Suffer the little kitties (and humans)

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s tough being without a cat. It’s been this way since March, when our last feline Arthur passed away. Normally there would be a grieving period (there was) and then we would be at a cat adoption agency selecting a new cat. But this assumed that we would be staying put. We’re not. If you read this blog regularly, you know that we are planning to move.

Cats may be independent but overall they are much more attached to home than dogs. They want their space and they don’t want it to ever change. Given this reality learned from cohabitating with cats for many years, we opted not to get another cat until we have resettled, likely in western Massachusetts next year.

This is an easy decision to make unless of course you are used to having cats around. Going cold turkey was not easy. I am having a somewhat easier time of it because my childhood was largely pet free. For my wife, going without a cat is a major stressor. There has almost always been at least one cat in her life. As something of a substitute, along with half the nation she watches cat videos online. Curiously she was doing that when we had a cat as well. Watching cat videos though while not having one you can pet is something like torture to her.

What to do? We are tempted to violate protocol and just get a cat anyhow, even though it will be relocated five states away in a few months. That of course is quite selfish because while living without a cat is stressful to us, it is nothing compared to the stress a cat undergoes when it gets relocated. There are exceptions of course, but overall it’s bad for the cat and bad for its owners.

Which is why we are volunteering to take care of homeless cats instead. It was actually my idea. My wife was actually getting depressed over not having a cat in her life. Watching cat videos was becoming an obsessive-compulsive behavior. Watching these videos simply drove the addiction and there was no way I could order her to stop watching them. Fortunately, we have a couple of friends who help with animal rescue and fostering of felines. They work for Four Paws, a local cat-only rescue organization. I practically ordered my wife to volunteer us already.

This ended up with a biweekly gig whereby we go to the Petco at the Greenbriar Shopping Center in Chantilly, Virginia and take care of two rescue cats staged there. The Petco is nice enough to provide a glass-enclosed room and a couple of large cages that amount to two cat condos, one stacked on top of the other. Each cat effectively has three rooms: an eating room, a pooping room and a play/rest room. It’s up to us volunteers to clean the rooms and play with the cats. During the day of course Petco customers come by to see the cats. They can’t play with them as they are behind Plexiglass but there is information about the cat and adoption forms.

Volunteering for this duty is a mixed experience. It gives us some time with actual live cats, but it’s also clear that these rescue cats don’t like being there. They are all looking for permanent homes. They seem more than a little traumatized being in a temporary home and don’t particularly like being on display like zoo animals. The sad reality of course is that for a rescued cat there are likely going to be several temporary homes before they get a permanent placement.

So these cats at the Petco tend to move in and out. Rarely are the same cats there when we visit that were there two weeks earlier. As part of the cleaning process we open their cages, allowing them to get out if they want into the enclosed area. We lock the door to the store first to make sure they cannot escape. Some cats gleefully bound out onto the cat trees in the room. Others (usually the new ones) will cower in the back of their cages. Some will let you play with them. Some will not.

Volunteers like us come by three times a day to check on them, sanitize things and make sure their litter box and food are freshened. This is far more personal care than any cat of ours ever got. Typically I cleaned the litter box twice a week and put out food once a day. The cat would then disappear until it wanted attention. This usually worked out well for both cat and human.

These cats for the most part not only resent being in the cages, but also seem obviously scared by the whole experience. There are these constant humans coming by, all smelling differently and sticking their fingers through the holes in the cage and saying inane stuff like “Here, kitty kitty.” Most of them do get placed, but occasionally an older or a black cat will stay in the condo for a few months. Sometimes they come back to the foster home because they seem too stressed by the experience. Their condos are sanitized three times a day, which might contribute to the stress. They have little opportunity to impart their odors on the cage, making it not feel like home.

Recently, my wife helped out at an adoption fair at another Petco in Fairfax sponsored by Four Paws. Dozens of cats were there in hopes some would get adopted. About half were adopted. It was clear though that the vast majority of these cats were traumatized by the experience. It’s bad enough being in a foster home, but to be put in a cage and placed in a room with lots of other cats to be poked and petted by people they did not know really stressed them out! It’s a sad but necessary process in getting them adopted. Mostly these cats live in foster homes with other cats. A typical home will have six to ten cats, carefully watched over by a volunteer.

One of the cats at this fair was a sleek black cat, a female named Cupid, who is about a year old. Our daughter Rose, who had recently moved into her own studio apartment, picked her as her very first cat (that she owned). Curiously, this black cat was brought to her forever home on Halloween. She was promptly renamed Mimi, and went to hide under the couch. Mimi is still getting acquainted with her new home and her new human, and it is likely to be a long and stressful process for Mimi. The same was true with our cat Arthur. He must have been moved around a lot because it took him about a year to accept that he was in his forever home, and always would be. Once he fully made the transition, he turned out to be a great cat.

It’s not widely known, but most cats (certainly the domesticated ones) are not native to North America. They are in fact an invasive species, and they eat or dismember billions of birds a year. So humans who choose to have cats should keep them inside, or ensure that if they have access to the outside that they can’t hurt anything.

Because cats are an invasive species we must be careful to limit their numbers. Obviously we are not doing a great job in making sure all cats are spayed. All of ours were, of course, and any cat Four Paws places are spayed or, if a kitten, the owner must agree to spay them.

As traumatic as the placement process is for most of these cats, considering the obsessive way they are catered to while in placement, some should feel jealous. Who? Our homeless, or really any of the millions of Americans struggling at the margins. These cats may be traumatized, but at least they are cared for, eat healthy food and have their medical needs attended to by regular vet visit. It makes me angry that we simply refused to do the same for those you would think would matter even more: the actual human beings around us.

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