I Didn’t Come Here to Rescue Animals

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.

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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 my blogs and books, visit CaraWrites.com or subscribe to my occasional e-newsletter.

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.

I love hearing from readers, so please feel free to comment here on the blog, email carasueachterberg@gmail.com or connect with me on Facebooktwitter, or Instagram.

 Best,

Cara

Released August 2018 from Pegasus Books and available now

 

Published by

Cara Sue Achterberg

I am a writer, blogger, and occasional cowgirl who lives on a hillside farm in Southern York County, PA. You can find information about my books and all my writing adventures on my website CaraWrites.com.

18 thoughts on “I Didn’t Come Here to Rescue Animals”

  1. This story breaks my heart, and the saddest thing about it is that the owner/carer allowed it to happen in the first place by leaving his cat(s) behind with no one to care for them. We had a similar situation happen in our neighborhood. The neighbors across the street had a cat. She had kittens. They moved. Left all the cats. A new family moved in. Had different cats. Kittens. They moved. Left the cats behind. Three of them became “our” cats – they came to us for food and we had them spayed. Then one day two of them disappeared. We still have one. The rest of the cats melted back into the neighborhood – we caught one of them and took it to the animal shelter, but the rest – who knows? Are they still out there? Did they die? Were they rescued? Hit by a car? We’ll never know. But it makes me so angry. Why do people think this is okay?

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    1. I don’t understand people who think it is okay and most likely never will. I do understand now that there are a lot of barriers to spay/neuter and it isn’t as easy as I thought it was (or should be). I guess that with no serious predators and no spay/neuter, the population must be much larger than any of us imagine.

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  2. I am cracking up. This is how I became the “owner” of 10+ cats in a San Diego barrio. Cats are wonderful, but there is an infinite supply, sadly. My 10+ cats all became pets, all neutered, all vaccinated, all loved and fed. The cat life finally ended when the cats began to die off (old age, mostly, some injuries) and the dogs arrived. The yard was divided up between cats (front) dogs (back) and that worked for a long time. I now have a different perspective on cats, probably colder hearted. I learned I could not possibly save all of them as much as I love and respect them as a species. ❤ I do love your big heart.

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    1. This cat nonsense is overwhelming. It’s just such an out of control problem that feels like you’re simply trying to empty the ocean with a water dropper. I tried to stay away from all of it, but I just can’t watch these cats suffer, so it doesn’t feel like I have an option. I finally decided it was just money, but now that I can’t catch them I’m really at a loss. I may have to just save Molly and hopefully Fred, and acknowledge that is all I can do. (But if I don’t catch Ginny and she lives – I’ll have a whole colony growing on our property in no time.) nevermind the bear.

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  3. Thank you for doing what you can to make their lives better. I am haunted thinking they were left to fend for themselves. How many other homes have cats been left behind and the new homeowners are not as kind or compassionate as you? I am emotionally invested please keep us posted if possible. Sorry your vacation didn’t turn out as planned but you sure are wonderful.

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    1. I have a feeling that my situation is all too common. All I can do is all I can do. At least I know Molly will be safe. Fred has been napping on the porch all afternoon. I need to catch him again to give him the frontline, but I’m trying to build up my goodwill.

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  4. I think you did a good thing. Molly Weasley for a name? Was there a Molly in the Harry Potter books? I don’t remember. Maybe the tomcat could be named Dumbledore or Hagrid, two strong men in the books who could look after themselves. Keep us posted on how this unfolds. When you say that you hope to rent your cabin to people with dogs in the future, is the dog detail going to be something you advertise when listing the cabin for rent during the times you’re not using it? Do you have people already in mind? I hadn’t heard of a rentor being this specific before when it came to people and their pets.

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    1. Yes, Molly Weasley (Ron’s mom) was a strong witch and a good mother. Hopefully, she lives up to her name. She’s done very well bewitching Flannery so far and her green eyes are regaining their shine. I know today will be traumatic for her.

      We plan to advertise the cabin as a ‘dog-friendly rental’ and provide a dog crate, food/water bowls, fenced yard, complete list of good hikes for dogs, address of dog parks, list of dog-friendly wineries and breweries, etc. Basically, it will be the cabin I’ve always wished existed for us to rent. I don’t know yet how we’ll rent it – maybe through our own website or maybe through a service like Air bnB.

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  5. You are such a good person Cara. I feel so bad for all animals who are not cared for properly. I wish I could do more. If you can get your address to me, I will send a donation to help a little. I don’t have a pay pal account or I would sent the donation that way

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  6. I’m so sorry, Cara! You’re right: cats can’t fend for themselves (even the big healthy ones don’t stay that way forever) and the life of a feral cat is very, very difficult. Not to to mention the damage they do to the local wildlife. Cats are meant to be pets, in my opinion. And I’m beyond angry that the local animal control and humane society won’t help with this. They should accept the cats, period. Thank goodness for people like you…..

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    1. It is more than a little maddening. But, something for me to work on once we land here permanently. I always figured that someday I’d get involved in cat rescue. For now, Molly, Fred, and probably Ginny, will have to go home with me. Tom seems to have disappeared.

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  7. You are so awesome to do this, Cara. I can relate.

    On one of our coldest days in Baltimore last winter, a small cat who couldn’t have been more than 10-months-old showed up at my back, alley-facing door. To make matters more interesting, she also was obviously pregnant. Many years ago when I worked at an animal shelter in Tennessee, we used to advise people, as harsh as it sounded, to not feed stray cats or they would become dependent. “What will happen when you eventually move away,” we asked — sound familiar? — “and the cats continue to show up expecting to be fed?” Well, I tried to take my own old advice, but this young mother-to-be kept showing up at the door crying. She was so friendly and loving, so had obviously once belonged to someone, who had probably abandoned her. It didn’t seem fair that my own two cats were eating heartily on the other side of the door while this girl was starving and freezing outside. So I began feeding her. She was so appreciative. She was eating for her litter as well, after all.

    Since I didn’t have a separate room to keep her separated from my cats — and didn’t know what she might be carrying or even if she had ever been vaccinated (since they’ve never been and never will be outside, I don’t vaccinate my own every year), I could not bring her indoors, so set up a spare carrier with towels and a blanket under the balcony by the door so she could at least have a place to stay dry and (relatively) warm while I tried to find a better place for her. I knew this would be only a temporary solution, though. Besides, I didn’t know how far along she was and didn’t want her to have to give birth outside in the dead of winter, so I set out to see if I could find her a foster home inside. After many emails, phone calls and much gnashing of teeth, I finally found a kind woman who had done this before. She got the cat vaccinated and spayed (she was about only halfway through her pregnancy, so the litter was aborted at the same time). My point is it was not easy, and I have several contacts with rescue groups, although not the resources (not a house with multiple rooms, certainly not money, and not even a barn), so I completely empathize. It’s just tragic. And this was just one cat out of millions nationwide. You’re correct: It DOES seem like emptying an ocean with an eye dropper.

    To the age-old question, what would I do if I won the lottery, my standard reply is that I’d like to build animal sanctuaries and, even more important, free spay-and-neuter clinics because it feels like the dog and cat overpopulation problem is an impossible war to win. This is one reason Alley Cat Allies (and its catch-neuter-release program) is one of my favorite organizations.

    Anyway, we all do what we can, and I’m so thankful that you are able to do what YOU can for these feline friends. Thank you for all you do for both dogs AND cats!

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    1. Thanks for the story Steve – I always enjoy hearing your thoughts on this stuff. I’m hopeful that something will work itself out here and have resigned myself to accepting that these creatures are now my responsibility, even though, as you say, there are millions out there. All I can do is help the ones placed in my path. Someone famous said something like that – I think maybe Mother Teresa, so I will just help these ones placed in my path. Best to you.

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  8. Oh you sound like me. I have always been a cat magnet. The stray kitties always find me. I have trapped and released several and am feeding some right now. I think it’s a good thing they found you. It’s not good to see animals starving and when they are too weak they cannot catch prey even if they wanted to. I have one cat who lives in my garage and several who sneak out in the cover of darkness to eat the dry food I leave on my front porch. I am just an animal lover. Cats, dogs and whatever comes along. Thank you Cara for your BIG heart!

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    1. I do feel a bit like a cat magnet. We actually lost our cat of 17 years just before we came down here to get started and it was like the universe said, “you certainly can’t live your life without a cat (or four) in it.”

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  9. Cara you have probably thought of this already, but what about Barn Cat Buddies? https://www.barncatbuddies.org/

    Granted you would first have to catch them and they don’t have a shelter while they wait to be placed, but maybe there are foster options like you have done with all of your pups? You are such an amazing person and I hate that you were put in this situation…

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