A friend contacted me, tearful that she felt she needed to find a new home for her two cats. She had lost her home and had to move and found a home to rent for her and her daughter that allowed Bennie and Georgie—that was a priority so a lease not permitting pets was not the problem. It was the front door that opened nearly right onto a busy road, and the cats’ habit of darting out the door. She wasn’t able to chase and catch them, and with children the door could and did open unexpectedly. The loss of her home and the need to find a new place to live had come so quickly, and she was so happy to find a place that allowed her pets that she didn’t notice the issue until she was beginning to move things in.
She really didn’t want to give them up. But the thought of what might happen to her cats if they ran out the door onto the road was so horrific that she couldn’t bear to think about it and didn’t even want to risk moving them in there. She and I had worked together on community development activities in our small town, and when I had planned rabies clinics here for several years she had welcomed us to hold the clinic in the basement of the senior center where she was the director. Knowing I lived with cats and rescued cats, she called me to see if I could help find them a new home.
Sometimes people just don’t want their cats anymore, and I’ll try to assess in conversations where they stand on this, and offer suggestions that would help solve their dilemma. Reluctance to modify things or even make simple changes usually tells me the person really just doesn’t want the cat or cats, and if I can do something for the cat I’m usually glad to get cats out of the hands of people who really don’t want them. I’ve seen and dealt with the results of leaving a cat where it wasn’t wanted, the physical abuse, even starvation, finding the cat left outside to fend for itself, frightened, ill or injured, and wished I’d just taken the cat in the first place when intuition told me it would end like that.
Knowing how she felt about Bennie and Georgie, though, I talked her through a few possible solutions. Was there an entryway, or a way to construct one where they could open and close the front door without the cats having access? No one likes to confine an animal to one room, but if it saves their lives was that possible, the basement, a bedroom? Aside from a tiny bathroom, there really wasn’t a room they could safely be confined to, and there was still the kids opening and closing even that door that happened all the time.
I could make a few calls and emails to see if anyone was interested in two nice adult cats, and aside from that the only option was to surrender to one of the shelters. She would be moving at the beginning of September, when shelters are packed with kittens, and that wouldn’t be a good idea for two mature cats. It was already the beginning of August.
I had a little bit of space at a time when my permanent household was “only” seven cats which left room for fosters. I had lost Moses and Cream in February and March, but Lucy had joined us in May and was still spending half days in the bathroom at about four months old. Stanley and Sophie were still with me, as well as Peaches and Cookie and Namir and Kelly. I felt these two could live in the spare cat room and eventually even mingle with the household. I offered to foster them, even long-term for a year or more if the woman was still in transition but wanted Bennie and Georgie back. I’d done this several times and it had worked fine, but often when people feel they need to give up a pet in circumstances that go beyond the pets themselves it’s heartbreaking and there’s really no turning back.
I knew if I took them there was the chance they’d end up staying with me, and as much as I managed well with nine completely different cats, plus fosters sometimes, in 700 sq. ft. of space and only me to care for them, I needed a possible outlet in case another cat or cats came along, or one of my permanent crew needed isolation for an illness. Stanley was 24 and I knew he wasn’t going to last much longer. In winter he would need one of the two warmer upstairs rooms, and I didn’t want any added stress for him in what might be his last days. I had one other idea, one I’ve used several times through the years, fostering the two until cage space opened up in one of the shelters, then surrendering them with an agreement I’d take them back if they weren’t adopted, and I’d help promote them while they were there. I wasn’t blogging yet, but I still had my network. Shelters are now beginning programs that include “surrender with notification” if the cat is ill or in danger of being euthanized for any reason, but I was lucky enough then to work with shelters often enough that I could get this assurance with surrenders.
At that time shelters were using more and more offsite adoption opportunities like cages at PetSmart and Petco and mall kiosks and shopping center storefronts and special events to get cats out in the public and get them adopted, and over the summer, during “kitten season” that often found homes for hundreds of irresistible kittens. At other times of the year that often served friendly adult cats like Bennie and Georgie very well too. I called a friend at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, an open-door shelter, to see what the chances were of these two going there some time in the next few months. Gretchen Feiser, formerly Director of PR and Business Relationships at the shelter, said the shelter would have space open some time in the autumn, around October. I’d hold onto them as long as they needed a foster home and keep them happy and socialized, and when she let me know there was cage space I’d surrender them and track their placement.
So Bennie and Georgie came to me at the end of August and were installed in the spare cat room while Lucy still spent half days in the bathroom. Very shortly, the lack of two rooms of three in my tiny upstairs made the household feel quite crowded so I let Lucy run free around the house and eat with the adults, the first time I’d done that for a kitten younger than a year. I worked with Bennie and Georgie in their room and the two were so friendly and affectionate, nice round cats, purring and happy, I found them a great temptation. Their vet records were up to date and I saw no signs of any illnesses so I began to let them out of the room for a few minutes to explore the upstairs individually in case they met one of my cats; one at a time there was less chance for an escalating conflict with a resident and a cat on full alert at smelling the scents of dozens of other unfamiliar cats.
Georgie, the black tabby with white, was about six years old and was apparently the boss, and no doubt was the boss of everything around him no matter where he’d ever been, he was just that kind of a guy. He blinked at me as if to confirm we were partners in this. He and I got along right away, but relations with the rest of the household were a little strained, as it would be with a cat who was accustomed to being the boss.
Bennie, the orange and white cat, was about three years old and was very comfortable being told what to do by cat or human. In fact, he was happy to be told what to do by anyone. He was simply a thoroughly gentle and nice kitty, and from the very beginning mingled fine with my household, and again I was tempted…I missed my Allegro still, and it had been ten years since my feline family had included a creamsicle kitty, this innocent round-eyed cat reminded me of Allegro’s simple happy personality. We would see. I wanted to keep both of them accustomed to living freely in a home so I let them be part of the household for a while each day, but where Georgie was bent on being the boss, Bennie was happy to lie in front of the door and watch the neighborhood on warm September afternoons so he did get more time with me and the rest of the family. And both of them regularly tried to run out the door, I could see why she was concerned; I kept in touch with the friend who had given them to me just to let her know how they were.
I continued sending out their photos in mail and email, included them in my e-newsletters from my shop and mentioned them to anyone I knew who liked cats, hoping to find their forever home as soon as I could. Around the middle of October I got an email from Gretchen at WPHS that cage space was open and adoption opportunities were ready for two cats like Bennie and Georgie. I called my friend to let her know the next step and see if her feelings had changed but she was happy they would be finding new homes if I couldn’t keep them.
As much as I had grown to adore Bennie, I could see Stanley slowly deteriorating, and also Sophie had developed a scratch to her voice we couldn’t identify, though she was losing weight in a way that was becoming alarming. And we still had Lucy to raise and find a home for. I knew they needed me more than we needed a new member of the household, so I packed the two in carriers and surrendered them to WPHS, making a donation with what my friend had given me for their care and for their surrender. I received their ID numbers later that day, and Georgie didn’t even make it to the adoption floor but was adopted by one of the shelter employees. Bennie was adopted within a week. I barely had the chance to announce their move to the shelter before they had new forever homes.
. . . . . . .
Shelters are not bad places, even open-door or open-admission shelters, often derisively called “kill shelters” by those who see no hope there. In one way or another all shelters kill animals, often simply by turning their backs on the legions of homeless pets because they have no more space behind their closed doors and limited admissions. More often than not, when I worked with a shelter, it was an open-door shelter, and because I was willing to work with their system, the cats I had were not killed but found good forever homes. The Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, one of three shelters in Pittsburgh, takes in at least 14,000 animals each year, and yet they have the time to honor a request like mine with Bennie and Georgie, and were willing other times as well, as in the story of Penny.
Last year WPHS began to work with the Homeless Cat Management Team and Pittsburgh CAT as rescues, and we can surrender cats and kittens with the same assurance of being able to “reclaim” them if anything happens. This is also the shelter a terrified little Basil came from, and which contacts our rescue group when an ear-tipped cat comes in or “hissy kittens” might lose their lives for their attitudes. This did not come about overnight, but through the suggestions and assistance of individuals in the community who not only asked for it to happen, but helped it happen. These shelters do the bulk of animal sheltering in this country, and they will only change if we change and offer to help.
I have always believed in fostering pets as a way of saving lives, and while it may seem impossible to fit one more animal into your home it’s often easier than you might think. I worked my way up to situations like this one over the years, and by the time Bennie and Georgie came along I knew that if I was careful it would work no matter if they were adopted or stayed forever. And each time this has happened, whether I fostered short or long term and returned the cat to its original person or found a new home by my own means or using a shelter or rescue, I am happy to have been able to save a life or two, ease the fears of a human in caring for their pet, and give everyone a little space to settle down again.
I could easily have kept both boys, or just Bennie, and been happy with a nice big household, but it’s best not to fill up every little spot, but to leave a little space to react to new conditions. I knew some troubling times were on the horizon. The scratch in Sophie’s voice turned out to be a mass that had started on her vocal cords and wrapped entirely around inside her neck. She nearly lost her voice and continued to lose weight even before eating less and less; the mass was difficult to see with any diagnostics until it was very advanced, but even seeing it sooner would not have made a difference. We lost her at the end of November. Stanley continued slowing down and lived to the following January 15, passing at the age of 25. And, of course, there was Lucy, who we lost the following July, and the arrival of my current family of black cats at the end of that month.
Cookie and I grieved Sophie deeply as the two girls were close friends and the three of us were an inseparable trio. Peaches and Namir and Kelly were steadfast for us through it all. Sometimes things just work out as they should, but the decisions we make also guide the outcome.
. . . . . . .
I’m still grateful to have been able to work with Gretchen Feiser at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society. After nearly 12 years she and her husband purchased and now operate Lucky Paws Pet Resort in the Pittsburgh area.
Thanks to Bennie and Georgie’s person for the photo used at the top.
Read more stories in my weekly Rescue Stories series
and read about my Rescue Stories series.
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.
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