(Featured image submitted by Cassi Ohman. Thank you, Cassi!)
Once again, a year has passed, and I haven’t written a word until now. The lack of editorial follow-up, as usual, is not due to a deficiency in the goings-on, so much as a holding-out for the kind of happenings that I like to write about. As a typical American, I like stories that have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and I prefer the happily-ever-after type endings to the depressing Shakespearean ones. I’m especially not fond of the kind of endings where the plot just sort of evaporates, leaving the reader confused and wondering what in the hell happened. So…if this story begins in the middle, and/or it unfolds to a somewhat vapory conclusion, that’s only because there’s no end in sight, happy or otherwise. No Shakespearean tragedies (yet) either, thank God, but I do seem to accumulate the kind of challenges that come back to bite me in the bum, rather than the kind that get resolved and allow me to turn the page.
Quite truthfully, Suzie’s Cat Refuge is busier than ever! I’ve rescued three more cats this year, and I’ve discovered new and creative ways to raise money for my cause. I even recruited a foster volunteer for the first time! And…since some of the local rescue folks feel that I haven’t been doing too terrible of a job with my little furballs, I’m delighted to have made some new friends in the feline welfare community. I’ve also gotten involved with a new kind of rescue effort, which involves saving cats that are scheduled for euthanasia in local shelters. These are all very exciting developments! My learning has increased ten-fold, and I continue to be rewarded daily for my efforts by being wrapped in a blanket of purrs and cuddles, and goofy, kittenish antics that never cease to amuse. *sigh* If only it wasn’t such a pathetic year for adoptions.
In twelve months of being “busier than ever,” my total adoptions for 2017 have reached a whopping -1. No, you read that correctly. The negative sign in front of the 1 isn’t just a speck of dust on your monitor. Not only have I been unsuccessful in placing any of my cats, but I also re-inherited one that was adopted a year ago, because his owner had to move and couldn’t take him with. More recently, a cat that was adopted, pending a 30-day trial period, had to come back to the Refuge to be treated for an ear infection that I thought had already been cured, at which point the new “owner” decided not to proceed with the adoption. Had I been lucky (or perhaps taken better notice of the problem afflicting the cat), my total adoptions might have increased to zero, which is hardly a reason for popping the cork, but I would have celebrated, nonetheless.
I experience many of the same challenges that other rescue groups do, on a much smaller scale. It’s always the challenge of too many cats in need, and a tireless, passionate endeavor to save ALL of them, hindered by limited shelter capacity, inconsistent foster support, and not enough funds to cover the expenses. My version of “busting at the seams” is having four cats in my downstairs, one cat in my upstairs, another placed with a foster volunteer (but only for a three-month commitment), and at any moment, facing the possibility of having to reclaim a cat from an adoption that didn’t stick. To illustrate that one person’s “busting at the seams” is another’s vacation from all the fuckery, take my situation and multiply it by a thousand, and you have some concept of what most animal welfare groups in the country are dealing with. And no. It doesn’t end. It merely enjoys the sporadic, illusory glimmer of a pause (er…paws?), whereupon we allow ourselves a pee break, and perhaps an episode of Game of Thrones before plummeting back into the mess.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)[i] reported that 3.2 million cats are surrendered to shelters each year, and only about 1.6 million are adopted. Sadly, 860,000 are euthanized. This information seems to imply that there simply aren’t enough homes for all of the displaced cats. But interestingly, only about 35% of all U.S households own a cat, with an average of 2.1 cats per household, and 85.8 million cats owned in total. Although these numbers vary somewhat, depending on the source, the overall trend is consistent. More people own dogs than cats (for some strange reason), and the majority of American households are yet unblessed with a feline companion. Those poor folks! As an ongoing supplier of unclaimed felines, what can I do to enrich the lives of the catless (and obviously very depressed and lonely) 65%?
A study by the American Humane Association (AHA)[ii] revealed some of the more common reasons why people don’t own pets. Among the subjects questioned, 35% of those who had never owned a cat, reported that they simply don’t like cats. 29% said that they don’t like the smell of a litter box. Of those who had previously owned a cat, 16% had developed allergies, 17% were still grieving the loss of a cat that had died, and 24% named cost as their biggest barrier to future cat ownership. Persons aged 65 and over, who had not previously owned a cat were the least inclined to adopt, with an overwhelming 94% saying that they would not open their home to a cat.
The problem of too many cats being surrendered to shelters, and not enough people adopting, is really only part of the problem, and it’s a problem that everyone already knows about, to a certain extent. What you may not be aware of are the high volume of cats that are taking too long to get adopted, or even made available for adoption, either because they exhibit some sort of undesireable behavior, or they suffer from chronic health problems, which might be anything from ear mites that won’t go away, to infectious, and fatal diseases like feline leukemia.
All three of the cats that came to the Refuge this year have had issues that have delayed them getting adopted. Two were plagued with persistent ear infections, while the third (a giant male tuxedo named Kat), suffered a 2-month bout with recurring mouth sores (occasionally accompanied by an upper respiratory infection) with an unknown cause. Fortunately, after some TLC, Kat has been symptom-free for over a month now. But his health issues are only half of the challenge.
Kat’s personality is…shall we say…not for everyone? On the one hand, he’s a low-key, mellow dude, very quiet and easy to handle. He’s also pretty darn funny and entertaining! But in spite his generous servings of comic relief, and easy-going attitude, he’s been surprisingly difficult to bond with. He is neither friendly, nor unfriendly, with occasional leanings in one direction or the other, sometimes approaching for head scritches, while at other times, whipping around to lay a good chomp on you. He was, in fact, nearly euthanized in a local shelter for biting someone on the adoption floor. He was surrendered to the shelter by his owner because he was antagonizing the resident senior cat too much.
It would help tremendously if Kat could at least be placed into a home with other cats, but alas… I would agree with his prior owner, that his behavior toward other cats could be described “antagonistic.” He’s territorial in a weird, silent kind of way. He doesn’t hiss or growl. He just lurks in areas that the cats have to stroll through in order to access food and other resources, and he chases and tackles whoever wanders by, which sometimes results in his face being scratched to ribbons. After numerous attempts at socialization, I’ve resigned to keeping Kat separate, where his behavior toward humans has reverted to the “norm,” sometimes friendly, but mostly just there for the food. Ain’t he cute though? Seriously, what a ham!
Several outcomes are possible (many of them, not pleasant) when calls from people who need to surrender a cat continue to flow in, but all of the no-kill rescue groups are packed to the gills with unadoptable cats. Animals that can’t find placement with a no-kill rescue might be taken by local impound facilities, or open-admission shelters (shelters like the Animal Humane Society[iii] that take any animal, regardless of the circumstances), where they are placed for adoption (if healthy and adoptable), or placed on the list for euthanasia.
Fortunately, cats that are scheduled for euthanasia do not immediately die. They are first offered to a select list of approved rescue groups (known as Rescue Partners), who may then express interest in saving the cat (a process known as “tagging”), if they can find additional foster support, and/or raise enough funds to offset the added cost. For numerous reasons that I may discuss at length in a future blog entry, cats that are placed on the euthanasia list are not available for adoption by the general public.
Occasionally, even the open-admission shelters become so full that they have to turn animals away. That, unfortunately, is why some cats end up getting shot, abandoned, placed in cardboard boxes along the highway, or met with other fates too terrible to mention. For this reason, some people believe that euthanasia is actually more humane than allowing animals to continue suffering in whatever awful situation they’re in. It’s a valid point, to a certain extent, but there are a couple of problems with it. For one, it risks being a permanent solution to a temporary problem. A scared cat that endures in a shelter for a prolonged period, or a cat that roams the streets covered in fleas and scrounging for food, is nonetheless, alive, and might eventually find placement with a rescue, or a kind person who takes him under their wing. By killing cats that might someday be adoptable, we eliminate any possibility for a happy ending. Also, we have to consider the message that we’re sending, and the influence that our practices may have on the public. The moment we decide that it’s okay to kill animals, simply to suit the purpose of creating space, or even saving them from a fate worse than death, we present them to our neighbors as something akin to a noxious weed, a mere “problem” to be eradicated, rather than loving, intelligent beings that deserve to exist…which kind of goes against the mission of fostering an attitude of compassion toward animals, and convincing our largely catless society that cats are worthy to keep around.
The AHA study that I referenced earlier indicates that a large percentage of people who do not want to adopt a cat, are simply people who don’t like cats. As a person who believes that the “Gospel” should be lived by, but not preached down other people’s throats, I’m not sure there’s much we can do about the cat haters in the world, other than insert the occasional “good word,” where the topic of cute, adoptable kitties naturally creeps into the conversation. Once in a while, a person is converted. My ex-husband, in fact, didn’t think very positively of cats for most of his life, but he adored every one of the three cats that we had during our marriage. A year ago, he adopted one of his own from Suzie’s Refuge. Then there are folks like my great auntie Helen, who recently passed away at the age of 100. Helen, as far as I’m concerned, was a near-perfect individual, her one flaw being her dislike of cats, which never wavered in the entire century that she graced the planet. While I remain hopeful that the cat haters will eventually confess their sins (and repent, by making their way to the local adoption center), at the end of the day, we have little choice but to promote our adoptable cats to those who are already open to taking one in.
If the last sentence describes you at all, especially if you’re one of the 24% that’s holding out due to lack of the needed funds to care for a pet, please consider fostering for a rescue. All of the donations in the world do not automatically create the extra space for more cats to be brought to safety, so if you would like to open your home to a cat, but are concerned about the money, fostering provides a huge benefit to the rescue effort, and allows you to simply provide the loving care, while all expenses are paid for by someone else.
If you are looking to adopt, take a moment to inquire with the rescue staff about which cats they’re having a hard time placing. You may find that many of those cats are perfectly fine. Some of them might just be…black! Yes! Black cats, for whatever reason, do not get adopted very quickly. Same with cats that are older than one year. Others might be missing an eye, or a leg. They might be deaf, or blind, or afflicted with some kind of harmless deformity or birth defect that makes them look a little funny, but doesn’t impact their disposition, their life expectancy, or overall health. Some cats are simply a little bit shy, and need to be placed in a quieter home. By opening your home to one of the hard-to-adopts, you enable them to move through the program a little more quickly, which ensures continued open space for other cats in need of safe refuge….a much kinder alternative to euthanasia, don’t you think?
Suzie’s Cat Refuge