As the Executive Director of the Ferndale Cat Shelter, I think it’s important to share in all the responsibilities of our rescue. Why should I expect a volunteer to do something that I am not willing to do?
Sometimes that involves trapping stray cats, sometimes it’s cleaning the Catfe. Many hours are spent lifting and moving heavy things like clay litter and bags of donated food. Fostering is not something I expected to contribute, but often there’s a cat that no one else can take and that cat usually ends up in my home. Sometimes it’s just for a day until another foster is available. Other times, a foster stays with me for months because it’s not as adoptable as other cats. 16-year-old ragdoll Itzy stayed with me for almost a year until he found the right human.
What follows is a short story about my current foster Raina. She was found on 9 mile road in the midst of a thunderstorm. The people that brought her to us said she barely avoided being run over by a truck when they stopped their car to grab her. I can only imagine that someone put her there because no cat would go outside, let alone into the middle of traffic during a thunderstorm. She was scared and shivering when I brought her to my bathroom. I gave her a bath in Dawn soap to suffocate the fleas freeloading off her tiny kitten body and wrapped her in a warm towel, gently drying her off. She seemed to be about five or six weeks old at that time.
It’s the end of my day when I retire to my bedroom. All the litter boxes have been scooped and the cats have been fed. I close my door to keep Raina separate from my cats. She climbs on the bed next to me as I rearrange my blankets. She plays “hide under the sheets” game with all the gusto of an 11 week old kitten. Sometimes she bites my toes, gently. But those baby teeth are sharp and I let out a yelp and then a laugh because she’s just doing what kittens do. She desperately needs a playmate her size and preferably her species. But I can’t let her out into the house to play with the other cats and learn how to be a cat. Hell, she might not even survive long enough to become a bona fide adult cat. She’s had her blood tested twice and both times produced the same results. Raina is positive for feline leukemia virus (FeLV). You would never know it to see her in action. She jumps. She climbs. She runs back-and-forth across the bed chasing the elusive bird feather toy. And Raina doesn’t seem to know either. She’s just a kitten doing her kitten thing.
Science tells us that 3% of cats are infected with feline leukemia. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you adopt 500 cats out of your shelter every year, that percentage amounts to 15 cats per year that may come into your care with this disease. When adult cats are infected, they can usually live a fairly normal life, and a remarkably long one too with good care. But a kitten like Raina doesn’t have the same chances. How do I tell this kitten to seize the moment? I don’t have to because she lives her kitten life to the fullest in my little room. Yet for some reason, when I look into her face and pet her soft round kitten belly, I feel incredibly sad. I want to tell her that she may not have much time. I want to tell her why I can’t let her in to the rest of my house to play with the other cats. I want to tell her that I wish I could do more for her. But I do not speak cat. And Raina does not speak human.
Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe it’s better to not know what’s going to kill you. Humans want to know everything so we can be prepared for the future. But a cat – a cat is like a Buddhist, living in the moment and tending only to immediate needs. Maybe Raina will beat the odds and shed the virus. Maybe t-cyte injections that support immune response will buy her extra time. A few months, a year. Today she’s healthy and active. Next week, who knows? As the director of a cat shelter, I still have a lot to learn, and planning for the future of this organization is a complicated and often frustrating part of my job. But as Raina pounces and plays with her feather toy across the coverlet, she teaches me everything I need to know. Tackle what’s in front of you. Do it until your last breath.