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Confessions Of A Cat Rescuer #1: I Rescue Cats
CONFESSION #1: I RESCUE CATS!
I confess: I am a Cat Rescuer. I’ve been rescuing cats for over eight years now. Together with the help of my wonderful wife Wanda, we have rescued, adopted, adopted out, and cared for over 200 cats. We currently work with over thirty cats every week. Some live in our house. Some live in our outdoor cat shelter. Some are feral and live around our house. It seems that every down-on-their-luck feline knows that they can come to our place for a meal, a safe place to spend the night, a friendly rub (if they are so inclined), and, if necessary, an occasional trip to the vet to get fixed up or, if necessary, to be humanely sent to their final home.
Cat Rescue is not easy, and it should not be entered into lightly. In fact, Cat Rescue is one of the most highly demanding, emotionally wrenching, financially draining, incredibly frustrating, and physically exhausting job anyone can do. I can’t think of a single person who, when asked what they wish to be when they grow up, ever said that they wanted to be a cat rescuer. No one ever plans to be a rescuer. Cat Rescue, like cats themselves, just happens. Most of the people who rescue cats probably started out like I did - one day, a cat shows up.
Our first cat showed up under our car. She was a beautiful gray and white Siamese mix stray we named Special K. She introduced us to the joys of having a cat in the house. At that point, we had no intention of ever being rescuers. In truth, we were so green to the real plight of cats that we did not even know that there was such a thing as cat rescue. But a friend of ours had a momma cat who had kittens, and as a companion for Special K, we adopted Precious, a gray-white Tom and Cocoa Puff, a handsome tux cat. By adopting these two little kittens, we felt as if we had made our contribution to cats in need and that this was enough. Our little cat family numbered three, a nice, manageable, perfectly acceptable number. “No more cats,” we said.
But God has a way of working cats into your heart, and He worked really fast on us. No more than three days after we adopted Precious and Cocoa Puff, a momma cat showed up at our doorstep with four little furballs. Meow-Meow Cat, as we named her, became our first outside cat, and she raised her kittens to be feral. It was because of her that we started leaving food and out on the porch. We had no idea that doing so was going to become a ministry to any stray cat in our area, some of whom would choose to stay with us and become part of our ever-growing family of felines.
My familiarity with felines was growing as well. We had invited one in, adopted two, and fed many outside. I was becoming acquainted with the behavior of cats and the differences between house cats, strays, and ferals - outside cats that will take your food, but don’t want anything to do with humans. But my next lesson in the feral cat world happened unexpectedly when I rescued a huge gray and white tom from the clutches of two wild dogs. He ran from me as soon as the dogs freed him and I thought for sure that I would never see him again.
About a week later, a huge gray and white tom with a torn ear and a scruffy appearance sat on my porch enjoying a bowl of cat food. Fraidy Cat was still very wary of humans, but he knew a good thing when he saw it, so he set up his base of operations, first at the barn across from us, then at our house. He was our first Alpha Male. Fraidy Cat did what all Alpha Males do. He populated the neighborhood with his offspring, protected the young, trained the males, and defended his territory. We still have several of his offspring with us today. Fraidy Cat taught us the dark side of cat life on the outside, and we began to realize that there was more that needed to be done for cats beyond the bowl of food and water.
Slowly, we gained the trust of some of our ever growing number of feral cats and kittens, many of them courtesy of Fraidy Cat. We began to bring in those who had tired of the outside life. Meow-Meow Cat finally became an inside/outside cat and had her last set of kittens in our home. Midnight, a tiny black female, was so sick that she marched her five kittens into out home and came in herself. The number of inside cats had grown to thirteen. We were feeling the stress and knew that we had to do something to get these cats into a better situation. For the first time, with no clue as to what we were doing, we became cat rescuers.
Now, all Rescuers go through a “honeymoon” phase where, when it’s all new, everything seems fine and feels good. We call it the “Rescue High”, a feeling of happiness and warmth that occurs when we rescue or help a cat for the first time. The more difficult the situation, the bigger the high when the rescue is done. This is one of the main reasons hoarders hoard - every cat they “help” gives them the rescue high. But real rescuers soon learn that, beyond the rescue high, is the anguish of helplessness that comes when things go wrong, when a cat dies, or when it is time to begin adopting out the cats you have saved.
Meow-Meow Cat and her three latest kittens became our first adoptions. We decided to keep one of the kits for ourselves. One we gave to a family, and the other was to go with Meow-Meow Cat to become barn cats on a farm. I did not know why at the time, but breaking up this family of cats was tearing me apart. I literally cried through the entire time of getting the cats in the carriers and transporting them to their new owner. I have learned since that I am just going to cry at every adoption. Why? Because it seems so unfair to tears families of cats apart, and because I can no longer assure that they will be safe, loved, and taken care of. I grieve that, because of this sinful, uncaring world, and the hardness of the human heart, this is how it must be.
Adopting is just one of the painful experiences that rescuers go through. Aiding the sick and abused cat is also a very traumatic experience, especially when you are dealing with preemies - cats are not old enough to survive on their own. Preemies take constant, round-the-clock care. Having to say “NO” to a cat in need of help tears us up. Even the day-to-day requirements of caring for a large number of cats can be difficult emotionally. There never seems to be enough time, money, supplies, food, litter, and love to go around. But the most traumatic experience for a rescuer is the death of a cat.
We were in the process of learning the basics of rescue - food, water, litter, spay/neuter, flea/ticks/worms, cleaning and such - when my wife brought home an old black cat named Homer. Homer was the “floor cat” at a retirement home where my wife worked. He had been there for years, staying on after his owner had passed away and endearing himself to the staff and residents of the floor where he lived. Homer had his own room and access in and out of the building, a good life for a cat considering that his room alone was worth some $3000 a month. Homer divided his between being a cat and being a social companion to the residents and staff. But one day, one of Homer’s caretakers notice a huge knot under Homer’s fur. Homer had developed cancer and his time was short. My wife was asked to bring Homer to our home to live out his last days, so Homer retired and came to live with us.
Homer was a gentleman, but he longed to be useful again. When Midnight brought in her kittens, Homer saw his chance to make a difference. Because Midnight was so sick, Homer jumped in to help raise her kittens. He took care of the kittens until Midnight was well enough to take over. The burden of raising five little kits, while fulfilling, took its toll on Homer. We rushed him to the emergency vet one afternoon, who said that there was nothing more to be done. Homer became both the first cat we had to die and the first cat we chose to put to sleep. We had Homer cremated and brought him home with us. The grief of losing such a noble cat was mixed with the guilt of not being in the room with him when he was put to sleep. We were simply not prepared to watch this happen, but because of this, I have made it a point to be with any cat I have to put to sleep, as long as doing so will not prolong the suffering.
As our experiences and knowledge of cats and cat rescue grew, we became aware of the plight of cats in America. Over 4 million animals die in U.S. animals shelters each year. The majority of these animals are cats. A cat has only a 1 in 4 chance of making it out of an animal shelter alive. Preemies, ferals, the old, the fearful, kittens, and the “less likely to be adopted” all die, sometimes within hours of arriving at the shelter. We came to realize that we could expect no help from the humane societies, for they all endorse the killing of cats. We discovered no-kill rescue groups: the small, rag-tag armies of cat champions who spend as much of their personal time and money on the rescues as the organizations of which they are a part. Through out our eight years of rescues, we have had to depend on these groups heavily. I salute them for their tireless, never-say-die efforts, but I also saw the need to reform the animal control system, to move it away from killing to saving lives. Today, the No-Kill movement is gaining ground, and I hope to see the day when all shelters are no-kill shelters.
As for me, at the height of my rescue efforts, my wife and I had a little thrift store/adoption center where we worked to support our rescue efforts and save as many cats as we could. We did not always know what we were doing. We did not always do it right, but the point is that we did it, and from that effort, many cats who would have died were saved. When I began to get sick (leukemia), we had to close our store and stop taking in cats. However, I am still a cat rescuer. I always will be, for as long as I live. I continue to work with the cats in and around my home, and to help others as best I can. And now, I hope to offer you the wisdom of my experiences, all the good and bad, all the rights and wrongs, in hopes that something I write will help you to help cats.
In future issues of Confessions of a Cat Rescuer, you will get to meet some of my cats, hear their stories, and share in my experiences. If you are a cat rescuer or an animal rescuer, you have my admiration and my prayers. If you are not a rescuer, I urge you to support your local no-kill group. They really need your help. Join the No-Kill Movement, get educated and informed. And if one day a cat shows up, show as much compassion as you can, and beware. You just might be a cat rescuer too!
- No Kill Advocacy Center : Nathan J Winograd
If you are interested in learning more about the No-Kill Movement, check out this link.