The Price of Free Choice, or
What the kinder, gentler SF-SPCA has to do with the lure of eugenics (h2so4 12).
The San Francisco SPCA, post its million-dollar makeover, is pretty amazing. Each cat has its own suite, with a fluffy cat bed, a climb 'n' scratch tree, five or ten toys, and enough floor space for three volunteers to fawn without crossing Cat Dancers. Some of the rooms even feature a TV/VCR with looping tapes of birdies and squirrelies leaping about provocatively. Others cats have their own pet goldfish.
And that's not all--each animal has a dossier, courtesy of a licensed animal psychiatrist who rates the cats on a scale from 1 to 5 (one being cuddlicious, five being an ears-back corner hisser) and then describes each cat in the uniquely SPCA, semi-first person voice: "A real honey! Just a few strokes or a chin-tickle will get me purring, but watch out! I can get overstimulated and need some quiet alone time."
You'd think, what with all the happy surroundings and the painstaking reporting, that finding the perfect cat to adopt would be easy. To the contrary: Things are so cush over there, you actually feel guilty adopting the kitties. Back in the days of foot-cubed cages and the stench of urine, you got to be the hero. "Pusspuss? I'm going to take you away from all this!" Now you're the buzzkill. And without the traditional "poor kitty" pity to motivate you, it's almost impossible to choose one cat over the others.
I hung out at the new SPCA for three hours, waiting for one of the cats to "speak" to me. I returned the following Saturday, and still nothing. When my third visit failed to produce any bonding action, I just made a list. All threes, fours, and fives were out. My cat would be impossible to over-stimulate. And, since I once had an obese, dandruffy cat with feline acne and a thing for shitting in the fireplace, and that cat happened to be male, my next cat had to be female, preferably petite. My cat also had to be black or white to match my living room. Bonus: extra toes (my favorite cat growing up had this deformity: she would use it to reach under closed doors and twang the wall-protector, which, of course, is rull cute and thus ideal).
So when I found a small black and white number two with six toes, I grabbed her. Unfor-tunately, those extra toes had inbreeding to thank (she was rescued from a crazy cat lady with over forty decidedly unfixed cats), and now I have a cat that pisses in the bathtub, stores her toys in the litter box, howls constantly starting at dawn, and falls over all the time. Of course I still love her, etcetera, but I can't help but suspect that choosing a companion based on a check-list versus the tried and true combo of timing, chemistry, and impulse, is perhaps less than ideal.
Just look at the sperm donor selection process these days. Apparently (or so I saw on PBS), sperm banks now offer an extensive amount of infor-mation about each donor: a detailed description of his looks (including height, weight, coloring, and degree of handsomeness as judged by female staff at the bank), his profession, his hobbies, his IQ, his political leanings, his taste in food. Some banks even offer a recording of his voice.
OK now here's the thing. When you can bring a picture of Brad Pitt into a sperm bank and say "I want one of these," and when the guitar-playing doctor's sperm is reserved six months in advance, something is awry. At the very least, the population is being statistically unbalanced in favor of strumming Dr. Pitts (who, incidentally, also enjoy masturbating into cups in small, windowless offices), which just can't be good. But, more importantly, people are being robbed of that panaceatic excuse for ill-informed decisions, Fate. Throughout history, the mating ritual has always been fairly illogical (Fiddler on the Roof aside). The person you hurl on after two county fair fritters and a go on the Tilt-A-Whirl turns out to be your lifetime companion. And there's a reason why Cosmo and Details advise potential mates to avoid spilling all the beans on the first outing. When your blinddate regales you with stories about the time they tried to hit an ex with their car, well, that's "check please" time--those kind of tidbits are best left until you're already in love, and it's too late. Yet without the people who leap into these ill-informed liaisons, what would happen to this ol' richly textured, erratic, and anecdotally pleasing human race?
I say the sperm and kitty banks (and the like) need to lose the sterile, qualitative/quantitative methodology, and instead enable people to act with their guts and not their heads. Ozzy Osbourne look-alikes should be hired by the SPCA to take cardboard boxes full of kittens to the local Safeway--good samaritans will snap up those felines within minutes ("Thank god I was there!"). Sperm banks should hawk their wares at bars, poetry slams, bulk food grain aisles, Sierra Club hikes, and other pick-up hot spots--then maybe people, high on nature, art, or Manhattans, will be moved to make more lyrical, and less logical, selections. Of course, the end result may just be another tub pissing dawn howler (so to speak). But then people will just shake their fists at the gods, roll over and go back to some much needed sleep, and not spend another sleepless night worrying whether they should have selected the prize behind door number two.