ON MY CHRISTMAS DAY WALK on the Panhandle Trail a few weeks ago I was again enchanted by the works of nature and remembered this essay. My recent TNR and rescue efforts did as well and I was surprised to see it was six years ago I wrote this essay. The metaphor and hope are still sincere, that firm belief and persistence make change slowly, but permanently, and that by working together and spreading the need for humane treatment of animals, especially homeless cats, we will make a difference.
One sunny winter afternoon on one of my walks in the woods I saw a tiny circle of sunshine cast into the shadow under a jutting ledge of limestone on a hillside. Upon inspection I saw the half-inch ledge of limestone had a perfect circular eyelet drilled completely through which had cast the dot of sunshine on the face of the hillside. Then I also saw the creator of that perfect circle drilled—a drip of water fell through the center of the opening, splashing into the stream below. As I watched another drop fell, and another, at a slow pace, seeping from another ledge a few feet above, collecting on the end of that ledge until it was too heavy to cling, then falling.
Limestone is a fairly dense substance. I have no idea how many centuries that drip, changing pace with the course of seasons, would have seeped, collected, and fallen on the ledge below, but over time its persistence had worn away an opening in the stone that allowed successive drops to fall freely into the stream below and continue on its course as water is meant to do.
. . . . . . .
(2013) There’s another low-cost feline spay/neuter clinic today, and many people spent yesterday and the day before trapping legions of young kittens of age and weight for spay or neuter, and their mothers and fathers ready to produce more kittens, plus letting people generally know about an affordable means of having their cat fixed.
Others are bottle-feeding tiny orphaned kittens they’ve found, or rescuing and fostering kittens with upper respiratory infections typical of kittens living outdoors exposed to the elements with their incomplete immune systems.
Shelters, overburdened especially with cats and kittens during summer “kitten season”, find it more difficult to provide services for these cats and kittens as well as the adult dogs and their puppies, house rabbits, ferrets and other exotic pets, are hosting special events where pets are adopted at no charge just to save their lives by getting them out of the shelter, and thereby saving the lives of other pets by freeing up space to take them in.
That’s a lot of lives saved. It’s also a lot of lives to be saved, and many of us who are rescuing animals wonder why, after all the years we’ve been doing this, we’re still finding so many kittens every summer, and still have to work so hard all through the year and especially in summers to find new homes for animals and prevent them from perishing because there is no home for them with a human.
Amid the commotion, I am celebrating the life and loss of one senior cat who I took in to foster, as I have each animal who’s spent time with me and lived and died. In view of all the other animals losing their lives right now and at any time, I feel a little ridiculous sometimes when I share my fervent dedications in the face of all those other deaths.
But I’m not bemoaning my own loss or even focusing on it, because though that’s very real, it’s only real for me and a very small part of the whole picture. I’m also not saying this cat is more important than all those other cats losing their lives right now because he had a home and many others of those cats end their lives without the commitment of an individual human being to ensure their life and death is comfortable and dignified.
My goal in rescuing cats all these years as well as the goal of thousands of others hasn’t only been to find homes for a bunch of kittens or a stray who’s been hanging around, or an adult cat someone can no longer keep or no longer wants. It’s been to generally reduce the populations of cats who need homes, and to reduce that number forever by many means—literally getting those cats to a safe place, providing spay and neuter so they can’t reproduce and finding homes for them, helping people keep their cats by helping to determine and resolve their cats’ behavioral issues, and helping them in the face of their own life changes and financial needs, and most importantly educating about the importance of spay and neuter, and promoting low-cost spay and neuter so that people can find and utilize it and someday end the overpopulation of all pets, especially cats. I would guess this is the goal of everyone who’s out there today spaying and neutering cats and bottle-feeding kittens and administering antibiotics and wiping goopy kitten eyes.
As I can see by my list of activities above, the work seems to be more with people than it is with cats, and that is fitting because these animals we’ve domesticated are the responsibility of all humans. Nearly a decade ago during Hurricane Katrina we watched thousands of people refuse to leave their pets even in the face of death, and perhaps it was the volume of people and pets or the time was simply right, but we took a huge leap forward in how our pets and other animals are viewed and cared for by our society and the respect for pets and animals has been increasing ever more quickly since then.
We can try to legislate our pets into respect and care, but no laws work without social reinforcement. There are people who will never see their pets or our pets or any animals as sentient beings deserving of respect and care, but together we can all reinforce the idea that they deserve it nonetheless and that abuse and neglect of animals is unacceptable by our society, and we do this not by working against these people but by working with them.
Like the centuries of water droplets falling from the same source and finally wearing through the rock, change comes slowly but surely and permanently, but only if we persist, sure of our goal without distraction. And perhaps like the water droplets finally joining their mother stream without impediment, we will be returning to a place we had once been in our relationships with other living beings on our planet, respectful of their lives and thankful for the gifts we share.
My household thanks everyone who sent love and support and celebrated the life and loss of Lakota. By publicly celebrating his arrival and passing I not only share my experience and my loss but I also hope to set an example for others, to reinforce the way others feel about their pets, and to add my drip to the centuries of progress wearing away the rock. How can I say this is necessary without practicing it myself? Lakota’s gentle passing is an example of the respect and love animals deserve, and part of my goal is to see every cat, every pet, receives the same. Someday they will.
. . . . . . .
And a very fine set of five black cats supervised me and approve of this article. Thank you for your loving presence.
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