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Rescue Story: “Who Really Runs the Store,” 2009

cat on cash register
Guess who really runs the store?

I published this story in April 2009, when The Creative Cat was only three months old! I’ve been going back to those first years to find any interesting stories to share again. The kittens at the Agway store were always a popular subject.

Some customers brought kittens to the store when Agway’s long-time shop cat died of an apparent stroke, but before you knew it—of course—there were too many kittens from people dropping them off and trying to get all the littles spayed and neutered. I and others helped them with low-cost and free spay and neuter, I helped with socialization if they needed it, and many kittens were adopted from there, fully vetted and often heading off to a plush home with one of the customers. Agway also shared all the spay and neuter opportunities with customers who had no idea those things were available and were happy to take advantage of the programs. Before too many opportunities were available, and just a few occasional cat rescues, turning a near-disaster into a success for cats and people was a big happy for all of us.

I miss this Agway! Not only the cats but the manager and staff who were always ready to talk, being able to order cat food and other goods at cost, and selling my organic vegetable seedlings and geranium plants from my cuttings at the store. Also being able to choose from the half-dead plant leftovers in early June which was where I got many of the native plants I’d added to my yard. They were the ones who first suggested wood stove pellet litter too. I also had my greeting cards and early gift items here for sale until they closed in 2010.

Enjoy reading the story!

Who Really Runs the Store?

Just as at home, if there’s a cat at a business, she’s the boss.

Miko (mee-ko), a very outgoing tan and white three-year-old, apparently makes the rules about cash register use at the H.J. Paul and Sons Agway on Glass Road in Robinson Township. It may be that humans can’t be trusted with money, but most likely she wanted to be the center of attention, and indeed she was. And she loves to be photographed.

orange and white cat
Miko says, “Welcome to the Agway!”

 

Miko is also a professional greeter, and when no one is in the store she can be found outside the open garage door waiting for a customer to pull up so she can stand up and stretch, then stroll along the concrete deck as the customer walks to the front door, strategically arriving at the same time to be sure to get some pets and perhaps allow the customer to let her in the door, even though she could just walk into the open garage door.

She is a member of one of the world’s oldest professions—no, not that one, she’s a pest control agent, one of the first and most important things cats and humans worked together on…I was about to say it was one of the first things cats did for humans, but since we know the kitties were really doing it for themselves, we’ll call it a partnership—the cats ensured the food supply and the humans worshipped them as gods, which sounds fair.

See, if dogs had been as confident with just a touch of arrogance, if they had sniffed at the human’s offerings then walked away a bit and pondered the sunset, returning to accept the offering of the third or fourth morsel and giving just a bit of a nose rub instead of gobbling up every morsel they were offered and giving effusive, enthusiastic thanks, they could have become gods, too.

orange and white cat
I’m a working girl.

Miko takes the place of Pussy Willow, the plump and pleasant gray tabby who passed three years ago. Pussy Willow kind of reminded you of someone’s grandma, always a little smile and a greeting. When I first met Pussy Willow I worried about her welfare in the building and near the roads. Traffic is only busy during rush hour, and the road is a back road that leads to an office park, but it’s still to be concerned about. They are confined into the building overnight, but the doors are open all day. But she rarely crossed the road, and she probably kept the rodent population to a minimum, though it was difficult to think of her matronly figure running after a mouse among the stacks of deer feed and grass seed bags. More likely she’d make them sit on one stack of bags while she sat on another and read them a story (oh, no, I feel an illustrated story coming on).

The Agway still serves the small number of farms and livestock owners in the area, and a larger number of people like me who visit for bird seed, canning supplies, plants and seeds and talk about gardening and cats and the weather. When Pussy Willow died, one of the horse owners offered to bring a few of the kittens from her barn, of whom Miko is one.

The job can take its toll, and of the three original kittens, one disappeared. The original person brought more kittens. And they all needed to be fixed, but all too soon there were more kittens, then other people heard the Agway was taking kittens and there were kittens in cages and everyone needed to be fixed and most of them needed new homes.

kittens playing
Let’s see how it would be if we put the bedding in this bucket and curled up…

 

The Agway doesn’t make much money, and the amount needed to get all these cats spayed and neutered was phenomenal, even just catching the little ones. When they took the older females in they were already expecting, and the extra cost of spaying  while pregnant was more than they could pull together. And as much as they wanted to make sure all the unwanted kittens out there got good homes, they eventually had to tell people they should get their cats fixed, the Agway wasn’t taking any more kittens.

Many good-hearted souls in animal rescue, especially cat rescue, have experienced this, the early stages of Cat Hoarding. But, as with the Agway, when treated early, it’s completely curable. They found homes for all but three of the many kittens, keeping Miko and two others. Their own cats are spayed, neutered and microchipped through different programs, mostly Animal Birth Control (ABC), run through Animal Friends, and a local low-cost spay and neuter clinic. Many of the other kittens were spayed and neutered before adoption as well, especially since some of them stayed quite a while.

cats and kittens in beds
Humans wear coats and gloves in the cold, but the kitties have their own heater and very comfy beds.

When cats—or dogs for that matter—are adopted from a shelter, they are already spayed and neutered and have all their initial veterinary care completed, even tiny kittens. It used to be that the shelter offered a certificate to come back for spay or neuter when the animal was six months old, but often enough people forgot or just didn’t follow through, or the animal was expecting already since cats can go into heat at four months if conditions are right. Now shelters spay and neuter when a cat has reached four pounds, long before six months, so no kitten leaves the shelter unfinished.

This has helped to reduce the population of unwanted kittens, but many litters are born to cats who’ve been passed down the line—someone’s cat has kittens and they give them away to whatever home they can find, then those cats don’t have the advantage of the shelter services for spaying and neutering and often the surgery isn’t done, or the cat “gets out” when she first goes into heat and people don’t realize how wily and determined a female in heat can be (there’s a reason they’ve become a metaphor), and suddenly there are 1,000 kittens among all the shelters in Pittsburgh by the middle of the summer. This crowds out older animals, and a shelter either closes its doors and people have to go elsewhere with their box of kittens, and often the mother who they no longer want, or the shelter takes in the little family, but at the cost of an older cat’s life who isn’t as “adoptable” as a kitten or two. Shelters don’t euthanize because they want to, but because they only have so much room and they are obligated to take that box of kittens.

cat in agway
Can I help you find something?

I find it much easier to visit the Agway now that I don’t worry about spaying and neutering and homes for all those kittens. I was glad to give them the information on ABC and the spay and neuter clinic, and now they hand it out to their customers, many of whom have taken advantage of it, never having known anything like it was available, or that, even after a cat has conceived, she can still be spayed. Almost every one of families who adopted kittens came back with a report or photos or the cat itself, and every one who came to visit had gotten the cat spayed or neutered.

The experience helped teach all of us that we could be on the news one night with our 42 cats, even if we tried our best not to end up like that. And that there are people who just won’t get their cat fixed for whatever stupid reason they spit out, and you may lose a customer after a heated discussion about it. But there are also many others who appreciate the information you may give them, and they’ll pass it along in turn.

In Pittsburgh, dog licensing and leash laws have forced most owners to keep their dogs contained, and now the shelters rarely have puppies and many fewer dogs are euthanized to allow space for more dogs. That should be our goal for cats as well.

~~~

Here are a few other articles about the Agway cats.


Read other stories in my Rescue Stories series on The Creative Cat.


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Each month features one of my commissioned portraits of a feline or felines and their rescue story along with a kitty quote on the left page, and on the right page the month name with enough lines for all possible dates, with standard holidays and animal-themed observances and events. Great Rescues also includes a mini cat-care book illustrated with my drawings including information on finding strays or orphaned kittens, adopting for the first time or caring for a geriatric cat, a list of household toxins and toxic plants, or helping stray and feral cats and beginning with TNR.

Each book includes also 10 sheets of my “22 Cats” decorative notepaper with a collage of all the portraits in black and white so you can make your own notes or write special notes to friends.

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Bernadette

From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, factual articles and fictional stories, "The Creative Cat" offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

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