We waded into a sea of faces masked in markings of black and white, gray and ginger, eyes shining through from a galaxy all their own. There were jewels in each look, some sparkling, others sadder from losing their luster. Tails were confident and questioning, like sails bringing a fleet of ships into the harbor of our hearts. We were immediately surrounded, immediately surrendering to whatever fate had in store for us too. It was almost Dickensian, so many orphans vying for our attention, the first tiny one put in my arms thinner than should be survivable but as hungry for love. How frightened he was, not to be held but let go, rejected that day and every other, the moment all the hope he had, the back of a cage somewhere to disappear in forever.
Mom sat in a chair as wobbly as her resolve, a queen holding audience for hardly deferential subjects curling and climbing and clamoring to be her favorite. It seemed the most natural thing for her to be covered with such a crowd, lying at and even on her feet, piling into her lap, begging her embrace. She was as adoring as adored, her shoulders easily bearing the weight, her neck encircled, her composure finally crowned. She reached up to see who was so agile and awkward at the same time, a long slender creature with eyes closing tighter and contentment sounding louder. Oh, that’s Tilly—we were told—she was recently adopted and returned a few days later. Returned? Like a piece of clothing that didn’t fit right? Or an appliance that didn’t work? Oh—it was edgily explained—the lady said she couldn’t deal with such a loving creature.
There wasn’t any doubt. Tilly was affectionate enough to bring the warring world to its knees. She would never give up on love, never stop believing caresses and kisses and kindness were what she was born for. She was soft and white with an upturned pink nose and silky black cap framing her forehead and veiling her ears, a matching cape dressing her back and trailing down her tail. She was limp and lovely in my mother’s arms, her eyes suddenly swirling green and lifting up, still looking for a promise though they knew it could be broken.
The manager and volunteers did their best, taking in every cat abandoned to abandonment, providing more than food and shelter, healing wounds, offering a place of belonging for days or weeks or years. They knew every name, each personality, and all the stories that should’ve been too many to remember. They might’ve been glad of anyone to take some of the responsibility off their hands, but there was something more important to consider than seeing the numbers decline.
And so more cats came than went, left at the door and in the road, found in snow banks and ditches and barns, rescued from fighting and pregnancy and disease, given the chance to grow up and be cherished. What was it like when their crowded but companionable world was raided? How frightening was it to be counted and cataloged and taken away? Perhaps it was all for the good, everyone finally paying attention and wanting to help. But accusations didn’t acknowledge the good intentions that weren’t ever lost, just overwhelmed because they were so undervalued.
There’s confusion in my heart over what the shelter did right and how it went wrong.
And why we didn’t take Tilly. We were reassured she would soon be adopted again and continued with our choice of a kitten. We left with the skinny one, who never let us doubt his happiness. And his brother, a munchkin, who a few days later almost stopped breathing but was saved for a lifetime of memories and a tale for another day.
Writing note: Recently our local No-Kill animal shelter–the Wyoming Country SPCA (that my mother and I have supported for years)–was raided and declared unfit, the manager vilified for hoarding. Over 500 cats were found at the shelter (many many more than when our visit depicted in this post occurred).The hyped reporting of this for the most part failed to offer the real reason why the population of cats had increased so, making the care of them so difficult with the limited funds (from public donations) and help (mainly volunteers) available. This shelter is in a very rural area where cats and kittens were regularly and often pitilessly dropped off, and those coming to ‘adopt’ too frequently just wanted a cat or two to throw in a barn and keep down the mice. The manager did not want that kind of life for any of the cats who had already been rescued from dangerous and neglectful situations and was fussy about the kind of HOMES they went to, charging a minimal fee to ensure they were really wanted. She had been on local TV and through other means advertised the overpopulated situation at the shelter, but until the raid little help was forthcoming. It was reported that 30 cats were euthanized because of poor health but most were taken by other local SPCAs who have been adopting them out for free, hopefully, to secure and loving lives.
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