Irresponsible Cat Owner Allows Declawed Tomcat Named Jack to Tangle with Black Bear in Northern New Jersey
Interlopers onto Donna Dickey's property in the Shady Lake section of West Milford should take notice: Jack is on duty and he does not take kindly to visits by uninvited guests. This warning applies equally to animals as well as to humans as one unfortunate black bear found out the hard way recently.
Jack is not a Karelian Bear Dog like those recently brought in from Finland to track down a wandering brown bar named Bruno in Bavaria (See Der Spiegel, June 9, 2006, "Reprieve for Bruno as Bavaria Withdraws Permission to Shoot Him," and London's Independent, June 14, 2006, "Man Versus Nature: The Great Bavarian Bear Hunt"), but rather an orange and white, ten-year-old tomcat who resides with Dickey at her northern New Jersey home. Although he is known for giving the bum's rush to squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, birds, and mice who venture onto his turf, he outdid himself on June 4th when he not once but twice treed a black bear. (See photos above and below.)
The fearless little tabby chased the frightened bruin up one tree and kept him there for about a quarter of an hour with his angry hisses and baleful stares. When the bear climbed down, Jack took after him again and promptly chased him up another tree. By this time Dickey had been alerted by a neighbor as to what was happening and she promptly called off her cat, thus allowing the traumatized bear to escape into the safety of the nearby woods.
"I thought, 'Oh, my God, the bear's gonna get him!'" Dickey later told Newark's Star Ledger on June 9th. (See "Bear's Out on a Limb, Fleeing a Clawless Kitty.") For his derring-do, Jack was rewarded with not only a hero's welcome but treats as well.
"He doesn't want anybody in his yard," Dickey added. "We used to joke, 'Jack's on duty,' never knowing he'd go after a bear."
After The Star Ledger broke the story it was picked up by, inter alia, the Associated Press and the BBC and Jack unwittingly became an international celebrity. Although his bravery cannot be minimized, it is not unheard of for cats to frighten away bears since the latter's lives are governed as a rule by fear and the quest for food.
It is likewise not uncommon for bears to kill cats and since Jack does not have any front claws his precipitate action put him in far greater jeopardy than he realized. Instead of being an overnight sensation, he could just as easily have been ripped to shreds.
Declawing, which entails cutting off the last bone of each toe, is not only an extremely painful surgical procedure for cats to endure, but more importantly it robs them of their ability to climb and to defend themselves against predators. Had the bear turned on Jack, he would have been helpless. Onychectomies also have a deleterious effect upon cats' sense of balance and their ability to perform stretching exercises and this results in injuries from falls as well as muscle atrophy. Worst still, just about all declawed cats dumped at shelters are exterminated because people are reluctant to adopt them.
Declawing has been outlawed in West Hollywood as well as in Deutschland, Holland, Switzerland, Finland, Japan, Brazil, and Australia. In the midwest, Susan Woodhouse of Community CATalysts is working hard to have the patently cruel and inhumane practice banned from the Greater Cincinnati region. Sadly, only two out of thirty-four-hundred licensed veterinarians in Ohio refuse to mutilate cats. Furthermore, www.declaw.com, a website run by California veterinarian Christianne Schelling, lists only one veterinarian in Kentucky who refuses to perform onychectomies and none in Indiana. In fact, only fifty-one animal doctors nationwide steadfastly refuse to declaw cats under any circumstances.
Depriving a cat of the means to defend itself can also create behavioral problems. "People are seeing that many of the mean cats, the shy cats, are declawed cats," Woodhouse told The Cincinnati Inquirer on May 21st. (See "Scratching Away at a Cause.") It is therefore highly probable that Jack's overzealous defense of his turf is attributable to the fact that he does not have any front claws. Dickey's assertion that Jack mistook the bear for her chocolate Labrador Retriever, Cocoa, and chased it as part of a game is ludicrous. Jack is mutilated; he is not blind. Besides, he is still in possession of his senses of smell and hearing.
Declawing is unnecessary as well. Damage to furniture can be minimized just as effectively by either installing scratching posts around the house or by trimming a cat's nails. Vinyl caps, such as those worn by Woodhouse's cat Moose in the photo below, can be glued directly on to a cat's claws. Double-sided tape and aluminum cans filled with pennies can also be deployed in order to keep cats off of furniture.
In the final analysis, a few scratches here and there are a small price to pay for feline companionship. A cat and scratched furniture is far preferable to a house with elegant furnishings but no cat. As Mark Twain once said, "A house without a cat, and a well-fed, well-petted and properly revered cat, may be a perfect house, perhaps, but how can it prove its title?"
Of additional concern is the fact that at fifteen pounds and sporting a potbelly (See photo above), Jack is noticeably overweight. This is prima facie evidence that he has been neutered. Although sterilization may be appropriate in some instances, mutilated cats are usually confined indoors for their own protection and this generally precludes the need for desexing.
No matter how the situation is analyzed, Dickey is an unfit cat owner. Subjecting a cat to needless surgeries in order to remove his claws and testicles and then turning him loose to scrap with a bear are not the actions of a person who cares about cats.
As far as the black bears of New Jersey are concerned, their situation is indeed deplorable. As both homeowners and commercial interests continue to expand into their habitats, conflicts inevitably arise and man's visceral response is, as per usual, to resort to violence.
Hunters shotgunned to death three-hundred-twenty-eight black bears in a state-sanctioned hunt back in 2003 and another two-hundred-ninety-eight were slaughtered last December. (See Cat Defender post of November 17, 2005 entitled "Chinese Farmer Gets His Just Deserts as He Is Killed and Eaten by Moon Bears He Tortured for Their Bile.") In the areas adjoining Jack's neighborhood, there are an estimated sixteen-hundred black bears.
Half a world away in Bavaria, German officials welcomed Bruno (See photo below) with open arms when he first crossed the Alps back in May and became the first wild brown bear to set foot in the Vaterland in one-hundred-seventy years. After he killed several dozen sheep, rabbits, and chickens as well as raided a few beehives, the welcome mat was promptly rolled up and the exterminators summoned.
Public opinion has, however, forced officials to rescind their death warrant and instead Karelian Bear Dogs have been brought in from Finland to track the bruin and a German sharpshooter has been hired to tranquilize him. If possible, they will take him alive and relocate him to Wildpark Poing near Munchen.
Bears, whether be in northern New Jersey or in the Alps, have a right to live also. This is impossible, however, unless government officials put away their guns and curb development. At the very least, unwanted bears should be humanely trapped and relocated to more hospitable habitats.
Photos: Suzanne Giovanetti (black bear and Jack), Tony Jones of The Cincinnati Inquirer (Moose with vinyl claw covers), and Manfred Sprenger for Der Spiegel (mobile phone photo of Bruno).