“Cat rescue is like a virus,” says Des placidly about the cat obsession that has taken over his life. “And once you’re infected, it’s incurable.” ― Denise Flaim,
I was foolish to write, back in October, that our TNR season was coming to a close. Cats don’t disappear for the winter, and the need to help them doesn’t go away either. I am reminded of the Billy Joel song, “NY State of Mind.” Once you’ve started really caring about community cats, and gotten in the rhythm of trap, neuter, return work, you’re locked into that TNR State of Mind. I’m not sure there is any cure short of death – mine, that is.
Our small band of volunteers neutered 240 cats just this year, and almost 600 in two year’s time. By the time you’ve helped with all of that, the work is in your blood, as well as your heart. And I have to say that I’m really proud of our whole volunteer corps and all that was done this year.
Of those 240 cats, we lost a few. One very elderly sick old guy finished out his last couple weeks in hospice care. We had to euthanize a young kitten who had incurable herpes in his eyes and nothing but misery and pain ahead for him. We lost a mama kitty after her surgery, causes unknown, but heard from her colony caretaker that she had seemed in decline recently, so there was some underlying issue going on. And they opened up another guy only to find him packed with mast cell tumors, and we let him go as well. All of these cats were lucky in some way to be caught and helped from this life by caring hands, sad as it all was. Their deaths out in the open would have been slow and painful.
We took in cats with problems that we could do something about too. A group of kittens with Coccidia were nursed until they were well. Without that care they, too, would have died slowly. We had a cat with a serious eye wound, but he could still see. We got him a home in a cat sanctuary where he will live out his days under the watchful eye of the volunteers who can get him medical care when he needs it.
We had all kinds of cats with upper respiratory problems, very common in outside cats, and all got antibiotics and a warm place with plenty of food until they were well. There was perhaps one week all year when we weren’t nursing one or more cats, but that’s what we do…happily (most of the time!)
The hardest part of our work is dealing with the heartlessness of people who think of cats as disposable objects. Feral or community cats are definitely sad to see, but we see too many cats who have clearly lived with people and been dumped for whatever reason. People move, or a cat comes into heat, or the cat pees in the wrong place, and out the door they go, usually in someone else’s field or open area. These poor cats, who have never fended for themselves, have the toughest time of all adjusting to a life they haven’t been prepared for, and without the support, many times, of cats who know the ropes of living outside. It breaks our hearts to come across these cats, and the only thing that keeps us going are the amazing colony caretakers who either add these cats to their already full colonies, or sometimes take them into their homes.
These good people, the volunteers who help us with all the work we do, and the donors who support us, are the true upside of our task. They keep us going. The colony caretakers are amazing. They make shelters for the cats and feed them every single day, year after year, often at great cost financially and emotionally.
Our volunteers put in countless hours doing some really yucky work at times. Cleaning cat poop out of the bars of a trap isn’t exactly glamorous! Neither is doing an endless amount of laundry, dirty dishes, scooping up urine-soaked newspaper, and the variety of tasks that are part of daily life during TNR weeks. People drive cats to and from appointments, using their own cars and paying their own mileage. They come and help us prepare mailings, and so many other tasks. We are fortunate to have a community of great caretakers and volunteers to balance out the more difficult parts of this work we all volunteer to do.
Work we do for the cats. We remind ourselves of that all the time. When things are most frustrating, someone will repeat what has become our mantra: “We do this for the cats. We do this for the cats. We do this for the cats.”
With winter upon us, thankfully, our “cat phone” is quieter. It still rings a few times a week, which gives me a chance to talk to people who have questions about how to help a cat in this harsh season. Most of the people who call this time of year want to help in some way, and I’m glad to point them to resources for building shelters or feeding stations, and a variety of other needs. We don’t have a facility, so we are trying to avoid doing any actual neutering until the Spring. It is awfully cold to put newly neutered cats, especially females, back out into 20 degree nights. Most cats can wait until Spring.
So I’m glad for the slower days. Except for the holiday periods, my pet sitting business is a bit slower this time of year as well, and a little breathing space is welcome. At times, I wonder what I’ll do without any cats to nurse and feed. I suspect, however, I’ll figure it out, get some rest, and be ready to start up again in the spring. TNR is in my blood now, and so far no one has told me of a cure.