Here, Kitty, Kitty (2007)

“Shoot, Shovel and Shut up.”

The lively, thought-provoking documentary film Here, Kitty, Kitty from director Andy Beversdorf examines a 2005 proposal to deny feral cats in Wisconsin legal protection and instead allow them to be shot on sight. This is one of those things you hear about and wonder if people have taken leave of their senses. The proposed law can most certainly be filed under the heading what the HELL were they thinking?

In April 2005, in Wisconsin, Mark Smith proposed redefining free roaming feral domestic cats as an unprotected species. This proposition, with its accompanying argument that feral cats were responsible for decimating the bird population in rural Wisconsin, would permit the shooting of cats who appeared outdoors without the direct supervision of owners or without collars. The highly controversial proposition attracted worldwide attention and was known as Question 62. Obviously, the proposed law was fraught with problems and potential abuse, but some saw Q 62 as “doing the state of Wisconsin a favour.”

Question 62: “Do you favour the DNR (Dept. of Natural Resources) take steps to define free roaming feral domestic cats as an unprotected species?” appeared before the Wisconsin Conservation Congress. Although the measure passed by 6,830 to 5,201, the Executive Board of the Conservation Congress did NOT recommend Q62 to the Wisconsin legislature. Some of those involved noted (and rightly so) that to adopt a law stating that it was ok to shoot cats would make Wisconsin a laughing stock.

In spite of the fact that Here, Kitty, Kitty is ostensibly about the fate of cats, the film which examines both sides of the emotionally charged Q62 debate, surprisingly is about people, and by extension the varied ways in which we view animals. Here, Kitty, Kitty captures the high drama of the public hearings and owes a great deal to its engaging interviewees. Some of those interviewed care passionately about cats; others regard them as vermin. And when these attitudes collide, naturally, it gets ugly….

Pet shop owner and cat lover Ted O’Donnell appears throughout the film as a spokesperson for the grassroots movement created to fight Q 62. Articulate and sincere, O’Donnell argues against the proposed change stating that the law lacks “common sense” and is fraught with “isolated logic.” While O’Donnell rips into Q 62, Professor Stanley Temple, an avian ecologist, and former professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, thoughtfully explains how he had “nothing to do with the proposal” but that when his research was used as a “justification” for Q62, he began to receive death threats.

Retired farmer Gordon King from Lincoln County stoked the controversy when it was discovered that he captured and subsequently drowned a mother cat and her kittens who wandered onto his property. Arguing that he was a follower of environmentalist Aldo Leopold, King justifies cat killings with an illogical argument: “How many people know enough about the life of animals to even be able to make any kind of a decision as to how to put them down?”

In spite of that statement, King evidently felt that he DID know enough to make that decision, and stating, “It doesn’t take any experience to drown things,” he admits that he drowned the cats. With the volatile and emotional debate raging in Wisconsin, King’s case received a great deal of attention, but amazingly, the DA’s office chose not to pursue charges against King. And this, of course, may lead one to the logical conclusion that it’s perfectly ok in Wisconsin to drown cats….

Curious, I did a google search of cat drownings, and discovered many cases across the country in which people were successfully prosecuted for the same action. I don’t live in Wisconsin, so call me crazy, but the drowning of cats is not acceptable. Period.

There’s a great deal of information packed here in 62 minutes–an interview with a hobby farmer who owns a number of plump well-fed and neutered cats, Stanley Temple’s fascinating research on feral cats (“an exotic non-native predator”) and the decimation of the bird population in rural Wisconsin, and also coverage of a Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) programme which attempts to help control the stray cat population. The film’s strongest section is the juxtaposition of clips of Ted O’Donnell and Stanley Temple as they present their opposing arguments.

All fascinating stuff. As of 3/08, Here, Kitty, Kitty is not available for commercial release. As for me, I love cats, but I don’t expect my neighbours to, so my cats stay inside safe and sound. Watching the film reinforces the idea that not everyone loves cats and reminds me exactly why I decided to keep my cats inside in the first place.

For more information on Here, Kitty, Kitty go to www.prolefeedstudios.com

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1 Comment

Filed under Documentary, Political/social films

One response to “Here, Kitty, Kitty (2007)

  1. Bonnie

    Stan Temple has said on Wisconsin Public radio that the greater impact on bird populations is development and loss of habitat. So did his predecessor as chair of the UW-Madison wildlife ecology department., ornithologist Joseph Hickey.

    So it’s humans who have the greater impact on bird populations with their destruction of large tracts of forested land , pollution of air and water, filling in of wetlands. We nearly wiped out the bald eagle, peregrine falcons, and other raptors with our use of DDT.

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