Animal Racism and “the Subway Kittens”

Suggestions that trains should be halted for stray puppies on the tracks but not kittens demonstrate just how narrow-minded people can be.

Two kittens halted subway service in New York. By: MTA
2 kittens halted subway service in New York. By: MTA

Stray kittens were trapped in the New York City subway system last week, and the MTA suspended service for over 90 minutes trying to shuttle the little meatheads to safety before they became a permanent part of a B train in Brooklyn.

That’s right — the largest public transportation system in the world in the largest city in the nation was halted for 2 furballs. The kittens were brought to safety, given medical attention and are now being fostered by a nice young man in Bushwick.

Causing a media frenzy and elevated to immediate stardom by all the attention, they have already made a cameo appearance on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report. Their road to adoption should make international news. There’s talk they may even snag Lil’ Bub’s publicist.

Although most of the public seemed thrilled about the rescue of the fuzzies, some kitty curmudgeons weighed in that keeping the subways up and running should have trumped saving the kittens.

These folks would have made subway kitten pizza out of the poor little buggers rather than inconvenience subway riders on their way to Coney Island.

What’s a Kitten to You?

Kittens? Seriously? Cute puppies, some commenters thought, should be stop-train-worthy, but don’t shut down the Q line for some lowly FE-lines.

The hierarchy of canine over feline in some people’s minds never fails to amaze me. This animal racism has to stop! People believe their dogs need veterinary care but not their cats. What decade is this? Lassie gets to have brain surgery, but the stray cats in the barn die of disease and neglect.

Weighing in on the super pro-life side, we had the “let’s not stop at just kittens” attitude, taking animal welfare and rescue to a higher plane. Of course we must save the kittens, they chimed in, but what about the rats and mice living in the subway tunnels? Shouldn’t there be an NYC “Save the Subway Rodents” movement?

That spurred on a debate about whether the underbelly of the subway was a “cat eat rat” world or “rat eat cat.” In your Chopped basket, will we find catfish or ratatouille? Looking at the tiny size of Arthur and August, my money would be on Ben from Willard.

Subway Kittens Go Political

The media forced the NYC mayoral candidates to take a stance on the kitten caper, adding another absurd detail to this already embarrassing mayoral race.

You can all rest easy that Anthony Weiner, now famous for his sexting scandal, not only would have saved the kittens; he would have climbed the third rail himself to reach them, a spokesperson said on his behalf. As long as Weiner didn’t whip out his … phone and ask to be photographed with Arthur and August, I don’t think taking a stance on kitten rescue did anything positive or negative for Weiner’s already cat-astrophically ridiculous campaign.

Another candidate did not fare as well when he was the only one in the race to say he would not have shut down the subway service to save the kittens. This stance provided great material for Steven Colbert to lampoon him on The Colbert Report, saying he was the only candidate in history with a pro “dead kitten” policy.

Let’s Get Serious

This is obviously a cute public interest story, and anything that puts New York City in a good light is okay by me, my being a home grown girl and all. But what really hit me was the humanity and compassion of the subway kitten story.

Amid violent crime at home and crimes against humanity abroad, when much of the news can make us sick, we heard a story about a bunch of transit authorities who saw to it that 2 kittens not be mangled to death on their watch. The price? Inconvenience to a few thousand people who had to get from point A to point B at 11 o’clock in the morning.

As for the comment thread suggesting that trains can be halted for puppies but not kittens, this animal racism shows us how narrow-minded folks can be. Friends or acquaintances of mine, for instance, have laughed in my face at the fact that I perform surgery on pet rats, insinuating that a surgical procedure on a rodent is over the top.

If an animal is lucky enough to have a human take responsibility for its care, everybody else should mind their own beeswax.

The Bigger Picture

This story also put a bright light on animal rights and the humane treatment of animals. The transit workers wanted to save the kittens because their pitiful plight was right in front of their faces — caught on their tracks. They owned this situation and took responsibility.

If most of us walked into a puppy mill operation, a slaughterhouse, or a dog and cat kill shelter, we’d probably never buy another pet store puppy, eat corporate meat or “buy” a pet again.  But because we’re not working in the puppy mill with the poor old haggard dogs, or wielding the pain in the slaughterhouses,  or holding the needle to euthanize healthy kittens and puppies, so many of us can dismiss these cruelties with a “what a shame” attitude.

The thought of seeing kittens run over by a train forced people to take action. “Not in my back train yard,” the MTA said.

So let’s not allow puppy mills and senseless euthanasias and inhumane killing of livestock to happen in our global backyard. Changing how we purchase, acquire and take care of our pets, and choosing what and how we eat, can help animal welfare one small paw print, one hoof beat and one mouthful at a time.

Let’s face it. We’re all in too much of a rush anyway. The trains can be so bad in Brooklyn, maybe some folks just thought it was a regular day on the Q.

Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD

View posts by Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD
Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, is a small animal and exotics veterinarian who has split her time between a veterinary practice in Pelham, Massachusetts, and her studio in New York City. Dr. Lichtenberg is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine with 30 years of experience. Her special interests are soft tissue surgery and oncology.

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