A CAT CAN embed herself into your heart forever in just a few seconds, as we often find with rescues. Be the outcome joyously happy with health and a long life in a perfect, loving forever home, or a struggle of sadness that life changes ours, and changes us, forever. Sweet Gracen apparently didn’t have a life filled with the love of a human caretaker until her very end, but though that time was brief her life will always be remembered.
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As rescuer Debby Nicola walked her dog on a road near her home in summer 2014, she found a neighbor loading a cage into a car that contained a small female cat with a litter of tiny kittens. The neighbor explained they were moving and really didn’t want them, but Debby convinced them to hold off so she could take her dog home, then come back for the little family, intending to take them home to foster and find them all new homes, as she does with dozens of cats and kittens each year.
When she returned for the mother cat and kittens they mentioned another cat that they had taken inside during severe weather. Debby found a thin and matted fluffy-haired gray female cat. Yes, she belonged to that neighbor as well, and had lived outdoors for 10 years. She had been declawed but not spayed, and for all those years also gave birth to litters of kittens, always outdoors. With no claws to fend off neighbor dogs and cats and even wildlife other neighbors said they’d seen her kittens killed, and it seemed very few survived at all. This was Gracen.
The couple actually said they’d like to have Gracen back if she was spayed, and with homes for adult cats always in short supply Debby was willing to give them a chance once she’d had Gracen spayed.
Debby took Gracen home that day as well. Cat Around Town, a grooming salon owned by Justine Cosley specializing in cats and with a very cat-friendly interior, just right for a timid kitty, donated a spa day for the delicate dilute tortie, and Debby fed her well prior to her spay and kept her while the family was moving and then on vacation. Gracen was ready to go to her new home but they stalled a few days when they returned, but did eventually take Gracen back.
A week later they called to say Gracen wasn’t getting along with their dogs and was urinating around the house. Debby visited to see if she could help with advice and found that their large dogs blocked her from using her litter box, and so she was using a secluded bathroom. The family was unwilling to try any other places for a litterbox.
Though Debby always has a litter or two of kittens or a few fosters needing treatment, especially in the busy fostering month of September, she took Gracen home and once again set her up in the office, a room Gracen had found quiet and safe. Gracen was soon comfortable and trusting enough of Debby to be petted and handled, and of course there were no issues with the litterbox. But during a petting and brushing session Debby found a lump on Gracen. As a multiple-time breast cancer survivor herself Debby knew this was a mammary tumor. Dr. Becky Morrow performed the surgery and Gracen recovered quickly back in Debby’s office.
Debby felt Gracen, for once in her life, deserved her own home as an only cat, to have her own lap to sleep on and to be spoiled and fussed over, and she was listed as adoptable through Pittsburgh CAT. People noticed the pretty and sweet-natured little cat, and, knowing that she could come back to her foster home at any time if necessary, in December Gracen was adopted by a young man for his grandmother, who was thrilled to have a cat in her life again.
Three weeks later, just after Christmas, Gracen was back. She had been hiding, and despite trying to convince them to be patient with this very special little cat it was upsetting to the woman she lived with. “I don’t blame the person,” Debby said. “She is 83 and a hiding cat would be worrisome.” The woman’s skin was fragile so she did need to live with a declawed cat if any at all.
“It was sad because hiding is what Gracen learned to do to survive outside without her claws,” Debby said. But after a few weeks in the office “Gracen wanted OUT. So she picked under the king size bed as her ‘safe spot’,” Debby said. “I put a covered litter box a foot from the bed skirt. We fed Gracen under the bed. And Rich (her husband) and I both would lay on the floor by the bed so Gracen would come over for head butts, kisses, petting and chin rubs,” she described.
And it seemed Gracen was finally feeling a little more comfortable as time went on. “She did surprise us at times and pop out and roam around to be petted,” Debby remembered. In mid-January she posted, “I’m so excited. Gracen came out from under the bed tonight!!! During daylight!! Used the litter box then came out into the hall to look around. Flirted with Rich for a minute or so then back under the bed. She stayed at the edge so I gave her a nice body rub and some more food.”
But by mid-March Gracen had made another change. “I’m concerned about Gracen. She cut her food consumption drastically the past few days,” Debby posted and added that she hadn’t been grooming herself.
“I noticed she had developed a knot under her chin and decided she needed to come out for grooming,” Debby said. She brought Gracen out and found more lumps on her abdomen. “I moved her into the office and started sleeping with her. Not only had she lost weight but her breathing was labored.” She made an appointment with Dr. Morrow.
Dr. Morrow found that Gracen’s condition was so advanced nothing could be done, and in fact euthanasia was the kindest way to end her suffering. Debby buried her with other animals who spent lifetimes with her, in the daylily garden. “I will miss her,” she said simply.
As sad as the thought that Gracen had only a few months of life in a safe and loving home, at least she had that much. For all the pain and suffering animals bear at the hands of humans, the strong heart of a rescuer can take the pain of a loss for having given an animal even a brief chance at a happy life.
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Remembering two other rescues
We rescue animals because we care about all animals, and we often come to care deeply about certain animals whose life and safety we want to ensure, even if they never set foot in our house, or anyone else’s. Managing a colony of feral cats who you may never touch, or caring for cats outdoors because there are no homes for them is not for the faint of heart, yet people willingly do it every day. Even though the risks of illness and accidents are much higher outdoors, a loss is still a life.
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Last fall Terri Smiesko saw a new black and white kitten with her colony. She’s lived in her house for 21 years and found so many stray and feral cats that in 1998 she began TNR with the ones she couldn’t take in and has been caring for cats outdoors since then. She currently has three females in her colony, Mommy Cat, Daisy and Candy, all spayed.
“I don’t know for sure where they found Oreo,” she said, “but one day when I went out to feed, there was this small kitten sitting by Candy covered in either grease or oil.
“As I tried to get closer, Candy began hissing at me to protect her new little buddy. He took off running off the porch so I assumed he was feral,” she explained. “He came to eat daily and made use of the shelters we made for winter until the last cold spell when he refused to go in them at all.”
Recently she saw him in the neighborhood realizing he was walking slowly and seemed weak. “I knew we had to try again to get him because something was wrong. I got the appointment set with HCMT (Homeless Cat Management Team) and on March 14 he was down the street on a neighbors porch,” she said. “He was so weak I was able to pick him up and carry him to my house.”
She took him to the TNR clinic on the 15th where he was neutered and received medication for a URI (upper respiratory infection). Terri settled him in a crate in her basement to recover and to be able to medicate him more easily. “In that week he was with me I found out how sweet he was. When I went to give him his first dose of meds, he sniffed my face, looked me right in the eyes, then started kissing my face like he was thanking me,” she said. “My heart melted and I got tears in my eyes. For those seven days he was the most loving, purry little guy. He never failed at staring straight in my eyes. When I looked in his all I could see was someone who wanted to be loved.”
She also noticed his singed eyebrow whiskers which meant he must have been sitting under the vent outdoors for her pellet stove to keep warm. “I wanted so much for him to recover,” she said. Over the week she had him indoors he did seem to recover from the effects of the URI but still seemed weak. Though she knew he was ill and the symptoms she saw didn’t seem like an emergency—she asked of us in the rescue group and we all agreed she should give a few days for the medication to take effect and see if he’d start eating more—he stopped eating and passed overnight. From the symptoms it looked as if he might have actually had FeLV or FIP, something no one could have foreseen, or cured.
“I never expected him to go so quickly,” Terri said. “I am just thankful for the week we had with him. He truly left a pawprint on my heart.” She had him cremated so she can keep his cremains and always keep him close.
Thanks to Terri for running to the local library to download and email this photo!
Crystal was born outside in early spring 2014 to a feral mother her caretaker calls Princess, a long haired tortoiseshell cat. “I usually know when there is a pregnant female, could not tell with Princess because of her long-haired winter coat,” said Debbie Ann Broker. “She was trapped and taken to be spayed and we found out she had delivered kittens recently. I was sick to my stomach because we now had a nursing mother being spayed and very young babies without their mom somewhere,” she said. She would have no idea how old the babies were or even where they were unless they mewed for their mother. She was so worried about the babies she released Princess early, about 3:00 AM rather than waiting until the next morning, in a place she thought they might be.
She didn’t see Princess again for a while. “Every day I prayed I would see kittens with her and didn’t. I came to the conclusion they had died,” she said. “One day to my joy I looked out and saw Princess with 3 tiny kittens.” She and the friend who had taught her to trap had intentions of trapping these babies after some other ferals were done, but unfortunately the gray kitten was hit by a car in the alley. So that left Crystal who was a muted torti and her sister Hope, an all back female. “Then I see Hope out there limping, emergency trapped and taken to vet, said she had a healed fracture, thinking she got grazed by the car that hit her brother, she was kept inside,” Debbie said.
“The last feral kitten to catch was Crystal, she was a tough one, more distrustful and cautious (no wonder),” she added. She finally trapped Crystal and they set up appointments for spay surgery. “The appointments cancelled so now I have 2 feral kittens, didn’t know what to do,” Debbie said—once you’ve trapped a feral cat for spay or neuter or treatment you don’t want to release them outside without it, but it’s inhumane to keep them in the trap for more than a few days, and generally releasing them in your house is a bad idea, but Debbie had an idea. “I released them and they got along wonderfully with the other kittens that were born about the same time to another feral mom. It was amazing. Since their appointment was rescheduled two weeks later I just decided they were going to stay inside.”
Crystal and Hope were spayed and she wanted to socialize them since they’d been indoors. “Crystal would sneak around and get close to me but I was not allowed to touch her at all,” Debbie remembered. “She would watch me when she thought I didn’t see her.”
Late last year her household of cats developed serious URIs that were very hard on many of the cats, who took a long time to recover from them, with extra courses of medication and a lot of nursing care for nearly a month. Unfortunately, Crystal did not recover. It’s quite possible the household suffered from a virulent form of feline calici virus.
“What makes me sad is out of three there is only one left and her name is Hope. From the beginning these kittens had nothing but struggle,” Debbie said. “The one thing I do know is that Crystal was happy in her short life. She was a little wild cat, she had slightly crossed eyes and looked totally different from her sister. She always was sitting on top of the cat tower up high looking out the window. She will always be in my heart, I tried my best, beat myself up sometimes but know I tried.”
Thanks to Debbie for the lovely photos of Crystal and her family.
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