suffer. But they do not want as many cats as they have and/or they don’t want cats to define their entire lives.
The youngest of the four has the fewest cats, and also a dog. She has a number in her head of what separates a “cat person” from a “crazy cat lady”. She gave it as 30, but then said she thought she was near the tipping point with 6. Another lady loves her cats, but wishes she had human friends too. Another, a former bank employee, fell into cat rescue by accident and wants to stop. Her house is full of cats and she works hard to get them adopted. But she wants “more of a life than this.” The fourth lady defines herself as a cat rescue, taking them in and finding homes for them. She said she’s taken over 3,000 cats off the streets. She loves what she does but said, “I’d be happy if they were all gone to other homes.” Then added, “so I could bring home another hundred.”
That last lady has problems with the people next door in her suburban neighbourhood. Her neighbours bought their house in winter and didn’t realize until spring that there was a house full of cats next door. They keep a record of all cat-related annoyances. Similarly, I’d like to ban backyard pools. But I think my chances of success are less than these people’s with their cat problem.
Film discusses rescue vs. hoarding
Agent Tre Smith of the Toronto Humane Society gave his opinion on cat ladies. “Animal rescuers” and “animal hoarders,” he says, are the same thing. They want to relieve the suffering of animals, but can’t stop taking in just one more. His point has validity, but I think simplifying it to that extent does a disservice to both animal rescue and the disorder of hoarding.
To say that animal rescue and animal hoarding are the same is like saying that all antique dealers are hoarders. Some undoubtedly are, and more have the inclination. But a successful antique dealer or collector can love the objects without endlessly filling houses and outbuildings with them. And a hoarder of objects can fill any amount of space with things and have no objective sense of their worth.
It’s not a dichotomy of dealer/hoarder. Keeping stuff is relative and on a scale of functional to dysfunctional. And there are grey areas where it’s hard to know if someone is an enthusiast or has a disorder.
It’s the same for animal rescue and animal hoarding. There are clear-cut cases, with someone like Tre at the functional end of the animal welfare scale. The horror shows he sees in his job would be at the other, dysfunctional, end: the person with 300 dead and ill animals squashed into a one-bedroom house. In between, there’s a lot of grey.
I liked all the women in this documentary and I respect what they are doing and their thoughts about it. But then I’m a cat lady wannabe. I’ll probably never really be one because one thing I know about it is that it’s a lot of hard work.
First posted on my St. Thomas Dog Blog Aug. 18/11. See my Cat People for Ottawa’s ‘cat man’ and the Parliamentary cats (as well as my own short career as the village cat lady).