Scotland’s been abuzz with the story of Kai, the Shar-Pei cross abandoned at Ayr railway station with a suitcase of his belongings. Buzzfeed has more information here.
The SSPCA has taken him in and the attention his story received has meant he has literally hundreds of homes offered to him. I’m sure his story will have a happy ending, the SSPCA are spoiled for choice, they’ll find him a good home, I am sure. The SSPCA are also fixing his eyes (the eyelids are turning inwards, meaning his eyelashes scratch his corneas – a simple surgery to fix), so he’ll find his new home, with good health.
But the ‘why’ of the story truly confuses me. If you’re giving up an animal, why not take it to a shelter? What pride stops you from taking a clearly loved animal to where you know it will be safe? Or is it some way of trying to take it back at the last minute? To return in half an hour to collect the dog you’ve ‘forgotten’, except someone makes the final choice for you? Again, Buzzfeed has an account from the alleged abandoner. I don’t buy it at all.
But the story has raised an interesting side issue. Kai was sold on Gumtree, and quite a few people have come out to say that this is why buying and trading animals online is a bad idea.
I’m not sure I agree.
In some ways, Athena was traded online. My friend Leigh was fostering Athena and her siblings and posting photos of them on Facebook. I remember, distinctly, being curled up under a thin sheet in Bellevue, Seattle, very hungover and trying to ignore the snores of my fellow geeks around me. I saw a picture of Athena cuddled up with one of her sisters. She was the cat of my idle fantasies. You know when you picture yourself as a ‘grown-up’, in a Victorian farm house with a green aga, copper pots hanging in the kitchen, a kitchen island with a sofa on one side of it . . . in my version of that classic middle class dream, there was always a little silver tabby cat sitting on the kitchen island, watching the goings on. While I had been looking for a cat for a year, seeing the perfect kitten in a picture prompted me to message Leigh and the rest is history (history currently sitting on my knee waiting for an opportunity to catch at my earring again).
What’s the difference between Athena’s story and Kai’s? Both were spotted over the internet, after all.
The difference is duty of care. Leigh and the shelter she volunteered for had duty of care of Athena, and when I messaged them hungover, fragile and on the other side of the world, I was still vetted by Leigh. I have every confidence that she would never have recommended me to the shelter if she didn’t believe I could take care of Athena. In fact, in our early days, Leigh had more confidence in me than I did!
This is perhaps where the comparison between Athena and Kai falls apart completely. Athena is lucky enough to have been under the care of people who saw pet owning as a responsibility her whole life. We don’t know what Kai’s owners were thinking. We don’t know what brought him to Ayr Station, although we may wish he had been relinquished in a more responsible manner, and we may wish his previous owners had taken more responsibility for passing him on.
None of these problems come from the medium by which he was traded.
Now if you were to ask me if dog licensing would have helped, there you might find me sympathetic.