When you’ve been rescuing cats for a while you might not trust a person whose cat needs care and you think they might not provide it based on what you’ve seen. But what you’ve seen is usually not the whole story, and by opening up a line of communication you serve a better purpose for everyone involved. Communication, cooperation, and compassion are often the best method of rescue for both the animal and the people involved.
I’ve been watching a little white cat with orange ears and tail in my neighborhood for several years. I regularly saw a flea collar on him so I knew he had people. Eventually, I suspected I knew where he lived because I saw him in the yard or around a house on the next block down, and that’s where he actually became my very willing model one September day in 2017.
I had seen him outdoors at all times of the day and night, but never in any danger, and always on his own block but for a few times he came another few houses up toward my house, the typical behavior of an indoor-outdoor cat. I walk and ride my bike so I encounter animals in the neighborhood on a different level than many others. I found he was a talker and while he kept his distance I think it was to have his say and rub himself on the cars and sidewalk and anything else around him while I answered him. I did pet him a few times, but he preferred to be admired.
At one point a few years ago he started looking shabby, with clumpy fur and some discharge in his eyes, I was thinking dehydration and renal issues or any number of conditions. I knocked on the door of the house a few times but no one answered. I knew the people there worked various jobs and went to school, came and went at different times. I had planned to leave a note, but saw kitty walking across the street looking clean and neat, and he stayed that way, so it seemed his people also took notice and cared for him.
Last year or so I saw him on my block more and more often, ambling up the sidewalk or crossing the street, once or twice visiting our porch (which never goes over well inside). I could see he’d lost some weight from those photos in 2017, but he still looked good, clean, bright-eyed, curious and sociable, and with the cutest little trot on those tiny white paws.
Eventually, he discovered Denise’s feeding station at the top of the hill and for most of the past year I’ve seen him daily trotting up the hill on the sidewalk across the street from me, then ambling back down a little later, only occasionally exploring a neighbor’s front walk or steps or porch. He was very focused on his task of visiting the magic food bank he’d discovered, then getting home for a bath on his front steps.
I mentioned him to Denise and she said he showed up regularly, and she named him Cupcake, which I think is adorable. When I saw him on his way up the hill I always smiled and often messaged Denise that Cupcake was on his way. He’s also met with Pebbles, the indoor-outdoor cat across the street, and it proved that neither of them was a fighter nor particularly territorial, but they’d rather not have to look at each other. Cupcake would be happy to cross the street to avoid any confrontation, or Pebbles return to his porch. Denise never reported any conflicts at her place, either, just a nice kitty.
Denise keeps an eye on her ferals, and if she sees an injury or anything that might indicate they need help, she lets me know. If the cat needs veterinary help I’ll look around for the best opportunity, which is often Homeless Cat since we know how to handle feral cats. Around the beginning of April Denise messaged that his eyes looked odd, and that the pupil in his left eye looked larger than the other eye. Over the course of days it seemed to look worse, and he was scratching inside his left ear. The ear could be mites and treated with medicine, but the eye could be something far more serious.
I walked up to her house after I’d seen Cupcake headed up to eat, and caught him as he left her house, but he avoided me and crossed the street, then crossed back, trotting down the sidewalk with me obediently following behind with my cell phone, determined to get a photo. And I did. When he arrived at his house he went up the steps and turned around so I could pet him, and then I got my photo. And it looked pretty serious.
I sent the photo to Margo, who sent it off so our vet could see it. It looked like glaucoma to me, and that was confirmed. HCMT offered to get him in for enucleation surgery ASAP. Glaucoma is painful and debilitating and can be treated with drops, but for a cat who may not have a whole lot of veterinary care or an advanced condition enucleation is the best choice.
But Cupcake wasn’t our cat, and I knew he had a family, and there begins the decision tree for a cat who needs care but who is not your cat. I may have seen him look unkempt and wandering any time of the day or night, but that didn’t mean his people were neglectful. In many other cases people will say to just take the cat, the owners obviously don’t care, and I know people who have done that. I’ve found it’s a better approach to talk to people, and you usually end up with a solution that works for the cat and the people.
Denise or I could talk to them and see if they had noticed Cupcake’s eye—things like that eye may seem obvious, but especially with cats that’s not always so. If they had noticed, did they know it was a problem? Not everyone is a medical professional, and once explained I’ve found people immediately respond to telling them their cat is dehydrated, or has a bad tooth or any one of other things I’ve seen in indoor-outdoor cats over the years. What if they knew and were willing, but didn’t have the money? We could explain the seriousness of it and offer the surgery from HCMT, I could arrange transport if necessary, whatever it would take to make Cupcake comfortable.
Denise and I discussed it, and we agreed that, while we adored Cupcake and he was such a nice kitty and we’d love to swipe him, that wasn’t the right thing to do. We would offer to take Cupcake, and if it really did come to that, I hoped it would be voluntary. I’ve done that too, and it’s usually been sad, but not contentious.
I could go down and knock on the door, but I really thought it would be better if Denise did. She feeds him every day and looks after him while he’s there, she was truly concerned for his welfare and that of all the other cats up there, and she could talk from her heart about how much she cares for him. She just noticed the condition recently and knew he needed to see a veterinarian. Did they know that? And if they needed help she would be glad to help them. All of that would be absolutely sincere.
Then we didn’t see Cupcake for a day, and she decided it was time. She stopped by and I talked her through what she would say so she had it organized before she knocked on the door. It went well. She talked to a teenage boy who was home from school at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown. He said his mother was working at home, upstairs. They had found Cupcake at a truck stop and had no idea how old he was. They had noticed the eye and planned to take him to the vet, but he didn’t know when—all that was up in the air with the pandemic too. Denise told him it was serious so they should take him as soon as they could.
They seemed sincere. All we could do was wait. We didn’t see Cupcake for about a week and I know I thought they may have had to have him put to sleep, but then I saw him in the late morning one day trotting up the hill and let Denise know. After that we’d see erratically him for a day or two and he looked good, his eye no worse, then not at all. Denise and I both felt sad and talked it over in messages.
Not seeing him might mean they got him to a vet, and maybe his condition was advanced enough that he needed to be put to sleep. Or he could be indoors getting drops in his eyes because we noticed his eye was no worse. I thanked Denise again for talking to them. Even if they noticed his eye, we wondered if they would have realized how serious it was if she hadn’t told them; with no outward symptoms of pain, many people might not.
It was really hard just not to know what happened to him. There are little losses all the time in rescue, and not knowing an outcome is common, but never easy. Denise and I both agreed our first thought was to swipe him. We always want to give an animal the life we feel it should have. But I know in my heart that’s not right, it’s just an ego move because I think I know better—Cupcake was one happy cat and what more could I give him than that? Even though we didn’t know what happened, working it out this way was right.
Still, I told Denise she could just leave a friendly note on the door asking how he was because she missed him, and that was the truth. She did that.
Cupcake was back for about a week at the beginning of May very clean and shiny and friendly, and had obviously had drops in his eyes, then we were again messaging that we hadn’t seen him. No response to the note. We again resigned ourselves to his probable fate.
Near the end of May, however, Denise got a call from the family of “Cupcake”! The big surprise was that his real name was Jersey, which was what Denise had named a tabby and white cat she’d been feeding since last summer who her neighbor had taken in (and who surprised us with two kittens, more on them later). They had found him on the New Jersey turnpike. She told Denise that Jersey now has detached retinas and is pretty much completely blind now but his family is taking good care of him, and of course he isn’t allowed out anymore. The woman said she was touched by the note and that she had to get back to Denise and thank her for caring. Denise thanked me for suggesting the note and although sad, it’s good to know he is loved.
You can’t always control a situation, but sometimes you can just put your heart into it in the right places and your compassionate influence helps things move in the right direction. And if everyone puts their hearts into it, how much better it will be.
Help Homeless Cat Management Team help cats
If it had been necessary, HCMT would have taken in Cupcake and gotten the surgery done, even if no one could pay for it. Two ferals from Denise’s group have gone to the clinic for care and were later adopted. The HCMT clinic isn’t for regular everyday care, but critical needs for homeless cats, or cats whose owners may not be able to afford care, including cats who’ve been hit by cars, have unhealed wounds or abscesses, dental issues, infections, masses and other really horrible things.
If you’d like to help the cats in our care at the HCMT clinic, here is the Amazon wish list. Canned food is always welcome. You can also donate in other ways, with gift cards, goods from other sources, or cash. Please visit: www.homelesscat.org/donate-to-hcmt
Can’t adopt? Foster! Can’t foster? Donate or volunteer.
There are so many ways you can help cats who need homes and care. You may not have room to adopt another cat, but can foster a cat or kitten for a few weeks. If not that, you can volunteer at a shelter or with a rescue, or donate. You do this because you love your cat, and by doing so you help all cats. No matter which of these actions you take, you help to save a life, and make life better for all cats.
- Adopt one of the cats I’ve posted here, or from any shelter or rescue near you, or from Petfinder, to open up a space for another cat to be rescued and fostered.
- Offer to foster cats or kittens for a shelter or rescue near you.
- Volunteer at a shelter or rescue.
- Find a group of volunteers who work with homeless cats and help them with their efforts.
- Donate to a shelter or rescue near you.
If you can foster kittens or adults cats to help prepare them for a forever home, please run to your nearest shelter and find a cat who needs you! Anyone can help with this effort at any level, even if all you do is donate to a shelter or rescue so they can help to pay for the food or medications needed for their foster, or the spay/neuter/veterinary care during a clinic.
Need to know more? Read Fostering for Your Shelter and Fostering Saves Lives
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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!