MacKenzie keeps watch over her buddy, Smokey, in Smokey’s final days.
About 20 years ago, before TNR was regularly practiced, a cat rescuer who volunteered for a shelter methodically trapped about 50 imperiled cats on the South Side of Pittsburgh, taking them to the shelter she volunteered for. An adult tabby girl was one of the first cats trapped, but escaped and, being trapwise, became the last cat trapped.
All the cats who’d been trapped in this effort were socialized and eventually found homes, giving credence to the fact that homeless cats, considered feral, were not hopeless and could be socialized and rehomed, and the push was on for helping these homeless and abandoned cats that eventually became the Homeless Cat Management Team.
That last cat was MacKenzie. As a new volunteer at that shelter, her person knew nothing about feral cats, colonies, or anything of the sort and didn’t even know MacKenzie existed until, a couple months later, someone asked what she thought about that “very scared cat”, which is what the sign on her cage in an isolation area cautioned. “The moment I met her I realized that I wanted to understand her and have her feel safe. And so it began…” said her adopter, none other than our Aunt Amby who later adopted Lucy’s brothers Angus and Donal, and before that Phurson, Genghis and Boris.
MacKenzie was actually considered unadoptable as not much was known yet about the possibility of socializing a truly feral cat, as MacKenzie was, and at the time it was thought that feral cats would never be able to live with humans. She could not be handled, and without that she could not be put on the adoption floor. The shelter needed the cage space so plans were made to keep MacKenzie at a sanctuary in a cage for the rest of her life or until she socialized. Yet Amby visited her during volunteer shifts at the shelter and despite those plans they let her adopt the kitty when she found she couldn’t live without her.
Kenz was never too fond of being handled by humans but loved all other cats, and because the other cats were friendly with the humans, Kenz was right there with them. She became the household leader early in her stay. She did have a few veterinary visits from a house call veterinarian until MacKenzie tried to give the pregnant veterinarian a Caesarean section. Kenz stayed indoors with all the others and was in good health, and it was decided that until she showed signs of needing to see a veterinarian, she would simply stay put.
But Kenz didn’t have a relationship with only the cats in the house. I’ve known her person for many years longer than she’d had MacKenzie and I heard about what an incredible cat she was nearly every time we talked. She didn’t have to pet Kenz or have her sit on her lap, it may not have been the human-cat relationship we all want with our cats with lots of reciprocal affection and play and treats, it was just enough that Kenz was there, that she was healthy, that she felt safe and seemed happy with all her fur siblings as part of the family. And she trusted the people she lived with even if she didn’t give kitty kisses and chase bizzy balls.
In January MacKenzie suddenly wasn’t interested in her breakfast and seemed lethargic. I took MacKenzie and her human to see Dr. Morrow on a clinic day—the first time in all the years I’ve known them that I saw MacKenzie in the fur and could actually pet her, and also saw for the first time that MacKenzie’s stripes weren’t stripes at all but big swirls like Stanley’s had been and immediately felt a connection with her. Kenz was diagnosed with a list of end-of-life conditions, was given supportive measures, but it was clear that she was ready, and she died in Amby’s arms a few days later at age 19.
Many of us rescuers have taken in feral cats and learned the same lessons on our own, but in cases where a colony of unsocialized cats needs to be removed for their own safety, as it was with MacKenzie’s colony, there was often no effort made to save the cats because socializing them was considered improbable, and an overcrowded shelter needs to move adoptable animals into homes. Today we know much more about feral cats, or cats who have simply grown distrustful of humans, and how we can understand their perspective on their surroundings and find their place in our world including spaying and neutering them and putting them back where a human can supervise, feed and care for them outdoors. It changes our idea of what we expect of our cats, lets us know that they have their stories as well, and living with a cat who trusts us and even loves us, yet who we may not be able to touch at will is still a fulfilling relationship with an animal. That effort around here began with cats like MacKenzie and they’ve taught us how to make life better for all cats on the streets, no matter how they ended up there. MacKenzie was rescued first from danger in life on the streets, then from life in a cage at a sanctuary, and she helped facilitate the rescues of many others since that time.
Read other stories in my Rescue Stories series.
Browse some rescued cats and kittens!
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Weekly schedule of features:
Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life
Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters
Tuesday: Rescue Stories
Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork
Thursday: New Merchandise
Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy
Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats
And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!