Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sympathy for Pedophiles

I think people should show more sympathy for pedophiles.

I would like to make it clear that I am not excusing child sexual abuse. I know firsthand how harmful it can be, and the research clearly shows that child sexual abuse is linked with a pile of mental health issues, such as mood/anxiety disorders, substance abuse, sexual offending, dissociative disorders and personality disorders. Having sex with a child can cause that child misery for decades afterwards. It's never OK.

But pedophiles aren't the monsters people make them out to be. They don't set out to ruin a child's life. They don't cackle to themselves and think 'how can I make this child miserable?' Research shows that contrary to stereotypes, most child molestors are not psychopaths - in fact, rapists have far higher rates of psychopathy, as do non-sexual offenders. The only category of child sexual abusers who do have high psychopathy rates are those who offend against both children and adults, who make up a small proportion of sex offenders.

And not all pedophiles sexually abuse children, nor are all child sexual abusers pedophiles. In fact, among criminal populations, the best predictor of pedophilia is not child sexual abuse, but viewing child pronography. And there are no doubt other pedophiles who don't even watch child pornography - it's just that they're hard to study because they haven't gotten caught.

Nevertheless, it is true that being a pedophile greatly increases a man's (most pedophiles are men) risk of sexually abusing a child. But this isn't because they want to hurt children.

Pedophilia, by definition, means you feel a desire to engage in sexual behavior with a child. Although most normal men are a bit attracted to teenagers (but prefer adults), sexual attraction to pre-pubertal children is quite abnormal. And it's not a choice, any more than whether you prefer men or women is a choice. (Fortunately, gays and lesbians can act on their sexual feelings in a healthy, consensual manner, which makes their situation very different from pedophiles.) There are even a few cases of pedophilia linked to organic brain diseases such as brain tumors.

Now, it's possible to feel those feelings and never act on them. But people differ in their strength of willpower. And poor willpower is not a moral failing, it's a failure of executive functions. People also vary in the intensity of their sexual desire, and more intense sexual desire requires more willpower not to act on it.

Furthermore, it can be really unpleasant emotionally to feel that your desires are morally wrong. This is why many pedophiles look for ways to justify their actions. They don't want to think of themselves as someone who hurts children, or wants to hurt children. So they try to argue that sexual contact between an adult and a child doesn't hurt the child, at least if you do it right. (It's true that some forms of child sexual abuse are less harmful than others, but there is no way to have sexual contact with a child without harming them. And earlier societies didn't have ways of having sexual contact with children without harming them, they just didn't notice the harm because they were less aware of psychological problems.) People have a strong desire to make their actions fit their values, and failing that, to make their values match their actions.

And the stigma of pedophilia hurts, as well. This is illustrated by the story of the guy with the brain tumor linked to above, which I'll relay here for those who don't have access to the full-text. Pre-tumor, he was a fan of pronography involving adults, but had no interest in child pronography. Then, as his tumor began to grow, he got interested in child pornography. He knew it was wrong, but he couldn't stop himself, so instead he went to great lengths to hide this. As the tumor progressed, his urges grew stronger, until he began sexually abusing his stepdaughter.

She told her mother about it and he was charged with child abuse, removed from his family's home, and required to undergo treatment. He was expelled from the rehabilitation center for trying to solicit sexual favours from other inmates, and was about to go to jail when he went to the hospital with a severe headache. They suspected it was psychosomatic and admitted him to the psychiatric ward after he threatened suicide, but then when he showed balance problems, a neurological cause was suspected. An MRI showed the tumor, and surgery successfully removed it, at which point his behavior returned to normal. He was eventually felt to no longer pose a threat to his stepdaughter, and he returned home.

Several months later, he developed an interest in child pornography again, as well as a persistant headache. This time, he didn't hide it - he went straight to the hospital, where they found that the tumor had begun to grow back. They removed it again, and he's been fine ever since.

In this case, this guy literally could have died. His stepdaughter may very well have saved his life - if she hadn't told, he might have continued on without treatment until the tumor became inoperable. As it was, although he didn't get the right treatment at first, he had professionals observing him and they noticed when his symptoms started looking particularly neurological. The sequence of events when his tumor recurred are even more relevant - he sought help right away, and didn't reoffend against his stepdaughter.

If pedophilia was treated more as a mental illness rather than a moral failing, he might have sought treatment when he first developed an interest in child pornography. He knew it was wrong, knew he couldn't stop himself - but a thorough medical evaluation could've found the tumor earlier and removed it before he got to the point of abusing his stepdaughter. As it is, because he didn't seek help early, she'll have to live with the effects of that abuse for the rest of her life.

And although they didn't ask him, I'm pretty sure I know why he didn't seek treatment right away. He didn't want the stigma. He didn't want his wife to reject him, he didn't want society seeing him as a monster, and he didn't want to admit to himself that he was a pedophile.

Now, most pedophiles don't have a brain tumor. But that doesn't mean they can't be helped by treatment, because there are some successful treatments, both medical and psychological. Problem is that most pedophiles, like the guy with the brain tumor, do not seek help for themselves. They only come to the attention of treatment providers late in the story, when they've gotten caught acting inappropriately. This results in a lot of harm that could be prevented if these people had sought help earlier.

And even when they do get caught, very often the reaction isn't to provide treatment, but to punish them instead. Research shows that punishments such as jail time do absolutely nothing to change a pedohile's sexual orientation, or make it easier for them to resist acting on their desires. All they do is add an often traumatic experience and a stigmatizing criminal record onto their problems, then dump them back out without any improvement. Sometimes they'll at least reduce the opportunities to offend, by things such as criminal record checks for working with vulnerable populations. But if you really wanted to have sex with kids, there are plenty of opportunities anyways - like the volunteering programs I've been in that didn't perform record checks. (Out of four different programs working with disabled kids that I've participated in, only one required a criminal record check, and one of the ones that didn't had a great deal of opportunity to abuse kids undetected.) Furthermore, you can have contact with kids without volunteering or working for a kids' program, by simply befriending parents or neighborhood kids.

All in all, it's not just for the benefit of pedophiles that we should treat them with sympathy and help instead of reviling them. This will also help the children who could be their victims.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Big Brother Best Friend

Apart from some details, such as the fact that my brother is younger than me and we're still just as close as we always were, this pretty much perfectly describes me and my brother.

Since we're 8 years apart in age, around the age that he was starting to get to be able to have conversations with me, I was getting into one of the roughest periods of time in my life. In my first school, I was unpopular, but I had a couple of friends. But when I moved to a new school for grade 5, I ended up with no friends my own age, and more intense bullying than ever. I did have younger friends in my school, but when, at grade 7, I had to start homeschooling, I lost what friends I'd had.

For a period of several years, from 13 to 20, my brother and his friends were my only friends. I convinced myself that I didn't need friends - all I needed was for people not to pick on me - but deep down, I did feel lonely. I remember one joint birthday party (my brother and I were born two days apart) where plenty of his friends showed up, but the only couple people I decided to invite didn't show up. Many of the people there didn't realize it was my birthday too, and the only one who'd brought me a present was a three year old sibling who gave me a teddy bear.

Recently, in university, I made some friends of my own. But then I had to move away, and now I feel lonelier than ever, because I know what I'm missing. I haven't been able to find new friends, and now I'm back to hanging out only with kids much younger than me.

But my brother is always there for me. He and I remain very close. We play the same games and watch the same videos, and both of us confide our feelings to each other. With his depression, I'm often the best one to comfort him. And when I'm feeling down, he's the one who consistently shows support for me.

I hope that no matter where my future takes me, my brother and I will always be close.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Functional Impairment and Waiting to Fail

In the field of specific learning disabilities, many people have criticized the definition of LD, saying that requiring a large discrepancy between IQ and academic performance makes it difficult to identify those children who are just beginning to experience difficulties in school. For example, a child with mild dyslexia may do fine in grades 1 and 2, but when, in grade 3, expectations shift from 'learning to read' to 'reading to learn', this child's progress may plateau. You may be able to clearly see that this child doesn't appear to be gaining skills as readily as they should be, but a performance typical of a kid who's just finished grade 2 isn't poor enough to be considered deficient in an average IQ kid just finishing grade 3. This phenomenon has been termed the 'wait to fail' phenomenon. Many theorists suggest that we identify kids as LD even if they are not yet noticeably deficient in academic skills, provided that they show characteristics strongly predictive of future difficulties.

I see a similar problem in the requirement of 'functional impairment' for diagnosing psychiatric disorders. Almost every condition in the DSM-IV has a criteria that looks something like the following:

"The disturbance causes clinically significant impairments in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning."

The phrasing differs (the above was taken from the DSM-IV criteria for Asperger Syndrome) but what this means is that you can have all the characteristics of a specific condition, but if it's not currently interfering with your everyday functioning, you can't be diagnosed with the condition.

An example of how this works in practice can be given from Baron-Cohen et al (2001), in their discussion of the factor analysis and validity of the newly-designed Autism Spectrum Quotient:

"To validate the AQ in Group 3, we called in for clinical interview all subjects scoring 32+, of whom 11 agreed to be in-terviewed. Using DSM-IV criteria for autistic disorder, an experienced clinician (S.B-C.) sought to establish the number of criteria each subject met. The clinician remained blind to the AQ score of the subject being in-terviewed. Of the 11 subjects scoring 32+, 7 met cri-teria for HFA or AS. No diagnoses were actually made for two reasons: No parent was present to provide independent developmental data, and because none of those meeting criteria complained of any current unhappiness. Indeed, many of them reported that within a University setting their desire not to be sociable, together with their desire to pursue their narrow or repetitive interests (typically mathematics and computing) was not considered odd, and was even valued. Of the other 4, all met at least three criteria. In all 11 cases, however, there was evidence from self-report of significant impairment in functioning during the school years (social isolation, being bullied, and difficulty in making friendships)."

Seven of those 11 could have been diagnosed with either autism or Asperger Syndrome, and the remaining four with PDD NOS, if it weren't for the fact that, in a university setting, they experienced no significant impairment. But what about when they graduate? How will their autistic style of socializing come across in a job interview? If they get the job, how well will they navigate office politics? If required to deal with the public, how well will they handle the unwritten rules of providing good service?

I'm not the only one to raise these concerns. For example, Hurlbutt and Chalmers (2004) interviewed six adults with Asperger Syndrome (four of whom were university graduates) about employment and found that all six experienced significant difficulties. The four with university degrees had not managed to find work in the areas they were trained in, but instead took what they could get, which were often low-paying, menial jobs. All six emphasized that the biggest challenges in the workplace were social in nature - the work itself they could do easily, but they tended to misunderstand and be misunderstood by their bosses and coworkers. Some also had issues with sensory processing and changes in routines. For example, one participant said:

"I have a degree in political science and am just trying to get a decent job with decent pay and benefits. I have cleaned cat cages, done janitorial work (which is boring, bor-ing, boring), office work at the VA, [been] a telemarketer (which I hated, but I learned how to do public speaking!), and worked in a group home on the early morning shift."

Imagine a university student with the characteristics of Asperger Syndrome. In school, he was bullied and excluded, but back then no one knew that an autistic person could be verbal with no glaring delays in self-care skills. Now, he's respected and seen as very intelligent, and although he has few friends, he's doing quite well. If his Asperger Syndrome remains undiagnosed, he'll eventually graduate with the thought of working in the field that he's trained in, only to find that getting and keeping a job requires an entirely different set of skills, skills in which his weaknesses show quite clearly. He could get a diagnosis at that point, but late twenties and early thirties is pretty late to be learning social skills.

Whereas, if he was diagnosed in university, he could spend his university years learning, in addition to the skills needed for his degree, the social and organizational skills needed to get and keep a job once he graduates. This intervention could spare him a great deal of misery once he gets his diploma and heads out to find work. Furthermore, society could get the benefit of his skills.

Many disabilities, like high functioning autism and ADHD, are identified mainly because they cause problems in school. But some people who aren't identified at that age go on to find niches where their disabilities don't cause any impairment. The problem is, things change. What doesn't cause impairment in one setting could easily cause impairment later on in another setting.

Now, there is a reason for the functional impairment requirement. The idea is, you get a diagnosis in order to receive appropriate treatment. If you don't need that treatment, what point is there to diagnosis? Well, besides the fact that diagnosis can serve other purposes besides getting treatment (self-understanding, identification for research purposes, etc), it's quite possible that someone who shows no impairment now will show impairment in the future. In fact, meeting criteria without impairment now could mark someone who is quite likely to be impaired at a certain point in the future, just like poor reading comprehension in a third grader marks a kid who almost certainly will fall behind in the next few years if he or she isn't helped now.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


A long time ago, I wrote that I didn't consider myself brave.I still don't think the behavior I describe in that post - never giving in, yelling and screaming if anyone tries to make me do something I'm not comfortable with, etc - is actually brave. The thing is, I do it because not acting that way is even scarier for me.

But, just recently, I realized that I've started to show true bravery. Thing is, I used to act angry and defiant in situations I had no power to escape from. But as I've gotten older, I've begun to get the power to leave these situation instead, and that's what I've started doing. I've started telling myself that I should get better at spotting early on that a situation isn't going to work and getting out of there before it gets so upsetting. I told myself that the good thing about being an adult is the power to leave when you need to leave.

So, in effect, I now have another option besides fighting back - I can run away. I can avoid the thing that upsets me, and look for other things to do. Sometimes, this is the best option.

But running away is cowardly. I've gotten to be afraid of my own meltdowns, afraid of what I'll do, of how others will react. (In particular, afraid they'll call the police.) I'm also afraid of how being in that situation will affect me - my year in high school set back my healing and worsened my self-injury. One of the big reasons I decided to quit my volunteering program, by the way, was because after one rough day there, I began feeling self-conscious about acting weird in a public grocery store. It faded pretty quickly, but I was afraid that I'd start feeling that way permanently if I stuck with it too long.

But last year in biology 100, I did something I'd never managed to do before - I fixed a conflict. And that took real courage.

In my biology class, we had the regular class and we had a lab. The class was fine, though more difficult than I expected. The lab, however, was poorly taught. We were supposed to come up with hypotheses that would be tested by the experiment they planned to run. This is a bad way to do things. You should either give them the hypothesis instead of making them think one up, or let them design the experiment. In real science, the hypothesis comes before the experimental design, not after.

But anyway. I was grouped with several students who'd designed a self-confirming hypothesis - one that there was no possible way to disconfirm it because the definitions were the same as the predictions. I pointed this out, they didn't agree. We finally called over the lab instructor to help us figure it out.

And she took their side! I was furious. Here she was, trying to teach new scientists, when she didn't know one of the most basic things about how to do science. And here these other students were, being educated in a way that let them get through with a similar failing in their basic understanding of science. And these people would be the ones helping to inform our society of how reality actually works, when their method for testing it was flawed to begin with.

So I sort of had a tantrum, and stormed out of the class. And then I was in a serious dilemma, because I didn't want to drop out of biology just because the lab wasn't working, but I felt certain that I'd never be able to handle another lab with that person. I already thought I was going to be in big trouble for how I acted, which is why, when it was fresh in my mind, I wrote down my version of what happened and set it aside to figure out what to do.

And then the department head got involved, wanting to know what had happened. Apparently the lab instructor had called him, in tears, after that disastrous lab. I was terrified, but resolved that somehow I had to make this work out. We had several meetings back and forth.

Turns out the lab instructor is new to the country, and though she doesn't have a hint of an accent, her English isn't all that good. Turns out biologists use the words a little differently, with a theory only applying to very broad concepts like evolution, and a hypothesis being a smaller theory instead of a testable application of a theory. Turns out we were both confusing each other with our use of the same words to mean different things.

I still don't think she was a very good teacher, because whether she understands the scientific method, the others I was working with certainly didn't, and she didn't correct their mistake. But at least I haven't found a graduate student in a science field who doesn't understand the scientific method, which gives me hope that even if they don't learn it in biology 100, they'll have to figure it out eventually in order to get far in science. It was enough that I could handle the rest of the term, muddling my way through an assignment I'd missed the announcement of and not doing as well as I should have on the final exam. But I passed, and that's the important part.

(And one really good thing came out of biology 100. All that talk of ATP and ADP brought back memories of the Creatures series, and I decided to get those games and restart playing it. Which led to finding out about Grandroids, and becoming a backer, and therefore getting involved in one of the most interesting and possibly historically important things I've been involved in.)

So I know what being courageous looks like for me. It's sticking it through when it gets rough, without falling apart emotionally, or running away. It's OK if I'm not always courageous. But it's something to work towards, because I can't always pick up and run. If I do that in some situations, I'll let down people who matter a great deal to me. And change doesn't come from the ones who run away.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Is My Cat Killing Endangered Species?

In response to my previous post arguing against keeping cats indoors for their own welfare, a commenter brought up the other main argument for keeping cats indoors - predation of endangered species. I will discuss that now.

Firstly, this argument only applies to a subset of cats. Not all housecats are interested and/or capable enough to hunt wild prey. The article I found on cats' behavior outdoors found that only 30% of outdoor-roaming housecats kill prey. Stray/feral cats are actually a far bigger concern when it comes to predation of endangered species, because they must hunt to survive.

But I happen to know that Katrina is part of the subset that hunts. I have witnessed many successful hunts on her part, both of rodents and birds. In fact, somewhere I have a video of her playing with a bird after having broken its' wing. She used to feed our dog wild prey, and scarcely show any interest in cat food during the summertime.

So, we live in southeastern Saskatchewan. Are there any endangered species in our area that look like they could be prey for Katrina?

Well, here's a list of Canadian endangered species. I cross off the extinct/extirpated ones, because there no longer are any members of those species in Canada (extinct means gone worldwide, extirpated means gone in this region but surviving elsewhere). So, down to the endangered species:

Of the mammals, most are obviously too large for my cat (she'd be prey for a cougar, not kill it herself) but she could probably kill a Vancouver Island Marmot. Except it's only wild in the mountains of Vancouver Island, so cross that off.

Among birds, most are again too big for her. (She is no threat to a whooping crane.) Even Eskimo Curlew and Northern Bobwhite are probably too big for her to kill. An Acadian Flycatcher is definitely something she'd consider prey, but it's a Maritime bird (even though it's not actually Acadian). Loggerhead Shrike, though a bit big, is possible, but it's only endangered in the eastern provinces - overall population is Least Concern. (They are apparently vicious little birds, impaling their prey on thorns or barbed wire because it lacks the talons of larger birds of prey.) Henslow's Sparrow is definitely cat prey, but again, it's an Ontario bird. Sage Thrasher also looks like something my cat might eat, and it does live in Saskatchewan, but in western Saskatchewan.

Among amphibians, there's only the Blanchard Cricket Frog. While I've never seen my cat with a frog, they are cat prey - my ad used to have a cat who loved frog legs. But it's Canadian range is only in Ontario, on Pelee Island.

Among reptiles, none of the endangered ones live in our area. So no worries. Similarly, the endangered fish are all way too big, and I doubt my cat has ever fished anyway.

Now to the threatened species. Bison amd Caribou are obviously off the menu for a cat - not to mention the whales! Newfoundland Pine Marten is a bit big but possible, except it lives in Newfoundland. Pacific Water Shrew lives along the Pacific coast (shrews aren't preferred prey anyway, they make my cat sick to her stomach if she eats them, but she does kill shrews at times).

Among birds, Yellow-breasted Chat is a possibility - it's cat prey sized and lives in Saskatchewan - but it's only threatened in the Okanagan region of Ontario. Around here it's Least Concern. Marbled Murrelet is too big and it's range is further north anyway. Burrowing Owls do live around here, but they're too big and dangerous for a cat.

Oh, Loggerhead Shrike. Apparently it's threatened here, not Least Concern. OK. It is kind of big for a cat, but I should probably research that one more closely.

Baird's Sparrow is a prairie bird, but it's main threat is habitat loss - apparently cultivated land is a very non-preferred habitat for it. From what I know, my cat has only hunted cultivated land, because that's what she can readily walk to from home. Hooded Warbler is an Ontario bird. White-headed Woodpecker is too big for a cat.

She's not going to kill a rattlesnake, the only threatened reptile in my area, so cross off reptiles. The fish are all too big for her as well.

I'll have to take a closer look at Loggerhead Shrike and Baird's Sparrow. Those are the main species of concern here. Right now, I don't think she's much of a threat to them, but I need to learn more.

I've just sent an e-mail to the Saskatchewan Association for Conservation Officers, saying the following:

"I live in Weyburn, and I have an indoor-outdoor cat who is an accomplished predator (including killing birds). Since she greatly enjoys going outside and hunting, I don't want her to become an indoor cat, but I'm concerned about whether she may be hunting endangered or threatened species.

From what I can tell, both Loggerhead Shrike and Baird's Sparrow live in my area and are threatened species. Do you know if cats are a threat to those species? If so, are there things I can do - other than confining her indoors permanently, which would greatly reduce her quality of life - to minimize the danger my cat poses to them? For example, I've heard that in some regions you can minimize the threat of cat predation on endangered birds by confining the cat for a couple weeks during migration."

Let's see if they have more information.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Safer Indoors?

With only a few exceptions, all of my cats are allowed outside whenever they chose. (The exceptions are when they have certain health problems, are new to their current home or during the brief time that we lived in a city rather than a rural area.) I have often been told that I should keep my cats indoors, but I don't agree.

One of the biggest arguments for indoor cats is that they live longer. I do wonder to what extent this varies by region, and particularly rural versus urban, since only one of my cats' deaths could have been prevented by me keeping him indoors, and only two could've been prevented by them being indoors their entire lives. (Hermes probably already had FeLV, an infectious disease he likely got from other cats outdoors, when I got him.) Most of my cats died of age-related conditions, and the only other premature deaths we've had were from kidney disease in two brothers, which was almost certainly genetic. (One is questionably premature since he was 10 years old - in human terms he'd have been in his sixties.)

Recently, I found a news article about a research study (unfortunately the paper doesn't seem to be publically available) in which they affixed cameras to outdoor-roaming cats' collars in Georgia, US, to see where they went. The study is interesting, but I take issue with their idea that the data they found indicates that you should keep your cats indoor. Specifically, I take issue with their list of 'dangerous activities' the cats engaged in while outdoors.

Crossing roadways, shown by 45% of cats - I'm surprised it's not higher. In most human settlements, you can't really get anywhere without crossing roadways. But although many cats do die from being hit by cars, cats don't seem to be that much worse off than humans in that regard. I've witnessed many cats crossing roadways myself, both mine and others. Typically they will stop, look both ways, and then if no car is coming they will flatten themselves down and run across. Whereas I've known several dogs who had no clue about road safety, most cats are pretty cautious about cars. Cars are more a danger for wild creatures than for domestic ones, because wild animals are less likely to know how cars move. Domestic cats understand that cars stay on roads and that they move much faster than any animal does.

Eating and drinking things they found, done by 25% of cats - well, they don't say what the cats were eating and drinking. It's important to keep in mind, however, that cats have a keen sense of smell, and generally prefer the smell and taste of things that are healthy to them. (Incidentally, the idea that cats like the taste of antifreeze is probably a myth; at the very least dogs don't. They may drink it if they're desperate, however.) Humans actually are too cleanliness obsessed, it's been shown that our concern with cleanliness is contributing to our rates of asthma and allergies. If you drank from a mud puddle, the risk of it harming you is minimal.

Exploring storm drains, done by 20% - well, this is a danger, but only in the case of a serious storm. Many outdoor cats will head indoors when a storm comes. If not (eg if they're too far from home), I suspect they would hear the water rushing and realize the storm drain is not a safe place to hide from the storm, and look for another hiding spot. Again, cats do understand that high ground is better for a storm.

Entering crawl spaces where they could become trapped, done by 20% - OK, this one is just ridiculous. Cats know if they can fit in a small space, because their whiskers reach out the same width as their body. If they are considering entering a hiding spot, they'll feel it out with their whiskers first. In addition, there's plenty of small spaces indoors that a cat could potentially get trapped in. About the only way a typical cat would get trapped is if their exit was blocked off after they entered.

Although the danger seems to be overblown, I do agree that indoor cats probably do, on average, live slightly longer. But at what cost to their quality of life? If you confined a human in the house, set up a safe environment where they can't hurt themselves with anything, and kept them there, they'd live longer too. But their life wouldn't be as enjoyable. And human homes are designed to be enjoyable to humans - both cats and dogs have made it clear to me that they don't find being indoors as enjoyable for them as it is for me. In particular, the smells inside a house are far less interesting than the smells outdoors.

I really feel that most animals, like humans, need a stimulating environment - especially when they're young. They need to have room to explore, to experience new sensations, to interact with other members of their species (with a few exceptions, regarding animals more solitary in nature than cats are) and generally broaden their horizons. In the case of dogs, you can meet that need by regular walks, but cats are pretty hard to walk. With small caged pets, simply taking them out of the cage for supervised play gives them this stimulation, but an entire house is similar in relative size for a cat to the better cages for smaller pets.

I'm not saying that an indoor cat will always be an unhappy cat. Many of my older cats essentially became indoor cats by choice when they got too tired and sedate for outdoor play. And in a multi-cat household, with humans who often play with the cats, they can get pretty good stimulation. But it's a lot harder to make an indoor cat's life be a good quality one.

And I do think there is some good in taking risks in life, in order to enjoy your life completely. I trust my (adult) cats' judgement about their own safety. (I do supervise younger kittens on their early trips outdoors, because they're less safety-conscious. But as they get older, I let them roam more freely.)

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Excitement Abounds

We just recently (well, about a week ago) got a new kitten, Smudge, a grey guy who looks about 3 or 4 months old. I'm discovering how just about anything can be a good toy for a kitten. Our newest family member is goofy and sweet and cuddly and playful and always getting into mischief. I have several funny stories already, like the time I was having a bath and he discovered that while the outer side of the tub is easy to walk on, the sides along the walls are not, and bath water is wet. Or the time he climbed into the bag of some visiting Mormons and was all set to go home with them. Right now, I'm juggling him, trying to type and protect both my chicken breakfast and my cup of tea. But I can't get too annoyed, because he's purring sweetly the whole time.

Only one member of our family has not welcomed him into our home - our 12 year old female tortoiseshell, Katrina. Her nose is seriously out of joint. Lots of growling and hissing and yowling, and lots of time spent outside to escape the stress of having an intruder in her home. She is a very dominant, very territorial cat. She is also extremely sensitive and feels everything very passionately, and she doesn't let go of a bad mood easily. She was depressed for months after her closest friend, our Labrador cross, died several years ago. A few years later, our oldest cat (a very timid and submissive tom that she liked) died as well, and she's mostly been an only cat. We've introduced her to two separate young kittens, both of whom died at a couple years old (one most likely from a car, the other from FeLV). Both of them she rejected at first, but eventually warmed up to, shortly before they died. So there's a good chance she'll warm to Smudge.

And indeed, she's already gotten more tolerant of him. They can now be in the same room and aware of each other without hissing and growling from her, provided he keeps a good distance. Weirdly enough, she actually shows signs of being submissive to him, backing down when he came to beg for some of her wet cat food (we feed them mostly dry cat food, with wet being a treat). Maybe she lost her confidence because we babysat a coworker's dog for a week about a month ago - a basset hound who Katrina was terrified of.

It's funny -the turning point in their relationship seems to have been the first time she swatted him. I made the mistake of trying to distract her from a face-off by dangling string near her. It didn't distract her, but Smudge was enthralled, and finally he decided to just go for it, never mind the cat. She swatted him and he ran away in sheer terror. Now, he's a bit afraid of her (whereas before he was just curious, a dangerous thing to feel towards an unfriendly cat) and she seems much more tolerant of his presence.

Oh, and I've figured out a great game for playful kittens - get a ball of yarn, grab the end of the thread, and throw the ball on the floor near the kitten. Then use the end of the thread to reroll the yarn ball, letting the kitten play with the ball the whole time. It's very little effort for the human, but great fun for the kitten.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

I Quit

I've resigned from my volunteering program, giving the volunteer coordinator this letter(identifying information removed):

Dear [program coordinator],

I won’t be coming back to [volunteer program]. I find it too upsetting.
The kids are great. And I get along fairly well with the other volunteers. However, you and [other coordinator] keep finding fault with my performance, and I can’t handle it anymore.
Sometimes, I agree, I do make mistakes, and it’s good to be told when that happens. Sometimes I don’t realize there was a rule before I broke it. With the thing about talking to parents, I still have no clue what, exactly, you took issue with.
Other times, I simply don’t agree. I believe that it could be seriously damaging to [transgender kid] if I used female pronouns after being told not to—and all the research I’ve read about transgender teens confirms this belief.
I know I should be able to take all this without it getting me down. But the fact is, I can’t. I have had many struggles with depression in my life, and I can’t help but take things personally, both good and bad. I’d like to be able to set aside my feelings when I have to, but I can’t.
And furthermore, I used to be a kid a lot like many of the kids in [volunteer program]. And when teachers handled me the wrong way, it made no difference to me whether their superiors told them to do it, or they did it on their own accord. It hurt just as badly either way, and I still bear the scars. I can’t stand the thought of a kid looking back on their time with me the way I look back on my time with some of my teachers. That’s why I can’t follow orders I disagree with.
I’d like you to know that I did enjoy my time with [volunteer program]. But for my own health, I have to quit.
[my real name]

It took me several days to get up the will to post this here. I'm feeling really sad about quitting, but last day I was there, I spent a bunch of the time hiding in the bathroom crying, so I really need to quit.   (Oh, and it's not just the thing about pronouns that they took issue with. That's the only thing I bothered mentioning on this blog, because it was the only one I had something to blog about.)