Animal news, as always, has a way of creeping into this newspaper.

A lot of it is on the unpleasant side: the outbreak of rabies in Fairfield, the Sidney farmer who allegedly wasn’t disposing of his dead animals properly, the dog waste issue in Oakland.

Then there are Oakland’s other weird animal issues: the geese-on-the-beach controversy, the rampaging pig, the “terrorizing” cat.

Then there’s the downright ugly. The worst one recently, by far, is the four does inexplicably shot in the Chesterville-Leeds-Livermore area a couple weeks ago and “left to waste,” as the Maine Warden Service put it.

Anyone who reads this column regularly knows it comes down heavily on the side of animal lover, so when debate comes up over how much attention to give animal stories, I always believe they’re newsworthy.

It was no different Tuesday night when Scott Struck, of Readfield, called.


His nephew’s 5-month-old kitten had been up a tree for five days and no one would help get it down.

Struck said they were afraid the black-and-white kitten, Belichick, was going to starve or die of thirst.

The nephew, Thomas, 11, is “just very upset,” Struck told reporter Betty Adams after I passed his phone number on to her. “He’s an animal lover. He’s very good with animals — he takes them seriously.”

Thomas’ father, Chris Struck, used a 35-foot extension ladder to try to get the kitten down, but that just drove it to the top of the tree. They called the Fire Department, the animal control officer, the Town Office, but “nobody will come help us,” Scott Struck said.

They were worried the cat would become dehydrated. Chris Struck put food and water at the base of the tree.

Neighbors tried to help get him down, to no avail.


The animal control officer, like many who heard the story, said Belichick would come down when he was hungry or dehydrated enough.

A co-worker listening to the story Wednesday pointed out that her vet once told her he’d never seen a cat’s skeleton in a tree.

And Belichik did come down sometime after Adams talked to Struck on Tuesday.

Chris Struck said Wednesday morning that the cat was a little hungry and thirsty, but he was down and everyone was happy.

And many readers probably, at this point, wonder why so much effort went into a kitten in a tree that was going to come down one way or another anyway.

Not only why the Strucks were upset enough to call the newspaper, but why the newspaper put any effort into what may seem like a trivial story.


It’s not that hard to explain — animal stories are actually people stories.

When a family is upset about a treed cat, it says something about them as people that touches — or should touch — the rest of us.

At the other end of the spectrum are the dead does from a couple weeks ago.

An acquaintance remarked after our second story on the issue ran that if it were people, not deer, less of a big deal would be made about it.

While I’ve written about this bizarre belief before, my reaction bears repeating: I fully believe that if four people had been shot and their bodies left in the woods, we would have given it even better play than we gave the doe stories.

Those doe shooting stories, if you haven’t gotten the drift by now, are big news because they say something about people. Not only does it say something about the person or people who did the shooting, but also about those who are rightfully appalled by it.


David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, put it succinctly in the Morning Sentinel’s April 29 story: “It is just not anything that a civil society would accept as OK.”

For those not familiar with hunting, or the story, it’s illegal to hunt deer outside of the roughly monthlong hunting season, usually beginning at the end of October and ending the end of November. It’s also illegal to “hunt” (if that’s what you want to call the doe killings) at night and to leave what’s shot to decompose where it lies.

Hunters, most of whom love and respect animals, and old-fashioned animal-loving softies like me can all agree that someone who would do what was done to those deer can have no good explanation. To take it a step further, there is something wrong with him, her or them.

We often attribute human emotions and motivations to animals: greed, evil, jealousy, manipulation, love. Animals though, unlike humans, are simply driven by the need to protect themselves, to eat, to find shelter. Survival stuff.

While we think we’re better than they are, there should also be much higher expectations for us, because we have the ability to reason, to know right from wrong, to make judgments about our actions. We don’t always meet those expectations.

A lot of smarter and more articulate people have said it before now, so I’ll leave it to them.


Gandhi pointed out that the greatness of a nation can be judged by how its animals are treated.

The philosopher Immanuel Kant said, “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”

The Bible quotes Job as asking, “Who teaches us more than the beasts of the Earth?”

You get the picture.

If Belichick the cat hadn’t decided he’d had enough and, like his namesake, maybe wasn’t inclined to let the press pry into his inner thoughts, we would have published a story today about a cat up a tree. But more, it would have been about an 11-year-old boy, his family, and how much they cared.

When we write about the dead does — and with the reward now at $3,500 and no suspect in sight, we will — it’s more about the appalling lack of humanity some of our fellow humans exhibit.

Stay tuned.

Maureen Milliken is news editor of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email her at Twitter: @mmilliken47. Kennebec Tales is published the first and third Thursday of the month.

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