Column: Peregrinautika, or Learning to Love Legislators

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Pagan Perspectives

For any pet owner, having a beloved companion get lost or simply disappear is a worst-case scenario for that relationship. To many Pagans and polytheists, those relationships can take on spiritual or magical significance, making the pain of such a loss cut even deeper. In those cases where the animal’s fate is never discovered, questions and guilt can linger for years.

This is the tale of an heroic cat, one whose fate would have been untold but for the gods.

I: The Mists of Myrlyn

Myrlyn and a lunar moth, circa 2007 [Terence P Ward].

Myrlyn was a scrappy and strong cat, the sort of cat who thoroughly enjoyed human care and comfort but could easily slip into the wild, never to return. In fact, one June night in 2011 he did not return.

This is not his story.

Rather, this is a story set in the wake of Myrlyn’s vanishing. Myrlyn and his younger companion Peregrine went outside regularly, despite decisions made when each was adopted to keep them forever inside. A careless painter gave them access, and once they tasted its delights nothing would keep either of them from returning thereto.

Despite his companion not returning with him one night, Peregrine continued to assert his right to patrol his territory in those ways that only a very vocal cat can. He cared not one whit that the many “Lost Cat” posters yielded no more results than did calls to the nearby apartment complexes, local SPCA, and neighboring vet offices.

Through the mists of Myrlyn’s disappearance, each time Peregrine went forth was greeted with a mixture of apprehension and defeat. There is a certain impotence which arises from not knowing; how many Benji-like near-misses with him might there have been? Still, Peregrine did return, gradually assuming a leadership role at home as new kittens were introduced months later.

II: Alpha

Now leader of his own pride, Peregrine filled out and got tough. He was not always tough enough: more than once he was treated for bite wounds in his hindquarters from a visit gone awry to the cat colony down the hill, behind the apartment complex. Caregivers provided a near-infinite supply of dry food, which to Peregrine was a powerful temptation. In his youth he’d lived the all-you-can-eat dry food lifestyle until his humans learned how terrible it was to a cat’s health and switched him to a raw diet with scheduled meal times. An addict, he sought out dry food at every opportunity.

Peregrine had been declared an indoor cat for reasons of diet control and injury avoidance; he rejected those reasons just as surely as he rejected being kept inside to keep him from hunting. All that can be written in favor of his predatory nature is that he nearly always ate what he killed. Not every cat does.

III: Peregrinautika

Peregrine, upon his victorious return [Terence P Ward].

Four years on, Peregrine was confident of his territory, and he now mostly avoided fights; he also really couldn’t be bothered stalking birds any longer. He ruled by respect alone.

One night at the end of May, Peregrine didn’t come home. A familiar fear clutched human guts, a familiar process unfolding. This time, however, the call down to the rental office was made on a holiday, and someone different answered the phone.

“You know, there’s a guy who lives here who was talking to me about something like this,” the voice said. “Some women doing trapping to spay and neuter.”

Contact information was passed on, and within an hour a response was received to a hurried email. Yes, there had been rescuers with traps. They raised money for the operation online, and the crowdfunding page provided a means of contact. (It was more than a year later before it was discovered that the resident who just happened to have the correct information about this trap-neuter-release operation was sculptor Joe Laudati, creator of a series of incredibly detailed deity statues sold exclusively through the local metaphysical shop.)

“Yes, I’ve got him right here,” said the voice at the end of the line, after listening to the description. “I can drive him back to you right now. Take about an hour.” Peregrine’s unplanned adventure had taken him some 60 miles away, over the state line.

At the rendezvous point, he was transferred into his own carrier for the short walk up the hill and back home. At the time, slipping the rescuer fifty bucks toward her efforts seemed like a donation born of gratitude, but later it felt more like a ransom.

IV: Sausage Factory

What nagged, after that amazing reunification, was just how much it had depended upon the intervention of the gods. It was no doubt a blessing to get the correct person on the phone, and then to reach the rescuer before some other fate had been decided for Peregrine. Peregrine was also a master of escaping his collar and had gone into that abyss naked, so his recovery seemed even more a matter of providence. It felt very much like a wink that a key individual in making that connection was a local Pagan artist.

The question remained: why should it require divine intervention? Shouldn’t recovery of one’s cat be as easy as tracking down one’s car after it’s been towed?

A bill is drafted, one which would require notice of trapping operations, and records of the animals caught in the sting. Trustees of the local village board pass it, but only as a policy with no enforcement mechanism.

It then catches the imagination of a county legislator, after two of her cats are trapped and quickly euthanized by members of another organization, one driven by the belief that a cat in the outdoors is suffering so thoroughly that only death will bring relief. The legislator saw the bill as a potential tool to prevent her loss from afflicting another.

At public hearings and in committee meetings, two groups of animals lovers were prominent. On one side were pet owners and shelter owners who sought to prevent cats with human homes from being separated from them by death, adoption, or simply being trapped and then released far from home. Facing off against them were the birders and PETA members who saw the bill as infringing on their ability to protect native wildlife from an invasive species, and to mercifully dispatch individuals of that invasive species from a short, cruel life of suffering.

Is it moral to unleash these vicious hunters onto the landscape? Should cats be licensed? Is euthanasia ethical? Many of the questions raised, though valid, were not within the scope of the proposed law. That scope itself had been expanded, and now included limits on when trapped cats might be euthanized and strict requirements as to who is authorized to administer the dose of poison.

Peregrine’s Law, as with every piece of legislation, has been transformed by a process that has been likened to the making of sausage. Those who enjoy eating sausage prefer not to know much about how it’s created; the same is true of most laws.

While there are still hurdles to cross, in its present form Peregrine’s Law actually resembles its original intent much more than it has during most of its journey through various committees. It sets aside the ecological consequences of cats in the environment, along with the moral questions around euthanasia. Neither mercy killing nor the practice of trapping, neutering, and releasing is directly referenced in the version now being considered.

The core intent remains: to give notice that on this day one might want to make an especial effort to keep the kitty inside, and to provide answers should the worst come to pass. Violators may be fined up to $500, or sentenced to up to 15 days in jail.

By leaving some questions unaddressed, Peregrine’s Law will still have a certain aftertaste of sausage. Nevertheless, should it be passed, it would a suitable memorial for the unintentional adventurer for whom it is named, and who himself ended his adventures on this plane on May 24, 2018.

Act in accordance to ensure that what is remembered, lives.