I said you wouldn’t hear from me while I am on ‘sabbatical’ in Virginia, but apparently, that isn’t true.
I came here to hike and work on our future home and write and read the stacks of books I brought with me; I didn’t come here to rescue animals. I planned to scrub and build and repair and plant, but instead, I find myself once again, up to my neck in rescuing animals.
The (insert expletive of your choice) man who lived here before us left us his cat. Plus the handful of feral cats he’d been feeding (and a bear that stops by in the mornings in search of whatever the cats didn’t eat).
There was nearly a month between when he moved out and we arrived. Contrary to what many people think, cats can’t always fend for themselves. At least not all of them, and not very well. We noticed a few cats on our previous visit but assumed they’d move along when their food source was gone. Worst case, I’d trap them and get them altered.
By the time we arrived for our extended time here, three of the four cats were mere skeletons. The tiny male orange cat was in the worst shape. All his bones protruded, he moved slowly and looked to be in a daze. His coat was rough and stained and you could see giant ticks hanging like a collection of jelly beans around his neck.
The brown tabby cat who had looked fairly healthy the first time we saw her now looked at us with dull green eyes, scratched at the door, mewling pitifully. Her ears were torn, her coat neglected, her limp belly sagging on a bony frame.
I watched them for two days. I didn’t feed them – everyone said, “Don’t feed them, they’ll become dependent.”
We won’t be living here fulltime. We will come down as often as we can to continue to renovate the long-neglected cabin, but not often enough to feed these cats regularly. And eventually, we plan to rent the cabin to people and their dogs, so resident cats are truly not in the long-range plans.
But the cats were starving and dehydrated and probably anemic from fleas and ticks. I set out a bowl of water for Flannery on the porch and they flocked to it and drank it dry. There is a creek about a quarter-mile away, but the little stream that cuts through our property is dry this time of year.
I watched them for another day and then couldn’t bear it. “They’re starving to death,” I told Nick. “I can’t just watch.” My cat-allergic husband said nothing because he knows me.
I fed the cats. They couldn’t eat much at first. The little orange boy swatted at the food in frustration. He was too weak. So I went to the store and bought Capstar, a med that makes all the fleas and ticks fall right off – it doesn’t prevent them from coming back though, so I also bought Frontline. I shoved pills down the throats of the two cats who became our hesitant, jumpy friends. I can’t touch and rarely even see the other two.
The brown cat seems to be the mama of the two orange cats, who look like adolescents. We named her Molly Weasley (our cats are Harry Potter characters) and she began to fill out quickly and spends her days waiting at the door for us to let her in (which we don’t). She was obviously the (insert expletive of your choice) man’s former house cat. She and Flannery are bonding. She looks better already, and I will likely take her home with me.
The tiny orange boy kitty (Ian named him Fred Weasley) only looks marginally better. He’s moving better and leaped off the second story porch when Flannery sniffed him. Despite me shoving a pill down his throat the first time he let me touch him, he is hanging around. He seems to know we mean well.
The tiny orange girl kitty (Ginny Weasley) is keeping her distance. She comes to eat when we are not outside, but is still too frightened and we rarely see her.
The big gray tomcat is the only one who seems to be able to take care of himself. He is not starving like the others and only shows up on occasion, never climbs the post to the second story porch where the other cats eat. I don’t know that he’s a tom, I’ve just decided that he is. He doesn’t have a name yet because I haven’t seen him in a week.
I don’t want four cats. But something has to be done. I will only be here another week and a half.
I called the local animal control officer who told me that they ‘don’t deal with cats unless they’re injured’ which seemed an odd response. These cats look pretty injured to me, but he suggested I contact the Warren County Humane Society. So, I did.
And yes, they do have a TNR (Trap-Neuter-Release) program, but it’s out of money for the year, and also, they don’t accept strays. They could help me out with their ‘low-cost’ program ($90 per cat for spay plus rabies shot) if I come in and paid in advance and then brought the cats on the designated morning at 7 am and picked them up that night at 8pm.
But what then? I bring the cats back here and release them to starve to death?
There have been many times when I am asked—what about cats? Do you get involved in cat rescue? I always say, “I totally get that the cat crises eclipses the dog problem, but I can’t go there. Not yet.”
The way I see it is that we domesticated dogs and they cannot survive without us. Cats, on the other hand, have a few more resources.
But these four, at least three of them, well, they don’t seem to know how to use those resources.
And while I don’t want to be a cat rescuer, I don’t see that I have a choice here. I will bring Molly and maybe Fred home with me, but I don’t know what to do with Ginny or Tom. I bought traps and paid for two cats to be spayed/neutered and given their rabies. The assigned day was today.
Last night I set two traps, hoping to catch Fred and Ginny. The traps have been under the porch for two weeks, ziptied open, next to the post the cats climb to access the porch. Last night I cut the zipties and placed half a can of sardines in each and hoped for the best. I said goodnight to Molly on the porch and went to bed, hoping she wouldn’t be the cat I trapped.
I got up at 5:30, after a fitfull night dreaming of trapped cats (it was always Tom, so much so that I was certain he was in the trap when I got up). Flannery and I hurried out to check the traps. They were both empty, untriggered, but the sardines were gone.
Not knowing what else to do, I put Molly in my cat carrier and dropped her off at the Humane Society to be spayed. Remembering that I was told the money I paid was nonrefundable, I asked if I could transfer the money for today’s extra spay to the next spay day (a month from now when I will need to make a special trip down here) and try again to catch one of my cats and was told, “I’ll pass this along to the powers that be and we will see.”
I’ve decided not to get angry. Yet. But I have already begun to understand why so many people don’t bother to spay and neuter their pets (or their feral friends) when it is so terribly inconvenient and expensive. I am determined to fix these cats and while I don’t want to spend this much money to do it, I’ll find a way. But what about the person who struggles to pay their own bills? Or what about the person who has to get a ride to the Humane Society or has to work or doesn’t own a trap or a hard-sided carrier or care so much if their cat impregnates another cat? Certainly, it should be easier than this.
If anyone out there is in the market for a cat, let me know. I’d be happy to deliver one to you. If I could just catch one.
Thanks for reading!
If you’d like to know more about the book, Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs, visit AnotherGoodDog.org, where you can find more pictures of the dogs from the book (and some of their happily-ever-after stories), information on fostering, and what you can do right now to help shelter animals! You can also purchase a signed copy or several other items whose profits benefit shelter dogs!
If you would like to know more about the situation in our rural animal shelters in the south and the struggle to save dogs, check out my other blog, Who Will Let the Dogs Out.
If you’d like to know how you can volunteer, foster, adopt or donate with OPH, click here. And if you’d like more pictures and videos of my foster dogs past and present, be sure to join the Another Good Dog Facebook group.
Released August 2018 from Pegasus Books and available now