Thursday, January 29, 2009

It's raining cats and cats

I received a belated holiday email the other day from a friend in Canada whose dedication to animals I’ve always admired. She and her husband pour a mind-boggling amount of time, effort and money into rescue. They stand out. Even when they are placed in a line-up alongside the ranks of inspirational people I’ve encountered.

Here’s how her note began:

Some people are organized and send out Christmas cards in early December.

Some people are organized and do Christmas baking.

Some people are organized and make a big festive dinner.

Those people do not have 117 cats.

This is our version of a Christmas letter…

Now you know why they stand out.

I have to keep my friends’ names anonymous. Having 117 cats in one’s house doesn’t endear you to the neighbors. Or the authorities. So for purposes of identification, I’ll call them Patty and Bob.

People like Patty and Bob follow their own law. Humanity rules, that is. They have pulled umpteen cats from death row at shelters and lovingly nurtured them in their house. But like many compassionate souls in the rescue community, they have a hard time saying no to shelter staff and veterinarians who bring them homeless creatures.

Until a few years ago, when they hit 140 cats.

When you have 140 cats, the world as you know it disappears. You can’t even cook a meal because the cats have peed on your stovetop in their quest to mark shrinking territory. Your life is consumed by feeding and watering, cleaning, medicating animals, and scooping litter. Money for the vet bills spills like an endless river. Never mind covering costs such as food and other supplies.

Realizing they weren’t able to turn away an animal in need, Patty and Bob felt they had only one option.

Leave town.

They packed up their belongings, the cats, and a rabbit, and headed across the country to find a new life. When they got there, they would be in stealth mode. They wouldn’t make contact with local rescue groups or veterinary clinics. Their new veterinarian was warned to keep the existence of their cat house under wraps.

I played a small role helping to move the cats, arriving at their place to be a catcher. We had to get them loaded into carriers two-by-two. The operation happened in stages over several days. Coralling 140 cats – many of them feral – takes bravado and some artistry. A couple of bites and scratches were the only collateral damage.

There was one escapee who made it to the lawn, but she was caught before danger befell her.

The carriers were placed on pallets and loaded into the plane’s underbelly. I jokingly called the charter ride Meow Air.

The bunny and the sickest, oldest cats made the trip with Patty by motor home while her husband waited at the other side to receive the cats coming in by air.

It hasn’t been easy for Bob and Patty. They had to do significant renovations on the old house to clean up after the cats, and to the new one to accommodate them.

But finally things are getting easier in this cat house.

On behalf of all animal lovers out there, I would like to wish Patty and Bob a belated happy holidays. And thank them for all they did for the cats in 2008, and beyond. Paws up to you!

Here's an excerpt from her letter.

“…We have way less financial stress and have used our leeway to get some much needed surgeries done for our four-legged family. The female cats we took in here, as well as some that left unspayed, have been fixed to the extent possible.

Virginia has never been healthy enough to spay, nor have we wanted to stress the two remaining from our superbug group, GypsyRoseLee and Alexa.

We have only one healthy cat named Theresa left to take in and thankfully she is not a noisy, in-heat gal.

What a relief to get Gwyneth, Stephi, Lily, Menewt, Terri, Tess, Tina and Pamela done. The noise level has been reduced enormously as they seemed to be in a constant state of heat.

The spays here are $250 each so that is why we had to wait so long.

Lots of dental surgeries needed doing as well. We have several toothless cats now, and they are much healthier and happier that way. Amazingly, several of them still refuse any wet food.

We found a vet practice a 40-minute drive away that we have faith in. It is so worth it, for all the surgeries and the diagnostic abilities there are also far better than our local practice.

Our local practice has gone through hard times and lost its best vet some time ago. Sadly three of the cats who had surgery there since died from complications from their surgery. The worst of all being our beloved Jordie whose lung collapsed. No vet was even in the office within an hour after surgery to check up on him. This despite them mentioning that he was a higher risk than some due to a heart murmur. We surely regretted having his teeth fixed and miss him still.

There is never a dull moment with our cat house.

At this time, we are watching several carefully. Sammy is diabetic and Scratch has just gone through a bad time with an infection. He is barely better today and we are still holding our breath.

Our group ages every year and so every year means more pass on to the rainbow bridge.

Most recently, our loving little Bomber and Gwen gave up the earth life the week before Christmas.

Since starting this letter last Friday night, we also had to say goodbye to Precious. I was fortunate enough to get home on Monday eve about half an hour before she died and so was able to be with her and tell her one last time how special she was.

We lost several of our babes this year and one of our two bunnies, Mutt Bunny, died. He was our little handicapped bunny and amazingly ate right up to his last day. Every year we expected him to pass. I guess he just loved the raisin and oat treats too much to go. Nine years is amazing, even for a healthy bunny – he beat all the odds. Jeff bunny is still going strong and showing no signs of age. He is still our “Watch” Bunny and drums in his cage when he feels threatened by noises outside. I just discovered that Cheerios from nuts and bolts are a tasty treat for Jeff. He stared at me intently while I was chowing down on some and lo and behold, that was what he wanted!

Maisie and Maude continue to play fetch.

Our FIV+ mommy cat April is still living happily with her daughters MayDay and JuneBug. Considering we have had her since 2001, she had truly outlived expectations and shows no signs of the advanced disease. Our other two FIV cats have passed on though. This year we had to say goodbye to Gideon. As with so many of the wild ones, he tamed quite a bit with the onset of illness.

Leo, one of our wild boys, had become a big suck now that he has been moved in with Harvey to a main floor bathroom due to breathing problems. What a beauty boy he is. Harvey has also changed, as did Guinevere, who also passed over this year.

One thing that probably surprises me most is that we still miss the movements and habits of every one that passes on. I will never get good at saying goodbye and will likely never run out of tears. There is a numbness that comes over you at times but it is short-lived.

Our Christmas day was one of relaxation after chores, but also of course included a period of remembering and assessing what we have been able to do and what we still have to do.

We just keep on going like the Everready Bunny because there is no current alternative. I do however join in the lottery pool and work and we have several tickets for tonight and tomorrow night never know!

As you can probably guess we have no plans to take a vacation. Being away is not an option with so many furry friends dependant upon us.

We haven’t exactly encouraged any visitors either. The house we have is not designed to be cat friendly and is nowhere near to the stage where we could invite anyone to stay and be comfortable. Of course, I am still stubborn and never give up. Once spring comes around I will be back at the garage renos and also back at investigating a heating system for the house. Space heaters are not something we can leave alone for too long, so we did not attend the family Christmas dinner. My niece had it at her house, which would have been a two-hour one-way drive.

Anyway, I expect this is more information than you ever wanted on the crazy cat world here so I will bid adieu and hope everyone I send this to has a happy and peaceful 2009.

Happy New Year!

p.s. Another sad delay to this letter. Osiris died last evening. We had not been watching him for illness.

There was no sign of illness until late Friday evening. So now there are only 116....

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