Tuesday, November 19, 2019

3294. The Last Days of the Cat Man of Darby Road

By Kamran Nayeri, November 19, 2019
Latte (Birth ?-Death, October 30, 2019) Photo: Kamran Nayeri
Echo (Birth?-Death, November 3, 2019) Photo: Kamran Nayeri

Max (Birth ?-Death November 21, 2018?) Photo: Kamran Nayeri

Soon after I arrived at my current residence outside of the small town of Sebastopol, sixty miles north of San Francisco, in August 2011, I ran into a colony of feral cats on Darby Road (see, a map,
here), a narrow road that winds around the eastern slope of the hillside that dead-ends at the Atascandero creek, providing residents and farmers access to Burnside Road that leads via Watertrough Road towards Sebastopol to the North and Cotati to East.  

When I arrived here with Mooshi, who used to be a feral cat living under the Anna Head building at UC Berkeley where I worked, I was hoping for a quiet time to garden, watch wildlife, and perhaps write a book about my view of ecological socialism. 

The feral cat colony that lived near the road under the skeleton of a very old flatbed truck that offered them a relatively dry and protected place to hide or sleep was in such desperate condition that I immediately decided to take on the care of these cats.   I have written about this original feral cat colony elsewhere (see, here, and, here). As I will describe in a moment, within a year I also came to take care of other feral cats on Darby Road closer to my home. 

Dumped cats
There is an important distinction between feral cats and dumped cats. Feral cats are largely on their own, often born and raised by a feral mother, while dumped cats are house cats or barn cats, both socialized with humans and more dependent on them for their survival.  All cats bond with their surroundings and like humans are routinists.   Just as most of us follow a routine in our daily lives so do cats.  

Thus, cats feel safer and happier where they are accustomed to live, be it a hole on the side of a creek, a barn, or a house.  That makes it very difficult to take feral cats home as house cats, especially if they are older adults.  At the very least, they must be kept in captivity for months (in my experience at least four months) before they “forget” their former home and accept the new one.  For older cats, this may not be a good option. Sayda, a feral cat in the original colony, who was judged by her veterinarian to be about 9 years old was badly and permanently hurt by a brute force to the head either in a car accident or by being hit by someone lived three years in the house but mostly in the dark corners of the loft. Only towards the end, she began to feel comfortable to come down and even sit on a cushion and later on the patio to enjoy the sunshine.  Unfortunately, she was at the same time suffering from multiple life-threatening illnesses and had to be euthanized. Of course, had I left her to live with the rest of the colony on Darby Road she might have fallen victim to a coyote and not survived three years. But the transition to the house was traumatic for her nonetheless.

Over the past eight years, I have bought five cats from the road to the house: Sayda (feral), Sunny (probably dumped), Panther (dumped), Lulu (probably dumped but gone feral), and Siah (dumped).  In my experience dumped cats have been much easier to acclimate than feral cats to their new home and lived a longer and happier life.  I must say that dumped cats tended to be younger and feral cats I brought in were older—both Sayda and Lulu were judged to be nine years old when I brought them in. Mooshi was also a feral cat when I first saw her in the parking lot of Anna Head building at UC Berkeley.  She was probably three years old then. Over the next three years as I served her in the parking lot of Survey Research Center we became good friends.  When I was planning to move to a new job at the UC Office of President (UCOP), I had to catch and take Mooshi home. It took months until I succeeded. It took Mooshi about four months to get used to the Montclair house (Oakland). She learned and liked to be brushed and to sit on my lap or legs. But I could not pick her up until the last year of her life when she became disabled and needed me to pick her up to take care of her daily needs. That is, after 13 years! 

Panther (L) and Siah were both young unneutered male dumped cats who wandered in the neighborhood for months before opting to live with me in La casa de los gatos.   Panther was dumped in 2012 and Siah in 2017.  As you can see, they are both black cats.  The Human Society in Sonoma County offers additional incentives for people to adopt black cats due to prevalent superstition.  Photo: Kamran Nayeri
During my eight years serving feral cats on Darby Road, I have witnessed a half dozen cases of dumped cats.  In every case, these cats felt lost, scared, were hungry and thirsty and had no secure no resting place. Some of the dumped cats try to return home and die along the way sometimes by being hit by cars or by being taken by predators.  The luckier ones find a location once populated by a feral cat and gradually become part of the feral cats in a neighborhood. A few luckier ones find someone who brings them into their home.  

The Cat Man of Darby Road
While there are dozens of homes on Darby Road and at least some residents have been well aware of the existence of the feral cats and a few occasionally feed those that appear in proximity of their home no one has taken an interest in taking care of these unfortunate cats on any consistent basis during the past eight years.  That is why I found the original cat colony on Darby Road in such a desperate situation.  Of the two female orange cats in the colony that I was able to trap one had to be euthanized because of inoperable skin cancer on her face. I took the other who I named Sayda home because she was disabled by a brute force to her head that had shattered her teeth, deformed her face, and impaired her vision and hearing. Sayda lived in the house for three years mostly in the dark corners of the storage area of the loft before I had to euthanize her in October 2014 due to a number of life-threatening illnesses that required care she would not allow.  I trapped Smokey, a male cat that pestered other cats and took him to Analy Veterinarian Hospital, where he was also diagnosed with advanced disease fostered by FIV infection and was euthanized.  This left me with two cats—Calico, a large, older, very skittish, calico female, and Lulu, a mellow mannered black male cat who bonded with me quickly.  With help from John Woodward, we built three cat condos (I found the design on the web) with insulation that would warm up inside quickly with the cat’s body heat for the coming cold and wet winter months.  Alas, by the time the winter arrived, there were only two cats left. I surrounded the condos with various boards to make it impossible for coyotes to get close to the door to them so the cats could hide inside and be safe.  There was also a trashed garage across the street where a really big young man lived a mysterious life.  He was a low-paid worker who showed up occasionally and came and left quietly in his very large truck. 

As I learned from the few who cared for feral cats and who had lived in the neighborhood for a while, a female renter had taken care of this colony and she had led an effort to spay and neuter feral cats in the neighborhood (probably with help from Forgotten Felines). Unfortunately, she also suffered from psychosis and was hospitalized and had to move out of Sonoma County so the colony her support for months until I arrived. 

Sometimes in the spring of 2013, Steven who appeared to me to be in his early fifties perhaps because he walked with a cane because of a heart attack that also financially ruined him, asked me to take care of a feral cat named Oskar.  At the time, Steven who loved cats and dogs was house- and cat-sitting for Stuart who owned the rundown house at the corner of Darby Road as it turned east towards my house.  Stuart had two exceptional young larger male cats who were brothers. He had named the black cat Frank and the white cat with black spots Ernest (everyone called him Ernie). Frank always amazed me with his love of dogs, especially Elko, who was a very large but very sweet dog. Every time Les and Nancy walked Elko to our end of Darby Road, Frank and Elko greeted each other. Neither cats were spayed and Ernie was running all over the neighborhood getting into a fight with other male cats. Katherine, who also owned the property that bordered with the original cat colony, once asked me if Ernie was “your cat” and when I told her he was not she threatened to shoot Ernie if he ever came again to her property! I appealed to Steven to urge Stuart to spay Ernie and Frank. He did and Stuart finally forked over the money for Steven to proceed with it. 

Ernie. Photo: Kamran Nayeri
Stuart was in the process of relocating to Colorado even though he was suffering from pancreatic cancer that killed him soon after he settled there.  He had the house on the market for sale and Steven was forced to move to another county where low-income housing was available.  While living in Stuart’s house, Steven had brought in a small male Siamese cat named Coco who was FIV positive and as Steven was preparing to move away seemed gravely ill with very badly infected eyes.  Steven could not afford veterinarian care for Coco or even high-quality cat food that could have boosted his immune system. Luckily, Les and Nancy who also lived up on the hill on Darby Road adopted Coco.  They took Coco for veterinarian care, gave him good food, a comfortable home, and a lot of love. Coco revived, his eyes cleared up, his fur turned fuller and shiny, and he enjoyed games Nancy and Les played with him.  He lived a couple of years longer and all of it in happiness. 

Steven was also feeding Oskar, a smokey colored small male feral cat with a square face and a great, mellow personality.  Unbeknown to Stuart, Oskar had made the basement of his house into his den and could get in and out through a broken window.  Steven served Oskar’s food by the house or in the decades-old rundown huge chicken barn. Steven told me that Oskar sometimes came inside the house and slept near him with Coco. 

Initially, I served Oskar food and water in the rundown chicken barn.  As run down as it was, the barn had a tin roof and offered some protection from the elements to Oskar and other small mammals, as well as birds, and even deer who rested in between piles of discarded building materials in hotter summer days.  Unfortunately, the house-sitter Stuart hired—he took Ernie and Frank in his final trip to Colorado—to replace Steven was a psychopath named Bert who hated cats and immediately ordered me set foot on “his” property to serve Oskar.

It took a while for Oskar to adjust being served across the street under the blackberry bushes where a small relatively flat area existed. I had to crawl in and out it at the turn of the road to serve Oskar and a number of times the thuggish house-sitter tried to run me out of the road into the creek. Bert who had transferred his dislike for Oskar onto me three times tried to run me over as he arrived when I was serving Oskar and had to step down to the feeding area or up onto Darby Road.  The problem got bad enough that I reported it to the County Sheriff and related it to two of my neighbors.  Finally, Steven who was in touch with me by phone told Stuart about this problem. Stuart then told Bert to stop harassing me.  Although he did not entirely stop his hostility he retreated from the more aggressive acts. 

Before Stuart died of pancreatic cancer, he sold the house to a young couple with money who demolished it and the old chicken barn and built a new house. Within a couple years, they brought in a couple with a tiny home as renters and then built an apartment on part of where the barn was and rented it as well.  This process took time and Oskar died within a year after I came to care for him.  Meanwhile, I had come to care for two Siamese cats. 

In the earlier phase when I was still serving Oskar in the old chicken barn a large male Siamese cat appeared who was so hungry that he would steal Oskar’s food as I was looking elsewhere.  After I discovered who was stealing Oskar’s food as I was waiting for him to finish (in my experience, most people do not realize that one cannot just leave cat food on the side of a road hoping the intended cat will come and eat it!  People were often puzzled why I brought the food, served it in a dish, and then took everything back to the house with me except for the water bowl).  Soon, I began to serve Mocha as well except he was very wild and would not approach his food dish unless I step away from a fair distance. As our relationship became regular I named him Mocha and he took a cavity under a pile of scrapped wood at the far corner of the old chicken barn as his home.  Unbeknown to me, Mocha was gravely ill and stopped eating after a few months and then disappeared as dying feral cats often do. 

A short while after I began to serve Oskar across the road under the blackberry bushes, a younger female Siamese cat appeared in the creek in the direction of the marijuana farm. This cat was also very skittish and obviously hungry.  Still, it took her a few weeks before hunger forced her to come to where I served Oskar and ate from the bowl I left for her near where Oskar ate.  Clearly, she and Oskar knew each other as neither minded the other eating a foot away.  In fact, the two of them became friends.  

Soon after, I noticed a small wound on Oskar’s right ear. I figured he must have had a fight. But the wound did not heal and grew slowly.  Given my experience with Orange Kitty Number 2, the cat with skin cancer in the original colony who I had to euthanize, I began to worry about Oskar having skin cancer. FIV infection rate is high among feral cats, especially male cats who are more likely to fight. FIV spreads in the cat population through biting.  I was debating what to do with Oskar. Should I trap him as the disease advances and have him euthanized or let him succumb to the disease on his own and die.  

On February 13, 2013, after I served dinner to Oskar and Latte under the blackberry bushes and took away their dishes, I returned to see Latte sitting along Oskar stretching her right arm across his back and licking his face, so clearly a sign of affection. Oskar just sat there with his eye closed.   A couple of weeks later, I served dinner to the cats and Oskar ate especially well and then left.  I never saw Oskar again.

After Oskar, Latte was my only feral cat on Darby Road.  I began to debate if I should try take her home, a process that would be especially hard on her as she remaind skittish. 

Spots and Stripes
Stephen and Renée, an Irish American couple in their forties who were renters at the marijuana farm for years had decided to move to a larger apartment in town as Steve who worked at Whole Foods as a low-level manager got a raise.  They had told me that there was a family of barn cats there who they had taken care of over the years. For several months, they made a point of coming to feed these cats outside the gate of the marijuana farm.  Unlike me, they did not follow a schedule so they fed whichever of the cats who showed up.  Those that did not show up went hungry. 

After a while, I did not see Steve or Renée anymore. I assumed they come at some other time.  One day, two small smokey and white-colored cats appeared under the big oak tree across from where I serve food to Latte.  The fur on their back looked funny—one had spots where the fur seemed burned and the other had stripes where the fur seemed burned. They were very hungry and I served them food.  They began to show up again and soon were regulars.  I called them Spots and Stripes.  I never saw Steve and Renée on Darby Road again.

One day when I was shopping at Whole Foods, I ran into Steve.  He seemed embarrassed to see me.  He blurted out something like: “We thought since you are taking care of Latte you would not mind taking care of our cats… It was not practical for us to come to Darby Road every day.”  

To be sure, the round trip from their home in town to where they fed the cats was 20 minutes. But nobody serves feral cats for its convenience.  They took care of these cats as long as they lived by the barn. Once the cats were no longer outside their front door, they became a burden they would not tolerate.  

Steve said they took the large, aggressive male in the family of barn cats. But Steve never told me how many cats they left behind.  Soon, I found a miserable old cat half of her face including one eye had been eaten by skin cancer.  I learned that this was the mother cat.  I had to trap and take her to be euthanized; a heart-wrenching ordeal.

Spots and Stripes lost their spots and stripes in a few months.  I learned that they were brother and sister and that the sister was names Echo because her paws were white.  Both were very sweet cats. But the male cat stopped coming by and I learned that he was found in the farm dead apparently without any signs of injury. 

Echo and Max
A little later, another very small male cat came.  Steve and Renée had named him Max. Max was mischievous.   While Echo respected Latte’s privacy and did not venture into her eating spot, Max would not.  I had to make sure that he did not raid Latte’s food while she was eating.  Max was the smallest of the three cats. So, his behavior was simply annoying to them but did not cause them any serious trouble. 

While Latte was punctual and consistent—she never missed a meal unless she was sick or it was raining cats and dogs.  Echo and Max were not consistent or punctual.  Echo hated the rain and would never show up on a rainy day. When it rained for three days she did not come to eat for three days!  I have a feeling that they either at times successfully hunted rodents in the barn where they lived or people on the farm threw some food at them. But as I will note later, residents of the farm neither liked the cats nor liked me to take care of them. 

The cats, mostly Echo and sometimes Max, got sick from time to time and would not show up for an extended period of time.  Echo held the record of not showing up as long as two weeks due to illness that left her skin and bones. Each time I feared for her life and each time she surprised me by coming back and bouncing back by eating a lot and gaining some of the weight she had lost. 

On the evening of the day before Thanksgiving 2018, Max came for dinner.  He was not eating well for a few weeks and did not eat much that evening. I never saw Max after that. Like Mocha and Oskar, he simply disappeared. 

In the last year, I got closer to Echo and Latte. Echo loved to be brushed and I brushed her twice a day sometimes.  Latte who now allowed me to pat her and enjoyed it learned from Echo’s example and allowed me, reluctantly, to brush her as well.  

Echo and Latte hanged on for another year. But last few months I saw them both in failing health.  It was through my urging that they ate a fair amount at each meal. When Echo stopped eating, I moved her disk close to where Latte ate and she ate some more.  When Latte quit eating early, I knew rubbing her forehead and chin would encourage her to eat more. 

Before the Kincade Fire which burned October 23 to November 6, both cats ate very little.  Latte exhibited a worrisome panting as her lower abdomen pulsed uncontrollably.  I had been wondering earlier why she ate so well but was so skinny.  I feared cancer is eating her from the inside. But I did not know why she was panting.  Just before the fire started, Echo also did not eat much and a few times she threw up and that seemed to have become a pattern. She also drank water frequently.  I feared renal failure. 

In the early hours of Sunday, October 25, large sections of West County, which included me, were ordered to evacuate.  I was only able to put Siah in a carrier and left for San Rafael to stay with Saeed and Mina, my longtime friends. Panther had gone out an hour before the evacuation order was issued and was not responding to my calls. Of course, I had no hope of taking Echo and Latte. 

The evacuation order was issued because of high winds. The power company, PG&E, had cut off power to millions of residents.  Tens of thousands were on the road trying to find a safe haven somewhere.  

Saeed and Mina had no power either. But they had running water and natural gas.  By early Monday morning, the high winds had largely died down.  I decided to return and made it back to Darby Road by about 8:30 a.m.  There were only a few cars on the highway and even fewer on the country roads and none in the town. 

When I got a tray of food and went to the road and called for Latte and Echo, Latte came out of the blackberry bushes with a loud heart-wrenching cry as if in sharp pain.  Her abdomen was pulsing and despite my urging, she ate almost nothing. Echo came and ate a little but threw up her food; her saliva was sticky and foamy. She proceeded to try to drink some water. 

I decided it was to euthanize Latte—she seemed in pain, unable to eat, and was showing up because she wanted to see me or repeat an experience that was once rewarding to her.  Analy Veterinarian Hospital in Sebastopol was closed and so were just about all cats and dog hospitals. But VCA Hospital in Rohnert Park about 30 minutes away was open. I called them and told them I had to bring in a cat to be euthanized.  The receptionist said there were 51 patients in line at that time. That was not a good time to take in Latte. The next morning, I called before I went to the road. There was only one patient in line. 

When I called Latte, she again came out the blackberry bushes crying loud. Her abdomen pulsing fast. I offered her some food but she was not interested. She sat there miserable as if about to die.  I picked up, wrapped her in a towel I had brought, and placed her into a small carrier I had borrowed. She put up a little resistance as Latte has always been skittish and I was doing something well beyond what she liked. But then she became quite resting inside the carried covered in the towel.  

As I drove to the VCA Animal Hospital I talked to Latte to give her some comfort. But I heard no response from her. I feared if she was dead.  I did not dare to look. 

At VCA Animal Hospital which was very quiet, I was taken into an examination room to wait for the attending veterinarian.  It was Wednesday, October 28, at about 8:30 in the morning. A nurse came and took the carrier to another room. About ten minutes later, the attending veterinarian came into the room with a saddened face. He said: “I am sorry but Latte is already dead.”  Apparently, Latte who always feared people but learned to trust me had died of a heart attack as I tried to take her to be euthanized. I was relieved that she did not endure the torment of being taken to the hospital and being handled by people she did not know only to be euthanized.

On Sunday morning, November 3 I had to take Echo to be euthanized. Her situation was different from Latte in that she was not facing an immediate threat to her life by a failing heart. But she was weakened by not being able to hold down what she ate and was starving as a result.  Echo who was friendly to people did not mind me placing her into the carrier and closing the door on her. But she began to complain about her confinement as we drove the distance to the VCA Animal Hospital.  A very intelligent cat, Latte did not seem like a good candidate to be euthanized. So the middle-aged woman who was the attending veterinarian had to examine her before deciding that it was the ethically right course to take.  Echo would not allow a proper examination and jumped out of the carrier and tried to jump up the computer desk but could not. Her mere movement and apparent weakness convinced the veterinarian that there was no way to walk her back to health and it was prudent to save her from the agony of dying from starvation that may take a couple of weeks.  A crew came in to catch Echo and they took her to be euthanized. I declined the offer to be present for the process of injecting her sedated body with medication that would stop her heart. She died about 10:30; always a feisty, friendly, and beautiful cat.

I buried Latte and Echo below the redwood trees where other cats have been previously buried. Greg, my neighbor, and friend used his tractor to bring a 160lb. rock on which Echo sat to view the vineyard and I brought the lighter flat rock where I had their water bowl placed for them.  They served as the tombstones. 

The last days of the Cat Man of Darby Road
Thus, my eight years and three months of daily service for the feral cats on Darby Road came to an end.  I was such a constant presence that some of my neighbors called me the Cat Man of Darby Road.  I would not deny that I fell in love with these cats and I looked forward to serving them even in the harshest weather. I always admired Latte who showed up for her meals even when it was raining cats and dogs. But I also suffered a lot of stress both because I care for these cats and because of what I saw from my fellow human beings.  In the summers when coyotes visited the neighborhood, I feared for the feral cats’ safety. In fact, I lost Calico who was an older and perhaps sick and weakened female cat to coyotes.  In winter, when the temperatures dropped to close to freezing or to freezing I had trouble sleeping thinking of these cats who had to make do in the cavities of the creek which was cold and damp.  Or when it was stormy for days, and some cats, like Echo, would not eat for a few days. 

But I suffered even more stress from my fellow human beings.  Some were outright hostile to me taking care of these cats. I recounted how Bert, a poor white man himself in need of compassion, tried to drive me away and run me over by speeding around the curve on Darby Road where I fed the cats.  The occupants of the marijuana farm for some reason took a hostile attitude towards me serving food to the cats that lived under their barn and they refused to feed!  Heather, the wife who walked her three dogs unleashed on Darby Road, started by tossing water bowls I left for the cats into the creek and when I replaced the bowls with new ones, someone, I suspected her, for overturning the flat rock on which water bowl was placed. One day, as I pulled into the spot by the side of the road that left room for cars to come and go, one of her dogs sneaked from under my car and bit me. When I complained to her she told me I was laying and when I showed her my bleeding ankle she did not even apologize. She simply pulled away from her dogs and went back to the farm.  I had to report the episode to Animal Control and check for possible rabies.  That started a minor war against me because she was now ordered to keep her dogs on leash as is required by law. And she was given notice that if her dog bites another time she could be euthanized. Of course, I had no desire to cause any harm to the dog so I did not file a civil complaint against Heather. But Frank who befriended me when I was taking care of the original colony now turned into an enemy. They tried every trick in the book to stopped me from taking care of these cats to no avail. Meanwhile, I found out that others have been bitten by the same dog. Marijuana dogs are trained to be hostile to people.

It took a year and a half before Frank and I finally made up and Frank asked Heather to observe the law and walk her dogs on leash and avoid doing so when I was serving the cats. 

The same woman, Katherine, who warned me that she would shoot Ernies, the young male cat if he goes near her house, used to walk by my and ask: “Aren’t the cats dead yet?” 

Others who were not outright hostile were expressing disapproval.  When sections of the culvert over the creek where I serve the cats failed because rainwater running under the asphalt, a neighbor suggested it was because of me walking in and out of culvert to serve Latte!  Of course, when I called in engineers they did not agree with such an assertion. 

Others who walked their dogs on Darby Road allowed them to poop exactly where I served Echo and Latte.  So I had to clean up each time after them!  It never occurred to them to respect these cats to have a small area around the creek as their own free of garbage and dog poop. Still, others drove on Darby Road at high speed and did not slow down when they passed where the cats were having their meal.  Of course, this bothered the cats and I always feared they could run over them.   

In my twenty years of living with many cats, I have also discovered that our problematic relationship with them is not limited to outright hostility or simple ignorance.  The problem is rooted in anthropocentrism, deeply embedded in much of world culture, in which we are raised to believe that nature, including all living beings, exists for a human purpose and we ourselves are therefore separate from and superior to them.  As I noted earlier, there were three Siamese cats on my end of Darby Road--Coco, Mocha, and Latte.  I found out where they come from Steve and Renée.  A young couple who were renters in the marijuana farm decided to raise Siamese cats to sell them as a business. Once they raised a brood of Siamese cats they discovered there were no customers. They left and left the brood of cats behind to fend off for themselves. Thus, sheer human stupidity resulted in lifetime misery of a number of cats, including Mocha, Coco, and Latte. 

I have offended many good and close friends who have visited me over the years when I have asked them to please be respectful of the cats in the house.  It is not at all unusual for them to walk into the house that belongs to the cats as a guest and immediately rush to the cats to pat them or to play with them. Never it occurs to them that we do not do the same when we arrive in someone’s house and rush to touch or play with their children who we do not know.  We keep a certain distance from other humans in accordance with our relationship with them. To respectfully get closer to any other human requires a certain degree of mutual trust that depends on the state of our relationship.  Twenty years of living with cats or taking care of feral cats have taught me that they require the same care as my fellow human beings as I try to develop a relationship with them.  

Of course, this problem is not limited to our relationship with cats but extends to our relationship with all other living beings.  Clearly, the only healthy relationship we can have with them is one based on respect for them.  Anyone familiar with how life and ecosystems have developed on Earth should have no difficulty to understand that our relationship with other species is pathological.  And this is at the root of the existential eco-social crisis we face today.

Those who feel sympathetic for my view often also mistake my love for cats as a preference for them—“he is a cat man.” It is common to divide people into “cat people” and “dog people.”  My friends are taken aback when I tell them that I am not really a cat person. In fact, in my ideal world, there would be no domestication and no domesticated animals. If we have a billion dogs and cats, a majority as feral, we have a crisis of civilization. Cats and dogs are an invasive species.  According to Pete Marra who heads of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center “free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.3–4.0 billion birds and 6.3–22.3 billion mammals annually.” The reason for the discrepancy was the woeful lack of data on feral cat populations and their lifestyles (“The Moral Cost of Cats,” Smithsonian, 2016).  What is lost in the controversy between the “cat people” and “bird people” is that the spread of the cat population to about 500 billion across the world is entirely due to human civilization?  All cats have genetically related to the first domesticated cats in the Fertile Crescent some 5,000 years ago.  


One morning as I was writing this tribute to Max, Echo and Latte and other feral cats on Darby Road, I noticed something that looked like a white cat at the corner of my neighbor’s property.  Frank had told me about a white cat that walks on the edge of the marijuana farm.  I took my binoculars and looked at the area. Sure enough, I saw a white cat sitting there looking intently in the direction of Darby Road!  All of a sudden, I face a number of questions: what am I supposed to do? Take some food for the hungry cat? Ignore it to go away? 

I decided that if the cat has been around for some time—maybe months—the cat knows where to get food.  I left the house to do my errands. When I returned, a light rain had fallen.  I looked to see if the cat is gone. To my surprise, the cat was still there in the same position!  I decide to take a photo of the cat. So, I walked slowly in the direction of the cat a good distance away. As I got halfway closer to the cat, I realized what I thought was a white cat was really a white trash can liner that some careless neighbor of mine had let loose and the wind brought it to this location. There was no white cat needing my care except in my mind. 

It also reminded me of a side benefit of serving the feral cats on Darby Road: I cleaned the area including the street of debris, from plastics, broken glass, empty cans, styrofoam, etc. that my neighbors, the passerby, or even the garbage collectors spread in the neighborhood. 

Friday, November 15, 2019

3293. Courageous UAW Strike Ends With Few Gains

By David Jones, Socialist Action, November 10, 2019

Some 47,897 United Automobile Workers (UAW) ended their six-week strike against U.S. auto manufacturing giant General Motors on October 31. Fifty UAW-organized plants were closed across the country with the union demanding increased job security, a gateway for temporary workers to become permanent, better pay and to retain healthcare benefits. The contract was approved by a vote of 57 percent, more an indication that workers believed that the result was “the best that they could get,” rather than what they had fought for.
Noting that the central focus of the strikers was “equality,” that is, the abolition of the hated multiple-tier wage and classification system, long-term Labor Notes staff writer Jane Slaughter summed up the essentials: “The same tiers that existed in the old contract will exist in the new one. Some of today’s temps will be hired into the second tier—but new ones will be hired to take their place, at lower wages than before.”
Slaughter continued, “But this is the auto industry. Layoffs happen. I met workers who’d been laid off multiple times over the years, as temps—and each time, they would start over again at the hire-in wage of less than $16 an hour. The new proposal changes that—temps will no longer get any pay hikes at all. They will make the same $16.67 wage the entire time they remain in that status.” Slaughter continues with a sad listing of at least ten tiers in the new contract, each designed by GM, with UAW officials’ complicity, to extract ever new profits out of the hides of workers.
She concludes: “The tier system has left thousands of auto workers performing the same jobs union members did in the past for far less pay and with fewer, if any, benefits.”
Standing near a burn barrel outside Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Wednesday, Bruno, a worker who declined to state his name, said he would vote yes because “we’re not going to get any more out of them. It’s unfortunate we had to go out to get the same thing we got before.” Another Hamtramck worker, Worley, worried about the union’s future. “They say ‘we’ll get ’em next time,’” he said, “but there may not be a next time. We lost 30,000 jobs in the last 10 years.” The UAW now has just under 400,000 members, down from 1.5 million in 1979, and 540,000 in 2006. The decline in union membership at GM is matched by the same decline across the entire trade union movement, with today’s percentage of organized workers the lowest in more than a century. The statistics for the number of major strikes over the same period are similarly revealing.
From 1947 to 1981, strikes of all kinds involving at least 1,000 workers were all in the triple digits. From 1982 to 2019, no strikes of over 1,000 occurred, and during most of those years the total strikes of any duration was under 30, and only 5 in 2009 and 7 in 2017. The total number of workers involved was in the millions until 1980, sinking to 12,500 in 2009 and 25,300 in 2017, coinciding almost exactly with the beginning of the U.S. employers’ relentless offensive against organized labor.
At the same time, “foreign” automakers, such as Nissan, Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz, all with new billion-dollar manufacturing plants, generally employing in excess of 1,000 workers, (4,000 at the Vance, Alabama Mercedes Benz plant) flourish largely in the American South, where average hourly wages in non-union plants run between $23 and $25 an hour, according to the Center for Automotive Research (CAR). With the new contract today, organized UAW plants are increasingly “competitive” with non-union manufacturing, a boon to all employers and yet another monstrous concession by UAW tops who, on their knees, make the one percent ever richer to maintain union jobs.
Failed UAW strategy repeated
On day one of the strike, the UAW bureaucrats began with the failed strategy pioneered more than a half century ago by then-top UAW official Walter Reuther, who suggested that striking GM only, as opposed to striking simultaneously the Big Three automakers, would exert maximum pressure on a singe corporation. This “one-at-a-time strategy” might have been good for the Union Army in the Civil War, but in the modern automotive industry the Big Three or their modern-day auto titan corporations are well-prepared, if not grateful to the UAW. The non-struck corporations simply agree on private pacts with the “target company” that include “mutual financial aid” as a part of their unbreakable united front against the union. The unstruck corporations, who obviously sell more cars than expected, agree to share their otherwise unexpected boon with the struck company. No doubt they found a way to make their “contributions” qualify as tax deductible to boot!
After sufficiently extracting its pound of flesh from the UAW negotiators, GM sweetened its final offer with an $11,000 “signing bonus” for selected categories of workers. No doubt, this too is fully tax deductible—by GM, not by their employees.
The deadly routinism practiced during the strike by the UAW misleaders is captured well by a Labor Notes reporter. “Yes, production was shut down tight, with scabbing negligible, although at the Tech Center police escorted scab janitors through the lines with no hassle from picketers. Bank of America estimated that GM lost $2 billion in the strike’s first four weeks—though the strike was begun when dealers’ lots were full, and customers did not feel the impact. So timing was, shall we say, not well considered.”
Labor Notes continues: “UAW members’ role was confined to picketing and to volunteering for duties such as snack delivery. Before the strike, officials made no attempt to involve members in a contract campaign. Not a button was distributed in the plants. There was no survey of the membership, no contract action teams, no bargaining bulletins to keep members in the loop. No ‘practice picketing,’ no turn-down of overtime—some plants building popular models worked scads of overtime right up till the bell—no outreach to the public, no open bargaining. Members knew only what they read in the media. Although union statements referred to GM’s $35 billion in profits over the last three years, [following its unprecedented government bailout –Ed.] there was no attempt to rally the public against what could have been this year’s poster child for corporate greed. It almost seemed as if UAW officials didn’t want to be too rude to the counterparts with whom their usual relationship is ‘partnership.’”
The watchword of the UAW workers at the strike’s outset was “equality.” They struck to return their union to a single wage scale applicable to all GM workers and an end to the heinous multiple-tier system aimed at dividing workers in ever-increasing and humiliating ways. In the end, the lower-tier workers voted against the contract, while the more relatively secure higher-tier ranks, skeptical that more could be won, reluctantly voted approval.
UAW leadership corruption
Here we can only add to our critique of the failed class collaborationist “strategies” of the UAW misleaders their outright corruption. In August, IRS and FBI agents raided the home of Gary Jones, newly elected UAW president and just one of several targets in a multi-state raid. Although Jones has not been charged with any crime, twelve people have been charged in the corruption investigation, including Edward Robinson, a union official with ties to Jones. Jones has taken a leave of absence, apparently on the advice of the union’s executive board. Rory Gamble, UAW Vice President for Ford Motor Co., has been designated “Acting President.”
Former UAW official Joseph Ashton, who “retired” from the UAW in 2014, has been accused by federal prosecutors of demanding and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks and improperly using his position to illegally benefit himself and others. An alleged scheme identified by federal prosecutors involved a nearly $4 million contract with the joint UAW-GM Center for Human Resources training facility for commemorative watches. According to the filing, Ashton demanded $250,000 from the vendor, which he had instructed to create a new company to produce the watches, which were never distributed to members.
Today, the $4 million order remains packed away in a warehouse near the Detroit River. Still, federal investigators say, the deal accomplished what it was intended to do. The UAW official who arranged it collected a $250,000 kickback. Two others split $95,000 disguised as payments for “furniture.” That still left well over $1 million in profit for the vendor — a Philadelphia chiropractor who got into the watch business solely to recoup a bad loan he had made to a friend of one of the union officials, according to Automotive News (August 18, 2019).
 Edward Robinson, a union official with ties to Jones, has been accused of conspiring with union leaders to “embezzle, steal, and unlawfully and willfully abstract” more than $1.5 million from the union for personal gain, according to a criminal filing.  
And there’s more to come. In the dinosaur days of the American labor movement, union leaders used to be busted for accumulating guns, bombs and other devices they felt would be useful for defense against scabs, thugs and cops. Now it’s commemorative watches. No doubt giant corporations like GM have little or no objections to corrupt union officials. In fact, the elite one percent literally write the laws that make their daily theft and extraction of wealth via a myriad of devices, “legal.” With regard to corrupt union officials, the boss class, with government spy agency assistance, is more than skilled at blackmailing union crooks in return for their “cooperation” at the bargaining table.
What union activists across the country witnessed for six long weeks was some 50,000 proud and courageous GM workers taking the field of action at a time when the employer offensive against the broad working class has reached fever pitch. A decisive victory for the GM strikes, and especially a victory based on workers uniting in a fight for equal pay and working conditions for all, would have represented an inspiring example. While workers fully demonstrated their capacity to endure great hardships toward this end, their sacrifice was fundamentally undermined by a hardened bureaucratic misleadership whose sole outlook is to maintain its “partnership” with the bosses and thus preserve, if not expand, corporate profits regardless of the cost to the ranks. The forging of a class struggle alternative leadership to these sellout bureaucrats will stand high on the agenda of serious union fighters in the period ahead.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

3292. Will the US Be a Dystopian Hellscape in 2100 if Emissions Keep Rising?

By Kristy Dalh, Union of Concerned Scientists Blog, July 22, 2019
The US is on a path to an unrecognizably hot future. Here’s what that looks like and how to change course.
Last week, UCS released Killer Heat, a report analyzing how the frequency of days with a dangerously hot heat index–the combination of temperature and humidity the National Weather Service calls the “feels like” temperature–will change in response to the global emissions choices we make in the coming decades.
When I’m deep in an analysis, like the one for Killer Heat and its companion peer-reviewed article, I often have trouble sleeping. I lie awake in the middle of the night trying to get bits of troublesome computer code to work in my head or thinking through all of the boxes that need to be checked before we start writing the report. The Killer Heat analysis kept me awake for an entirely different reason: the results terrified me.

An unrecognizably hot future

To get a sense of why, project yourself, for a moment, into the future: It’s late in the century, sometime between 2070 and 2099. We’ve stayed on our current global carbon emissions path, and the rise in emissions has continued to outpace our efforts to cut them. Kids who were in elementary school in 2019 are retiring, and this is their United States:
  • For the equivalent of a week or more each year, about 120 million people across the country are exposed to conditions so hot, the heat index (or “feels like” temperature) surpasses the limits of the National Weather Service’s heat index charts. The upper limit of the heat index scale falls at or above 127°F, depending on temperature and humidity. In other words, they step outside and are hit with a wall of heat that feels upwards of 130°F. How far upwards? That we don’t know.
  • In 47 of the lower 48 states, these “off-the-charts” conditions occur in at least one county at least once a year. When this happens, the National Weather Service cannot reliably calculate the heat index. Historically, “off-the-charts” conditions have only occurred in the Sonoran Desert region, along the California-Arizona border, and only for a few days each year.
    By late century, with no action to reduce emissions, more than 60% of the US ( would experience at least one "off-the-charts" day in an average year. These conditions are so hot they exceed the National Weather Service's heat index scale. They historically have affected less than 1% of the US in an average year.
    By late century, with no action to reduce emissions, more than 60% of the US ( would experience at least one “off-the-charts” day in an average year. These conditions are so hot they exceed the National Weather Service’s heat index scale. They historically have affected less than 1% of the US in an average year.
  • The number of days per year that feel like 105°F or hotter is eight times higher than it has been historically. Every major city in Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa — and a total of more than 290 populous US cities (greater than 50,000 people) — swelters for the equivalent of a month of such conditions in an average year. [Map showing cities with 30+ days of 105+ conditions (late century, no action)]
  • Every major city in Michigan experiences 30 or more days per year with a heat index above 100°F, except Muskegon, which averages 29. (Cities in Wisconsin and Minnesota are no better off.)
  • Residents of Tampa, Florida, Laredo, Texas, and 15 more large cities in Florida and Texas endure 150 days or more per year with a heat index above 100°F.
    With no action to reduce emissions, by late century large swaths of the Sunbelt would experience more than 100 days per year with a heat index above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
    With no action to reduce emissions, by late century large swaths of the Sunbelt would experience more than 100 days per year with a heat index above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Famously cool places average 30 days or more with a heat index above 90°F: Seattle, Washington (30); Portland, Maine (48); Portland, Oregon (53). (In Seattle, two-thirds of homes currently lack air-conditioning.)
  • In more than 80 counties across Texas and Florida, in an average year, the heat index is above 90°F for half the year (180 days). In broad strokes, that means that spring is very hot, fall is very hot, and summer can be downright deadly.
It’s an unfathomably hot future, and it’s the one we’re on track to hand off to our children and grandchildren. Where do we encourage our children to settle down in this world? Will it be safe for their children play outside in the summer? And what do we tell Gen Z today when they strike and march and plead with us to change course?

Choosing a safer future

As my coauthors and I began to dig more deeply into our results, a second potential future came into clearer focus: In this future, rapid, aggressive action to reduce global emissions has limited global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures. These ambitious actions still lead to a future in which the number of days with a dangerously high heat index above 105°F is nearly four times what it is today, and 85 of the bigger US cities would endure a month or more of such conditions.
Clearly, we need to be aiming for even greater, even faster cuts to our emissions. Yet limiting future warming to 2°C would yield a future far more recognizable to today’s children than the one we’re recklessly barreling toward, in which 290 cities suffer under such heat.
Rapidly and aggressively reducing emissions would limit the number of cities that would experience 30 days or more per year with a heat index above 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
Rapidly and aggressively reducing emissions would limit the number of cities that would experience 30 days or more per year with a heat index above 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
That’s the future I have to focus on so I can sleep at night. Ensuring this safer future will require us to act on two major fronts: reducing emissions swiftly so that we can achieve net-zero carbon emissions by midcentury and limit future global warming; and building our resilience to extreme heat through a suite of common sense measures that include enacting a national heat safety standard for outdoor workers and ensuring that communities have heat warning systems in place that draw on the best available public health information.
This future may be the next-best thing to the one we’d ideally hand off to our children, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the one we’re currently heading toward. The best time to boldly begin pursuing this safer future was 20 years ago. The next-best time is now.