My Life with Rescue Cats
I grew up with dogs and birds, but my father always loved cats. And after moving to North Germany, we found our first cat. Skrollan, a Tabby/Tortie, was a force to be reckoned with. She kept the neighbor's uncountable farm cats at bay and ruled over our house. A visiting and aggressive 160lbs German Shepherd from another farm attacked our Senior German Shepherd... and met his faith in a 15lbs angry cat! His owner later reported that she rode him all the way home, beating him in the face repeatedly, and proceeded to sit in the middle of his stable area to calmly clean herself; while the giant Shepherd with a aggressive reputation was hiding in the stable under a wheelbarrow. She would continue to visit the farm; if to make her point or scare the dog from coming back, we will never know. Fact is that after this incident she started to walk our old dog with us. And the aggressive Shepherd would watch from a safe distance; and never attack our dog again.
Skrollan had kittens and other cats eventually moved in. It was my first experience with rescue.
My Mom had always been known to feed anybody that walked in the door. The neighbor's children came for lunch and again for dinner; and her animals were spoiled. Birds had custom cages build by my father and our chicken were named and died at old age. Most of the cats that went beyond just eating at 'the buffet' came from our neighbor. As a farmer with a large amount of milk cows his outlook on the usefulness of cats never did match mine. He would have sometimes over 40 cats in all kinds of stages of feral and often sick hang out at his stables. But due to their numbers and his lack of care, they would hunt the rodents anywhere but at his stable. It took some serious convincing of another farmer, the owner of the aggressive Shepherd named Jack, for this man to realize that it wasn't working. Jack's owner kept six cat, fixed and well taken care of, on a much bigger farm; and didn't have a single mouse. Soon after reducing his cats, providing them with their first medical care, spaying/neutering them and actually feeding them, our profit seeking farmer began to see the success. And spaying/neutering made sense!
Of course I had to have cats when I got my first apartment. And the adoption of a shelter dog led to my first real steps into the rescue world. This Husky/Shepherd mix Cora taught me many valuable lessons about dogs and got me interested in volunteering at a shelter. When the couple maintaining the shelter (a no-kill shelter and still small and almost unknown at the time) was caught selling animals to laboratories for profit, they were fired overnight. I was asked to take over as caretaker and spend 30 days of paid and many more of unpaid vacation to work with a shelter full of dogs and cats. Working in a no-kill shelter did not prepare me for what I would face eventually when encountering American high-kill shelters. To my knowledge Germany has a much higher number of no-kill shelters when compared to the U.S.
One program stood out. At this shelter feral cats were caught, fixed and vaccinated, and given to local farmers as micers. The farmer needed a free or low-cost micer and the cats had no interest in socializing with humanity; a notion I sometimes understand when seeing how too many cats are treated. These cats would be trapped once a year for shots or when vet care was needed.
When I adopted my first cat, life seemed to be easy. She was a kitten and having grown up with cats, I thought I had it all figured out. A few others followed and I slowly learned more and more about the things that a child doesn't imagine about its pet. As a child or even teenager you have no concept for vaccinations, de-worming, diseases and Toxoplasmosis. Your parents handle that while you go out with friends and talk about movies and music. I had continued to spend a ton of time with my neighbor's dogs. And after moving to North Germany, I used the wide open space and miles of public roads and walk-ways to take my dogs on 10 Kilometer or more walks. My love for German Shepherds lead me to get interested once again in a local breed club. I learned about “Schützen”, Obedience, Stamina Tests and annual fun marches with dogs, family and club members.
At home my parents had this rule about cats. If the cat was laying on the chair, you stood or found another chair to sit on. If the cat was laying on you while you were sitting at the table, somebody else was to get up and do the errant. And naming them was a long process of research.
Only slowly did I learn about the things that come with it. Those words about diseases and shots were still a mystery. They remain just words until you grow old enough to be on your own. I knew I had a brother that died of Toxoplasmosis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxoplasmosis) that caused a miscarriage and would have left him both physically and mentally disabled, but it didn't concern me until I became pregnant myself. And with the great doctor I had, it really didn't remain much of a concern. I knew what to do. Everything else always seemed covered. I took my cats to the vet, followed their orders of what to do.
The first wake-up call didn't come until my three cats weren't allowed to immigrate to the US with me. For the first time in my life I heard the word FIV/FelV. Another scary word! (One is still alive today; at 18 years old. I still remember the last picture I took of her, sitting beside a bottle of wine on our old couch table in Germany. What a beautiful creature she is! To this day Mara still owns my Mom’s house!) The other two sadly passed away such a long time ago.
Becoming more and more involved in ‘Rescue’, new lessons were to be learned. I saw the effect of overpopulation, lack of medical care, lack of human responsibility, disturbing lack of care for living creatures. One of the worst lessons came when I wrote about spaying & neutering and learned of the 2009 statistics for North Carolina. Two shelters in NC have a 100% euthanasia rate for cats; the creatures I love and identify myself with. If you want to feel the pain I felt reading it, google "NC Annual Euthanasia Report" (for some reason it's easier to find them that way). I have not had the heart to look at 2010. I am afraid of what I will see. It sometimes seems like the Battle of Hamburger Hill. “'The Battle of Hamburger Hill' was a battle of the Vietnam War which was fought by the United States and South Vietnam against North Vietnamese forces from May 10–20, 1969. Although the heavily fortified Hill 937 was of little strategic value, U.S. command ordered its capture by direct assault, only to abandon it soon after. The debacle caused an outrage both in the American military and public. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Hamburger_Hill)“ While the purpose of the fight may be more clearly and strategically more important, the visual success feels like a drop of water in an ocean
In the first active stages of my entry into the Rescue World I was promoting spay & neuter and rescuing myself (mainly the strays and those unwanted and dumped on me, sometimes volunteering at shelters, but I was still running in first gear.
I can’t really tell what caused the first email. But the idea of Rescue became gradually larger and larger. Interestingly I almost cancelled my Facebook membership. Until I took a look at it and I saw the possibilities growing with a expanding amount of ‘friends’ and the limitless opportunities of the Worldwide Web. The report made it all so much clearer! I became more active in Rescue, emailed more often and to more people, rescues, fellow cross-posters. I volunteered at a rescue, updating their website, maintaining their ‘grounds’, taking pictures and writing profiles, spending money. And eventually the first rescued cat walked in my life. Lessons to be learned…
I learned a lot about cats by now, but the most important thing was their comfort zone! Cats, like a lot of us, have a comfort zone. They get familiar with a place, a home, a family; and most don’t like changes! While they are adventurous at heart, they have their comfortable world. In a way it makes sense for an animal to experience and require a certain amount of trust for the world around it; considering that cats sleep for roughly 20 hours a day.
And when suddenly torn out of this comfort zone and thrown into a world of concrete and metal, smells of death and feces, loud noises, and often enough rough words and handling, their world falls apart. I am not sure how long a cat remembers. I heard it said that dogs remember their bad behavior for 30 seconds (A record when I consider my children’s seemingly notorious memory loss when it comes to their ‘deeds’!) and that correcting them afterwards may leave them confused.
How confused must an animal feel that goes from personal freedom and all the other comforts of a home to a tiny metal cage; especially when it actually experienced being loved once.
I imagine this shock close to what only Steven King’s ‘best’ movies can show somebody who hasn't felt it.
I learned to change my priorities. When a new cat comes into my house, I am available, but I am not intruding. I will usually house them in my library, where peace and quiet is a rule. They have a view of the outdoors, a comfortable chair, and all other requirements. I spend a lot of time in there reading; and they have the option of seeking me out or watching me from a safe distance. Most cats will seek me out; and it is very possible that I am sitting in my old chair with new ‘company’.
While reading a book undisturbed may not be so easy anymore, their affection is a gift, a pleasure, an honor. And when finally a less trusting one comes closer, the gift of trust cannot be described with words.
I have cats in my family that were described as feral, semi-feral, aggressive or else. But all it took was a bit of understanding, the lack of pressure to make this new family member fit in, the expectations limited to “Whatever is given is freely given!”, and my secret weapon: Hot Dogs. The cheap chicken hot dogs from a well-known Superstore to be exact!
I spend hours sitting on my kitchen floor feeding/brushing my feline children. The natural curiosity of a cat will bring it closer; especially after hearing a can opener, the refrigerator door or the smacking lips of their feline companions. Watch the wonders at work.
My feral or semi-feral cats are now mostly ‘civilized’. Some prefer only my company, some picked one of my children, some are perfectly happy to watch from the distance or seek their fellow felines as their only company. They lay in my windows, on my porch, under the tree; enjoying a new life away from the horrors they must have felt beforehand in the shelter or a ‘bad’ home.
My cats taught me a lot of lessons!
I learned that if you enjoy the simple pleasures of life, you will value things that seemed so insignificant before.
I learned that patience is a virtue and trust earned much more valuable than forced obedience. I actually appreciate freely given cooperation much more than instilled obedience.
I learned that I gain more by lowering my expectations and keeping them reasonable, than by laying down standards that can’t be met.
I learned that you should never say that you know what you are doing, because somebody will proof you wrong.
I learned that allowing personal freedom will gain you more love; and that respect, acceptance of diversity, and the unconditional love often only found in a ‘pet’, will be returned in kind.
I learned that first impressions can be wrong; for you may not know the true personality of your cat until it learned to trust you. And that can be minutes, days, weeks, even months after your feline stepped into your life.
And while they may not have been perfect for others when they landed themselves in a shelter, they may easily become as perfect for you as you become perfect for them.
2014 Public Animal Shelter Report
2013 Public Animal Shelter Report
2012 Public Animal Shelter Report
2011 Public Animal Shelter Report
North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services - Animal Welfare
Spay Neuter Program
NC shelter kills 99 percent of animals, records show Read more at http://www.wral.com/nc-shelter-kills-99-percent-of-animals-records-show/11778189/#F2FCyTFACyfD
- NC shelter kills 99 percent of animals, records show :: WRAL.com
For dogs and cats that end up at the Montgomery County Animal Shelter, the journey is like being sent to death row. The shelter, which has the highest kill rate in the state, euthanized nearly 1,200 animals - 100 percent of cats and 98 percent of dog