Daily Life of a Rescuer

El Jardinet dels gats, Barcelona, Spain

El Jardinet dels gats, Barcelona, Spain

Recently, my husband, Joe, and I were on a much needed vacation that included a visit to the city of Barcelona, Spain during their annual city festival, “Merce 2009.” For this festival tons of non-profit groups set up in one of the squares.  We wandered around and found groups representing every disease and social problem imaginable. Out of hundreds of tents, however, we only found three that were dedicated to animal issues.

One of those was a group, El Jardinet dels gats (which basically means in Spanish, “the little garden of the cats”), which works solely to rescue cats in the Barcelona area.  The ladies manning the booth were wearing homemade cat ears and the sight reminded me so much of our days working our table at PetSmart that I had to stop and check out what they were doing.  They had several nice flyers that explained what they do, as well as smaller flyers for the kitty of the day, a black and white, one year old male named Run-Run (of course, I took a flyer).  I also had to buy a bag and a t-shirt, because their colors mimicked ours–a black background with an orange moon and a black cat silhouetted against the moon.  If you’d like to check out their web site, go to www.eljardinetdelsgats.org They also have a very cool blog.

While I was standing there, trying to remember enough Spanish to ask about the plight of homeless cats in Spain, I fumbled around until one lady, who was from Poland, informed me that she could speak English.  She then told me that there are a lot of homeless cats in Barcelona.  On one of the posters they had hanging up, I noticed the cat appeared to be ear-tipped and she told me that they do take a notch out of the ear when a cat has been sterilized!!  You cannot believe how excited I was to learn that the same thing we do in Plain City, Ohio, is being done around the world in Barcelona, Spain.

We found two other groups working for all animals, not only cats.  The first was “Fundacion Altarriba, Amigos de los Animales (Friends of Animals)” and “ADDA or Defiende Los Animales (Defending the Animals).” I purchased a t-shirt from Fundacion Altarriba, too, which said, “Jo respecto els animals” which means, “I respect the animals.” Very cool.  To see the web sites for both of these groups, go to www.altarriba.org and www.addaong.org

I made sure to leave donations at each of the booths.  I know how hard it is to always have enough funds to take care of all the animals in need!

I think it is so cool to discover that other people are doing the same things we do every day in countries far from the United States and that others care for the plight of homeless cats as much as we do!!

El Jardinet dels gats at the Merce 2009 festival in Barcelona, Spain

El Jardinet dels gats at the Merce 2009 festival in Barcelona, Spain


Oswald relaxing on dryer

Oswald relaxing on dryer

As I was leaving the house this morning, rushing out the back door to get started with another busy day that will involve not only work at the pharmacy, but also collecting kitties for our weekly clinic on Wednesday, Oswald gave me a good-bye meow from his perch on the dryer. I, of course, went in to give him a rub down and tell him that I would see him again later in the day. 

Looking at Oswald, laying in the sun atop the dryer, curled on his tartan sheet with light filtering in from the window behind him, I thought that it would be nice to live the life of a cat every few days or so.  I wouldn’t mind curling back up to sleep in the sunshine for several hours–or until someone came home to make my next meal.

Oswald’s fur was warm from where he’d been stretched in the sun for most of the morning.  He likes to lay on the dryer because it is tall and he can stare out the window at the roses and the front walk, keeping an eye out for Tucker and Herman, the outside feral kitties.  Now, I do have to help Oswald climb to him favorite spot with a heave and a shove. He is too chubby to get on the dryer himself.  The other cats use the windowsill as a step and from there, hop atop the dryer, but Oswald finds that too labor intensive.  Rather, he will hang around in the laundry room until I happen to walk by and then he gives a loud meow to tell me he needs my help.  I then tell him to “Turn around,” which he promptly does so I can pick him up.  He is a big lug, so it is actually a major event lifting him onto the dryer, where he then kneads the sheet to make his bed more comfortable and falls over in a heap.

Some days, it would just be nice to trade places with Oswald and send him bustling out the door in a little suit and wing tip shoes to take care of my life, while I snoozed in the sunlight, curled on the dryer.

When I was growing up, my family was fairly poor.  Rent was usually late and while my sister and I never went hungry, the big, old houses we lived in were often cold. Because there really wasn’t much money left over for more than our basic needs (now don’t get me wrong, I had Barbies and Nike shoes, because my parents spoiled me and used credit cards and lay-away—-my mom was a lay-away nut), our pets got absolutely no vet care.

Our family was what I cringe at now:  we had a dog on a chain in the back yard and none of our gazillion cats were fixed.  I loved kittens and couldn’t wait for the resident “mamma kitty” to have a new litter each year.  Those poor cats were always so thin and so tired and they wore their little bodies out year after year giving birth to kittens that were always sickly and never lived long–either hit by cars on our busy road or killed by a marauding predator.  

I can hardly bear to think about the cats in our care that received no care at all.  None of them were vaccinated or saw a vet.  The only veterinarian I knew was the one who visited my grandpa’s pigs to make sure they were healthy enough to eventually make a fine set of pork chops.  My grandpa always took the best care of his pigs and eventually had to get out of the business because he could not stand to kill them.

I have to confess, I feel so much guilt now over the lives of those poor creatures from my childhood.  The one and only time my mom took a kitten to the vet when I was a child, it was dying.  I sobbed and begged and followed her from room to room asking her to save the kitten.  Finally, she placed the small limp body in her car and took it to the local vet who euthanized the lifeless animal to put it out of its misery. When Mom came home empty handed, I was devastated.

Because of this less than auspicious past, when, as an adult, I started learning about all the homeless cats and dogs in our county and state, I began to wonder what I could do to help.  

My initiation into rescue came when my husband and I moved into our home on a country road. The neighborhood cats were constantly coming over for a meal.  None of them were fixed.  The first time kittens appeared at our garage, I knew I had to do something.  Thus began a life committed to spaying and neutering and reducing the number of unwanted kittens in my backyard and eventually my community.

While this story began on a sad note, it proves that everyone can learn from their mistakes.  The only way we, as rescuers, are going to make an impact is to educate the very people we often lump into a category of “those people.”  Once long ago, I was one of “those people” and now today, I am a rescue person.  

We can all change.  The animals are counting on us to change others in order to save them and change their lives for the better.

When you are involved in rescue work, there are always things that make you worry. Lately, I’ve been waking up every morning close to 3 a.m. pulled from sleep by some new panic usually involving cats or finances or wondering who will help the latest litter of kittens that no one wants.

Right now we are in the height of kitten season.  It came late this year and stupid, silly me thought that with all the spays and neuters we did last year that maybe finally we had reached a day when kitten season was a thing of the past.  Instead, what I think happened is that we had a colder winter which kept the cats from going into heat until warmer weather in late March.  Since the gestation cycle for a cat is approximately 60-67 days (yes, you read that right–just two months to produce kittens and then even while they are nursing, the mother cat can get pregnant again and bring along another litter in the next two month span), the flow of kittens hit in May. I get calls every day about mother cats and tiny kittens, with eyes barely open, that people want to “get rid of.”  Since we are just a small group without a shelter that concentrates on spay and neuter services, I’ve been helping people find resources for their kitten problems.  But still, I worry about the ones that will not be saved.

I also worry about our foster kitties.  Will they ever go to their own homes or will they spend most of their lives in a foster home where they don’t really have the life and love of a forever family?  While I know our foster homes are wonderful, it is not the same as being someone’s beloved companion–greeting them at the door and sleeping beside them on the bed each night.  Will the black kitties especially ever get the chance to be adopted?

I also worry about funding.  While we do apply for grants, it seems that the need is always greater than the resources.  Until a day arrives when spaying and neutering is as routine as brushing your teeth each morning, something everyone does and can afford, there will always be unwanted cats being born and a need for our group to help those who can’t or won’t get the strays and ferals in their neighborhood fixed.  I would like nothing more than for our foundation to be unnecessary and unused with excess money in the bank that we just can’t find a way to spend.

As I try to fall back to sleep, I tell myself the same things as always (looking at the positive and pushing the negative away): we will always have enough money to do the things we need to do because people are generous and our lives are abundantly blessed.  Then I say a prayer for each of our foster kitties and release them from our care to find a home as special as they are.  I name each of them by name, their fuzzy faces appearing before me in the shadowy blackness of my mind.  

Finally, I send good energy out to all the cats that are not within our care and ask the feline angels to guard them for one more day.  

This is my 3 a.m. ritual and perhaps someday, when I am no longer a rescuer, I will sleep peacefully each night.

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