Why I Rescue: First-time Parents!

By: Tawnya Summers, Certified Crazy Cat Lady, BA (Hon.)

kitten2I’ve always been a cat lover. From an early age my parents knew I was meant to have felines in every aspect of my life. I got my first cat at age 6 from the Edmonton Humane Society (then SPCA); she was one of two teeny black 6 week old kittens. I think I told my parents I wanted to take one of the senior cats, because they needed a home the most, but my parents told me we were here for a kitten who would grow with me. There were no options for kittens at the time; the two black ones were the only kittens there. Colour never mattered to me, what I wanted was to take the smaller, more lethargic kitten who was full of ear mites. I remember telling my parents that her sister would be adopted in no time, but as a sick kitten, she stood less of a chance.

I had Chodna for 11 years. When I was growing up, it was still common to have indoor-outdoor cats. The “nature’s instincts” way of thinking was the dominant way at the time – cats belonged outside, and when you no longer wanted an animal, you dumped it on an acreage because “nature’s instincts” would kick in (we would never have done that). We know better now, as Chodna was attacked by (most likely) a dog and gravely injured when she was 7. She went missing for 3 days, and finally came to my frantic calling with her insides nearly hanging out. The amazing vets at South Emergency Hospital were able to save her life, but she wasn’t the same. She was terrified of dogs, and I refused to let her outside without my direct supervision. Amazingly, she lived another 4 years and finally was euthanized due to a mass in her chest. I loved her until the very minute she left, and I still think of her often.

Things felt pretty empty at home without cats; my brother’s cat has passed a few years before due to diabetes. It’s true that animals do make a house a home. The 6 months without animals caused a lot of tension, fighting, and bitterness. When my mom brought a puppy home, our spirits were lifted, and things were normal again. But something was still missing in my life.

Without going into great detail, I chose to leave home at 19 and “rescue” two cats that were living in a half-bath in the basement of a friend’s house. I would go over and play with them sometimes, but I knew that even though they were fed and warm, there was so much more potential for life that these cats deserved. It took no time for Kitty to warm up to her new life, but Ananda took about 3 years to come out of her shell. She was jealous of my connection to her ex-owner, and ignored me every chance she got. Now, we are best friends. After 3 years, she finally let out a little “loo?” noise, indicative of her curiosity. Her nickname is Loo-loo. It was her first word to me, and it signifies the bond we share, constant curiosity of what the other is thinking or doing.

When I decided to volunteer with Zoe’s, it was because I wanted to be able to save more lives. I knew my girls were kitten6not new-cat-friendly, and in a shared two-bedroom apartment with a sibling who was not really an “animal person”, it wasn’t possible to foster. I did whatever I could, and secretly hoped one day I would be given the opportunity to bring someone new home.

A few opportunities fell through; a girl I had fallen for was diagnosed with a grade 3 heart murmur. As a single woman, I knew I could not afford the care she needed. When another rescue ran into a 30 homeless cat situation, I thought that was the chance to bring someone home and integrate her into our lives. Again, things didn’t work out, but I patiently waited.

When my co-volunteer, Jessica, told me she was purchasing a house with a basement suite, I knew I had to be there! As we were both volunteers, living together brought a new potential to increase our activity within Zoe’s. My kitty partner-in-crime, Tracy, had recently brought home two litters of 6 week old kittens for temporarily foster, and had secretly kept one oddball kitten aside for me. The opportunity to save another life had thrown itself at me, and I was now tasked with integrating a hyper, feisty, wound-up little oddball were-kitten in with my senior cats. It has been a challenge, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

kitten1Jessica and I had talked at length about fostering; it was something we both wanted to do for quite some time, but hadn’t been sure how the single lifestyle with adopted cats would accommodate. We both love cats, and think about street cats and homeless cats all the time! This was something we wanted to provide – an option for placement for a cat in need. Having two of us increased our visibility and time with a foster, and we converted the half-bedroom in the basement suite into a quarantine room for emergency, temporary, or short-term foster intake. With our adopted cats and decreased time at home, we won’t be able to allow free-roam or long-term foster, at least, not for now, but we can still provide a safe, warm, place for someone in need.

That time has come! Jessica and I received our first fosters a few months ago, 3 scared, knotted kittens on their way to the NWT. They stayed with us overnight as we cleaned their fur, petted them, and gave them a place to bunk for the night before their new journey to a forever home. Now, we have been blessed with the opportunity to help a mama cat raise 8 newborn kittens! As experienced and researched cat owners, we had no qualms about our capabilities to raise babies. We have 24/7 support of the Zoe’s team, and a passion for cats that helps us get through the sleepless nights.

Jessica and I tag-team an every 2-3 hour check-up on Mama Alessia and her babies, and keep each other updated kitten5with text messages, pictures, and a notebook where we record weights, feedings, who didn’t eat today, when we changed towels and blankets, and how much pets Mama wanted! We are like new parents, fretting over poop, mews, making sure each baby gets a chance to nurse, and recording every little gain or loss in grams. We coo over their little toes, worship their little cries, and update the entire Zoe’s family when someone opens an eye. It has been the most heart-warming experience getting to learn Mama’s body language, watching the smallest kittens win a fight for a teat, and holding a baby when she cries. I sit with my little Dibella and Arkay, as they are beginning to overcome their blindness, and watch them stare at absolutely nothing and wobble slightly. It’s weird, but I love it.

They are leaving us tomorrow, going to a new foster home where they can be allowed to free-roam as they begin to walk, where Mama will get the attention she deserves as her babies become more independent, and where they will be introduced to dogs, allowing for more versatility in adoption. Both Jessica and I are crushed, trying not to think about how they will grow up without us, but we know it is for the best. We exist as a short-term intake location, to get cats off the streets and into care, and it’s simply just what we are able to provide. The Zoe’s family is an amazing network, and we don’t doubt that they will continue to update us as the babies grow, walk, eat solid food, and leave for their forever homes. We both strongly anticipate Mama’s adoption, especially, as she is the absolute sweetest girl, who has inevitably captured our hearts!

kitten3We will foster again, even though it is hard to say goodbye, there are more lives in need. Our paths have led us to this place, to this time, to each other, and to Zoe’s, and we won’t take that for granted. I applaud those who can commit to long-term, and perhaps the day will come where my cats and my kitten will be comfortable with foster siblings.

Until then, we help where we can.

We help where we are needed.

It is why we rescue.