"When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade without further introduction."--Mark Twain
This is a true story about a network of strangers across the United States, all pulling together to save the lives of two nameless, homeless cats. Is it "green" to save animals? Well, it doesn't fall within the realm of the classic three R's of environmentalism: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It's not about global warming or energy conservation. But for me, any time you care about the planet and the fate of any of its inhabitants--when you are positively impacting the life of a wild animal--conserving a life, a precious resource--then you are exercising your "green gene." Greg Yarrow, Professor of Wildlife Ecology at Clemson University, writes in his May 2009 Fact Sheet entitled Wildlife and Wildlife Management: "A definition of wildlife should include all living organisms out of the direct control of man, including undomesticated animals." This story fits that bill.
It was winter 2005 and we lived in the suburbs of Philadelphia. As the days and nights grew crisper and darker, my husband and I noticed two stray cats--one little, one big (a mother and her baby?)--huddling in the half-open garage of the elderly woman who lived in the house behind ours. They were shivering and looked terrified of people, dodging deeper into the garage whenever we neared it. Meanwhile, we already had our own cat (pictured above) who lived comfortably in our warm, cozy house--a very territorial cat who didn't even like the sight of another animal walking down our street. But we wanted to help the strays, so we started leaving out bowls of water and dry cat food for them in our yard, and sure enough, when they thought we weren't looking, they would sneak over and feast ravenously.
Then one day, our other next-door neighbor told us that she had just called the town's animal control unit to complain about two stray cats that were making her new dog bark. (This dog also barked at squirrels, birds, chipmunks, bikers, the mailman, passing cars, falling leaves, and anything else that moved.) After making a few calls, I found out that the township planned to trap the cats and euthanize them, as they were feral and nobody would want to adopt them. They were considered nuisances, simply because fate hadn't been kind to them (yet). Hearing this news, I realized how deeply attached I'd become to these two little cats, whom I'd never even touched.
There are a few things I don't like about the Internet (mean-spirited people who use their anonymity to spread hatred and ignorance ranks way up there), but I have to admit that the Internet literally helped save the lives of those two cats. Through a Google search, I came across national and local assistance for homeless animals: Alley Cat Allies and the Animal Coalition of Delaware County. Kind cat-lovers from the latter organization showed up at our house, humanely trapped the cats, took them to a vet and had them checked, vaccinated, spayed, and neutered. (It turned out that the large cat was a male and the small cat was a female--it was unclear if they were related or just buddies.) The volunteers placed them in our shed, where we had thick blankets for them and could contain them until we could relocate them to a more amenable situation.
Thanks to being alerted about our plight by Alley Cat Allies, Best Friends Animal Society (www.bestfriends.org), a national organization based in Utah, contacted us (not the other way around!) and they sent out a nationwide email bulletin to all of their members, for free. Incredibly, within one week, we had six or seven offers from total strangers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York to take the feral cats to their barns or farms.
We ended up choosing a large farm in Pennsylvania. The owners had several hundred acres of farmland, and a large, enclosed outdoor area with heated sheds for the animals. They accepted the cats with proof of their vaccinations, spaying, and neutering. As the cats hopped up onto the shelves in the heated shed and settled in, they actually looked relaxed and at peace for the first time. There was no longer any need to run or to hide.
Rescuing these cats and placing them in their new home all happened within the space of just one week. I wish that all environmental and wildlife dilemmas could be solved this quickly and efficiently, but I will be forever grateful for the lessons I learned from those two stray cats: People who care about animals will go many, many extra miles for them. They will work amazingly well with like-minded strangers. They will open their hearts as well as their wallets. They will step up to take responsibility even though they have no obligation to do so. They will make a difference that can literally save the lives of wild animals that belong to nobody. I saw it all firsthand, and I still remember it with gratitude and amazement. Those two nameless, once homeless cats left a permanent mark on my life, and I am grateful to them.
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