Yesterday marked two years that my beloved Sidney has been gone. As anyone who has lost someone close to them can tell you, grief can make two years feel like two weeks or a decade. I was fortunate that Sidney and I shared 19 1/2 years together. Like most of the kitties I have shared my life with, it was a twist of fate that brought us together. I had trapped his mama just a few days before and had dropped her off at the vet to be spayed. Luckily, he told me he wasn’t comfortable spaying Rosemary because she was far too pregnant. So we went home and just a few days later, Rosemary gave birth to six kittens!
Sidney and several of his litter mates contracted panleukopenia (feline distemper) at about 6 weeks of age. The other kittens died but with some supportive care at home, Sidney survived. Only one other kitten survived along with him - a little tabby girl I named Lulu. The mantra of every trapper/foster/rescue person is that, “You can’t keep them all.” So I adopted out Lulu and planned to adopt out Rosemary and Sidney as well. Rosemary acted like a feral cat however, from living outside for years. She wasn’t ready to live inside and be a tame cat yet; that would happen three years later. Sidney had an incredibly strong willed disposition, and required a lot of activity and stimulation. I knew that most people go off to work and leave their cats home alone for 10 hours a day (this was well before working from home/ pre-Zoom). I couldn’t allow that to happen, so I decided Sidney would stay with me.
Sidney was exceptionally smart and he taught me so much about what kitties need. It was years after Sidney became a “senior” cat that Jackson Galaxy came on the scene and books on cat behavior became more readily available; learning directly from kitties was likely more insightful anyway. Sidney was born a dominant/Alpha type but had to wait until that spot in the household opened up to fully claim it. Every kitty I’ve lived with has taught me something - from diet to end of life interventions, listening to what cats want resonates with me. Forcing a cat to do or be something he isn’t will only create stress and anxiety for everyone involved. As my friend Nancy says, “There are no bad cats; unmet needs are always the motivation behind a ‘bad’ behavior.” Discovering and meeting those needs is your job as a cat parent!
It didn’t take one special cat to make me a “cat person.” Over the years, I have loved many cats. When I learned about what happens to most cats in shelters, I wanted to change the world for cats. I even worked at a “progressive” animal shelter where I saw firsthand how disposable any feline they deemed feral was. So few people were taking the time to see things from the cat’s perspective; as a prey species, cats need to feel safe and usually hiding is the easiest way to accomplish that. Folks who simply want a cat to act like a docile “pet” and think that by day ten their new cat should be fully adjusted, sadly still exist. But as cats took over the Internet and people came out of the closet about how important their relationships with their companion animals truly are in their lives, our culture started to shift.
While trap/neuter/return of community cats is still in process of becoming the norm in many areas, and farm dwellers may be slow to embrace altering their barn cats, most people understand that spaying and neutering is best for both their companion animals and the good of society. In our state at least, finding a low cost spay or neuter surgery isn’t too difficult, and some clinics such as the Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project even have a van to assist with transportation if that’s a challenge for cat guardians. I can’t speak about the rest of the U.S., except that I know California and Hawaii still have a large population of homeless cats. I have no doubt that improving the odds for kitties in areas like these will happen because of individuals and small nonprofits hellbent on change. In the meantime, while all those cats are dying, many rescuers are trying to get kitties out one at a time.
Maybe for some people it will be one cat or dog or rabbit or pig or chicken or (any domesticated animal) who was thrown out like garbage and turns out to be a significant “other than human” that acts as the catalyst for changing their entire view of life. However folks arrive at wanting things to be better for cats isn’t as important as one’s actions. Volunteer, get involved with the feral colony outside the restaurant you frequent and make sure the cats are all altered, help out cats by donating canned cat food to your local food bank, foster a cat in need of a safe place to crash before he goes on to be adopted, or adopt a special needs or super senior kitty - chances are you will learn far more than you expected and be so much richer for the experience!
I leave you with this quote by author Rebecca Solnit, which I hope inspires you to act.
“Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. It’s the belief that what we do matters, even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand.”