Sacred Beings Entrusted to My Care

Foster Kitten Harvey Centered Among Three of Our Adults

Surrendering to Love

Peggy and I adore the longhair kittens that weve fostered for three weeks. In the late 1970s, I killed dogs as a volunteer for a rural humane society, but surrendering these kittens to their forever homes will be even harder because at least I didn’t know the dogs.

Our three fosters came to us through the Cat Rescue and Adoption Network (CRAN)*, a local group with over 200 volunteers, no paid staff, and a $199,000 annual budget. The group’s Medical Rehabilitation and Ringworm Treatment Facility is nearly complete, but cats who are able will continue to be lodged in seventy local homes. CRAN’s cats are also listed on PetFinder and, as space becomes available, taken to one of two local Petsmart stores where still more volunteers oversee the adoption process.

Our three lovelies came to us with a large “condo,” toys, bowls, food, blankets, a litter scoop, two litter boxes, two tubs of litter, and other odds and ends, and it was all new. CRAN’s generosity had the effect of making me, at least, feel obligated to house cats regularly instead of sporadically, which is what I wanted to do in the first place if only Peggy will allow. 

Partial Page from a CRAN Newsletter
I had wanted to foster cats for years, but Peggy worried that they might infect our cats with parasites or disease, and that I would want to keep them, so she made me agree that we would accept only such cats as a vet had screened and vaccinated, and that I wouldnt whine about adopting them. After receiving our application, CRANs president, Louanne, came out in mid-October to tour our home and and conduct a screening interview. We havent had contact with her since, but Kim, the lady who brought first the supplies and then the kittens has stayed in frequent touch. She paid us a visit last Saturday because one of the kittens had a swollen abdomen related to having been spayed, and Kim wanted to examine her before we took her to WAG (Willamette Animal Guild) for a checkup. She later emailed: “You and Peggy are dreams for our foster organization.”

Dreams, us? I can accept that Kim was exceedingly pleased with how safe and happy our fosters feel, but when I consider people like Kim herself who have devoted a large part of their lives and fortunes to helping cats, we’re pikers. Yet within the confines of what we agreed to do and how well we’re doing it, we are good—very good. We’re also loving it, or at least I’m loving it, Peggy being less pleased with the necessity of putting away her knicknacks, draping sheets over the upholstery, and devoting a chunk of our den to a cat condo. In my view, nothing that we put away or covered over came even close to being as beautiful as the precious beings that took its place, and I have been glad to  observe that Peggy cheerfully takes on half of the work, which is a bit more work than we figured on because we have a bit more kittens than we figured on.

We initially agreed to take only one kitten at a time, but when Kim asked if we could take two, we reflected upon our very real desire to help and the amount of money the organization had invested in buying us supplies, and we said yes. So far so good, but ten minutes before she was to arrive, Kim phoned to say that she was en route with three kittens, and could we please take them all because they were bonded siblings. I don’t think the term “bonded” quite applies to kittens, but if we hadn’t taken them, Kim would, and she already had six fosters and fourteen resident cats. She sniffed so much while here that I asked if she had a cold, and she said no, she’s allergic to cats! I said that Louis J. Carmuti (1883-1981), the world’s first full-time cat vet was also allergic to cats.

The Hard Stuff

Far from being the cruel, selfish, and unloving little shits that cat haters claim they are, cat lovers regard cats as gentle, giving, loyal and sensitiveat least I do. How sad that they must eat the bodies of other gentle, giving, loyal, and sensitive, creatures. Vegetarian that I am, I think about this a lot now that I’m feeding seven cats.  I also reflect upon other humanitarian dilemmas. For instance, here is how the latest CRAN newsletter (see second illustration) described its care of a nursing kitten named Forrest who was found living on the street with his mother and sister:

“He became very ill and fought hard for his life. From vet visit to vet visit, antibiotic treatment to antibiotic treatment, medicated nebulizer treatments to steamy showers, sub-Q fluids and bottle feedings…all of this care leading at last to a healthy and thriving kitten.”

How is an organization to decide the worth of a kitten (or a child for that matter) when funds are limited, all kittens are of inestimable value, and the money devoted to one will be denied to others? I started this post by admitting that I used to kill dogs (call it euthanasia if you will, but it just felt like killing), and the fact that my intentions were good hasn’t mitigated the anguish that I continue to feel fifty years later. The bottom-line is that year-in and year-out, millions of animals are killed (or allowed to die) most of them because human beings are too indifferent to misery to spay and neuter, and it is oftentimes the very people who love animals who must end their lives. I am too new to intimate involvement with CRAN to know how it manages to remain a no-kill organization but, generally speaking, no-kill shelters pass on their worst cases and their overload to shelters that have no choice but to kill, shelters that are tax-supported. Sadly, the term no-kill can be interpreted to mean that the people who staff kill shelters are callous, maybe even kill-happy

I was the only man in the organization that I killed for. When we accumulated so many dogs that they were cannibalizing one another due to the extreme stress of gross overcrowding, an emergency board-meeting was called. At that meeting, the women all pronounced themselves too soft-hearted to do what had to be done. They then crossed their arms and waited for me to speak. I wish I had walked out.

Finally, CRAN, like many rescue groups, requires that those who adopt its cats keep them indoors, and it also requires that kittens have the companionship of another animal. It does not trap feral cats, neuter them, and re-release them into the wild. Sadly, studies from the world over (including a recent mega-study by the Smithsonian Institute in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Survey) have consistently shown that feral cats kill billions of birds a year (and three times as many other creatures), a number which exceeds the number of birds killed by cars, pollution, pesticides, wind turbines, slamming into windows, and all other un-natural causes combined (Felis catus is un-natural in that it was created by humans in northern Africa and introduced to the rest of the world).** 

I used to see several garter snakes a year in my yard, but five years ago a neighbor with twelve outdoor cats moved in, and three summers have passed since I last saw a single snake. I watched a cat clamber over my fence carrying a grown tree squirrel, and the cat next door has killed birds by the dozen each and every year for the eight years that he has lived here. Many cat-lovers respond to studies of cat predation—and to my own eye-witness accounts of cat predation—with flat-out denial, vulgar vituperation, and in the case of the referenced study, death threats. A major concern that I have about being affiliated with a cat rescue group is that I don’t want to associate with such fanatics, and I certainly dont want to be numbered among them. This is why I was careful in my selection of CRAN.



PhilipH said...

Hi Snowy. Happy to read this post. Hope very much you're doing OK as I was unsure how you have been lately. I emailed recently just to see how things were with you and yours - now I know all's well. You are, I guess, almost certain to adopt at least one of your foster felines and wish you all the very best in that respect. Cheers, Philip

Snowbrush said...

The last letter I found from you was written in August. I must have overlooked it somehow, but I will go and answer it now.

Sue in Italia/In the Land Of Cancer said...

Good for you and Peggy. You seem to get so much joy from this. I wonder about this organization's requirement for a house to have another animal in it. I have had cats, cats and dogs and although the dogs always tried to make friends with the cats, the cats wanted to be left alone nor would the cats ever be friendly to each other. I did adopt a very young kitten , so tiny that she could barely stand who bonded to my husky and slept within his arms.

I would have had a hard time too putting down the animals.

Snowbrush said...

Sue, it helps to introduce cats to one another as kittens, or at least when one of them is a kitten, which is how our four cats were introduced. In other words, we got one cat, and when he was grown, got a second cat, a kitten. Then, when that cat was grown, we got another kitten, and we ndid the same with the final cat. Our four grown cats love one another, and three of them are showing affection to the kittens, although it was a lot of newness to begin with, our four cats being actually frightened by the newbies. I've heard it speculated that the fear of a grown cat for a strange kitten might be nature's way of protecting the kitten while he or she is still young and ever so vulnerable.

Cats and dogs can also be close friends, but again, the younger they are introduced, the better.

Starshine Twinkletoes said...

What a happy joyful post! I love that you're fostering, it's such a kind thing to do, a friend of mine did the same with dogs for a while, before she ended up with a job that meant she had to settle down with just the one dog. I would find it hard to let go of them, but it's really about practicality and what's best for the cats and you and Peggy are shining examples of that.

So far as the meat issue goes we are now at a stage where meat is being grown in a lab. It is safe to eat, not full of all the drugs pumped into cattle and the other poor sods bred for such purposes. Cruelty free. I've talked to many vets and they all say that dogs can live a healthy diet on specially prepared vegetarian dog food. I also know people who have only fed their dogs said food and the dogs lived full healthy lives. Lardy is also a great example of that, though Bill would give her bits of bobs that set her stomach off like hide chews and old bones. Cats aren't so easy, and I am not someone who would ever make an animal suffer simply to save another animals life, so at present feeding them meat is necessary, as I say, once lab-grown it won't be. I think the main thing people need to understand about a cruelty free/vegan way of life is that it isn't there to be torn apart by people who are doing so purely because they feel guilty at being made to feel less worthy, just because someone else wishes to save life and stop unnecessary torture. The key is - do your best - if doing your best is having one meat free day a week then you are thinking about it and slowing down the demand. If it's choosing to be vegetarian then so be it, and onwards. Making anyone feel terrible for eating meat is not only pointless, it actively makes the meat-eaters hate the vegans more and therefore make the vegans feel terrible. All that's needed is some thought and understanding. I've never been able to understand why I've spent so many years being verbally attacked for trying to be kind and save lives. Disagree all you want, it's your life, but the attacks simply build the fences higher between them. As it happens Rosie has pancreatitis, and because of this the only diet she can tolerate is a grain free blend that has all the nutrients and some fish in it. The vet said so much of the dog food sold today is so fatty it causes pancreatitis itself and all that grain isn't good either. He actually feeds his dog the same food we do with Rosie and he was always impressed at how well Lardy did on her diet. So fish die for Rosie to live, yes. I'm very happy that within my lifetime I believe all humans and pets will have the option of eating lab-grown meat which would take away the whole torturing/keeping pregnant all the time/tiny cages/live male chicks in the grinder business completely. I feel I've been walking into a storm face on for so long and finally, finally the sun is beginning to peek through, and people are thinking about what they eat and that if needed, ( for instance taking just one vitamin pill a day of B12 instead of keeping the death toll going - oh the deprivation. (you can get B12 with a vegan diet but it takes some thought for the foods eaten, however many, many meat eaters are deficient in B12 too, I have a friend who was horrified to discover his solid traditional diet left him without enough B12)). Anyway on I've gone.

If I entered your house I would sneeze for a week on Monday, hahahahaha, but much like any animal lover, I'd get over it and I do find exposure to specific cats for a while make me less allergic. I'm very rarely allergic to dogs - only ones with huge coats who fill the air with hair all the time. I met two Newfoundlands who did this and though my head was going to explode hahahaha

Snowbrush said...

"I would find it hard to let go of them, but it's really about practicality and what's best for the cats..."

Our three kittens would surely elect to stay here, but then we couldn't take other fosters.

"...we are now at a stage where meat is being grown in a lab."

I have no idea if that's being done here on a commercial scale, but, as a person, I still wouldn't want to eat it because I would associate the taste with killing.

"Making anyone feel terrible for eating meat is not only pointless, it actively makes the meat-eaters hate the vegans more..."

It's funny that you're a vegan and, while I don't eat meat or fowl, I do eat fish, and I do eat eggs and dairy in the full knowledge that it necessitates cruelty and death to millions of young bulls and baby roosters, yet I take a harder line on veganism than you do. In reading your argument (which you've kindly shared with me previously through emails), I'm reminded of the movie Schindler's List in which Schindler was forever trying to persuade the brutal camp commandant to cut back on murder. By the same token, by trying to persuade meat-eaters to cut back on cruelty and death in the assumption that it will do more good in the longrun, you are resigned to reducing--rather than eliminating--cruelty and death in the short term. While you feel good about that, it would ring false if I did it because my inner thought would be unkind. If I didn't live with Peggy, I would definitely experiment with a more plant-based diet, but I do live with Peggy, and I also love fish. One benefit to me as a person of not being vegan is that I have less grounds to be contemptuous of meat-eaters, and given my low opinion of my species, this has the effect of making my life a little easier, but even so, I don't respect meat eaters as much as I respect non meat eaters because I know that in them, as in myself, a diet that is based on either the bodies of, or the products of, animals is a diet of cruelty.


Snowbrush said...

"I've never been able to understand why I've spent so many years being verbally attacked for trying to be kind and save lives."

You are being attacked by people who have value having a certain taste in their mouths more than they value the lives and happiness of other species, and so it is that your desire to reduce the cruelty that they're engaging in leaves them feeling judged for their unwillingness to do the same, and this will be true no matter how kindly you treat them. By contrast, let's say you had some disease or allergy that would make it fatal for you to eat meat, they might find it damn inconvenient if they wanted to cook for you, but they would surely be more understanding because the issue of morality would be absent from the equation. That said, it is also true that we humans are a pack species, and pack species demand conformity. I have seen chickens gang up and peck to death other chickens that, for reasons invisible to humans, didn't fit in, and we humans aren't so very different from chickens. By way of example, let's say that you didn't do drugs, yet all your friends were druggies, or else you were an atheist, yet all your friends were devout believers, you must surely see that there would be conflict.

"So fish die for Rosie to live, yes."

People will always have pets, and no bird or rabbit can take the place of a dog or cat, yet in having predators for pets, we make the decision that our enjoyment of such pets outweighs the value that we place upon other lives. We might regret the loss of those lives, yet we still choose to end them. As Thoreau put it: "Our whole life is startlingly moral. There is never an instant's truce between virtue and vice." I know that one of the things that I love about cats and dogs is their innocence because while no human who isn't thoroughly ignorant or depraved can kill without some degree of remorse, cats and dogs clearly can because that's how evolution made them. I look for indications of compassion in them, but where killing is concerned, I find none, yet how ironic that it is we who are forever looking for an excuse to bathe the earth in the blood of ourselves and other species.

"I'm very rarely allergic to dogs..."

It's not the cat's fur, as you probably know, but the dander that gets to people, and for some reason, the dander of cats is worse than that of dogs. Peggy doesn't sneeze, but she breaks out anytime a cat touches her face--something that she never did with dogs--and I don't know if, in this case, the dander is to blame or the oil in the fur.

kylie said...

I'm pleased that you foster kittens and I expect three is probably not a lot more work than two. Someone who views them as sacred beings is surely going to be the best foster carer.
"Bonded siblings" is an interesting idea, most times litters are separated without ill effect.

Snowbrush said...

"Someone who views them as sacred beings is surely going to be the best foster carer."
True. I feel honored rather than burdened. Because I make no distinction between the importance of a person and that of a cat or a dog, I derive as much joy from helping these kittens as I would from a child. Peggy looks around and sees her furniture draped and her decorations missing. I look around and see kittens. I don't mean to say that she doesn't also love them, but that it's easier for me to give some things up because I've wanted to do this for a lot of years, and it's as rewarding as I hoped. Cats need for their people to move slowly, talking softly, and never lose their temper; by forcing these changes upon me, they are making me a better person.

Winifred said...

It will be hard to let them go they are so lovely.

When our last cat died age 21 we decided we were too old to have another cat as it would outlive us. My daughter had other ideas & suggested we fostered I was very wary about getting attached to them. However the lady that runs a local cat rescue (from her home) needed fosterers so she could have a holiday & go to OZ to see some elderly friends she hadn't seen for many years. I gave in to the sob story & two lovely 7 months old kittens arrived. They were so friendly, well behaved & ate everything put down to them to eat, unlike our previous picky cats.
I let them go back after the lady's holiday but should have known I wouldn't be able to part with them, I missed them so much that I asked if I could adopt them permanently. That was a year ago! I was totally useless as a fosterer.
Hope you & Peggy are better at letting go then I was.

Snowbrush said...

Winifred, one thing that will help me--somewhat--to let go of these kittens is the fact that I'm seventy years old, and can expect to be dead (according to the actuarial tables), long before they are.

As to old people adopting cats, it's good to bear in mind that the cats most in need of homes are also old and will be murdered (I think the word euthanasia constitutes an obscenity in such cases) unless someone wants them. Perhaps, your kittens will someday be in such a position, yet I can well understand why you kept them.