Tuesday, May 27, 2008

And Then There Were 25

I have this long ago memory of a beautiful Siamese cat given to me by my Aunt Barbara for Christmas. I remember the mystery and thrill. But the cat vanished. I was really quite young, probably 2.5 years old. But I remember getting the cat for Christmas quite well. I have asked and asked my mother what happened to the cat. Silence.

As it turned out, I was allergic to cats, causing me a storm of allergy symptoms including rash, severe asthma, and associated allergic reactions. I couldn't even walk into a home with a cat, let alone touch one. Then came the amazing allergy shots! I lined up with kids at the doc, got my shots for almost everything on the planet, and rode my bike home for another day of baseball in the street and hide-and-go-seek.

I am almost 55 now and have been in the dog and cat rescue world (before it was called that!) for three decades. Five years ago, I was granted a permit for 10 dogs and 15 cats in an area otherwise zoned for three animals, regardless of how many of which. That the fees for this permit have increased 300% over this five-year time is the subject for another post, but suffice it to say that this does stick in my craw.

Lots of folks have odd ideas about what we in rescue actually "do". So, this post is dedicated to those of you that don't know, and might want to. Rescue is a broad term, and we are a diverse bunch with a broad spectrum of approaches, specialties and interests. As a group, we are anything but alike.

In my particular case, I own four dogs and two cats.... well, maybe three cats. Everything else with three or four legs is a rescue. Some times two-legged winged things are here until they can go to the proper rescue or wildlife rehab.

All of my own dogs are either rescue rejects or those who have severe medical issues and are not placeable: The unsocialized (but never biters, I do not take biters... preferring to take the nice dogs, killed by the dozens everyday only because there are just too many), the terminally ill or those who are statistically likely to be terminal. I also have owned, and will again own, senior dogs which find themselves unadoptable at shelters due to nothing other than age. These seniors enter and finish their lives here. I also always try to have dogs/cats in the rescues from dying owners. I have two now, both cats.

I have just so much "space" so many of all of these types, if not taken by other rescues, are killed. Some are killed brutally under the color of tax-funded animal "shelters" and/or contract SPCAs etc. There are kinder ways to kill animals, and not. But kill is the operative and appropriate word.

This time of year, spring/summer, we are loaded to the gills. Our numbers double almost instantly in February from our normal downseason 12 to over double that. Why? Because, in normal years, this is puppy and kitten "season". The irresponsible end up shoving their animal babies into shelters, abandoning them, or advertising them for homes at much too young an age. It is a national tragedy. But this is not a normal year. It's much worse. Many read about foreclosure animals, but we in rescue are dealing with them.

In one instance--one that is still in play--the family lost their home and moved back to South Dakota leaving behind their three unspayed/unneutered cats. Those three cats have now turned into almost 25. We have taken in the non-ferals, fully vetted them, and many now have homes, the remainder are up for adoption. But over a dozen still remain, feral now, with kittens that will also be feral if we cannot find and humanely trap them at an age young enough to tame. The moms and dads will be trapped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated and given any additional needed vetting, then re-released into the neighborhood under the care of a neighborhood feeder as a neighborhood feral colony. TNR. Trap, neuter, release. In this case, there are three generations of cats, now, whose original owners abandoned them and left the neighborhood and rescues to pick up the pieces. They never leave money on the counter to cover the costs paid by rescues or neighbors. People dig into their pockets, hold garage sales... anything to cover the costs.

The remaining animals in our rescues are either fosters for other rescues (usually sick animals that need specific and very detailed care prior to getting well/adopted) and dogs from shelters on their literal last day... sometimes last hour. This last group of animals present highly stressed, almost always sick, sometimes fatally, usually underweight, often with long-present medical or orthopedic issues, and frequently with skin disease. If everything goes right (and thankfully it usually does), two to three months later, the dogs/cats are healthy, at or near weight, coats are returning through good nutrition, supplementation, exercise and good general care, and their stress is relieved by running around the yard with other happy dogs, or basking in a sunlit window, and being loved.

Thus, one has to ask just WHAT the original home did to so seriously alter the personality and/or health of an otherwise mentally and physically healthy animal. In two words: abuse and/or neglect. Usually, the two are tied together.

Then there are those that move and either set the cat outside (WHAT are they thinking? Cats who are not trained by their feral mothers to hunt almost never survive hunting for themselves) or leaving them, without telling anyone, inside an apartment or home with NO care and no food or water. Sometimes people get to these animals before they are critically ill or dead. Sometimes not.

I have one of these as well, a foster for a breed rescue which has cost this rescue, now, almost $1700.00 to save. But save this little nine month-old persian kitten we did, including two straight weeks of force feeding until she could/would eat on her own. This kitten will be adopted out to a loving family for about $200.00, fully vetted and healthy (and with more blood panels than you can possibly imagine!). Blossom, is a lucky one. She was found, actually, by a dog rescue who contacted the breed rescue who contacted me. It does take a village. Blossom will soon be picked up by a volunteer transporter (along with another foster cat who is now well) to go to the rescue, physically, for showing and adoption.

Sadly, these two places won't be vacant for more than 6 hours. Two new cats will come in and the saga begins anew.

I wanted to go to veterinary school. My mother used to joke that she would be my office manager because I would just give my services away. She was right. I would have. My college grades were excellent, but there was just no money to pay for four years of veterinary school on top of the years I had already attended at university. Working one's way through vet school is almost impossible. I received great grades, but that is because I was focused and I studied. And studied. And studied. I think I am about as average as anyone can be in most ways. After leaving college, I worked some very strange jobs. But as a waitress, every night I would count my tips and write a check for that exact amount to pay off my student loans. In a year or two, they were paid. And I, unfortunately, was still a waitress.

My interest in helping animals was as much a part of me as my eye color. Though I have hardened a lot, just through years of sadness I suppose, I have a lot more knowledge and experience now. Sometimes I think I just "stuff" my grief and get on with it. Then I read a rescue post for help for an extremely needy animal, and I break down and sob. There's a system to all this, I guess.

But what I believe is really going on here is that we were all intended to work in God's world for God's purposes and given gifts to enable this work. I was not born with a manual of God's desires for me, nor do I believe they are fully revealed. But they were planted in my heart and my soul. They are what I am when working at my highest purpose.

We are not all cut from the same cloth. There is too much need, and too much ground to cover for that. Instead, I believe we are all given gifts to give to enrich others of God's creation: Some in the environment, some with children, some with elders, some with animals and so on. Some are great artists that inspire, and some are thinkers, likewise. Some are in holy orders to help us through our humanness--our frailty and separation--and to encourage and help us connect with the God that made and loves us.

Rescue is frustrating work, at times, and terribly sad at others. It is extremely expensive work. I do not know of a single rescue that doesn't, at year's end, operate in the red with volunteers and directors pulling a large amount of the money needed from their own pockets. It is a labor of love, in my case. About the only thing I don't like about rescue is dealing with human beings who are irresponsible. Of course I have to do this daily. WHAT was God thinking! I am truly the last person on earth that God should have given this duty to, and one that has to ask constant forgiveness for the comments that flow from my tongue and across my mind. The joke is probably on me. This is probably the why.

But God, I am putting my foot down... no more than 25. Never. Ever. Period.

Okay, maybe once in a while...

Go here to see Kacee's slideshow, and turn up the sound; lovely music.