For nearly as long as I’ve rescued cats it’s been my opinion that, “When you rescue a cat, you rescue a human.”
Cats are dependent on humans no matter how they try to convince us otherwise.
Their status is not determined by their own agency but by their relationship to humans: friendly, stray, feral, community, lost, outdoor, and more. Their fortunes rise and fall with the humans who care for them, or don’t care for them.
When I moved into this house over 30 years ago there were about 20 cats who came through my back yard. The house had been empty for six months and the back yard was a safe place with no humans. Many of the cats were socialized, some downright friendly. A few months later I began talking to neighbors, to meet them and find out what they knew about all the cats.
I learned that many of the houses that backed my back yard were divided into apartments. There had been a huge economic turndown in our area in the decade before that and layoffs and lost jobs had affected me along with everyone else. Most of those apartments accepted Section 8 housing vouchers to help people pay rent. Some were whole families, some were single mothers, some were people of color, some were elderly, some were disabled. Many had pets. All had very little or unstable income.
In the year previous to then the Section 8 program had told its renters that they could not have pets if they were using the voucher because the extra costs involved cost too much and there wasn’t enough to go around even for humans. Renters had a year to resettle, but many could not move from subsidized housing. Rather than lose their apartments some people tried to make their cats outdoor cats or indoor-outdoor cats, and some just put them outdoors. Shelters were deadly places for animals then, especially cats. The people felt helpless, sad and angry, none were indifferent. I did my best with helping them keep track of outdoor cats, personally fostering some cats for rehoming or until a family moved and could take the cat back.
There are many ways to help, choose one you can do
Sometimes a lack of care is a lack of caring, but just as often it’s a lack of knowledge and/or a lack of resources. Sometimes the cat ends up sneaking to your feeding station because his behavior got him put outdoors part or full time. Sometimes it’s because the household can’t afford to feed him. Sometimes it’s because there is abuse or violence in the house and the cat escapes from fear or is put outside as spite or vengeance, or for its own safety.
Sometimes it’s because the cat does something that isn’t acceptable to the household. If you take the time to explain to the human why the cat isn’t using his litterbox because he’s actually spraying and needs to be neutered, because the box needs to be cleaned, because it’s not in a spot the cat considers safe, explain kindly and with an understanding of the person’s knowledge and experience in this area, you help that human with information they need, and may get that cat back inside. Maybe behavioral issues can be explained and people really want to make it work.
Often you find the cat needs resources because the human needs them to0.
If the household can’t afford cat food or litter or veterinary care, you can use your rescue resources to help those humans get what they need to keep the cat and care for it.
If you find out there is violence or abuse you can help find resources to try to help the humans.
If the human family needs food or utility assistance or transportation, help them find those resources.
In all cases, you are helping the humans so they can help the cat.
And those examples are only one small fragment of a very big cat rescue decision tree, much of which, be it TNR, recovering a lost cat, rescuing a mother cat and kittens, arranging for a spay or neuter or any on the long list of things cats need, involves helping humans, rescuing humans by providing what they need, in order to rescue the cat.
What are you doing for others?
One of the most oft-cited quotes from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?’ ”
When you are rescuing a cat, and therefore a person, you may not be ending racial discrimination in our time, but don’t dismiss that you are still working to make the lives of a human and an animal better, and hopefully permanently. You are forming a bond within a community. You are doing for others. Making bigger change results from a long series of smaller changes, and connections between and among humans.
Dr. King was not involved in animal welfare, that big movement we know today that began about a decade after he was assassinated. But he was a proponent of not just treating people with kindness and love, but being a kind and loving person every moment, with treating every living thing with kindness and love because there was no reason not to. You make a better world when you share and spread that kindness and love, with a goal that every living being lives in peace and justice.
African Americans who met and worked with Dr. King did actually later find that fighting for the welfare of animals was part of their work in creating a kind and loving world with justice for all living beings. One of his sons became a vegetarian out of concern and respect for animals, as did his wife Coretta, and no doubt, had he lived, he would have too. But we also find that diversity, the presence of people of color, has not reached or has not been accepted in animal welfare on either end, either the presence of people of color in the leading organizations or in animal sheltering or animal care, or in rescue, or in the people who love their pets and need the assistance. Some things happen organically, but some things need to be made to happen, and this we need to work on.
The best we can do for animals is to answer that persistent and urgent question by helping the people who love them, “This is what I am doing for others, and I am doing it with all my heart.”
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Also read a poem and essay…
Stop over at my writing website to read the poem and essay I wrote in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday.
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Tuesday: Rescue Stories
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