For the past 17 years, I have been engaged in cat rescue. People are surprised when they learn that I have an allergy to cats, which for me is equivalent to Lady Gaga having an aversion to makeup. I have such passionate love for these wonderful felines that I regard sneezing and nasal stuffiness to be a small price to pay for the privilege of enjoying their company.
Cats are beautiful animals! My admiration extends to the big cats, as well as to our domestic breeds. Such animals as lions, leopards, and panthers normally mask enormous powers behind a placid attitude that is perhaps indifference but comes across as serenity. Common housecats share the steel-beneath-velvet qualities of the large feline predators — as anyone knows who has seen a pussycat pounce on a rat or make a standing leap from the floor to the top of a door.
Cats are intelligent creatures with admirable powers of observation. They are aware of the world around them to an amazing degree. For example, one of my cats, Snoopy, has to take nasty tasting medicine every day. Now he runs when he simply hears the sound of the bottle being opened. I myself have been feeding feral cats at several places around town. They have come to recognize the sound of my car engine and come running out to greet me. Once a week we put some of our rescue cats into a carrier. The cats clearly are tabulating day-night cycles because on the seventh day they go into seclusion and all you can see of them is their eyes peeking out from some hiding place.
My concern for rescuing cats came from my mother’s influence. When stray cats would appear at our back door, Mom would always give them a saucer of milk and sometimes a place to stay. I grew up with cats. My earliest memories include a tortoise shell family cat, named Lady, who gave birth to litters of kittens that contributed to the problem that I am now trying to solve. For 15 years, Lady occupied a privileged position in our midst and we grieved for her passing as for the loss of a beloved family member.
Lady was an indoor-outdoor animal, but when my uncle died the cat apparently experienced such an inconsolable sense of loss that she disappeared. We never learned what happened to her, but two years later — long after we had given up hope of ever seeing her again — I glanced out the window of my car and saw Lady slinking along the side of the road. She was emaciated and ill. In those days, we didn’t take cats to vets but we gave Lady loving care and eventually she recovered. If cats have nine lives, Lady probably used up seven of them during that exile.
Cat rescue became a central life issue for me in 1997. I was at work in my office, which was located in the Pleasant Hill Redevelopment Area. Someone mentioned that he had seen kittens crossing the street, so I went looking for them, and in a little lane between some bungalows I found them. A resident of the area told me, “There are always cats here.” I made it my purpose to take care of them and located an organization called Community Concern For Cats (CC4C) that gave me traps and some instructions. A member of the organization joined me and the two of us ended up trapping 50 feral cats. We had them spayed, neutered, and gave them whatever medical attention was necessary. Some of them were adopted and others went to live in backyard homes, with owners’ permission. A few of them, who were incurably ill, had to be put down.
The experience made me aware of a big problem lurking out-of-sight in all of our communities, and I subsequently learned that pockets of feral cats like the one that I helped take care of are scattered throughout Contra Costa County. These cats have a tough life marked by battles, starvation, and disease. I have great respect for the mama ferals who are able to find sufficient food to keep their babies alive. The total number of free-roaming cats in our county is estimated to be around 150,000. Once I discovered the truth, I found it impossible to turn my back on the problem. On some days, I wish I had never found out. Ignorance is bliss, they say, and I sometimes envy children who remain blissfully innocent and carefree because of the things they don’t know.
For Cats’ Sake
When I discovered that Community Concern For Cats shared my concern, I joined the group and threw my energy and resources into helping the organization work towards its goals. In 1985, Gary Bogue helped bring resources together to start the group. People have no idea how difficult rescue work is. There are currently about 35 of us but we could use an army of people dedicated to carrying out our mission. We are in danger of being overwhelmed; simply finding enough vets to neuter the animals becomes a difficult challenge.
The business is consuming; it tends to swallow you up. We continually get calls from people saying that they have moms and babies in their yard. What would these people do without us? In three years they would have 50 cats running around in the yard. Another area group, who call themselves Alley Cat Allies, is on a mission to educate people about the problem. Their main message is the same as ours — that the response to the problem consists of a Trap-Neuter-Return tactic, which is more helpful and certainly more humane than the Trap and Kill alternative. In fact, providing for the cats seems just, as well, since these creatures have as much right to their place on earth as we have to ours.
Every community needs our kind of group. Our four-legged clients are unwitting victims of a heartless social phenomenon that we have come to refer to as “disposable pets.” Many of these pitiful creatures are simply abandoned. We trap cats, neuter them, and care for the kittens. We are careful to put our rescued cats into home environments where they will be safe and given loving care. In many cases, our adoptive families come to believe that they receive more benefit from the loving animals that have come into their lives than they were able to bestow upon them. We feel the same when we give assistance to these animals; they are giving wonderful gifts to us.
An Animal Communicator (we try to avoid “Cat Whisperer”) spoke at one of our recent meetings. She could discern the essence of a particular cat just by looking at its picture. She was good, but when it comes to cats, I also have highly developed skills. If you are around them long enough, any alert person will eventually pick up nuances of movement and attitude that betray a cat’s motives and choices. I have learned to think like a cat and have assisted a number of people in finding their cats by nothing other than imagining where I would go if I were a cat. I listen to their nonverbal communications. Perhaps cats sense that I like them but, whatever the reason, I have handled feral cats that wouldn’t permit themselves to be touched by other people. There is nothing particularly special about my abilities because all of us who hang around with them long enough eventually learn how to do this stuff.
Doing What We Can
During the 26 years that CC4C has engaged in this humanitarian effort, we have cared for more than 50,000 animals. I myself have adopted out more than 2,000 cats and have neutered many more.
New volunteers are sometimes initially reluctant to provide temporary housing for rescued animals while they await adoption because they are fearful of becoming so attached to each cat that they would become unwilling to let them go when permanent quarters were located. “Just do it,” I tell them. “You will learn to care for them, kiss them goodbye when the time comes, and then look forward to the next one.” Turning away is difficult because of the reality that without our intervention these beloved cats would be put down or, in the best case scenario, would be left to live under dangerous and wretched conditions. Animals who end up in the animal shelters are given five days of grace. In the event that nobody adopts them, they are put down.
Some of our rescues have been dramatic and heart touching. We once discovered a kitten at the bottom of a storm drain that was covered by a grate. The kitten had been there for some days and had survived because its mother had been caring for it. She would bring birds and lizards to the kitten, entering the shaft by way of a side drain and jumping down into the eight-foot hole where she would care for her distressed kitten and then leaping back out to go in search of the next meal. Once we discovered the plight of the little animal, we managed to get him out by baiting a trap with a piece of KFC and then hauling him up. We discovered that the wretched creature was not only in an emaciated state but had been infected by a foxtail that had been working its way into the kitten’s eye. We took him to a veterinarian who removed the foxtail. Then we had the kitten fed, fixed, and adopted into a nice home in Lafayette.
In most cases, after responding to a call for help, our assistance is not acknowledged very strongly. However, a woman called me recently. I couldn’t remember who she was and asked her, “Have I helped you?”
“You helped me nine years ago,” she said. “A mama and her nine babies.”
“What can I do for you?” I asked
“I called to read you a psalm.”
She read it and I thanked her.
Most people only call to ask for help; she just wanted to reach out. Perhaps in the final analysis that is what we are all doing — we’re reaching out and trying to make some change in the world. I was glad for the woman’s effort in reaching out to me. I am convinced that on some level my rescued cats are often grateful that I reached out in love to them. It doesn’t matter, however, I offer them my services for no other reason than for my love of cats.
Written by Gemma Osendorf-Boyd, President, CC4C
Photos by Tom Minczeski
Featured in 86° – Magazine / www.86mag.com – Issue: September-October 2012