Doing Our Part

It’s understandable, but sometimes very frustrating for us, that our reach throughout the community and our resources, are very different from what some members of the public perceive. This weekend that point was driven home for me in three very different conversations.

The first person I spoke with assumed our group was affiliated with a larger organization of some kind and asked me if we were sponsored by state or county. I told him “neither.” He followed up with “But you’re part of SPCA, right?” I said we were not. It went on this way for a minute or two.  The confusion stemmed from our location in Newpark Mall itself. The guy was surprised that a small, donation-funded group like ours could manage to maintain a comfortable, [reasonably] well organized store as we do.

I explained to him that we are lucky enough to have not only dedicated volunteers who keep that store functioning as it should, but a management team overseeing the mall who value our presence there.  We maintain our store, clean it, pay the utilities, do our own repairs; but we could never afford rent on that space without Management’s generosity.

The above conversation stemmed from confusion and did not result in frustration, but the next two exchanges were vexing.  First was someone needing help with a group of free roaming cats that threatened to overtake an apartment complex.  A few abandoned cats, unspayed and allowed to reproduce, a few more dumped by people who see the others; and it soon grows beyond what one person can deal with.  I offered low-cost spay & neuter vouchers, resources for traps, the names of a couple of feral organizations. . . and that’s all. They extended their thanks, but I could feel their disappointment at the limitations of what we can do.

The final conversation was the most frustrating—and infuriating, of all.  Last month we took in two pregnant cats.  They would live in our foster homes, deliver, nurse and wean their kittens, then be returned to where the came from once they were both spayed.  The kittens would remain with us until adopted. This weekend, the woman we took one of the pregnant cats from, came into the store and announced she did not want it back.  This is an adult cat who is not very social and will most likely be hard to adopt.  Not a foster cat we would take on without serious consideration.

More than one person had explained our program to this woman (I was one of them) so there is no chance she misunderstood what was expected of her.  We agreed to do our part and now she is refusing to do hers.  I called her a liar to her face, which is—by any measure—not the best approach, but in my head I called her far worse.  Damn near every day, a member of Purrfect Cat Rescue goes out on limb for someone needing help, but our ability to do so is reliant upon the members of the community who do the same for us.  This woman is not a member of the “community,” just a member of the public; and I suspect she does not understand the difference.

Thanks to all who do understand the difference and make our work possible.  Your reward for sticking with us is the photos below.

Kitten Season

Spring this year has brought us a lot of odd weather: rain; days as hot as midsummer; nights as cold as winter; and more rain.  Spring also brought us kittens, and in a way we do not usually get them—still within their mothers.   When we sell our low-cost vouchers to the public,  they often tell us that the cat might be pregnant.  Depending on how far into the pregnancy she is, a spay can still be safely performed. After a certain point, though, it becomes more complicated, and potentially dangerous.

Two cats came to us at that very point in their gestation so we made the choice to not have a spay/abort performed.  Instead, we placed them temporarily in the homes of two Purrfect Cat officers. There they can have their kittens, nurse and ween them, and eventually, the kittens as well as one mother will be up for adoption. The remaining mother cat will be returned to the family who found her once she is spayed.

Given that there are never enough homes (foster or forever) for all the kittens needing our help, enabling the birth of any is not our usual protocol, but it seemed the right choice in this particular case.  We hope to share these kittens’ journey from birth to adoption with the public, turning a debatable move on our part into an opportunity to educate.

kitten

Both sets of kittens were born this week. Over the next two months, we will update you with pictures, stories, and hopefully some useful information, too.  By late May or early June, these kittens will be ready for adoption.  By then, “kitten season” will be in full swing so we would welcome new foster homes.  If you know of anyone interested in opening their homes to adoptable cats and kittens, let us know, either through our facebook page or at thepurrfectcats@gmail.com.

 

Knocked Up

Working in animal welfare as we do, we are acquainted with lots of people in the same boat as us, in one manner or another— veterinarians, other rescues, shelter workers, and so on.  If there is a virus going around, a new rescue group on the scene, or another shelter closing due to funding cuts we hear about it fairly quickly.  The same holds true with regards to kitten season; when it arrives, we know it immediately.

All of the vets we regularly work with, as well as other members of the spay/neuter community, are currently reporting the large number of stray and feral cats being brought in for spaying who are in already in heat, if not pregnant.  These cats are, of course, being spayed, but they are nothing more than a foretelling of the many more who will not be spayed in time, those who will first be seen with a litter of kittens in tow.

I’d like to say we are prepared for this eventuality, but we are not.  PCR does not have enough foster homes to care for even a fraction of the cats we will be asked to help this year.  That’s not an overstatement.  It’s not an exaggeration of the facts made in an effort to guilt people in fostering.  It’s a fact, plain and simple.

We face the real possibility of not being able to foster (and subsequently, adopt) more than a couple of dozen cats this year.   Fosters can (within reason) set their own terms with regard to the age and number of cats they are willing to foster.   We provide guidance, as well as all necessary medical care, food, and litter.  You will be responsible for socializing the cats, taking them to vet appointments and bringing them into our adoption clinics weekly.  In the case of an emergency or a planned vacation we can make arrangements for another foster to temporarily take over your fostering duties.

Anyone interested can leave a comment here on the PCR blog, leave a comment on our facebook page (search “purrfect cat rescue”), or stop by one of adoption clinics (times and days listed in the “where” tab).

Charles for Purrfect Cat Rescue

Indecision

Recently, due to the large number of kittens and cats we are fostering, and a leveling-off of adoptions, we decided to waive the adoption fees on our harder-to-adopt adult cats and black kittens.  We hoped it would encourage people to reconsider the much-maligned black cat, and the older cats—which are still quite young, most of them less than a year; they are just seemingly older when compared to acrobatic two-month-old kittens.

And it worked to some degree.  We had a couple of good weekends, with increased adoptions and a lot of interest.  But it seems to have come at a price.  We’ve had a disproportionate number of cats returned to us, often within just a few days.  Some of the reasons for return seem less than satisfactory, too.  With young rescues, however friendly and playful, there is going to be an adjustment period—both for the family and for any pre-existing pets.  We take care to explain how to allow the cat to adjust to the new environment, and to the people and pets, suggesting they keep the new cat in a room of its own for a few days, maybe even a week if necessary.

It leaves us shaking our heads when people who adopted a cat on Saturday call us on Monday to say that it is not working out, that the family’s adult cat hates the kitten.  Assuming they took our advice, the cat and kitten should not have even been face-to-face yet.  We do our best not to romanticize bringing a new cat into a house, explaining all the things that might happen and how best to deal with them should they, and the things they can do to avoid them in the first place.   So it is both disheartening and maddening when we find that people ignore all our suggestions and return the cat as if it’s a pair of shoes that fit wrong.

Had they listened to us, they might have taken the appropriate steps to ease the transition, or perhaps even reconsidered adopting in the first place.  Each time a cat goes out and comes back in, some of our efforts to socialize it are undone.  This is evidenced by the fact that we have a few cats that after multiple returns to us were simply no longer viable for adoption.

A rock and a hard place.  That’s how we feel with every adoption; that line between wanting to get each cat adopted, and get each cat adopted to the right home.  With the number of cats coming back to us, we are feeling our position between that rock and hard place becoming even narrower.  Is waiving the adoption fee the cause?  Does giving someone a cat for nothing give the impression that this is the value we place on that cat?

There’s another question I always have to ask myself, as well.  If someone is only willing to adopt a cat with no up-front cost, what does that mean for the cat should it end up with an infected tooth, urinary tract infection, or other health issue that will cost its new family a couple hundred dollars.  If they were unwilling/unable to pay $100 for a spayed, vaccinated, socialized cat, are they going to be willing/able to see it gets the medical care it may eventually need?

I ask myself these questions at every adoption showcase and I never come up with a satisfactory answer.   Whatever the answer, and whatever level of commitment people may or may not feel when adopting one of our charges, we have decided to discontinue our waived adoption policy, instead lowering the fee across the board: $50 for kittens and cats, whatever the age, color or breed.

We hope this will decrease returns by weeding out some of the impulse adopters that are mainly attracted by the non-existent adoption fee, but I am not entirely convinced it’s going to work.  A part of me—the pragamatic, non-emotional part of me, knows there will always be people who will adopt a pet, seeing it as just another purchase, rather than seeing it as a life to be cared for, loved, and protected.

Thanks. Just, Thanks.

This is the memo board in our storefront at Newpark Mall where we held our adoption clinic as part of Maddie’s Matchmaker Adoptathon.  The final count (I believe) was 61 adoptions.  Maddie’s Fund gives us $500 for each of those.  The people who saved $100 (the usual adoption fee) think they got a good deal, but for us . . .

Do I even need to say what $500 per adoption means to a small, animal rescue group?  It means hundreds of feral cats being spayed and neutered, it means food, litter and medication for the kittens we foster, and it means being able to provide the same to the people who find a litter, want to foster it, but cannot afford to have them all treated for the various ailments that kittens born free-roaming are inclined to have.

It means we’re in business for another year.  (It means I am thinking of buying a $140 drop trap with a specially made carrier that attaches to it, and giving PCR the bill.)

We’re grateful to so many people—first and foremost to Dave Duffield and his family, the founders of Maddie’s Fund, and all the people who run that remarkable foundation.  Reality TV has led us to believe that the majority of people with money are using it to become famous, then using that fame to get themselves even more money, but some people with deep pockets are actually doing something useful with their good fortune; they’re spreading it around.

There are really no words that can do justice to how much this means to our group, but I don’t think it really matters.  Maddie comprises people who have not just seen— but worked, in the shelters and rescues, not just read— but written, the statistics, and people who have had the firsthand experience of adopting a pet.  They know what this means to us.

We’re grateful to those who adopt from us.  After a bad week— a litter that could not be socialized being put back out as spayed ferals, a sick kitten dying, finding an animal that was neglected or abused— the sight of someone walking out our door with a cardboard carrier in their hand and a smile on their face is sometimes the one thing that makes it bearable.

We’re grateful to the fosters who bottle-feed kittens, administer pills, clean up vomit and feces, give up whole rooms in their homes to house the cats, arrange vacations around kitten season, and still manage to retain their sense of humor and remember why they ever agreed to do this job.

We’re grateful to the people at our local Starbuck’s and the farmers market who allowed us to post our flyers, and told people to stop by and see the cats.  We didn’t take the time this weekend to ask people how they found us but I’m sure at least a few kittens were adopted because of some help from our neighbors.

We’re grateful to the people at Newpark Mall who think enough of our group and of our efforts to provide us an empty store as a permanent location.  Unless you have ever set up an entire adoption clinic and dismantled it a couple of hours later (often after a day without a single adoption), you cannot imagine how much we love being able to simply gather the cats, turn off the lights, and go home.  (It’s like someone from the 17th century waking up one day and finding indoor plumbing has been invented.)

We’re grateful to the veterinarians who provide us with medical care for far less than the going rate and doing it with the same level of skill and compassion they afford their patients who pay full price.  And we’re grateful to their techs and office staff who have to deal with our phone calls, with the plethora of paperwork required of a non-profit, and with our foster cats and kittens who are not always the most agreeable animals when we first get them.

There are a many more who help us in myriad ways, and we thank you all.  Not just now, after our very important and profitable weekend, but also on the other 51 weekends a year when we hold our adoption clinics without the promise of anything more than maybe a new home for one of our charges.

A Day In The Life

One of the most frequent occurences for me at our adoption clinics is to see the look on faces of people or hear the surprise in their voice when I tell them that we ask for a $100 donation for each cat or kitten adopted.  By way of a digression, I always make a point of saying that it’s a donation, sometimes even adding “This is an animal rescue, not a pet store.”  I go on to explain that the cats have been spayed or neutered, vaccinated and de-wormed, treated medically and fed and cared for by us; most people begin to see that $100 is dirt cheap.

To those who do not, here is the response I would rarely verbalize.

During kitten season, I often spend an hour each day walking the large townhouse complex where I live, essentially stalking stray and feral cats.  I know a lot of them because a lot of them are cats I have trapped, altered, and returned outdoors since they could not be socialized.   When I see a new cat, I observe its size, try to figure out the sex, and make a mental note of where it was I saw it.  For all I know some of these cats are outdoor pets but I never assume that; any cat I see, I see as a potential parent to a future litter that will become my responsibility.

The cats I mentioned—those who could not be socialized—are part of a feral colony I maintain.  Many people are against these colonies for reasons that are probably obvious, but a colony of cats who have been altered and are observed regularly do not constitute the nuisance some anticipate.  Even if they did, they serve a valuable service in my particular situation—each night these cats gather where I feed them and every once in a while someone new shows up.  It might be a lost or abandoned cat, might be another feral, but whatever they are and wherever they came, from they are now on my radar and I add them to the list of cats that require my services.

That’s part of it.  But there is more—there’s the trapping.  Whether it’s an adult feral or a kitten who might eventually be socialized, it is not always easy.  I think the challenges of an adult feral are obvious— they do not trust people all that much and are highly suspicious of the trap I have set for them, however appealing the food inside might be.

Kittens are worse.  My complex has a lot of trees and a lot of landscaping. This is not a community laid out in a grid, but a place with buildings at different angles, meandering paths here and there, and a great deal of planters with thick shrubbery that make good hiding places for a cat and her kittens.  In every situation I have dealt with so far, I did not know where the kittens I was looking for were until they were at least a month old, often closer to two months, old enough that their mothers allow them to venture out on their own.

This being the case, it’s urgent that I trap them quickly. Most of the time, feral kittens older than two or three months cannot be socialized well enough to be adopted.  The moment I see a litter I know how I will be spending the next few (or many) nights.  Once it’s dark out, I revisit the place(s) I have seen the kittens,  bait and set my trap, cover it with a towel, then try to look invisible.  This is more difficult if the noise I have made (and the smell of the food) attracts some of my ferals—and it often does.  I end up trying to shoo an already-fixed cat away from the trap without discouraging the kittens I am trying to get in it.  I swear a great deal during this process (you don’t even want to know how much or how bad).

Sometimes I get lucky and have a litter trapped in a few nights, other times it has taken me weeks and I still did not get them all.  Some died in the meantime, others simply refused to fall for my scheme.  There is a lot of self-questioning when this happens: why didn’t I stay out an hour longer that one night; maybe I should have used fish rather than chicken; did I remember to wash the cage after the last cat was trapped, or did it still smell of that kitten’s fear and sweat?

Once they are in my possession, what comes next?  They move in. My own cats are often not too thrilled with the situation so my bedroom (or what once was my bedroom) becomes the fostering room.  I treat them for diarrhea, mange, ringworm and other assorted fun things, and try to socialize them.  Just like every other aspect, sometimes it’s easy, you have them purring in your lap in a day or two; sometimes it’s hard, you submit to numerous scratches and bites before you eventually win them over, or maybe you never do.

Meanwhile, my back hurts from sleeping on an air mattress in the living room, my nerves and blood pressure have my doctor wagging her finger at me, and in one extreme case, a cat bite sent me to the ER with a case of cellulitis so bad that I required levels of antibiotics usually reserved for someone in the hospital.

What I am saying, in my usual long-winded way, is that this is often a very difficult job, and one for which not a single member of Purrfect Cat is paid.  As I said when I began this, we are not a pet store and the people who adopt from us are not paying for the animal; they are making a donation towards the next litter we find or the next feral cat we will spay.

But given that many of the people who visit our adoption clinics do see it as a payment, I think it’s safe to say that the wear and tear on our bodies, our minds, and our homes,  the vacations we have to plan around our fosters, the dinner with friends we miss because we are at the emergency vet with a sick kitten, the weekly loading the cats up in carriers to take to adoption clinics, that for your $100 you just bought yourself a pet worth more than any pedigreed cat seen in the pages of Cat Fancy magazine.

Suzanne, Amy, Meg and Jo, my fosters from last year; easily worth tens of thousands of dollars if you know what to take into account when calculating their value.

Foster Homes Needed

Along with the pollen and rain, the beginning of spring is marked with the arrival of kittens.  We are already getting calls about found kittens, and many, many more will follow.  We have less active foster homes than in past years and some of them still have kittens (now adult cats) from last year.

If you or anyone you know would be interested in fostering kittens please contact us immediately.  We are willing to work with people in terms of how long they are willing to foster for—whether you want to keep them until they’re adopted, just until you have them socialized enough to be showcased at one of our adoption clinics, or maybe you’d like to care for bottle babies until they are weened. Whatever the case, we can most likely use your help.

There is some work involved, but it’s also fun, and it is extremely valuable to us in our efforts to find homes for every kitten and cat that is friendly enough to become a pet.  Please consider making yours a temporary home to these animals until they can find one that is permanent.

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