2011-06-01 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

“Spay, don’t litter.” The double entendre in this familiar slogan adds punch. At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, did you ever wonder why the word “litter” has so many unrelated meanings? Be it scattered trash, a brood of baby animals, the absorbent pellets in a cat toilet tray, straw bedding or the stretcher used to carry a wounded soldier off the battlefield, all definitions of “litter” derive from the same etymological root.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, each use of “litter” traces to the Indo-European word “legh” which means to lie down. From this start, the forms of “lie” and “litter” took various semantic routes via Medieval Latin and Old French before entering our language. An English word “litter” first shows up around the year 1300 and carries meaning “bed”.


Owen, left, and Maverick, right. Owen, left, and Maverick, right. Hence, it gets easier to see the common thread. Puppies and kittens are born in one place- their neo-natal bed. People spread straw as bedding before we had coil spring mattresses. Bits of junk dispersed on the floor became “litter” in the early 1700s, while inventor Edward Lowe coined the term “kitty litter” in 1947. Sprinkling handfuls of his ingenious clay product became a cleaner alternative to the ashes, sand, or shredded paper previously used by cat owners. (In 1964 Lowe launched the Tidy Cat® litter brand.)

Let’s go back to the “litter” definition concerning pet offspring. “Litter” also connotes that these babies are surplus or garbage to be discarded, out of sight, out of mind. Kitten season 2011 has begun with a vengeance. The lucky litters are those born in April. By June, shelters and rescues are already full and long waiting lists continue to grow until the end of November. By then, the first wave no longer resembles kittens.

Early this kitten season brazen dumpers were up to their old tricks. One character had the nerve to toss a box of newborns out at a beach park right in front of a lady tending to her kids at the playground. In her panic, she got a description of the car, but not the plate number. Abandonment charges could not be pressed against him.

The creep at the beach reminds me of my first rescue errand 30 years ago when I was still naïve with a capital “N.” Before the start of shelter visits or the column, I offered to do transports for the now-defunct League for Animal Protection (LAP), South Shore Chapter. I got my first assignment from the late Don Eunson, feline sage and savior, to pick up a mother and kittens and bring them to a semi-private shelter. Back then, like now, foster homes were a precious commodity, and LAP had no available fosters.

Don would go himself but he was helping other people in cat distress that day. He was known to many in Amityville as a patient cat trapper/ caretaker. At age 90, Don was still driving people to the vet and usually paying the bill for them.

An older couple in Islip Terrace lived in a cramped, converted garage apartment. There was a huge concrete skateboard ramp blocking their humble home. One night they saw teenagers on the ramp throwing kittens up toward the street light. The couple, probably in their seventies at the time, grabbed the kittens and their Mom from the kids. The kind folks tried keeping the feline family in their bathroom but they were also caring for their daughter who had terminal cancer and their grandson, so there was no room.

I was supposed to drive the cats to Freeport Humane where they would be placed up for adoption. The couple handed me a donation to give the shelter for accepting the cats. I tried to give the money back because they really couldn’t afford the gesture, but they insisted. I delivered the cats to Freeport, left the money, and saw the family placed in a cage. I just assumed the cats were headed for “a happier ever after” than the people who saved them.

Years later I started hearing rumors that Freeport Humane had a carbon monoxide chamber, and people were barely out of the parking lot before pets they brought there were killed in such an inhumane way. Once LAP found out, the group severed all ties. More years went by before the Freeport shelter changed hands; eventually the chamber was removed. The new management tried to hold animals until adopted, but the place burst at the seams and struggled financially.

In March 2011, Bobbi & the Strays (BATS), a dynamic group from Queens, assumed ownership and operating control of the 2 Rider Pl. building in Freeport in need of much repair. BATS also inherited the 250 cats and two dozen dogs residing there. Donations are needed to transform Freeport into a state- of-the-art adoption facility. To help BATS achieve this ambitious goal, visit www.bobbiandthestrays.org.

As for the skateboard ramp litter that introduced me to rescue, I often wonder what happened to the compassionate couple, their daughter and grandson. Sadly, I know what became of the poor cats they entrusted to me.

Revisiting Poster Pets at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Maverick” #94050 is an exuberant yellow Lab who spent most of his young life tied in a Wyandanch yard. He needs someone to teach him when jumping is acceptable. He is smart and food motivated. “Owen” #20695 is healing quite nicely after the shelter arranged to have his mangled leg amputated. Last week Owen had stitches and an E collar. Now the sweet cat is on the mend, hanging out in the shelter office.

More Cats: “Wendell” in C-10 large, declawed tabby; “Holly” in C-4 talkative tortie.

More Dogs: “Chazz” friendly Puggle; “Honey”- Siberian Husky; female Boxer; “Melody”- Lab/Pit; the familiar Pit patrol, including “Lydia, Trixie, Polly, Pluto, Otis”.

Reminders: ** Last Hope Wantagh Grand Opening, 3300 Beltagh Ave. (former Bideawee) - Sat. June 4, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.- Come see how beautiful the lively shelter is now. Ribbon cutting at noon; shelter tours; minister blessing at 2 p.m.; clown making balloon animals; face painting; huge jewelry sale; more surprises…Channel 12 is expected. Everyone is invited.

**Westminster Kennel Club in Babylon slide program. Sat. June 18 at 1 p.m. at Town of Babylon History Museum, 47 W. Main St., Babylon. I will be presenting findings in my “Search for Sensation”. All welcome. Call 631-587-3750.

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